Struggling with learning a language
January 30, 2024 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Really struggling with learning a language - how can I make it easier/more enjoyable? Currently it's a few hours of my week where I just feel stupid and wish it were over. I'm wondering whether it's even worth persevering and that my brain is just not wired to learn a new language.

I'm learning German through a rather expensive in-person course and really struggling. I'm learning German because I visit Austria regularly (although in practice I don't really need to speak it when I'm there, everyone speaks English). I also understand that learning a language is good for 'brain health'.

I have two languages - my mother-tongue and English - but no other Euro languages apart from a smattering of beginner's Spanish (which I really enjoyed learning, but have no occasion to use). It's a skills gap I've longed wished to fill; but I'm TRULY struggling with German and hating the process of learning it.

It's a combination of:
- not being someone to whom learning a new language comes easily
- not really vibing with the teacher - she gets pretty sarcastic when you get something wrong
- being the kind of person who is MASSIVELY demotivated by the sensation of being 'the worst in the class', which I absolutely am. I just think it takes me more time than the others to pick things up, and the teacher, I feel, progresses at the pace of the best in the class. I come out of class habitually feeling both mentally exhausted and 'stupid'.

I usually take 2-3 hours before the class to revise and complete homework. (It takes that long to complete all the exercises because, as I said, I find it extremely hard.) So I spend about 4 hours a week on it in total.

What can I do to make it less painful? Does this mean I should just not go ahead with learning it? I'd rather persevere, but it's very expensive and I don't feel I'm getting much out of it.
posted by unicorn chaser to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing is: Is it possible for you to be in a different course, or find a different teacher? It's really easy to get in a vicious cycle where when you feel nervous and demotivated, you perform worse, and when you perform worse, you feel nervous and demotivated. People are worse at learning a language when they are afraid of making mistakes. This sounds like it is not the right teacher and not the right class for you. It's possible to find private virtual lessons through web sites like iTalki; can you try a couple of different teachers and see if you get along better with one of them? A private lesson would at least ensure that you don't feel like the worst in the class.

My other suggestion (but probably don't worry about this one until you're in a class that suits you better) is to make sure you're doing something enjoyable in German, if possible, and DEFINITELY something that isn't just homework and grammar exercises. You might try videos like the ones from Naturlich German and kathrin shechtman, or pop music (reading along with the lyrics), or comic books. Do something easy where you can focus on enjoying what you're doing and not just studying the grammar/vocabulary.
posted by Jeanne at 5:27 AM on January 30 [13 favorites]

If you're putting in the effort, you're probably getting *something* out of it. Maybe the feeling that you're not getting much out of it is is due to measuring against your classmates, instead of against yourself when you started?

One way I've found to make language-learning fun is to find material I really enjoy in the target language. Anything from news to trashy TV, whatever works.

But given your feelings of exhaustion, maybe you shouldn't be adding *more* for now. Better to figure out how to take breaks and pace yourself.

Are you doing that 2-3 hours of preparation all in one block? Could you break it up into, say, multiple half-hour blocks instead, ideally only on days when you don't already have class? Do you have some review exercises you can take with you and use in little snatches throughout the day?

That's generally more effective, and maybe it would feel less overwhelming.
posted by floppyroofing at 5:59 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]

Learning languages is really hard, so make sure you keep a realistic perspective on it.

I would also suggest that instead of binging homework in a big chunks, spread those 4 hours of work across the week so that you are engaging a little bit every day. 25 minutes a day on the days when you don't have class will likely both feel less stressful and be more effective.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:04 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]

Our whole family is working on French, and we’ve tried to make it less formal and more engaging as one of the teens is at a challenging level. We picked up watching a French show that has the actual French being spoken (Astrid) so they are listening, at a minimum, and it’s a decent show, so that adds to the experience. Perhaps there is an equivalent experience for you with German media? None of us are at a level to be a conversation partner
posted by childofTethys at 6:05 AM on January 30

An expensive in-person course sounds like a lot of pressure. Good if you have an immediate need. But your goals are longer term: investing in "brain health", gradually getting more out of your trips to Austria.

Teachers, classmates, competition, can help keep you committed. But there needs to be some balance. If you think this class risks leaving you hating German too much to make another attempt, then maybe it's time to quit and try something else?

As an adult with no one to make you do stuff you don't want to do, you have to think about how you're going to keep yourself motivated over the coming years.

But you know yourself better than any of us do.
posted by floppyroofing at 6:16 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

German is considered notably (~25%) harder for an English speaker to learn than quite a few European languages, including Spanish, French, Dutch, Romanian, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, and Norwegian. So do give yourself some credit there.

I will echo the advice above to find an enjoyable way to use the language skills you've already developed, with maybe a little stretch. For example, finding a book that you can read entirely or almost entirely unaided, even if it's a very early children's book. If that's the level you're at, you could try the German translations of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books ("Frosch und Kröte").

Or try to find some German music that you can follow, maybe by reading along with the lyrics. I'm a big fan of Anna Depenbusch, who is a German singer-songwriter with a very clear singing voice. Lyrics for many of her songs are available on Genius.

You can also try a different practice method, such as Univerbal (formerly Quazel), which is an AI-based app that lets you set up different conversation scenarios at different language levels. It supports both text and speech input, so it can help with both written and spoken German. That kind of judgment-free, non-sarcastic (!) conversation partner may be very helpful. For pure practice I have a lot less anxiety with an AI like that than with a person.
posted by jedicus at 6:37 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

It would add more to your financial outlay, but consider getting another tutor, through iTalki or another platform. Nothing has improved my French as much as one-on-one attention and the kind of conversation practice that comes from speaking to another person in conversation rather than just answering questions in class. You could get them to work on whatever is happening in your class with you, to hopefully help you keep up and feel less stupid in your class or you could just switch to using their services rather than paying for your expensive class.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:59 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

Do you use any language apps? They're not as good for conversation, but I use DuoLingo and it really helps for picking up grammar and vocabulary. And they incentivize you to do lots of little lessons regularly rather than in big chunks, which I think helps with retention.
posted by number9dream at 7:45 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

What can I do to make it less painful?

If class is a drag, then I ask you: what would make using German enjoyable? "Struggling with it in a class where I feel dumb" is probably... not on anyone's list of responses to this question.

Is it reading menus and ordering food? Then watch videos of people reading menus and ordering food! Look up restaurants you want to visit in Autria and prepare your little food-ordering conversations on your own in preparation for your next visit. Austrians will love you for the effort.

Is it watching movies? See above.

Is it listening to and understanding music enough to sing along, or to riff on, or to write your own music? See above.

Is it reading the daily newspapers? See above (there are all sorts of news broadcasts in every language that are aimed at differing levels of fluency, and the French slow news is part of what I listen to a few times each week to stay marginally brain-tickled in French).

Is it one-on-one conversations with friends? Hop onto a regional subreddit or find a penpal.

And so on.

School is the supplement to fill in the gaps you identify by pursuing your interests. Good luck!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:33 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of methods and environments for learning languages, and different ones suit different people differently (now there's a terrible sentence!) In addition to the options mentioned above, there's also the old-fashioned sitting down with a textbook - ideally (for my needs, anyway) an old-fashioned book with lots and lots of explanations, grammar, exercises with answers, and reading selections.

These days there are also language-learning forums online and paid language tutoring platforms where you can book lessons individually on an as-needed basis, so if you go the self-taught route you can always supplement with outside help when you have questions or want to practice.

Anyway, that's just another option. I'd try some approach, see if you make any progress with it, and if not try something else until you find something you do connect with.

Have you given yourself any kind of deadline for this? If not, don't stress about how long it takes you to learn some new concept or memorize some thing. If it takes you 10 years to learn, who cares? You accumulate learning along the way, bit by bit, and the language opens up bit by bit. In the meantime you can watch more TV or read more or listen to more music in German, and pay attention to bits and pieces of what you see or read or hear, and month by month you'll find yourself noticing just a little bit more and feeling just a little more familiar.

You're an adult and your goal is to learn German in your own good time rather than to get good grades or impress a teacher, so feel free to just keep your eyes on the goal and not worry about keeping up in some class or learning faster than anyone else.

FWIW 4 hours a week is actually fairly little for learning a language (it can be a lot in terms of the free time/energy you actually have, but that's a different matter) so it's not surprising if you feel you're making slow progress. For reference, a US high schooler or university student would usually have around 4-5 hours of in-class time plus maybe 3-6 hours of homework time per week, and that's a rate at which even the strongest students don't usually start getting proficient until 2-3 years in. So give yourself time, don't feel like you're in a race, and take a look back every once in a while to marvel at what you have learned so far.
posted by trig at 8:56 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]

The thing is, we hold people to a really high standard with written language, but not to such a high standard with their own spoken language. When little kids learn to speak they babble a bit. When a seven month old says, "Am-am-am-a" the parents get really excited and provide a ton of positive reinforcement, because she's trying to say Mama. When a one year old says, "Wha' you do?" they don't turn around and firmly correct her, "What DID you do!" they just answer the question.

If you ever look at a bad speech to language transcription, it's appalling. And the reason it's appalling is because it hasn't been cleaned up by an AI that is providing the missing sounds and deleting the stutters and meaningless filler syllables. "He's uh on uh road ta M'sippy..." This is not an accent or someone talking especially unclearly. This is the way people talk naturally.

However our brains fill in the missing syllables and sounds the same way that our brains fill in our peripheral vision, very similarly to the way the AI cleans up a speech to language transcription.

Right now I am learning French and it is fascinating to me how different instructors pronounce the word tous - in the same course, saying the same sentence there is a clear difference between the way they say it. That's normal. That's how you can tell people apart by their voices. It's no more wrong that the difference between, "I'll be going to the store," and "I will be going to the store."

Right now you are learning a language you are doing it in a really artificial way, focusing on getting the sounds and words precisely the way you are being taught. There are good reasons for this, because you're not just learning German, you are unlearning English and your other language, so that you don't automatically default to the cadence and the pronunciation rules of those languages. And of course when you pronounce a German word like an English one and put the stress on the wrong syllable and substitute an English vowel sound for the German one you might think you pronounced it correctly when it's either incomprehensible or it's offensive to a prickly German prescriptivist.

And yet the natural way to learn to speak - and to spell - is to have a shot at saying it and getting it mainly wrong, but every time you repeat the word fine tuning it until it gets closer and closer to the target pronunciation. Shame about mistakes isn't realistic. In fact, as you have recognized, it's a horrible handicap. It makes you freeze and short circuits your recall. To learn things you need to make as many mistakes as possible, because in the beginning almost everything you say or write will be a mistake. If you're not making mistakes you're not learning anything new. You're supposed to be making mistakes.

Many students who struggle with mistakes and feel like the only stupid one in class are stunned when they discover that the other students in their class who are doing so much better than they are, are only doing so because they are taking the class repeatedly. Or they discover that the other students have a much stronger grounding in easier earlier classes. They struggle with an entry level class in Freshman German at university, only to discover that over half their apparently much smarter classmates had two years of high school German before they understand how struggling is relative and doesn't mean much of anything in terms of personal ability.

In your case the class is probably a hard one to justify the expensive of it. If it were easy and fun, many people would feel they had wasted their money. So they question really is, how can you derive the most benefit from the class, now that you have the sunk cost of paying for it?

You might want to set your expectations lower and aim to get the course work 60% right, or even to let yourself flunk, still go through the whole course - and then continue working with the course materials afterwards, until you can retest yourself to 90% before outlaying more money for another course or other German language learning materials.

I think you would benefit from a different program of study than the expensive in-person course. You might want to say right out to the instructor, that their style of correcting errors is very discouraging and making you freeze up. You're obviously good at languages, whatever you may think. You are bilingual already, and enjoy language learning enough to play with Spanish, and have gotten some distance into German already. But you are probably missing some of the earlier stages and would have more fun and do better with a higher level of fluency with the material if it's making you really miserable. And yet, never forget that the wrong instructor and the wrong approach can make the brightest most hard working person struggle and have a really crappy time.

I am guessing that you are not actually ready to work on precision yet, you need to work on familiarity. You are at the stage where you are doing quadratic equations without understanding them, or remembering them, but you can still do them because you have a model to copy, step by step. But if you take away the model you are copying, you won't remember the details you need to at all.

The first thing I am going to suggest is that you work on using German, in your daily life and go around doing it all day. Just for fun, when thinking or talking or writing casually, figure out how much of what you are saying you can also say in German. "I should pick up bananas tomorrow..." "Ich....Bananen...." If you've got two words, you're doing good. Maybe you don't know the word for tomorrow, so instead you substitute a word you do know. "Ich... Bananen... Mittwoch" If you've got a translation app on your phone, by all means look up any word that stumps you repeatedly and then let it go. If you don't recall it, look it up again. You're not supposed to remember every word the first time you look it up. And nobody is listening or cares, so be pleased with yourself that you remember you had to look up the word previously which means you remembered it's one you are working on adding to your vocabulary.

This is to train the fluency so that you can figure out what you already know and can access it easily. It's to create neurological pathways that take you to the German and dodge around the English. You can mangle the pronunciation and the spelling, just be aware you are mangling it. "Wa'er" is a good enough approximation of "Wasser" and so is "WaSSSSer" depending on how firm your memory of the word is.

But the other part of this is to do some acute listening to native German speakers. Do NOT listen to other learners, or you'll be like all those cohorts of English speaking French Immersion students who studied French with one fluent French instructor in the class who had a perfect accent and 32 fellow students who naturally mimicked and learned from each other and thus ended up with English accents so thick and obvious that it sounds like a caricature and gives give native French speakers the shudders.

Work on training your ear so that when you move into German mode you can predict where the stress in the next few syllables will be. Listen to a recording of a kid's book, read out loud: "Heidi ist ein Waisenmädchen, das zu ihrem Großvater in die Schweizer Alpen geschickt wird. Anfangs ist der Großvater ein wenig grob und abweisend, aber Heidi’s ansteckende Fröhlichkeit und Unschuld durchbrechen schließlich seine harte Schale. Die beiden... Don't try to understand it, try to atune to it, the way you would if you were trying to dance to the rhythm. First listen two or three times and then try to read it out loud in unison with the reader. Forget meaning at this point. Meaning will start to jump out at you, but that's just a freebie. Then listen to it again trying to spot the hard consonants. Read along in unison again. Listen to it trying to hear a certain vowel sound. You'll make tons of mistakes - like a German toddler would - but you won't know where because there won't be anyone drilling you or correcting. It's not an exam or a quiz.

You don't need exams and quizzes right now. You can probably tell me without hesitating that you are getting 75% or 30% on your course quizzes and exercises unless you look things up. You know pretty much how you rank in your class. There are several million German speakers ahead of you, and a few billion non German speakers behind you.

Don't rate yourself on how well you do, but on how much you do. If you can say to yourself that you remembered to think in German twenty times today, for a few seconds each time, and listened to the first paragraph of Heidi eight times, and read it along with the reader twice, you can feel proud and pleased with the progress you are making and the dedication you are showing. You are currently spending four hours a week on it - that's enough to be proud of. Remember those few billion people not currently studying German. You're in the top four percent, at the very least!

Make a list: New words introduced this week. Make another list: New words introduced this week that I recognize now when I see them. If you need a metric to judge yourself, use the second list. I now know 130 words in German! I now know how to conjugate "Fragen" in the present tense AND Imperfekt! Some week you may only learn three new words. That will mean you are still improving, so that's great.

Progress should NOT be steady and even, because if it is you are not going to get the full benefit of spaced repetition. You will actually remember more and for longer if you take the occasional week off because the longer you go between recalling something the more solidly it transfers over to long term memory from short term memory, which is where you want it, because it will be accessible four years from now, where things that were only in short term memory will not be accessible at all.

Another exercise you can do is to do a German quiz and deliberately answer it wrong each time. When I do my Duolingo, there are often multiple choices where the app asks an question and offers two or three sentences that are appropriate answers.

"Wann beginnt die Schule??"

"Ich gehe heute nicht zur Schule."
"Mutter hat ihre Tasche im Laden gelassen."
"Die Schule ist ein grünes Gebäude."

When you read each answer and you try to pronounce it correctly, and consider what each one means, and consider how relevant they are to the question, you are learning. When you click the right answer... you're not. You're just trying to meet a metric. If you want to meet metrics you can game the system by going back to the easy, easy beginner work and doing that over and over and over, getting 100% each time. If you want to learn, screw the metrics, figure out which answer is correct and instead always choose the one that creates the funniest non sequitur and click that.

What makes you laugh? Can you do whatever that is, in German?

"Das Einhorn ist in meiner Reichweite. Aber es ist die Jagd, die meinem Leben Sinn und Freude gibt. Wenn ich das Einhorn fange, umarme ich es und lasse es wieder los, damit die Jagd weitergehen kann." Screw around and use your German. If you are of a serious bent, use it for the serious things that matter to you.

If you are philosophical find quotes from German philosophers that are meaningful to you. If climate change is of urgent interest to you, then figure out how to read and write and say things in German about climate change. Listen to songs in German when you usually put on some music. Buy some groceries with German labeling and read the German side of the box.

You're learning German. That's so cool! You're already bilingual! You've got the analysis skills to have made progress in what is obviously not a bird course. It's not surprising it's hard. It is. You can decide what works for you going forward. All the choices are yours. Keep on with the class? Drop it? Take it, but don't put the work in, because if you don't cut back the hours on it you'll get burned out and stop learning altogether? Add a bunch of playful German study time outside of classwork? Do an end run and get the answers and use those as a tool to analyze why the right answers are the right ones, while turning in perfect marks to avoid the social anxiety? The thing is, you can do whatever you want because you're an adult and nobody can punish you for not doing it the way they tell you to. German is your toy. You just have to decide how much and how you want to play with it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:02 AM on January 30 [12 favorites]

It's not fun because you only have class one hour a week. That's why you're struggling, it's why you hate the process. All this pain isn't because you're "just not wired to learn a new language" — it's because a handful of hours a week isn't enough for anyone to improve. You're stuck at the stage where nothing sticks and everything is a struggle. That is absolutely no fun!

Wenn schon, denn schon: if you're going to do it, then do it. Either be kind to yourself and put more time into it, or be kind to yourself and put learning German on the shelf.

Personally I don't expect myself to improve in a language, or really any complex skill, practicing any less than three days a week. I don't have a number in mind for minimum hours of instruction-or-intensive-practice but even six hours a week feels like it would be a bare minimum.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:13 AM on January 30

Oh god, definitely find a different teacher! Someone who’s sarcastic when you get things wrong sounds like a nightmare. I’d personally make a fuss until I got a refund - if you’re paying that much for a class, you should be getting a teacher who’s actually interested in helping you learn.
posted by wheatlets at 11:48 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]

For one thing, your teacher sounds horrible. Getting sarcastic when a student gets something wrong should be a disqualifier, IMO.

It might be that the traditionally-structured classroom instruction focusing on grammar isn't what you need at this point and a more immersion-based approach would work better, like the Refold program. Their website has a detailed explanation of their approach that's available for free, or there's a paid introductory "how to use our method" course for people who prefer a bit more structure.

I disagree with them on a couple of points about how language learning works but overall have found their emphasis on immersion and input very helpful. I've been noticing recently in some of my study groups that my pronunciation and intonation are better than some of the students who score significantly higher than I do on level assessment tests, and I think it's largely because I've been listening to as much of my target language as I possibly can.
posted by Lexica at 12:41 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]

I learnt a lot of German from watching films. I highly recommend this as a method. Practicing when you are in Austria will probably also make a huge difference.

Your teacher sucks. Are they German? If so, you can probably be quite direct with them.

"I don't appreciate the sarcasm when I make a mistake. Please just offer the correction."
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:03 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]

Two things helped me with first and second year German: first, socializing in German through a German coffee hour or cultural center. It was really good when I could get with a group that included native and non-native speakers. Second, playing lessons (drills, dialogues and things like that) in my car on long commutes and repeating, repeating, repeating. I actually kind of like the mindless repeating.

Good luck!
posted by BibiRose at 2:49 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

I took German in high school long ago and forgot what little I knew. Recently started following some German Instagram accounts and it's slowly coming back, and I can hit translate to see what I'm not able to read. Tiny doses and kind of satisfying.
posted by sepviva at 4:21 PM on January 30

Are you doing a Goethe Institute intensive course? I took a two-week intensive class a number of years ago and a few people moved around -- either up or down levels -- to be in the right place, even when they were halfway through the course. If that is possible, it might be a good option.

I learned a ton in mine and had a great experience, but I owe a lot of that to a group of others in the class that I fell in with. Since all our native languages were mixed (English, Spanish, French, Italian) we ended up speaking together in our crummy German -- that was super helpful for learning. We went to dinners most nights, hung out a bit on the weekend, made fun of our teachers, and some did their homework together, including one person who took another under her wing as he was struggling a lot. If you haven't made some friends in the class or found a study-buddy, I'd really recommend that.
posted by chiefthe at 4:36 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]

I'd rather persevere, but it's very expensive and I don't feel I'm getting much out of it.

I think of a "course" as something one pays for upfront, but it sounds like you are paying week by week? Like a weekly class where you pay per session? You are allowed to stop spending money on an activity you don't enjoy.

There are other ways to learn German, I'm sure that of all the people in the world who have ever learned German, the vast majority of them have learned from someone other than this specific instructor. You can do something else where you aren't starting from a place of feeling like you are the worst in the class and feeling like you don't vibe with the instructor.
posted by yohko at 7:20 PM on January 30

I don't think I'd ever say there was a "skills gap" with someone who is already fluent in two languages, knows some of a third, and is now working on their fourth.

You sound like you might be the actual class expert in learning languages, not the laggard.

You might benefit from an extra conversation session every week, maybe focused on the topic that is giving you trouble in the class. I've used iTalki and have found a few conversation partners there, as well as a teacher. It's run through Skype, so if you wanted help with written assignments, you can also use the chat window for that.
posted by yellowcandy at 7:55 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm also finding German hard 👋🏻 and have been finding it hard off and on for years. I was making some progress at the end of last year but have struggled to get back into it.

It sounds like you're focusing your learning on this one class a week, and a chunk of time before the class to prepare for it. I've watched a few YouTube videos by Lýdia Machová about learning multiple languages and she said that lots of people who struggle to learn a language over years have exactly this problem.

You can't learn the language solely with one class a week. The class is not where learning happens. The class should be more like a time for you to check your progress, get some practice listening and talking, and to pick up the next things you should be learning.

The actual learning is all the work you do every day between classes (or most days, at least).

I haven't done any classes in a while but, looking back, I see I was doing similar to you. I'd have intentions to practice more frequently but inevitably I'd end up doing the homework the day before class, and that was it. I fell behind everyone.

Last year I felt I was making most progress by scattering bits of learning throughout the day, almost every day (I wasn't doing any classes at the time). For example each day I'd:

- Do a bit of Duolingo at the start and end of the day (it's not great on its own but it's easy, quick, and fun)
- Watched 20-30 minutes of a German TV show with English subtitles on Netflix. 'Zeit der Geheimnisse' was clearly spoken and I'm enjoying 'Dark' at the moment
- Practiced new words (I've been trying the Goldlist Method but I'm not convinced so far!)
- Either read a bit of German text (I've seen these recommended but not read them yet) or did a lesson from 'Nico's Weg' on Deutsche Welle

It's quite a lot but doing bits of German, at a few points during the day, every day, really helped. It felt much closer to "being there" and kept the language closer to the front of my mind. I felt momentum.

Ultimately I think you should have either a need to learn a language (it's required for work, you're going to live there, it's your partner's native language, etc) or else you have to enjoy it.

It takes a lot of work and it's really hard, especially for some of us! If you don't need it or you don't enjoy it, it's going to be much, much harder, for years.
posted by fabius at 9:52 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

I've been learning German for years, and I still lack confidence and find it very challenging. But, things dramatically improved when I started to not sweat the small stuff. In early classes, I had some teachers who emphasized how important it was that I know the gender of each word (so that I can correctly adjust the article with certain prepositions, for example). Sure, over time, I know a lot of the articles of very basic words - but I completely stopped focusing on memorizing them. I accepted that I will always sound like a foreigner, and as I've been reassured by many Germans, errors in the gender of a noun will basically never make your sentence unintelligible. There's other aspects of German that are similar. For example, I had a class which focused on the Plusquamperfekt verb form a lot, and then was informed by Germans that natives often don't use this, or screw it up. So - stick to the most essential grammatical topics, such as sentence structure, which is quite important, while ignoring lesser important topics.

Since there are a lot of grammar topics, I bought a really nice cheatsheet ( which I occassionally review to remind myself of some rules. Over time, i've learned from natives which are the important ones. If you need help with this feel free to dm.

I also began enjoying learning German as I increased media intake. A good starting point is Easy German, and specifically the "Super Easy German" episodes. Their podcast (Easy German on all podcast apps) is also quite entertaining. I appreciate their content because it's suited for learners, but still interesting - their most common type of video is interviewing people on the streets of Berlin, so you get a lot of experience hearing how locals speak. All videos have dual subtitles, so you can begin watching even at an early level. Their Patreon is also good - for the $5 membership tier you can participate in their discord which is quite active, and also access tons of "homemade" worksheets which are created to teach grammar topics in conjunction with their videos.
posted by unid41 at 1:31 PM on January 31

- not being someone to whom learning a new language comes easily

Oh yeah, I am totally with you there.

- not really vibing with the teacher - she gets pretty sarcastic when you get something wrong

Absolutely move on to a new teacher. In fact, move on to italki -- it can be a lot cheaper than you think for a private tutor.

- being the kind of person who is MASSIVELY demotivated by the sensation of being 'the worst in the class'

Once again, totally with you there.

Some history: I have been 'trying' to learn Spanish for five years now. As I live in a Spanish speaking country you would think I'd be really motivated, but despite trying many approaches I have been consistently frustrated. I do have a tutor I hire occasionally but after a month or two my brain is full and I have to stop until I've processed things.

Over the years I've realized my largest frustration comes from trying to learn Spanish. Learning for me is a methodical process that requires me to understand everything before I can move on to the next piece. I get hung up easily.

What I've been doing for a while now (apparently successfully and without frustration) is training in Spanish. To me that means reading and using learning programs (an hour a day on Duolingo has been satisfying) and most importantly not worrying about mistakes or misunderstandings. Also not worrying about parts of speech and rigid grammar rules, just engaging with the language and trusting my brain to work out the patterns.

I mentioned Duolingo. It does try to teach parts of speech but I really don't pay much attention to that. What I get is practice, practice, practice in reading, listening, speaking, and writing. I'm not trying to learn the language, I'm just training in it.

Your mileage probably will vary of course, but it's a different approach you might want to try.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:22 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

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