‘It’s too hard. I want to give up now, but am too embarrassed to walk out of the room in front of six other women. The two hours are nearly up and I can already feel the cold air and bright sunshine on my face as I scooter, teenager like, away from all this. I have to force my eyes from continually straying to the window, outside of which is one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever seen, especially for mid-November Switzerland.’

This was my German lesson from six months ago. I’ve since found a wonderful group, thank goodness. You just never know whether or not a group will be right for you until you join it. The teacher was lovely and very encouraging. She said I was very ambitious, implying, I guess, that I should give myself a break, don’t expect miracles. But I couldn’t. Everyday now I must speak German, with other mums, on the phone, in shops, in the hospital when my daughter – yet again – breaks her arm. I want to be able to say more than just pleasantries, I don’t want to sound like an idiot and I want to be able to say exactly what I mean, instead of casting around in my poorly stocked basket of known words.

Yet I’ve met plenty of people for whom this isn’t a problem. They laugh at their poor pronunciation while going on to mangle another sentence. They boldly introduce themselves in English, pretending they’re back in Manchester or Ohio. And they continue to move in a small bubble of English speakers while actually living in a whole wide German-speaking world. But is the joke on them?

I think so. After two years of struggling with lessons, making endless faux pas (French, too!) and feeling like I must sound like a cardboard cut-out of a real person, I realise now that I actually understand quite a lot, and can get by when I open my mouth. Two years ago this was my dream.

And it is the same with developing any skill, whether or not it is something you might use in a workplace or another aspect of your life. It creeps up on you. There is no epiphany and God doesn’t tap you on the shoulder with one hand while clutching your certificate of merit in the other.

Which is why it’s important to periodically re-evaluate just what it is you can do. I look back through my German books and can’t believe I actually should know all that stuff. But at the same time I know I can answer a question, even if it’s to ask the other person to repeat themselves so I can have another go at understanding what the hell they said the first time round.