The Real Reason You Struggle To Learn German

The real reason you struggle to learn German?

You sit there and complain about how hard it is.

You moan about the four cases. You cry about the three articles. You whinge about the separable verbs. And you constantly compare German to English.

By telling yourself that German is difficult you make it difficult. Why?

Because you go into every conversation and study session with the attitude that German is hard, complex and that you just can’t do it. So how the hell are you ever going to learn a language when it’s framed that way?

You’re not. Or, if you do, it’s going to be at the end of a long and painful process that you never enjoy.

This blog post isn’t for me to get on my high horse and tell you about how shit your attitude is. As you’ll read in a minute I’ve thrown my fair share of tantrums about German too. Instead I want you to think about what the real problem with learning German is.

Is it the language, or is it you? 

The Biggest Tantrum I’ve Ever Thrown…

There was a time in my life I thought I’d never learn German.

In October 2016 I was in the middle of studying when I got a text from my Girlfriend. It was in German and I understood all of it, except for one word, Aufhoren [tk]. I knew horen [tk] was the verb to listen but I’d never seen the auf used before it. Naturally I thought it was something to do with a way of listening.

But when I found out that aufhoren [tk] actually means to stop, which makes no logical sense, well…I lost my shit.

I threw my German book across the room, narrowly missing the dog on the sofa, and I proclaimed that I’d never learn German. It was just too hard and I was too damn stupid. Any time German was even mentioned I would stick my fingers in my ears and go, “lalalalalalalalala” until they stopped.

This went on for three days.

But then, in a moment of clarity, I came to a startling realisation…

I can’t change the language.

No matter what I do. No matter what I say. No matter what I think, the language is always going to be the same. That means I can either work with it or work against it. Swimming with the current, or trying to battle my way upstream.

I decided to work with the language and instead of throwing my toys out of the pram when I don’t understand something, I would just accept it for what it was.

Since then learning German has been more enjoyable and my progress has been much quicker.

It’s been frustrating at times, but that’s just like learning any new skill. I fell off my bike lots of times before I learned to ride it and now it’s my number one mode of transport. If I’d have just complained every time I’d be the only 25 year old in Cologne that can’t ride a bike.

Or, in this case, I’d probably still have A1 German and be living in a tiny expat bubble.

Changing Your Language Learning Attitude

I’ve got a quick exercise you can do at your desk right now:

For the next ten seconds take your hands, raise them above you head, look up to the sky and exclaim, “Oh god, why did you make German so hard?!” at the top of your lungs. (For bonus points you can drop to your knees and do it).

Done?

Brilliant. Once that’s out of your system you can focus on improving your German. Mainly I want to focus on busting a few myths (read: excuses) that German learners have.

You don’t need to have a language learning ability. You don’t need lots of free time. You don’t need to be in Germany. You don’t need to be at a certain level before you speak. You don’t need to have lots of money to invest in courses. You don’t need to go to a language school. You don’t need to have had German parents. You don’t need to get your grammar 100% perfect. You won’t die if you say something wrong.

All you really need to learn German is:

  • A positive attitude
  • A little free time every day (even just 20 minutes)
  • To accept the language for what it is and use it anyway
  • A handful of opportunities to speak (Expats have no excuses here)
  • A good reason for learning the language

I’m not blessed with language learning skills. I run two business and don’t have a lot of free time. I’ve never attended a language learning school. And, I’ve spent less than €350 overall to learn German to the C1 level.

Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.

10 Time-Savvy Ways To Improve Your German That Don’t Require Skill

In this final section I want to take a minute to share with you some simple tips to get around your excuses. These are bite sized chunks to help you learn German no matter your schedule.

They require zero language learning talent and you can utilise them regardless of skills, ability or time.

  1. Listening To A 20 Minute Podcast: GermanPod101 lessons last just 10 to 20 minutes, and you can listen to them anywhere you’d find yourself with headphones in.
  2. Having One Conversation Per Day: It doesn’t matter how good or bad, short or long, spoken or written. Everyone can have one conversation in German per day.
  3. Going Through Flash Cards: Creating notes and reviewing them requires no skill. And Spaced Repetition can really help cement your knowledge.
  4. Asking Questions: Instead of complaining about a problem, ask questions to better understand it.
  5. Watching A YouTube Video: Easy German have hundreds of free videos that teach you grammar points and let you hear German. You can just watch and take notes.
  6. Listening To German Music: One of my favourite ways to practice listening. Just stick on a few songs and try to listen to the words, and get super excited when you understand a few.
  7. Watching A Movie With German Subtitles: This tip comes from my friend, Laura. You can watch an English move with German subtitles and see how people would phrase a sentence in German. Great for learning descriptive words too.
  8. Setting Your Phone To German Settings: This can teach you a lot of simple German vocabulary without you having to give any real attention or energy.
  9. Reading Two Pages Of A German Story: I like Olly Richards German Short Stories For Beginners which is super simple to read.
  10. Cooking From A German Recipe: If you’re making dinner, just cook your meal from a German recipe and not an English one. You’ll learn lots of super useful vocabulary here.

Trust Me, It Gets Easier…

Once you accept the language for what it is, and focus on improving just one or two percent every day, it really does make a difference.

But complaining about the language and using every excuse you can think of will get you nowhere. You’ll be stuck in the cycle of continually trying and not getting anywhere with it.

And if you want to see the tools and tricks I used to learn German you can also get access to my free eBook below: