I’ve been in Germany almost a whole year now. I came here being able to say “hello” in German. That is all. I didn’t take GCSE German (though in hindsight I should have because if you took both French and German you didn’t have to take as many PE lessons…). For a while I took German lessons on Skype. They were pretty good (if anyone is interested, I can pass on the details of the teacher as she’s really good) but with the breakup and so on, since the spring I’ve not really had the energy or motivation to learn.
Finally I’m back on track and I signed up for (gasp!) real life German lessons at the same school where I study Chinese - A-Viva (which I can also highly recommend).
The thing with German is that it’s very grammar heavy. With Japanese, and even Chinese, there’s not much grammar to deal with. As long as you’ve mastered the “te-form” in Japanese and can switch between dictionary forms and “masu” forms, you’re pretty much set. Chinese is even easier still. It’s a language of building blocks.
But German… (sigh). I bought a grammar book for it and the first 10 pages were lists of rules for knowing when words are masculine, feminine or neutral. I put the book on the shelf and there it has sat for the rest of the year. It’s just not nice, or motivating to go into a language wanting to learn how to communicate and to be met with a wall of rules.
As I’m a teacher myself (my degree was half TESOL) I can now see how exactly I want to study. The ways in which I want to learn don’t suit everyone – I have friends who would eat my grammar book for breakfast – but they suit me. I like to learn languages as blocks, and learn grammar intrinsically as opposed to memorising grammar lists. It was the same with Japanese. I don’t even think I knew the “te-form” perfectly before I went to study in Japan. But when I did go, and I had Japanese around me all the time, my brain just absorbed it and I could do it all.
With German I started off with Michel Thomas (who I’ve written about before here). The method is great because there is no grammar to be learnt, just building blocks. Just 10 minutes a day and within a week you’ll be able to say things and communicate with people!
I try to explain all this to my German teacher but she still gave me a stack of printed goods to go away and memorise… (cry). I guess I have to put my back into it sooner or later. However, in her lessons it’s pretty surprising how much grammar I have picked up by not studying grammar. I told her that I’ve never studied German grammar at all, but I was able to describe picture prompt cards in the past, present and future. Look at me go. And my level is at that wonderful level where every breakthrough is a Eureka Moment and I feel such a rush.
Language learning is really really fun. And I hope that people can see that it’s not that hard – even with German. One of the most frustrating things about language learning is that we are taught at school to sit down and do boring drills and tests which take all the fun out of it. Japanese elementary students are by far the best English speakers in the whole of Japan because they can learn English in a relaxed setting, focus on communication and don’t have to worry about tests. We should learn from them. In this day and age, there are so many ways to learn languages without trying. I hope that anyone reading this who is thinking “ah, I’d like to pick up such and such language” will take my lead and leap into Language Lagoon. Because it’s awesome. Ok?