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.
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 which are common themes amongst German learners.
Which one stops you from speaking German?
Reason #1: You treat German as if it were English.
When North-American English is your native language, and because we live in the US (Hallo nach Canada!) without a major influence from another language (except some cities and neighborhoods), the default setting for someone from the US is “All 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, for example.
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.
(And if you haven't yet listened to episode 34 of the GermanWithNicole.com Podcast, it's high time.)
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 actually 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? 1 hour? 2 hours? And how much time do you spend on your homework? 30 minutes? That’s less time in a week than most people watch TV in a given day.
What if you spent 2 hours in class each week and another 2 hours on homework, learning, repeating and reviewing vocabulary, and reading your texts aloud to your dust bunnies?
You would 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 away your time, money, and energy.
On the other hand, if you don’t do your homework because you absorb all the information immediately, then go forth and speak German.
Reason #4: You get in your own way.
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, anything like "I’ll never get this, it’s too hard and I’m no good at learning languages."
If you procrastinate on your German homework, then step back for a moment and consider what the easiest way to begin it might be. What is the easiest, shortest, or nicest way you can imagine beginning your homework?
Start with that.
Maybe you'd be one to 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 constantly talk 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 to shut her pie hole and get on with your learning.
That Negative Nelly can get off your German bus, 'cuz her bus fare just ran out.
Reason #5: You sit around in class and talk about German…in English.
Most of you recognize this as symptomatic of many foreign language classrooms in the US. And it doesn’t seem to matter what the foreign language is, it’s not just German, but unless you’re attending an immersion school, you probably spend most of your foreign language learning time speaking English.
Das ist wirklich nicht gut.
That is really not good.
Are you in college? It might 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...in English.
They can’t hold a conversation in German to save their lives.
Das geht einfach nicht!
That simply doesn't work.
Dissatisfaction or even downright disappointment in their other language lessons and classes is the number one reason people start learning German with me and the number one reason why they stay: because they start functioning in German from the very first lesson.
And then they keep on 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.
Your homework for today is to read something aloud to your dust bunnies.
(Simply do it.)
Scroll down for your opportunity to download a free copy of the A1-A2-B1 German Sentence Structure Guide.
It might be the easiest way to start your homework today.
Has German grammar left you high and dry?
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In it you'll find:
- German sentence structure for the beginning, novice, and intermediate levels.
- true-to-life sentence examples.
- English translations for every sentence.
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