It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about studying German. In that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of resilience in language learning. Here’s how I’ve been getting on.
How is your German learning going?
It’s going ok… reasonably well… not bad… This month has definitely reminded me how difficult it is to learn a new language!
What have you been doing for the last month?
I took this month to build my website, so I haven’t been taking my usual German classes. I’ve been ‘going it alone’ and studying from the same series of textbooks we used in the school.
I aimed to spend 2 – 3 hours each weekday studying German. This would let me finish the material in 4 weeks. In reality, I probably averaged 1.5 – 2 hours per day. I’ve been doing a mix of reading, listening and ‘gap fill’ based grammar exercises. My problem is that this routine is incredibly repetitive. There is the occasional high point (I think the Schritte International textbooks are excellent because the reading exercises in particular are relevant, interesting, and often quite funny), but my motivation started to fail after two weeks.
Throughout the month I tried to supplement my textbook learning with reading novels in German and meeting with our Austrian friends in the evenings.
What have you been finding difficult?
The most difficult part of learning for me is motivation. I am not disciplined enough to learn like this long term!
Aside from that, I’ve been having issues with confidence. One of the reasons I chose to write about resilience is that I’ve had several situations this month where I’ve had to speak German, done badly, and seen my confidence drop. The problem is that when I’m not teaching, I’m naturally quiet and shy. When I’m struggling to speak in German, it exaggerates these things, and sometimes this really starts to wear me down.
What have you learned this month?
Well I’ve learned about relative sentences, prepositions, adjective declination, the passive voice… Or did you mean what I’ve learned about learning?
1. Firstly, your environment is important. You need a place where you can give your work your full attention. For me, this has been my dining table, first thing in the morning, listening to soundtracks and classical music where there aren’t English words I can sing along with. I also put my laptop away and focus only on the textbook unless I find something which needs more explanation.
2. Secondly, whether you’re copying example sentences or writing your own material, you need to make things relevant to you. When I just copy from a textbook, I don’t remember. If I’m creative and change the names, objects, or settings of the example sentences, it helps to keep me motivated.
3. Thirdly, if you’re studying alone and you find a problem, it helps to approach it from a different angle. I had a particularly bad day when I was studying relative sentences with prepositions. I just didn’t understand what was happening, the textbook was written entirely in German and the diagrams didn’t help me to understand. I also had a cold. In that situation, I had no choice but to try to approach the point in another way, so I first walked around and read the sentences aloud. It’s also important to remember that the text book is not God! If it doesn’t make sense to you, try a different book or look online for a different explanation. There are lots of good websites out there which explain clearly. I even use this British Council website when I’m preparing my own lessons.
4. If this still isn’t working, I like a change of scene. My apartment is small, so after a few days I can get bored or frustrated by studying in the same chair. As long as it’s not too much of a distraction, go outside, or to a library or coffee shop and try to figure out the problem again.
5. If all else fails, it might be worth taking a proper break from that point and coming back to it when you’re more settled. You don’t have to stop studying completely – try doing something creative like writing a story, revising something, or even watching TV in your target language. You’ll still be learning, but this way your frustration is less likely to break the good habits and learning patterns you have formed.
Luckily, I’m starting formal German classes again on Monday. I’ve reached level B1+ on the CEFR scale now, and I’m looking forward to learning with a group of people again. Apart from anything else it means that I have to do my homework! I’m also excited to spend more time speaking German, because I haven’t had enough speaking practice this month.
That’s all for today, but I’d love to hear about your learning experiences, whether you’re taking classes, working one on one with a tutor, or trying self study. If you enjoyed reading, why not leave a comment below?
Until next time
Mairi : )