Giving Up Learning a Language Can Be Good For You – The German Challenge Comes to an End

learning-german-language

I am going to discuss my experiences over the past few months as I know some of you guys are interested but I can also see things going off on a tangent slightly so please bare with me here :p

Just to reiterate, any opinions of mine in this post are just that, opinions. 

My Experience With German

After reaching what I would call a “decent” level of Japanese (being able to understand natives), I decided that I would learn German as well.

At first I thought I would be perfectly fine. After all, I’ve gone through the process once, all I needed to do was reproduce the steps I took.

Unfortunately things are never quite that simple. Due to exams, coursework, classes and, well, life itself, I suddenly found myself with very little time. My sleep schedule got really bad at this stage, and I just felt wrecked all day every day. If you gain anything from this post, let it be this, get some good sleep. When I did find some free time I usually was very tired and voted to play video games or watch films in Japanese instead of immersing in German.

And I know what you guys are going to say; “You could have done that in German!” and you are right, I could have and should have. Although I was very busy, I know that many people manage to fit time in to learn languages around full time jobs and families. So what was my issue?

The real root of the problem was a procrastination issue.

Whenever I did go to do something in Japanese instead of German, I didn’t really feel guilty as in my eyes I was “maintaining my Japanese”. I also felt that German was an easy language so I shouldn’t need to put much time in. Here’s a secret for you, no language is easy. True, some languages may be harder than others, but no language is “easy”. Yeah, there are times where you will think “Man, Japanese is so easy!” but you probably either forgot the amount of work you’ve had to put in to get to that stage or you get over-confident and allow that to cloud your judgement (I’ve experienced both numerous times). Look, at the end of the day, languages ARE hard and if you don’t show up, you won’t make any progress.

Another reason which is something I haven’t really discussed much of yet but have seen it talked about online by the polyglots and other language gurus, and that’s the idea of falling in love with your L2. For people with procrastination issues it can be incredibly hard to get started doing something that’s hard when something easier is just a click of a mouse away. Tim Urban did a great TED Talk on this topic which really hit home for me and made me realize two things.

  • 1) If it’s hard, not enjoyable and you have no clear goal, you will forever procrastinate and never get anywhere
  • 2) Most of the time, you have to enjoy the things you want to succeed at to overcome this procrastination problem.

My TED Talk

Let’s talk about 1) first.

There are millions of people on the planet that want to become something in a certain field but due to procrastination have never even taken the first steps needed to becoming what they want.

This could be due to a variety of reasons but the biggest reason that stands out to me is that taking that first step is HARD. I can relate to this so well its kinda scary. In-fact, this is something I have never really spoken about to anyone before, and something I am kind of embarrassed about saying, so please be kind:

I want to become a really good programmer.

It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for years and one of the reasons I decided to take Software Engineering at university. However, I very rarely program in my spare time. I always feel guilty about not programming but at the same time I feel like it’s hard to get started. It’s such a broad topic with thousands of programming languages, complex systems and libraries, where is one supposed to start?! In the end I usually just put it off for other things that are “easier” to do and that give me instant gratification, like watching Japanese YouTube. It’s just more fun for me and it’s terrible as at this rate I will never “get there”. However, knowing I have a problem is the first step to solving it.

Why do I think 2) is the solution?

For me, Japanese was a completely different ball game to German. I don’t know what made the two experiences so different but I have a feeling that it was because I knew more about Japanese culture and found it more interesting when starting out. Having this interest in the culture made way for more interest and eventually a massive thirst to fully understand this new and strange country that I knew so little about. I literally became obsessed with learning Japanese, where as with German I was kinda like “I suppose I better do some German now… sigh”. I had a little bit of motivation in the beginning to get me going but I never really “fell in love with German”.

My goal was to reach a conversational level by the time I arrived in Germany, but I kinda knew that this was already beyond my league and near impossible. I mean, I only just reached the point where I started speaking Japanese a few months before I started learning German, and that took well over a year of 24/7 immersion to reach.

Looking back on my experiences of the last year, I really did wish that I realized this fact sooner. Being busy with other priorities seems to make it easy to push other things aside. I’m going to work on that.

However, this realization wasn’t actually the main reason I gave up German…

The Trip to Japan

Japan was great. If you get the opportunity to go, definitely do it. Unfortunately I don’t have a proper camera so I only have a few pictures and videos from my phone which I will probably upload somewhere at some point. I’ve already used some pictures for the blog in various posts.

My original plan was to spend roughly 30 days in Japan, return to the UK for 1 week and then fly off to Germany to start the year abroad.

However, it appeared that my study abroad trip just wasn’t meant to be. Typhoon TALIM (台風18号) hit Japan, causing my return flights to be cancelled. Annoyingly only 1 flight got cancelled so I missed out on a refund with the next flight :/

I couldn’t afford a new plane ticket unless I waited at least a month for a cheaper flight so I ended up missing registration at the German university, thus not making it onto the course.

When I saw that email saying “We are truly sorry but your flight has been cancelled.” I actually felt a flood of relief. I suddenly realised that I didn’t want to go. I really do wish I had realized this a lot earlier as it would have saved me a ton of money and time. I now have to wait a year to do my final year at university and I probably lost about £1000 due to the whole deal. But hey, what can you do? Life just happens sometimes, I guess.

With any hope of studying abroad in Germany being demolished, I had no real reason to learn German other than interest. I thought long and hard about continuing to study it and in the end decided to put it on hold for the time being. 

Which led on to some interesting emotions…

Guilt? Loyalty? Afraid of Disappointing Others?

This is something that I’ve experienced a lot, and I’m sure many of you have too. I have always found it hard to let things go due to the fear of what happens next. I had a real bad case back in college (not university in the UK), where I went from an A/A* student, to failing two units and barely scraping passes in the other two. For me at the time, that hit hard. That year wasn’t all that great anyway, a close family member passed away amongst other things, and I just got into a real bad place.

Now this isn’t meant to be a sob story, but what I do want to tell you is that I spent a lot of time constantly thinking about useless rubbish that meant nothing and added no value to my life. I spent months thinking about “my failures”, “how bad of a person I was”, “disappointing my family”, “worrying about my future career” and all because of some stupid letters on a piece of paper.

If I could go back in time, I would just tell myself to get back up and get started on the next move. Because let’s face it, you have to do that eventually, right? Anything in-between the failure and moving on from the failure is just useless. You don’t learn anything from it, you’re just sitting there moaning all day that the world isn’t fair to you and that you were born without talent. Well here’s a tip good sir, tough luck.

“Alright, A didn’t work so let’s move on to B and see if my strengths lie there.” THAT is the key. And this wasn’t something I realised until my tutor sat me down and helped me analyse my strengths and weaknesses. He then recommended that I do a course on Software Development, which I ended up getting top marks in.

What I am trying to say is that it’s important, whenever you mess up, to pick yourself up, forget about it, like, literally forget about, and move on. Don’t complain about it. Don’t think about it day and night. Don’t let it eat at the limited, precious time that you have. Set it aside as a weakness, something you suck at and shouldn’t bother with, and then focus on your strengths.

To quote Gary Vaynerchuk “anything that can help you get into a place where you can not dwell, not complain, not allow negativity to seep in. It will bring you enormous dividends. Whether that’s a life coach, a therapist or a 2 month retreat to reset, or I dunno, but please please please realize how big of a deal it is.”

The solution is to start not giving a crap. I felt so bad about giving up German because I had announced to my family, girlfriend and the internet that I was going to “get gut” at German. And while I believe that announcing your goals to the world is a great way of helping you to stick with, and achieve them, sometimes it really doesn’t work out for a number of reasons. And that’s okay. 

You can learn something from every experience in your life.

In my case, I realized I don’t do well at taking on too many projects at once.

stop learning a language

Bend the Rules or Quit if You Don’t Enjoy it

The amount of people who study something, or stay in a job, that they don’t really enjoy, really amazes me. If you don’t like it, why are you showing up? Again, most of the answers to this are going to be related to pressure (real or imaginary) from external forces but really, what harm will come if you quit?

I’m not saying that you won’t be successful if you continue. You can be successful at anything, whether you enjoy it or not. All I’m saying is that life is short. You can work your ass off through school, university and then your career, but for me, it’s all a waste of time if you aren’t enjoying as much of it as you can. That doesn’t mean don’t work hard by the way, that means learn to figure out what makes you “tick”, and to head in that direction never looking back. 

This all comes across into language learning. If you find it a chore, scrap it. Like, literally, I only learnt Japanese through AJATT because the method suited me really well. I didn’t, and still couldn’t, care less about reaching absolute perfect native-like Japanese. I enjoy the process more than looking forward to the outcome. For me, learning Japanese was all about learning to understand Japanese. I’ve never bothered studying textbooks, grammar conjugations or accents nor have I worried too much about outputting and thus making mistakes (try not talking to your significant other just because you want to sound perfect 3 years down the line, trust me, it ain’t gonna happen). Not caring about the outcome and focusing on the process meant that I enjoyed it so much more, and in the end it led to the results that I wanted (being able to understand Japanese). With German, I was more focused on the outcome, and this is where I went wrong.

Why You Haven’t Wasted Your Time

Something I dwelled on a lot once I finally made the decision to give up on German was the amount of time that I had wasted. I was annoyed because I did spend some time in German and it probably equated to a few hundred hours of study/listening. I was never ever going to get that time back, but then I remembered a post I had read from thelanguagedojo (whose blog no longer exists which is a real shame as it had some awesome content on there).

The post was talking about giving up languages as well and they mentioned the fact that when they gave up their language, it wasn’t all for naught because they still discovered a whole lot of content that they really enjoyed. Remembering this I realized that I too had experienced the same thing. Sure, I had no intention of learning German anymore, nor can I understand the language, but the German music I had discovered, and the YouTube channels such as HandOfBlood where just amazing. When I feel like it, I still watch and listen to them because even if I can’t understand it, I still find it entertaining.

Conclusion

I really think that its important to realize that continuing to learn a language that you don’t enjoy learning is not a great a decision. Reaching a high level in any language takes a huge amount of time. Don’t put that much time into something that you don’t even enjoy.

German wasn’t for me. I spent some time with it, I learnt some of the language and decided it just wasn’t working out. I moved on. There’s no point in me wasting anymore of my time on something that just isn’t working for me. It’s as simple as that. 

With that out-of-the-way, I am now back into immersing in Japanese as much as I can. I’m probably going to find some work for the year then head back to University, finish my course and then we will see what happens. 

I also just wanted to say that I really do appreciate everyone who reads these posts. I really enjoy running the blog and its you guys that make writing these posts worthwhile, so thanks 🙂

マット

By Matthew Hawkins
2017/12/11
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