How to Overcome Frustration When Learning German (Using the Right Tools and Techniques)
Have you ever had the feeling of being overwhelmed, frustrated and even lost in the learning process?
At the beginning you are enthusiastic and excited to learn that new language and finally start to understand your environment. You are highly motivated! You make a plan. You take lessons. You dare to make your first utterances. Some people even complement you on the couple of sentences you can say. Others even tell you how good your pronunciation is. Life is good…
But…a little later on…you find yourself struggling.
You still feel like a full idiot who needs ages to build a relatively adult-sounding sentence, because your “aging” brain needs time to process the words you need to use and how to put them together according to all these grammar torture techniques like Akkusativ-Dativ-Verb position-Adjective endings-Whatever-is-yet-to-come-Nightmare!). Have you seen this horror episode?
Who hasn’t? I’ve been there. I totally get you/ And I know: It’s FRUSTRATING! It’s “I-don’t-have-the-nerve-for-that-any-more kind of situation! And you want to get over it. As quickly as possible. But you also don’t want to quit. After all, you’ve put sooo much effort and time to get that “far”.
So what now?
Here is what to do.
I want to give you a strategy for dealing with “FEELING OVERWHELMED” and “FRUSTRATED”. And I want to get you out of the black hole of “I’ve been learning German for ages! When am I finally going to be able to communicate fluently like a normal human being?”
But here is what you need to understand first:
I know that you already learned a lot. I know also that when you start speaking you feel like you don’t know anything. People around you mumble so quickly that sometimes you don’t even recognize that as human speech, but rather as some sort of inseparable noise.
You also need to understand that “SIZE MATTERS!!”
However, it is not about how much you’ve learned or how much is still ahead of you! Cause there is probably a good deal of it. And in the scope of your life, there will be plenty more to learn.
What matters now is the portion you’re trying to stick into yourself. And frustration and feeling overwhelmed is basically the reaction of your body saying: “Hey, wait a minute! I’m sick! I’m about to throw up! I know you love this “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte“ and I also think that it’s delicious, but I can’t eat this whole cake! It’s tooo much!
You gotta take it one bite at a time.
“Biss für Biss”. “Stück für Stück“ (piece by piece). A little bit every day.
As an expat language teacher, I work only with highly motivated people. They are all top professionals who know exactly how to manage their time and priorities, leading teams and sometimes huge organizations. But when it comes to learning, they also experience impatience and often feel overwhelmed, because they are used to achieving their goals pretty quickly.
But you gotta remember:
"Learning a language is like eating a cake.
It’s delicious and enjoyable as long as you take just one piece.
But it’s unhealthy to eat the whole cake.
And don’t forget to exercise!"
So here is how to cut the cake into pieces.
How to portion your learning?
After you have put together your concrete learning priorities (If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend to check out my FunSheet for How to Build and Keep Strong Motivation), here are 5 simple action steps you need to take:
Map out the exact situation you want to be able to manage in German. Write down:
the communication partners involved,
the topic(s) you are talking about.
If it is a typical situation, try even to write a dialogue outline.
What do people typically say in this situation?
What are normal reactions or behaviors?
Try to recognize what is the possible vocabulary you will need to express yourself. What type of words do you need? Choose about 10-20 really useful words. (If you find you need more, don’t forget that your brain cannot learn them all at once. You need to portion them.)
What are the types of sentences you will need to engage in the situation? Are there any questions you need to ask? Are there questions you need to understand and answer?
Note: Sometimes, active and passive vocabularies are two different types of knowledge. In some situations, it might be enough to train your passive vocabulary in understanding a question, but you don’t need to actively use these words. All you need to concentrate your attention on is practicing your answer.
4. SELECT RESOURCES
Now it’s time for smart selection! It’s confession or judging time. You have basically to ways to go:
If you have a teacher. Then go and make a confession. Tell them what is important for you to learn and why.
Ask them to help you find the right sources, dialogues, texts, vocabulary and practice with you this concrete situation.
If you are a self-learner. Then it’s time for you to do your own research and judging. Use your learning resources (the web, books or other helping tools) to find the vocabulary and grammar you need to learn. But be very selective.
Especially with the amount of free materials that are out there, you never know for what type of learners and with what learning goals, people post these materials. So select the words and phrases you need and don’t expect that only because it’s there, it might be helpful. Choose carefully what you need IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE YOUR COMMUNICATION GOAL.
5. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
For vocabulary, use your favorite vocabulary learning strategy.
For grammar, do some exercises.
And then put everything in context and practice with your conversation partner (your teacher, your neighbor or some colleagues).
Remember: It’s always about PROGRESS. Not perfection!
Here is an example of a lesson that I created following exactly those steps.
My student Christine wanted to learn how to buy an ice cream. So, here are the exact steps we took together:
For being able to successfully buy an ice cream, you need to achieve the following LEARNING OBJECTIVES:
=> understand the person that sells the ice cream (passive understanding, anticipating what type of questions he might ask you):
=> vocabulary: type of ice cream (fruits)
=> grammar and sentence structures: greeting, ordering, paying
2. TOOLS (VOCABULARY)
We studied the types of fruit and added some additional words like
"die Amarenakirsch, en" (amarena cherry),
"die Schokolade, en" (chocolate),
"die Nuss, -"e" (nut).
(Notice that for ordering an ice-cream you don’t need to know the articles, but learning the fruits is easy because all of them are “die” except for “der Apfel” (apple) and “der Pfirsich” (peach))
For more vocabulary, check LanguageGuide.org, where you can listen to pronunciation of words, test yourself and learn new words FOR FREE: http://www.languageguide.org/german/vocabulary/fruit/
She also needed three more words
“die Kugel, n” (scoop),
“die Waffel, n” (cone),
“der Becher, -” (cup).
3. TECHNIQUES (PHRASES)
We studied phrases that she needs to actively know when she orders (what the customer says) and those that she just needs to understand (what the ice cream man says). Click here to see these phrases.
4. SELECT RESOURCES
I recorded for her a typical dialogue from the ice cream salon. She listened to it and did some vocabulary exercises.
We then practiced it in terms of pronunciation, intonation and fluency until she felt comfortable going and doing it on her own.
It was easy, fun and one bite at a time.
So if you also want to be a successful learner, use these 5 simple steps and plan your learning smartly.
Make it relevant to you!
Learn only things that you are actually going to use!
Go and practice it. And have FUN!
In the comments below, let me know what your favorite “Eissorte” (sort of ice-cream) is and the learning topic that YOU want to APPLY these steps to.
With the right tools and techniques, you will never feel frustrated and overwhelmed again. Learning will be fun and useful.
And remember: Nobody is going to steal your cake. It is all yours!
Just enjoy it one bite at a time! Biss für Biss!
P.S. I can’t wait to catch up with you next time when we are going to discuss successful learning strategies and which one you should choose depending on your learning style and goals.