It’s time for a new challenge. German has been on my mind for a while now. I was born and raised in France, and Germany is one of our close neighbors. Yet I never got to learn the language.
Three years ago, I completely failed at learning German. I started learning some vocabulary with a textbook. I played a little with Duolingo. Then I studied entirely with Babbel for three months. Needless to say, I didn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t understand a thing. It was a big failure. But, I don’t believe in failures. I thought: “There must be a better way.” And, frustrated of my experience with German, I started looking around for successful language learners. That’s when I stumbled upon Tim Ferriss, Benny Lewis, Gabriel Wyner, and Idahosa Ness. I completely changed my approach when I learned Italian a couple of months later. It was far from perfect. I procrastinated wayyyyyyyy too much. Somehow, it worked. Phew.
Since my approach with German was ineffective, I know I’m starting from scratch again. I can’t remember a thing of what I learned. All I know is what everybody knows about German: There are cases, there are three genders, ich liebe dich, das ist nicht, and scheize. That’s it.
Learning from my mistakes
I refine my method each time I learn a new language (or fail!). I started absorbing Brazilian Portuguese last November. You can read a minute-by-minute chronicle of my first week, my second week, and my third week. I haven’t done much ever since, except watching a video a day (mostly Damon and Jo, Dani Russo, and more recently Observatorio Harry Potter and Me poupe!), and listening to some music.
There are three elements that I neglected while absorbing Portuguese. I believe they matter, and I want to spend more time on these activities. Let’s see what they are:
Not enough output
Absorbing Portuguese wasn’t too complicated. I could already speak three Romance languages. I add experimented with Portuguese several months before that. So, even in passive mode, I would have absorbed Portuguese, one way or another.
I started writing at some point. Two, three lines a day, in Portuguese. I made them rhyme. I wanted to have some output. I wanted to practice and play with the words to assimilate them. But that was barely enough.
This time, with German, I’m going to rap from day 1! It doesn’t matter if I only know two words, I’ll find a way! And I won’t just be writing them, I want to say them aloud, and repeat several times to train my mouth.
Another form of output I’ll do: Singing. I did sing last time with Portuguese. But not enough. I want to do it more with German.
And finally: I want to make a zero-from-hero video. So, every day, I will be recording myself. Saying a few lines, or singing, or rapping. It will be messy. It will be cringy. But it doesn’t matter. I want to put myself out there, and practice more. More, more, more!
Recording yourself is hard. Recording yourself hurts your ego. But recording yourself gives you feedback. If you can’t ask native speakers of your target language, then recording yourself is your only source of immediate feedback.
I’ll be recording myself EVERYDAY in German! I’ll start with pronunciation, with the basic sounds of German. Then I’ll record myself while singing.
I believe this will make a great difference, as I will hear myself and get feedback everyday. Even though I won’t have access to natives, I’ll be able to compare my recording with the original audio.
No memorizing songs
Last time, as I said, even in passive mode, I would have attained my goal. So I didn’t really push myself. I want to go all in this time. I want to memorize songs.
Memorizing songs in your target language is hard. It can be exhausting even with your native language. So I don’t expect it to be easy. I don’t expect to be comfortable. But I know it will pay off.
That’s how you assimilate grammar and new vocabulary naturally.
That’s how you practice pronunciation and develop your ear.
That’s how you review and repeat material you enjoy.
That’s how you absorb the language while discovering the pop culture.
“Discipline equals freedom.” – Jocko Willink
My German plan
I divided my plan into six categories:
- Tuning phase. That’s the initial phase, where I develop my ear and my mouth.
- Goal. That’s to be done the first week too. I want to set a goal to track my progress.
- Singing phase. Initiated after the tuning phase.
- Output. What I talked about earlier.
- Detective. Something I used to do mentally. I want to be more thorough this time, and put it on paper to share the process.
- Journaling. I will be documenting my journey, as I did with Portuguese.
- Read German IPA page. Pay attention to vowels, consonants, and stress patterns.
- Spot the sounds I’m not familiar with.
- Create and do some drills (not too long tho!).
- Record myself and compare with the original audio (on Wikipedia or Forvo).
- Repeat, if necessary, or schedule for reviewing during the following days.
- Find a German YouTuber I like.
- Set a goal based on oral comprehension. So it’s likely to be “Understanding 75% of X’s videos.”
- Memorize Moana (how far you’ll go) in German.
- Record myself, and compare with the original song.
- Same with Aladdin (a whole new world).
- Same with Marteria’s songs (German rapper).
- Rap from day 1. Write a few sentences with the words I know. Perfection doesn’t matter.
- Make a German One Pager while absorbing and discovering the language.
- Make lists of verbs and important/frequent words. Write down the songs where I find them to create a singing dictionary. Right now, I just have a dozen verbs on my list. I experimented with this before, and it didn’t go too well when I started with the 500 most frequent words. So I want to take it slow this time. Start with a few words, and increase the list little by little.
- Write (and time) everything I do, including looking for resources (it’s part of the process!). I’ll write a blog post every week to share my journey.
- Film myself saying a couple of sentences, or singing, or rapping. I’ll make a zero-from-hero video once I reach my goal.
- Record myself speaking of the day before (resources I found, my victories, my frustrations,…) for an Alexa skill.
What I won’t do
There’s something else I want to experiment with. But I decided to put it off since I already have a lot to do. I read in the four-hour chef (excellent book about learning, by Tim Ferriss) that learning how to sign in your target language makes you absorb your target language better and faster.
I feel it would be too much to take care of this right now. I have no idea how signing works, even in the languages I speak. So, even though I’m really intrigued, I won’t do it with German. Maybe next time!
I plan to have three 1-hour sessions per day to absorb German. I’ll adjust in the first weeks if it’s too much/little.
I don’t know how much time I’ll need to reach my goal. Maybe around two months.
I don’t care about perfection anyways. Communication is what matters. So when I reach my goal, I’ll stop the singing phase, and get into maintenance mode.
Before absorbing yet another language!