Language learning: 4 things I wish I’d known sooner
Published on November 5, 2020 / Updated on November 9, 2022
I’m into year five of my learning German journey, and I learned French all through school and university (yay Canada!) so I feel like I’m well placed to review my language learning experiences. And I definitely didn’t do everything right, particularly in my later-in-life German learning – which is ongoing!
When I first found out we were moving to Germany, I immediately booted up some language apps. I mean, that seems like a good idea, right? It’s free and it’s fast. However, when I arrived in Germany a few months later, I found those months I had spent being chastised by a green owl had not, in fact, made anything easier. I recognised a few words on menus, and the washroom signs, but that’s about it. When I started proper language lessons, I realised what a waste those months had been. The grammar and pronunciation had totally gone over my head. If you know you need to speak a language, just go straight to proper lessons with a native speaker, like Lingoda classes.
I had a few months notice before we moved to Germany, and like I said above, I went to app-learning route. While I spent a lot of time on it, it wasn’t very effective. My husband and I listened to language podcasts… and that’s about it. That wasn’t enough! My first few months would have been so much easier if I had taken proper lessons, watched German TV shows and films, and listened to more German music. Maybe I wouldn’t have told the painters to do the cake (Kuchen) instead of the kitchen (Küche) in our first flat?
I keep saying ‘take lessons!’ and that’s all well and good, but it’s easy to get frustrated. Make yourself a plan. Now don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be fluent in a year. That’s not reasonable. But block out your lessons, and find out how long it will take you to get to your next level. Make that a goal, and book in your next set of lessons as soon as you can after your exam. Keep the ball rolling, and keep looking ahead. Once you get into your B-level lessons, start booking in other things like cooking lessons in your target language, or a holiday somewhere they speak it.
I guarantee there will come a day when you want to quit. You feel like you’ve spent two years learning a language but an ‘easy’ conversation somehow went totally wrong (ask me about the time the man in the wine shop could not understand me saying ‘chicken’ in German, two years after I moved here). Nothing is making sense, and you’re exhausted constantly trying. Trust me, I know. I really really know. It is so easy to forget how far you’ve come. It is natural to push yourself, to expect more of yourself all the time, but really, remember when a simple interaction with a waiter was terrifying? Or when every menu meant you had to drag your phone out to use Google Translate?
Language learning is a long, long process, and while consistency and discipline is important, being gentle with yourself is also important. I’m definitely not where I imagined I would be with my language-learning journey, but I am still rolling along. And when my friends visit me in Germany, they are amazed at my language skills. Which I think is hilarious, but it’s all relative. So stick with it, and you will get there.