Typical Mistakes of German learners

Typical mistakes of German learners

Someone recently asked, what are common typical mistakes German learners make. Here is my analysis of the last 20 years of dealing with all kinds of language learning and learners:

  1. Setting realistic goals: Many German learners simply don’t set SMART  goals, nor do they plan their learning properly or at all.
  2. Underestimating the necessary effort necessary to be able to use the language freely and effortlessly. These learners begin to struggle and suffer as soon as their expectations are not met (and that’s very often pretty soon).
  3. Learning the language for the wrong reasons: Learning a language because you hope (!) that one day you will find a better – i.e. better paying – job is like buying 50 packages of butter because you might get a 10% discount. While it certainly is true that learning a language might (also) yield such benefits, that path is an extremely cumbersome one.
  4. Using inefficient tools: As a layperson it’s almost impossible to judge right away what works well and what doesn’t. There is an abundance of online-learning tools and even a bigger abundance of “experts” who recommend them even without financial but the more psychological benefit. Sure, those tools do something to your language learning, or better: they at least do not hinder your learning significantly at best. Our brains are learning machines and it is hard NOT TO LEARN something. We often associate random events with our successes and failures. You might know this phenomenon as “superstition”. And when it comes to language learning superstition is widespread.  A bad advice is a bad advice, even if well-meant. Better than nothing doesn’t necessarily mean good. With the right tools you could save a lot of time and later frustration. Memrise is such a lovely tool for German learners. Another is Meister der Konjugation. Other than that you need a text book, a dictionary  and a source for grammar (more formal approach or easier to understand), et voilá: you are set up at least regarding all necessary tools.
  5. Using language learning techniques from school: Not many of us learn any significant language learning technique in school or university. We usually stick to those techniques that we have “invented” ourselves and that did the job. But doing the job is not the same as being efficient. Learning a new technique or following an approach that differs from what we know raises suspicion and causes discomfort. Yet, just like with almost anything else (except with eating icecream) all beginning is difficult. We can compare this phenomenon with learning how to type. You can certainly go through life (and university or both) by typing your way through with two fingers. But it makes the hell of a difference to be able to use all ten blindly.
  6. Saving money at the wrong point: 1h with a professional private tutor might be worth the same as 10hrs in a group stuffed with random language learners. No amount of money can substitute quality of teaching. From a learning point of view what matters is the teacher and the group that you are learning with. So whether you spend 1.200€ / month at the Goethe Institut or 250€ / month at the Hartnackschule, what you get from it is not mainly determined by the price. What makes a good teacher you can look up here.
  7. Believing in miracles: Yes, it’s possible to reach B1 in many languages from scratch in 14 days as I have proven but mainly for the pretty gifted and with a specialist at hand. 99% of learners will simply need more time than that, especially (!) when on their own. Estimate one year of constant (!) effort (3hrs/day) if not two years.
  8. Overestimating oneself: That is not meant in any arrogant way. Learning a language just somehow without worrying too much about mistakes or pronunciation is simple and quickly accomplished even on one’s own. But learning a language properly on one’s own is a very strenuous and delicate undertaking. From my experience it’s rather a minority who is good at this and/or enjoys this. Of course this is just my subjective observation and feel free to prove me wrong as that would mean that you have achieved something really great. I couldn’t want more to be wrong in any other area of my life.
  9. Last but not least:  I wouldn’t mark “being afraid of making mistakes” as a mistake as this actually is nothing that you can consciously influence and is rather part of your psychological set up. If you are too afraid of communicating with others you might simply want to focus your language learning efforts on the other skills. Yet, I personally am a strong proponent of psychotherapy for overcoming inhibitions that hold us back to become who we truly are. That can make an immense difference for your ability to acquire a foreign language. But that’s stuff for another post one day.

So these are my two cents to the question of typical mistakes German learners make. Maybe you find yourself in some of the points above. I certainly have made all (!) of the above mentioned mistakes myself in the past and have paid with invaluable lifetime and suffered more frustration than I should have. Luckily I didn’t mess up my languages. But I’m highly analytical which is a huge benefit when learning languages. Yet, I have met many who have to walk around with broken German or English for the rest of their lifes (!) and I feel with them as that is hard to fix. Be wiser than me and try to avoid the above mentioned mistakes and you will experience your German learning as a wonderful journey with many surprises on its way.

In diesem Sinne