A Month Without English: What Happens When You Only Speak German For A Month

Back in November I set myself a challenge:

Go an entire month without speaking English.

Partly because when these ideas hit me they sound really easy. (I’m an idiot).

And, partly, because I really wanted to immerse myself and improve my German by spending more time speaking it.

So, between the 17th January and the 17th of February this year, I went an entire month without speaking any English.

It was fun, painful, scary and exhilarating all rolled into one Schnitzel shaped basket. And I’d like to share my experience (and the most stupid things I said) with you…

The Goal: Use German A Hell Of A Lot More

When I first set out for the challenge spoken German didn’t come naturally to me.

It was full of awkward pauses, strange phrases and my vocabulary list was as long as my little toe.

I was also only speaking German for about five to ten hours a month. Mostly on Skype with my girlfriend or the occasional person I could find on iTalki.

What I wanted to do with this month, then, was increase the amount of time I was using German.

By forcing myself to speak around 10 hours per day in German, with no escape by reverting back to English, I was going to be able to achieve more in one day than ever had in one month.

Plus it was a great excuse to go out and meet new people who were local and spoke German.

I can’t say I had a specific goal other than to drastically improve my German. And make myself to use the language more than ever before. (Which is where most German learners fail because they never speak the damn thing!).

In many ways the process was the goal.

But by using this strategy I was also able to fast track my learning by condensing months of study into just a few weeks.

I didn’t study. I didn’t read grammar tables. I really just used the language until my brain melted, with as many people as possible.

But how did it all go? Well, that tedious link brings me on to the next section…

The Overall Results

After a month of speaking I’m around the B2 level of spoken German. That puts me into the ‘fluent’ category on the European framework:

That basically means I speak German well enough that people understand me, but nobody is going to start calling me Detlef and ask me where’s good to buy Lederhosen just yet.

There’s a lot of room to improve to reach a native German speaker, but I can talk deeply about a lot of subject.

I was able to enjoy things like Rugby training, in German, without too much trouble. Something I would have said was impossible six months ago:

playing rugby in german

I’m by no means perfect, and I made a lot of mistakes every single day.

But with thanks to GermanPod101 I was able to try and correct any of the mistakes I made with a short 10-12 minute podcast lesson.

One of the best results from this has been starting friendships with people in German. So when they speak to me their first instinct is to speak German and not English.

As well as being able to get rid of my occassional, “Y’alright kiddor?” Salford accent that sometimes rears its head from time to time. That was a real plus point for me. People often ask if I’m Dutch, which is a great surprise to me.

 

It Was The Most Frustrating Month Of My Life…

Not being able to express yourself correctly is the most frustrating experience in my life.

You can picture the item in your head, or you know the word in English, but you’re unable to say it.

It’s like looking at a fucking carrot and trying to explain to someone what a carrot is using only the words, Orange, stick and rabbit. And then remembering you don’t know the word for rabbit.

There were moments I threw my toys out of the pram. I’d get angry because my grammar wasn’t perfect, or I couldn’t understand a TV show, or that my brain was so tired from trying to translate every word I heard.

My Girlfriend, bless her, had to put up with so much of my shit. And listen to me speak broken pidgin German while trying to explain why Donald Trump needs to wear less fake tan.

And no matter how good you get at speaking a language, you’re almost always nervous before you have a conversation with someone new. That’s a feeling I’ve never had before. But walking into a room with the potential of understanding nothing can be quite intimidating.

Of course the month was also filled with me saying a lot of stupid things, too…

The 6 Stupidest Things I Said All Month

Throughout the month I said a lot of stupid things.

There are words that sound the same. False friends between English and German. And, some sentences that are almost impossible to translate.

It led to some, well…embarrassing moments. And times I’ve looked like a right muppet.

What better place to share those moments than on the internet with thousands of people I’ve never met? Here goes nothing…

  1. “Right now my dick is very sensible” – ‘Sensible’ in German means sensitive. And by using that fact to remember the right word, I accidentally translated the English sensible and not the German one to describe my genital health.
  2. “Does anybody have a spare handbag I can use?” – I tried to ask a changing room full of players if they had a spare towel (Handtuch) and instead asked for a handbag (Handtache)
  3. “There is a kiss in the window that I’d like to know the price of” – While trying to find the price of a pillow (Kissen) in a shop.
  4. “My dad once asked me to kill him with a kiss if he got dementia” – Again, trying to say pillow and saying kiss instead.
  5. “Have you read Migrant’s face in the newspaper today?” – by managing to transpose “Geschichte” (guh-shish-tuh) meaning story and “Gesicht” (guh-sish-t) meaning face.
  6. “It wasn’t with the trash” – Trying to explain I didn’t so something on purpose as not with ‘Abfall‘ meaning trash and not ‘absicht‘ meaning intent.

And these are just the ones I was told about, or remember. Germans mostly tell you when you’ve done something wrong, but if I said, “Oh my dog lives in a gravy boat” they may have been too polite to let me know.

But despite all of this, it was a great experience…

Probably The Best Decision I Ever Made

As I sit here now I can understand so much spoken German.

People don’t look at me quizzically when I speak. I can overhear conversations and understand most of what’s going on. And I don’t have a heart attack if someone stops me in the street.

Conjugating verbs, putting words at the end of sentences and talking like Yoda has become much more fluid. Like I said earlier, it’s not perfect, but I can see my mistakes and correct them.

It’s also allowed me to understand German people in a much more honest way. Speaking their language is a way to connect with locals that most expats don’t get to enjoy.

night out in germany

People are patient and happy to correct you. They’ll work with you to help learn the language and they’ll open up to you in a way they wouldn’t through English.

I completely understand the argument that Germans are hard to get to know. But I feel part of it is because they’re often expected to be out of their comfort zone and speak your language.

My next step now is to hire a German tutor to get me from B2 to C1 level. I feel that speaking every day has got me this far but to get to a truly native German level I’m going to have to bury my head in text books and work on it.

Would I Recommend It For You?

Yes and no.

Your life probably isn’t flexible enough that you can just drop everything and only speak German. So doing it for a month just really isn’t feasible.

However I do recommend that you do immersion of some kind.

Whether that is for a week or two, or you set aside two to three hours every day where you can only speak German in that period.

And it’s really helpful to do things like:

  • Watch simple English TV (like Friends) in German
  • Turn your phone to German settings
  • Read books on your kindle in German and add the English dictionary for translation
  • Use iTalki to find German conversation partners

So you can expose yourself to lots of German as often as possible.

PS: Can I Help You Learn German?

Recently I wrote a free eBook that shares all of the tools that I’ve used to learn German over the last few months. Meaning that this entire month could be possible!

If you’re interested in learning German and want to know the best tools available to help you learn quickly, then you can get your free copy here.