27 November 2014

The feeling of "I should be able to speak this..."

Right now, I'm sitting in a beautiful part of the world: Franconia, a culturally and historically distinct region of Germany, mostly within the boundaries of modern Bavaria.

Or to cut a long story short, I'm on holiday in Germany, and people around me are speaking lots of German.

I've studied a little bit of German, having done most of the Michel Thomas course and 8 or 9 levels of the Duolingo course. When I'm in the shops, the bars and the streets, I keep hearing German, and although I don't understand it, I feel completely like I could. The sounds, the rhythms and even some of the words just feel natural to my ears.

And so I will learn German properly now. I'm not going to wait another month just for the sake of turning it into a New Year's resolution. Previously, I'd been using German as a mostly-unknown language so that I could get a feel for what DuoLingo was doing (and I have lots of year-old notes and screenshots on a harddrive somewhere, prep work for a review that I never bothered to write up) so it wasn't a serious push. Time to change that.

This is a feeling I've had before, and it's always been followed by an intense period of focus, because my brain is just ready to soak up all that it needs.

I suppose it's a bit like cycling up a hill, and struggling up a steep bit, then hitting a milder uphill that feels almost like a downhill. You're still peddling, still pushing yourself up, but somehow it feels effortless by comparison to the previous slog.

Ich will Deutsch sprechen können.
(I hope that's the right word order...)


random review said...

The perfect opportunity for you to review another method, then!

FSI? 10k sentences? Luca's 2-way translation method with Assimil? Something else?

I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Nìall Beag said...

The way it felt in Germany, I feel like whatever I do will have an effect, so it would be hard to objectively assess the effectiveness of any particular technique...

random review said...

Well blog it anyway!
Weekly progress reports.

Anonymous said...

Hello Niall

I´m a dane. I understand german with ease. Speaking german is a bit harder. I think it has a lot to do with exposure. My father never learned "some" german in school like I did. He learned to understand german just by watching german tv. Some of my schoolmates spoke pretty good german because they watched german tv as kids. Polyglots often forget the power of tv, when we are talking languages not very different from our own language. I think passive language learning is a bit underestimated in the polyglot community. I rarely speak english and german but I can still communicate when it´s necessary.

Greetings Frank

Nìall Beag said...

Hi Frank,

I agree with you on the power of exposure for learning similar languages. I've only ever done a tiny bit of study of Nordic languages, but all this study of German has led to Swedish getting gradually more transparent to me.

The same is true, though, of many learning products. Rosetta Stone doesn't teach much grammar, just vocabulary, so it's unsurprising that people who claim good results from it tend to be people learning a language structurally very similar to one they already know (such as a Brazilian learning Italian, in a positive review I read online recently). I found Assimil great for learning Catalan (having learnt Spanish and French, and a bit of Italian), but I couldn't get anywhere with their Basque course.

The problem is that when you're giving advice, you do have to be fairly general, and TV exposure is -- as you say -- a strategy that applies best to a reasonably transparent language.

The second problem is that we typically don't pick up a lot of the subtler nuances -- verb endings, declensions etc -- when we attempt to learn by exposure. There is always some redundancy in language, and if you have obligatory subjects (like German does) then you don't strictly need to notice the conjugation suffixes to understand. The same goes for the case endings.

I don't believe you'll ever get the full structure from exposure alone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Niall !!!

I know my english is far from perfect(Yes, I know perfect doesn´t exists), but I can communicate and understand the language without problems. My sentences are sometimes too danish and I use prepositions the wrong way, because propositions in danish and english often differ a lot.

Often danes tend to be too confident and think they are speaking like a native american just because american (and english) culture and the language is/are very popular in Scandinavia. We are listening to american music all the time. We are watching american movies(often without subtitles) all the time. Shops have english names and so on. I think our confidence is a problem. We are not aware of our weaknesses. It is not because fluency has to be the end goal,(Governments and elite think so) but to learn you must know about your weaknesses. To use english in job situations you have to master the language much better than you think you do, unless you are a native speaker.

German is another world when you are living in Denmark. As a dane you are not very often exposed to german unless you´ve watched german tv in your childhood or lived near the german border. It is only forced upon us in school because Germany is a big neighbour and society wants us to speak german, so we can sell danish products to Germany. Speaking german is a living hell for many danes. That is a fact.

From my point of view as a danish speaker german is easy to understand, because guessing the meaning of unknown words is much easier than in english. Verb endings and declensions as you are mentioning, can be a problem in german. It is not always easy to hear if a german adjective is ending in `M" or "N", but a german knows what you are trying to say. That is my experience .

As I´ve mentioned in my earlier comment I´ve learned german in school and I rarely speak the language. I read a little bit in german and I listen to german once a week, I think. When I am talking to old schoolmates I can see they have forgotten almost everything and I don´t try to brush up my german deliberately. It takes so little effort not to lose it all.

I´ve also learned some spanish in high school. That is many years ago. Some years ago I discovered I still remember the spanish words and I have never used clever language technics to remember spanish words. Maybe it has do with cognates, but spanish is not close to danish in the same way as german. It is something I have to figure out.

I´m very new to this language learning community on the internet, but you and other experienced polyglots inspire me a lot. It is always a great joy to listen to your advices. Nice talking to you.


Nìall Beag said...

If you're new to the polyglot community, my best advice to you is take nobody's word for it -- not even mine (I wrote a couple of posts under that title a while ago).

The advice you get will be variously useful, confusing, helpful, contradictory, right and utterly wrong.

Some advice may be compelling and convinced, but that doesn't mean it is right -- and this goes for my advice as much as anybody's.

None of us is capable of giving a complete and accurate picture of what we do, and where the advice of one polyglot contradicts another, they're probably both doing the same thing really, but just aren't aware of it.

Extremism is a part of human nature, and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

"Some years ago I discovered I still remember the spanish words and I have never used clever language technics to remember spanish words. Maybe it has do with cognates, but spanish is not close to danish in the same way as german."

I personally make a distinction between "learning" and "memorising". There are no clever techniques for learning, only for memorising. It can be useful to memorise vocabulary as a sort of "dictionary in your head", and then you can learn it later.

Put it this way... if you have to count "uno, dos, tres, quatro" in order to remember "cinco", they you clearly haven't learned the word "cinco", you've just memorised a list of words.

You're actually better off without any memorisation tricks.