Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone By Polly Tafrate

Several years ago, in the “Paying Market Section” of, I noticed a German magazine seeking articles. I’d published one for our local paper about independently operated Saturday language schools, so called because they meet on Saturday mornings throughout the school year. I pitched them my idea, but narrowed my focus to German schools. In turn, they sent me a contract. Last year, another German magazine requested a similar version of this article. I freshened it up and it, too, was published.

The President of the German School Conference must have read it for she asked me to cover their November conference at The German Consulate in New York City.

“Sure,” I replied, “except if it’s in German, it won’t work, as I don’t speak or understand it. She assured me that much of it was in English, and agreed to send me information. Since we were on a tight deadline, my plan was to write a workable draft, and plug in the details after the conference.

It didn’t work out. Most of what I was sent was in German. So I spent days writing what I thought to be a workable draft. It wasn’t.

I arrived early for the conference, and started interviewing principals and teachers from across the United States, including Alaska. When I told the keynote speaker that I was looking forward to his presentation, he looked skeptical. “It’s all in German,” he replied.

Throughout the day, only German was spoken, although everyone graciously reverted to English when speaking with me.

Back home at my desk, I referred to my observations and taped interviews. The conference president and a trustee wanted to see the article before it was submitted. Their corrections were numerous, mostly stemming from my lack of understanding German. An example was from a quote I’d included from the Principal of Deutche Sprachule. I’d added the word, school, after Sprachule, making it read school, school.

I thought the assigned word length would be a problem. The editor wanted 3000 characters and spaces, because “some German words can take up almost one line.” This gave me license to list the titles of each session in one sentence. There was no room to describe their content.

This assignment was a challenge, but I’m delighted to have succeeded. The personal connections I made will allow me to pitch other articles to these two magazines.

A serendipitous event occurred as I was leaving the conference that day. I took a magazine from the give-away stack on the counter. A few days later I leafed through it and discovered my original article – and, this time, it was in German.

Polly Tafrate is an eclectic freelance writer, having published over a hundred articles on a wide range of topics – education, travel, “puff pieces” for businesses, volunteering, grandmotherhood, restaurant reviews, gardening, cooking/recipes, fitness, gardening, pet ownership. She’s been published in New Hampshire Magazine, Vermont Magazine, The Writer, Bride and Groom, Fabric Arts Now, AAA Northern Journey, numerous parenting magazines and of course, German Life and German World.