A take on learning German

My German language journey and the lessons I have learnt

Language learning is a marathon, not a sprint. This simple but effective expression rings true on many levels and is at the heart of my language learning philosophy. 

Learning a new language is like embarking on an open ocean, with several thousand miles separating ourselves from the nearest continent. We tend to start off with wind in our sails and begin the voyage at break-neck speed before we hit a period of turbulence and the wind dies down. 

Nowhere is this metaphor truer than in my learning of the German language. I will admit, I have had more stop-starts than a rookie at the wheel in their first driving lesson.

My story with German dates back to my early days at secondary school before I ultimately decided to pursue French at GCSE. I have since taken Portuguese and Spanish under my wing but German has always been there like a shadow in the background and a book beckoning to be plucked off the bookshelf. 

Last summer, I decided that it was time to bring German back from its obscurity. I grafted and set about with strong intentions, investing lots of time and effort into trying to decipher this wonderful yet complex language. 

I spent many weeks plucking away at the task but then I hit a roadblock. For some reason, I could just not quite absorb the German cases and syntax. I yearned for the ability to engage in just a basic conversation in the language, yet I was struggling to form even the most simplistic sentences. 

It was the first big lesson German taught me. Do not expect too much too soon. Despite my previous experience with French, Portuguese and Spanish – all Romance languages – German was a different kettle of fish and a completely different ball game. 

I needed to give myself more time to naturally assimilate the skeleton and complexities of the language. I now know that the more time I allow my brain to absorb the structures, I will eventually get used to the patterns of the German language. 

Give yourself time and focus on building a base in the language. I proceeded to struggle to juggle German with my Spanish and let German go as I returned to university in autumn 2021. I picked it up again over Christmas, yet lightning struck twice and I put it on the back-burner again. 

Now my Spanish comprehension is at a level I believe I can continue to sustain and grow, I know now is the right time to re-introduce Deutsch in my routine. Furthermore, I am confident I finally have the strategy and framework to make my German learning a success. 

The key will be starting off small, but staying consistent. Focus on consistency, chipping away at the task every single day, rather than taking out huge chunks but far more irregularly. 

Duolingo helps me in this regard to hone this daily habit, but for you, it could be YouTube videos, textbook pages, or one of a myriad of other resources we have access to today. Find the method that works for you and which you enjoy, and stick to it every day in order to build that base. 

Trust the process. You cannot expect to become an assured German speaker overnight, yet the more you strive and plug away each day, you will be moving towards dry land and the place where you will ultimately be happy with your German skills. 

When you reach those choppy waters, don’t get frustrated with yourself. Remember it is all part of the journey. Turbulence is essential to the learning process and use this time to step back, re-assess and rediscover the framework to navigate this tricky part of the ocean. This might be changing learning strategy or approaching a grammatical point from a different angle. 

Be confident in your abilities and language skills. It may not seem obvious all the time, and it can often be difficult to grasp when attempting to acquire your first foreign language, but the equation is simple: the more time you spend with German the more you will improve. Every single time you sit down with the language you are sharpening your skills. 

Have faith in the brilliance of the human brain and give yourself the time you need to piece together the intricacies of the language. 

I am more motivated than ever to take my German to a speaking level this year. I may have had more false-starts than an over-eager 100m sprinter, but this time, I will make sure I set off at the right pace and enjoy the long road that lies ahead in my German language journey.

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