As soon as I graduated we got married. I landed in Germany speaking no German. None. I couldn't even count to ten. I could say 'Ich liebe dich.' Cute but not very useful.
A lot of people in the expat community were unkind about my lack of German. Instead of getting helpful advice on the kinds of jobs I could do without knowing any German people would berate my lack of language abilities. Speaking German is a point of pride for expats. Once you learn German it's easy to forget what it was like when you didn't understand the simplest things. I was often told to 'learn German' like it was an easy thing I could pick up or put down depending on my mood. This can be discouraging. Now I always try to encourage people who have just moved here because I remember how tough it is. While you can get the basics in a few months it takes most people years to become as fluent as native speakers. If you can do most simple things like order a coffee then you are proficient. You speak German, congratulations. But that's still a far cry from taking a university class with native speakers. (I'd crash and burn if I had to take a university class).
I had time, but as a newly minted college graduate without a job, I didn't have a lot of money to spend on language classes. I took the standard integration course required for my visa. The class size was huge, thirty students to one teacher. Some of the students couldn't read or had native languages that didn't use the Roman alphabet. This slowed the pace of the class. Missing a week didn't matter because I was able to pick up the material faster than my peers. Not because I'm talented. I had the advantage of being the only native English speaker.
|If only I loved learning German as much as I love the study of linguistics (source)|
After a few years I changed jobs and starting using more German at work. I took evening classes a few times a week. Then I got pregnant and my husband got a job where he would be traveling a lot. I started doing everything myself. I made my own appointments, I spoke to everyone in German without caring if I was making mistakes. I asked people to correct me but I refused to be embarrassed. By the time my daughter was born I had a working proficiency. I could function in Germany but I still needed help writing letters and had to translate a lot of words I didn't understand. I wouldn't say I am as fluent as a native but I can hold a conversation. I am proficient enough to do everything I need to do while my husband is absent for long periods of time. I'm always trying to learn new useful things and improve my grammar. My grammar is still pretty bad but I'm working on it.