My fruitless pursuit of the German language (please advise)

I believe that the time has come for me to admit defeat in my endeavors to learn a second language. Yes, I realize that this is my one and only post. Yes, I realize that I have yet to use this site for anything substantial; but believe me, this post represents the end of a long road fraught with frustration, and I merely felt that I needed to vent and receive some advice before throwing in the towel for good.

A couple years ago I took a German class to fulfill graduation requirements for my schooling, and perhaps to learn a new way to communicate with my German roommate at college. The teacher was alright, the students were relatively nice (with a few notable exceptions), but I dreaded every moment I was in there. Every time the teacher called on me, I felt as though my heart was going to explode right out of my chest. Why, you may ask? Well, it wasn’t the vocabulary…I could memorize that if given enough time. No, the problem was the sentence structure.

I could have had the best vocabulary in the class and still remained entirely in the dark, for I can’t even begin to decipher the German sentence structure. It was so bad, that the videos we watched that were supposed to cover only the words used in class completely escaped my understanding every single time. I could recall individual words and phrases, but hearing those words pasted together into a proper German sentence only served to confound me. It didn’t matter how much studying I did or how much extra time I spent with the teacher, I could never decipher meaning from the words that were presented to me, nor could I present them in the correct order myself.

The very first lesson I encountered on this site only served to confirm this analysis. Tasked with translating the following sentence into English, I see only gibberish pop out the other end:

“Entschuldigung, konnen Sie mir bitte sagen, wo ich ein Restaurant finde?”

Literally translated: “Excuse me, could you me please say, where I a restaurant find?”

Though the general idea came across after extensive mulling over (he wants to know a local restaurant), my first reaction to such a statement was “This doesn’t mean anything! It’s just word soup!”

If it takes me 20 minutes or more, after the words are translated, to figure out what this guy is telling me then I have no hope for myself to be able to hold a real conversation.

I like to think of myself as being a relatively intelligent person (I do Calculus for pleasure), but in my attempts to learn German I have nervously laughed, yelled at voices criticizing me in my head, started throwing things, and even withheld food from myself in an attempt to provide motivation to persevere and actually learn something. However, because of my fruitless efforts to take even the most elementary step into the language, I can barely even look at German now without feeling mixed feelings of guilt and resentment.

I apologize for wasting your time with my ravings, but I just had to let someone know.

Thank you for your patience,
Michael Laughlin

Michael, you have just joined us. Try LingQ and make sure that save at least 1000 lingqs and listen to each lesson until you can understand 70% of it more or less clearly. Do not translate. Do not worry about what you forget or what remains unclear. The please report back to this forum. Good luck.

i think you are a field independent learner. You like deductive, top-down, reasoning. (Calculus as a hobby) You like to know the rules and specific definitions before you think about the communicative aspect of sentence.

Language is a messy, vague phenomenon which you need to just jump into and be a happy grinning fool, making mistakes and having laughs.


I guess he was not persuaded.

I miss him already.

I’m sorry that this member didn’t stay and I’m sorry Samuel Clemens isn’t alive to humor him about the German language. The German library is probably the best here (maybe the English is better, but I rarely look at it.)

He brought up the interesting issue of sentence structure. Some people are really, really bothered by languages that have different ways to place the parts of a sentence. It’s not simply English speakers. Even machines cannot get it right in some languages. Consider how Japanese to English translations give Google Translate a hilarious case of the hiccups! Once I considered putting one of the translations here for fun, but I didn’t want to offend the person who did the original lesson because the machine translation was completely wrong and full of unintended double meanings.

I wonder how many people are bothered by sentence structure that differs from the way sentences are formed in their native languages.

When I was at school I felt the same about learning Latin, French and English as mathmagicman seems to feel about German. Nothing would go into my head, it was as if the languages were one-dimensional, I just could not relate to them at all.

But I did learn English in the end, so there is hope for us all (and that’s why I haven’t given up on Russian yet). What a pity that he has decided to throw in the towel.

I think there are 2 types of learners. Those that will do and try whatever it takes to get there and others who are just dabblers and testing the waters.

I’ve tried to introduce 10 people to Lingq but after they realise that they’ll need to be self-motivated and persistent, they all gave up. I started to doubt the effectiveness of Lingq until I kept going over the French transcripts that Steve speaks with Henry for 5-6 hours per day.

I really want to get awesome in French… basically near native (its like an obsession or compulsive-disorder). Though I have to do some initial translations (google translate) for example, since I hate to repeat 500 times the same audio and still can’t figure out what I’m listening to. So I translate once to get the underlying meaning and repeat the French until its understood automatically when I hear it.

Anyway… I got over the “I can’t learn foreign languages” after I learnt Cantonese, which I used to think was damn hard and unachievable, until I realised that tons of uneducated Filipino and Indonesian maids could speak it fuently for goodness sakes, why could poorly educated people speak Chinese well and I couldn’t? Once I got over this mental obstacle, my Chinese improved with a desire to prove that I will get there no matter what.

You make some good points, and what? You learned Cantonese? Awesome.

This is how I think and it’s similar. People who give up will not learn a language.

Are all (French/Japanese/other target language speakers) smarter than I am? No, some of them are, and some of them aren’t. Therefore, I have a fighting chance of learning the language too.


You are a success story par excellence! Insert usual mouth-dropping awe and disbelief here. What I want to know is how you balanced your life as a mother of two and a double agent…

I don’t want you to blush or anything, but If English were my target language, I’d choose you or Helen aka skyblueteapot as my tutors.

In answer to your first paragraph: now that would be telling…

Thank you for the compliment, being put in Helen’s league feels good, though not quite realistic, and you haven’t heard my accent yet (ve vill fint vays of making you lissen)!

It’s great to have you two back again.

Michael, if you really want, you will be there “no matter what” as one writer above already said. If you don’t, you won’t. It is all simple.

I wish math magic man was still around. I’d recommend Michel Thomas as a supplement to this site. It helped me immensely with German sentence structure and grammer before I found Lingq. M/T is very lacking in vocabulary however. Of all the resources I’ve used including Rosetta Stone, I think Lingq is the best at total immersion. When you can listen to the text while reading it- that’s a very powerful learning tool. The “Lingqing” system is the best way to learn vocabulary-it’s ingenius.

I’ve decided to make it my life’s work to search for and find the user formally known as magic man and find a way to make him realize all he needs is Lingq and Vera!!! to learn German. I will not sleep, I will not eat, I will not drink!!! until he is found… unless I can’t find him in the next hour, in which case I’ll probably eat a sandwich, drink a glass of wine and take a nap…

So, you are off the case, Sherlock?

The guy searches for motivation, can you share your enthusiasm with him instead of laughing?

I can’t… I don’t know about you all…