There are three key challenges that every language learner has to overcome, if we are to become confident speakers of a foreign language:
- vibrant vocabulary
- grim grammar and
- pesky pronunciations,
Each drives us crazy, regardless of which language we are learning. The key is to tackle them with curiosity and creativity.
Language learning is a bit like technology, you need a pragmatic, positive approach. Don’t let the language get to you.
If your coach has been in the same situation as you and can tell you a few stories or laugh about mistakes that they made when they first started learning the language, it puts you at ease.
It also gives you permission to make mistakes, right?
Without words, you are lost. Words should always be the first priority, for any language learner. Even if you don’t have enough of them to say anything, being able to understand the odd word here and there gives you an intro into the conversation.
Verbs and subjects should be your priority.
Now I am quite lucky. I read a LOT. I am naturally drawn to magazines, books and newspapers. You name it, I’ll read it. Now I am not saying that all learners are the same, but for me at least if I can see the word, I have a much better chance of remembering it.
So when I was teaching these ladies, I picked up that they were kinesthetic learners, always scribbling things down, which is very natural for beginners to do. I had huge white post it notes that I stuck up in the cafe so that I could write up the words in German.
TOP TIP If you want to learn a foreign language, read SOMETHING in that language every single day, it is language learning by osmosis.
WORKAROUND Now because my German isn’t perfect I got a native speaker to correct any mistakes before I posted these in the closed FB group for the ladies to double check. The best of both worlds right?
We had a lot of Memes in the FB group too, which gave these ladies an opportunity to give their language brains a workout between sessions, just two liners mostly but fun enough to share with their kids and partners.
So with a healthy dose of laughter, plenty of silly and personal examples involving stuff that mattered to us in life (kids, partners, friends, local activiities and travel etc) and a tongue twisting workout, we covered a lot of vocabulary.
I encouraged them all to buy a mini notebook that would fit in their pocket or handbag and fill it with words every single day. I did this too. Here’s the maths in support of little and often. They could share completed pages online for some virtual love too, don’t knock it!
That linguistic lethargy that had taken hold of these ladies since their intensive course, faded fast.
You see – once you are out of ‘linguistic defence mode’ as I call it, you have more learning energy or brain bandwidth if you like to dedicate to learning. When we are relaxed and having fun, it’s easy to learn, (that’s why our kids learn so fast!).
Now grammar in German is not exactly easy but I think that what language learners tend to forget is, that in the real world, communication marks your success, not grades.
Worrying about how to say something rather than saying something – anything – robs you of speaking opportunities. Just say it and listen very closely to how other people speak. The sooner you are actively involved in the conversation, the faster you will learn.
Sure it is scary to start with but no matter how grim or complicated the grammar, speaking is your fast track to success. The Finnish grammar is so complicated that many of my Erasmus friends even bothered to learn Finnish. What a wasted opportunity! I focused on vocabulary and I won hands down, my Finnish experience was phenomenal!
Grammar is important but it plays second fiddle to learning words. Once you get more confident, think of grammar as linguistic glue.
It is what helps stick the words together in a way that makes you understood. Even if your grammar is completely wrong, you can be understood but later on, if you want to make a good impression, the secret weapon will be grammar.
We laughed at my “Ich bin soooo heiß!” mistake when I was working in a biergarten in Obertdorf.
I was trying to exclaim how hot is was, but actually, what I was saying was, is that I was horny and basically up for it, which I was NOT! (Age 16)
You can imagine the sniggers and chat up lines can’t you? Believe me those chat up lines were enough to make any girl cringe and once I had worked out that ‘ich’ and ‘mir’ really could make a big impact, I never said “Ich bin heiß!” again. Lesson learned.
Let me share another story with you…
You can have a lot of fun with grammar, but not if it is taught the text book way.
Now I realise that to understand the grammar is fundamental for a lot of learners but often you can save a huge amount of language learning energy, by practicing a structure until it becomes part of your linguistic framework.
The more relevant and specific to the learner, you can make those structures, the easier they are for the learner to remember and use.
Don’t stress about the grammar too much, it takes time to fall into place but once you’ve got it, it tends to stick. That is not the case with vocabulary it seems. Neurologists put this down to grammar being a habitual thing.
USING TYPICAL ENGLISH MISTAKES TO EXPLAIN GERMAN GRAMMAR, might sound cruel, but works a treat!
Being very familiar with the German language enables me to do some amateur reverse psychology if you like.
It helps me to understand why a German speaker would make that particular mistake. It is that ability to recognise literal translations that enables me to explain the way that the grammar works in German and how the German speaking mind works.
So for example an English speaker uses either ‘since’ or ‘for’ to talk about a time period in the past. In English we use each differently and this trips up a lot of German speakers.
“I have been teaching English in Germany since 1999″
“I have been teaching English for 17 years”
but the Germans only have one word. seit.
“Ich unterrichte seit 1999 Englisch in Deutschland ”
“Ich unterrichte seit 17 Jahren Englisch in Deutschland ”
If you don’t have something in your own language then clearly that is completely impossible to know how or when to use it. That’s why it is rediculous to try and translate the term ‘Lederhosen’. Leather pants doesn’t make you think about these instantly, does it now?
Now there are rules and I share an Eselsbrücke or memory trigger for this, because most learners love visuals.
Visualising a structure appeals to a lot of people’s learning styles but it is just as important to repeat the structure with different vocabulary and tenses . This makes you really familiar with the structure. We literally experiment with structures until it becomes a natural fit in our new language.
It’s what I call the ‘repeat and replace’ approach.
More about PESKY PRONUNCIATION next time…
So if you feel like getting …‘fit in English’! I have a free trial session in Kladow this Friday, starting at 8am, feel free to sign up
Why not take the ferry from Wannsee for that holiday feeling?