How Learning a Foreign Language Is Like Learning to Order at Starbucks


"Just like some people love languages or beautiful landscapes, others exist who hold a deep passion for coffee." - Starbucks UK

As a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict, I could order a Venti skinny vanilla latte in my sleep -- but it was not always this way. Starbucks essentially operates with its own language and if you do not know it, you might find your first experience of ordering a coffee there quite a bit overwhelming. So, becoming a customer at Starbucks basically is not unlike learning a new language!

Learning a foreign language is obviously slightly more difficult than learning how to order your favorite beverage from Starbucks, but you can draw some interesting comparisons between the feelings you may experience along the way.

The Frappuccino Conundrum
If you do not know what to drink when you enter a Starbucks, you might find the vast selection of choices to be overwhelming. The baristas can customize any drink to make just about anything that your heart desires. You may find yourself wondering what you would like the most that very day or your choice may be influenced by external factors, such as ordering a hot or cold drink based on the weather that day.

You may be faced with a similar situation when trying to decide which language to learn. There are so many languages in the world -- how do you decide which one to start learning? Unless you haven't hit puberty yet, it is almost impossible to learn multiple languages at the same time, so it is best to start with just one for the moment. Sometimes the choice is obvious based on external factors, such as where you are moving to or which language would be most beneficial for your job. Other times, you might simply be looking to try something new.

The Chai Latte Bewilderment
On your first trip to Starbucks, you stroll up to the line thinking, "I can do this". That is, until you hear the person in front of you order a Grande skinny white mocha with a double shot and extra whipped cream. Suddenly, you panic. You just want a small black coffee, how on earth do you order that here? You may feel stupid and frustrated for not being able to understand something it seems like everyone else around you has mastered.

I have experienced this same feeling while trying to learn a new language. On the first day of my new language class, I am always enthusiastic and confident. Unfortunately, I do not have a natural talent for language learning, so after a few classes I start to realize that my classmates are progressing faster than I am. This can be very frustrating, especially if I am putting in a lot of effort. It can be a very discouraging feeling.

The Barista Hero
Over the years, I have found the Starbucks baristas to be incredibly helpful. If you are unsure about what to order, do not be afraid to ask them for help. The Starbucks baristas in the black aprons are Coffee Masters and trained coffee experts. They are happy to teach you about the coffee and help you discover the perfect choice for you.

Essentially, native speakers are the Coffee Masters of language. While trying to learn different languages, I have found the help of native speakers to be an invaluable resource. Do not be afraid to make mistakes while trying to speak their language. They will appreciate the effort and most people are willing to help you improve. Finding a language tandem partner or joining a language group for expats are great ways to practice the language you are working on. Recently, InterNations partnered with Starbucks Germany to host the Happy Language Hour in Munich and Hamburg, where people from all over the world could come together to practice different languages in the comfort of their local Starbucks. Events like this are a great way to not only have the opportunity to practice a new language, but also to meet new people.

The Espresso Triumph
While you might feel overwhelmed at first, do not give up! Millions of people around the world effortlessly order Starbucks coffee every day and with a little practice, you can be one of them.

Millions of people around the world also speak more than one language. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. If you put the time and effort in, you too can learn another language.

Some day you may be traveling and stop at the nearest Starbucks for a much-needed caffeine boost. It will be a great feeling when you walk out of that Starbucks with a Tall skinny sugar-free extra hot caramel macchiato in your hand and realize that you were the one who ordered it. You will feel even more accomplished when you realize that you ordered it in a language different than your mother tongue.