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5 Reasons Why You Still Can't Speak German

5 Reasons Why You Still Can't Speak German
Frustration can run pretty high when you take a German class but you just can’t seem to speak it correctly. The baker in Germany doesn’t understand you so you have to point and the person you ask for directions switches to English. Maybe you realize in a press conference that you can't speak German. Yikes!
So why is it that you have taken class after class or lesson after lesson, but you still can’t speak German? There might be more than one reason, and here are five that are common themes amongst clients.
Which one is stopping you from speaking German? (Hint: #5 is a big one!)

Reason #1: You treat German as if it were English.

When American English is your native language, and because we live in the US without a major influence from another language (except some cities and neighborhoods), the default setting for someone from the US is “English. All the time. Everywhere.”

That can make it extremely difficult to then ask your brain to wrap itself around another language. The words are different, the numbers are different, and the sentence order is the complete opposite of what you might expect.

It might be tempting to stay in comparison mode and concentrate on the fact that the sentence order is different. Push yourself to go one more step: give the new sentence order (or the different number pattern) a try. Then give it another try.

Resist bending German to make it English, and you’ll slowly start to get used to it.


Reason #2: Your class only deals with German grammar.

Even for grammar geeks like me, this gets to be sehr langweilig (really boring). Grammar is not the end-all, be-all of German! I repeat: grammar is not the end-all, be-all of German!

Too often people focus on correct grammar and they forget that the point of learning German is to speak German with other people.

Grammar is a tool you need to help you understand how the language works. Think of grammar like training wheels on a bike; you might need the specific assistance of the training wheels (the grammar) for longer than you like, but once you find how to balance (how to create the sentences correctly), you’re good to go!

Reason #3: You don’t actually do your homework.

How much time do you spend in German class each week? 2-3 hours? And how much time do you spend on your homework? 30 minutes? That’s less than four hours per week spent on learning German.

What if you spent 2 hours in class each week and another 2 hours on homework, listening to a podcast, and reading your texts aloud to your dust bunnies? You will double the amount of time you spend engaged with German, which doubles the chances that you’ll absorb it in an effective way.

Plus, if you don’t spend time between classes or lessons reinforcing the information, you’re hardly going to retain it. Which means you’re basically throwing your money away.

On the other hand, if you don’t do your homework because you absorb all the information immediately, then you’re either a genius or a delightful freak of nature. Glückwunsch!


Reason #4: You get in your own way.Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

This one can be a simple matter of procrastination (oh! look! I need to wash the dishes before I sit down to study German.) or it can be a complicated matter of negative self-talk (I’ll never get this, it’s too hard and I’m no good at learning languages.).

If you’re procrastinating, then try the Pomodoro technique. Study for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, study again for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, rinse and repeat as necessary.

If you’re constantly talking yourself out of learning German and it’s that Negative Nelly in your head telling you you’re not good enough at learning German / not smart enough to learn German / gosh darnit, no one in your German class likes you, then I highly recommend you tell that Negative Nelly “Halt die Schnauze!” (Shut your trap!), and get on with your learning.


Reason #5: You sit around in class and talk about German…in English.

Most of you reading this recognize this as symptomatic of many foreign language classrooms in the US. And it doesn’t seem to matter what the language is, it’s not just German, but unless you’re attending an immersion school, you’re probably spending most of your foreign language time speaking English.

Das ist wirklich nicht gut.

Are you in college? It’s probably not very different. I’m not the only one who spent thousands of dollars on college German courses and got practically nothing out of it—it’s a common complaint amongst my clients. It is, of course, not always the case, but it’s such a common complaint that I am now surprised when the opposite occurs.

Some college students can function so well in written German that they can identify all the parts of a sentence, translate vocabulary words perfectly, and can understand and discuss incredible masterworks of German literature. But they can’t hold a conversation to save their lives.

Das geht einfach nicht!

Dissatisfaction or even downright disappointment in their other language lessons is the number one reason clients start lessons with me and the number one reason why clients stay in lessons: because they start functioning in German from the very first lesson. And they keep speaking German!

If you’re looking for more speaking time in your German class or lesson, speak up! Ask for more speaking exercises in English or say:
Ich möchte mehr Deutsch reden.
Machen wir bitte mehr Sprechübungen?
Können wir bitte mehr Dialoge machen?

Take every opportunity to actually speak German.


Scroll down for your opportunity to download a free copy of the A1-A2-B1 German Sentence Structure Guide.



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