Why is Learning German difficult?

April 06, 2021

Many people find it quite difficult to learn German, so in this article I want to look into this, describe why I think that is the case and give you some things that can help you to learn German more easily.

I am also working on a video about this, so if you want to find out when it is published, just sign up to keep in touch and you will be the first to know!

Most of these points do not even have anything to do with German particularly, but are true for all language teaching.

There Is Something Wrong

An odd thing about learning languages is that people take classes in a language, they learn it for years, and actually a lot of people start learning a language, but only a small percentage eventually really arrive at a point where they are fluent. So, there is something that really does not work in this area. 

Learning All the Parts of a Language

In order to  really know a language you need to be able to listen and understand, speak, read and write. I suppose you have had (maybe many) langauge classes. Look back at them – was one of these left out or given little attention in your classes?

It could be different, but for many people the one left out or getting very little attention is speaking. There could be different reasons for this, but isn’t odd? You are trying to learn a language, but then you do not actually practice speaking it enough, so you could really use it. I think that is quite an ommission.

Vanishing Words

Something that happens a lot, maybe it even happened to you: You learn German and you hear a word, lets say „Tisch“ and then this is what happens:

„Ah, I have heard this before… yes, but I don’t remember what it means… wait, maybe I will remember… (thinks…)… Ah! I remember! It means table!”

Maybe you have a few of these words? Probably when you are trying to speak it is even worse.

But what did you do, when you learned your own language?

As a kid, you learned a new word. And then? Right, you used it A LOT! As a matter of fact, when I remember my little sister when she learned a new word, I heard that word sometimes many, many times. Think of a car drive through a wood when she just had learned the word „Baum“ (tree). 

How can we use that principle?

Easy – when we learn a new word, we use it and we use it several times. There are different ways you could do that, the simplest is to use each word in made-up sentences until you can use it easily and feel confident you remember it. The sentences can be simple and in the beginning even mixed German and your native language. 

In my classes we learn new words in groups of maybe 10-20 words that belong to the same subject. First we make sure each word is understood and they learn the pronunciation. Usually they have pictures for the words. After they are cool with the meaning and pronunciation, they use each of the words in sentences. Ideally this is done with a partner.

When you work alone, you figure out the translation (you can use for example google translate for that or an online dictionary like „Pons“) and then you make sentences with each word.

Grammar

Did you speak your native language fluently when you started school? OK, and how much grammar had you learned before you started school? None? So, what now. Is your native language some special language that has no grammar? 

No? So, how could you learn it? Was it like this? Did your mum say: „OK my sun, yesterday we learned the nouns. Today we will learn about Adjectives. What does „noun“ mean, by the way?

You would have never learned your native language like that, it would have been way too complicated!

So, how did you learn it? You learned the language naturally and the grammar rules (the theory) you learned later in school. 

So, maybe grammar is not THAT important in the beginning. It depends on the viewpoint. But mainly it depends on what works.

But what is the sequence in language classes? Right, very often grammar is emphasized. So, how does that work? Well, you have notebooks full of notes, are confused about grammar and cannot speak the language, right?

Therefore I teach German in a natural way, the same way you have learned your own language. 

Der, die and das

One thing that many people have a problem with is „der, die and das“. Now, I do not want to go into grammar really, but it is true that words that are names for objects, places, etc. are considered to be male (der), female (die) or neutral (das). „Der, die and das“ are called „articles“ and they are often used with the word. The only real way to learn it is to learn the article together with the word. You can use my PDF guide How to Learn „der“, „die“ and „das“ that comes with a list of 300 important German nouns along with their articles. This whole thing is often made very complicated, but it does not have to be and every child can learn it, so can you. Be a little patient with yourself though.

In my upcoming video I will show you how you can learn words and demonstrate how I teach them in my classes, but the tipps in here should help you in the meantime. 

Sentences

So, now we have gone over learning words. What happened when you learned enough word in your language? Then you could speak sentences. How did we do that? We understood a sentence, we remembered it and then used it many times. And then another one and another one. This way we built up a whole language. 

In my classes we use „Sentence Patterns“. That are sentences with a blank and in the blank you can fill in the words you know. An example would be „Das ist das/der/die ________.“ (That is the ________).“ We practice that a lot. This way you do not have to learn Millions of sentences. You learn only about 150 Sentence Patterns that make up daily used German. And of course every one is practiced until you can use it easily.

You can also use the same principle yourself. You take a sentence and you make similar sentences by replacing one word in them and then another one and then you use other sentences. 

Practicing

I have mentioned practicing a lot, as it is not enough to learn the words and sentences (or Sentence Patterns). In order to use them in a real conversation you need to practice them. This is true for anything in life – if you want to be good in sports, you need to practice. If you want to play an instrument, you need to practice. As a child you had to practice a lot to walk, same with writing when you learned it. 

This also applies to learning German (or any language). To know the theory is not enough, you need to practice the language. And although this is the case, many people do not learn languages that way. What do they do? They learn a lot of theory and they have too little practice. 

Bildschirmfoto 2021 04 06 um 19 00 29

What happens if you do it like that? You learn, you meet someone who speaks German, he or she asks you something, you would like to answer and…

… you can’t. And you might be surprised as you have learned German for a while, but you cannot use it. That’s because your knowledge is in your books only.

If you learn a language, the theory is only a small part, and practice needs to be the main part. 

Bildschirmfoto 2021 04 06 um 21 19 55

What happens if you do it like that? You will go out, meet a German speaking person, he or she asks you something, you want to answer and …

… you can! Why? Because your knowledge is not just in your books, but it is really yours and you can use it.

Summary

When you started to learn your own langauge, you started with words, then when you had enough words, you started sentences. And when you had enough sentences you could COMMUNICATE. This is what you should focus on (and this is also how I teach). 

The biggest reasons for trouble are:

  • Not all parts of the language get equal attention – particularly speaking is generally not practiced enough.
  • Words „vanish“ because of trying to memorize them, instead of using them over and over until you automatically remember them.
  • Grammar, in the form of big words and rules is given way to much attention way too early, usually confusing the student.
  • Way too much theory and too little practice.

Here are a few things you can do

  • Start with words, first just nouns, and use them in many sentences. Start with easy ones and you can even just use the word you are learning and the rest in your own language. Then add other words than nouns.
  • In German particularly learn the articles with the words and when you make your sentences, use them. (“Der Tisch is big. Der Tisch is very good. Der Tisch is in my living room.” Sounds odd, but these are great sentences in the beginning!)
  • Don’t worry about grammar too much in the beginning. Remember, you learned to speak your own language without grammar rules. Start adding more grammar later, when you can at least talk and understand to some degree! At that time it will make more sense to you.
  • Less theory and more practice. Try talking, don’t worry about mistakes, ask when you don’t understand, but really talk, talk, talk (and write as well).
  • Find movies or videos with subtitles in your native language (or another one you can understand well, but your native language is preferred). 
  • Try to find someone to learn with. It is more fun when you are not alone and you will learn even more! Talk to each other in German, make the sentences together, etc. 

Workingtogether

If you would like to talk to me, get some and get some help to get you going, or if you are interested in learning German with me, make an appointment for a free consultation or contact me by mail or phone

What was your experience about learning German? What helped you the most? And what would you like help with? Let me know!

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