I was riding the train from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle, the beautiful inspiration for Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
About 20 minutes into the ride, as expected, the ticket inspector walks into the carriage.
Two Chinese tourists have a problem. They have mistakenly purchased a cheaper train ticket which can only be used after 9am. It was 8.46am at this point, which in other countries might be considered ‘close enough’. But this was Germany, and in Germany, you cannot argue about the time.
The two tourists had another urgent problem. They spoke Mandarin and English, and the ticket inspector only spoke German. Everyone else in the carriage was a Chinese tourist too. With my elementary German, I was the only passenger who understood what was going on.
That was the first time I had ever translated between two foreign languages, German and Mandarin. Or should I say, I translated from German to English to Mandarin. Having to translate everything into English made my translation terribly slow. My brain was hurting afterwards!
The problem was a lack of practise. I had studied Mandarin with English, and I had studied German with English, but I neglected to practise the link between Mandarin and German.
The moment on the train highlighted that my entire approach to learning German was wrong. I had blindly assumed that learning my third language was going to be the same as the second. A strategy that worked well before does not necessarily work the next time around.
I was making the same wrong assumption elsewhere too.
What helped me learn my first programming language won’t help me master the second one.
What worked for the first year of my software engineering career won’t guarantee success in the second year.
What got me here won’t get me there.