With the advent of computers and the internet, I think the old methods of teaching and learning a foreign language have gone to the wayside. If you are truly motivated to learn a foreign language, you can access content on your own, reading and listening to whatever you choose from whatever is available. And for most languages there’s a lot available: reading blogs, forums, news articles, literature, even Twitter (I like using Twitter Search to look up and better understand how certain expressions are used); listening to daily news shows, tv series, films, videos; not to mention accessing online lexicons and language learning sites. Read and listen for whatever length of time and at whatever pace (and even rate of speed) you choose.
Add to that a good bit of discipline: keeping a journal or otherwise writing about something every day in your chosen language, eventually writing more and more as your skills improve to a point where you can write and express your own thoughts entirely in that language. Add to that: chatting online with people in their native language (This alone has been a big help for me. A good chat is like talking and writing at the same time). Add to that: finding the right people online who are willing to talk with you in their native language and can give useful feedback when you have questions. All of that surpasses the traditional classroom setting. I think literacy is the key, but having the opportunity to converse with people in their native language, as well as writing and corresponding, is the bottom line.
Unless you are the exceptional student who has access to the teacher (who preferably is a native speaker) outside of the classroom, whether that’s in the lab or at social events, or you are attending a special school where that language is spoken all day long, I hate to say it but, at least in my experience with the way languages are traditionally taught in the classroom, you’re probably not going to learn enough, even after 4 years, to carry on a real conversation, although you might learn how to say Pourriez-vous m’indiquer le chemin pour aller à la gare? well enough to be understood, but still not be able to understand when a person gives you directions.
As an anecdote, this: My nephew had had 4 years of Spanish in school and I hadn’t ever studied Spanish before. I had only ever taken French, which I never really learned to speak. During a trip to Argentina in 2008, for which I had very diligently taught myself Spanish over the previous 4 months using all kinds of resources, I was able to communicate and have conversations with people in Spanish, many of whom could not speak any English: cab drivers, people working in museums, restaurants, clothing stores and other businesses, while my nephew could barely put a sentence together. I told him that I had been teaching myself Spanish for 4 months. At first he was skeptical and then he was flabbergasted that I was actually able to speak Spanish with the cab driver while he couldn’t.
Since that time I have taken on other languages (namely Dutch) and I haven’t studied or spoken Spanish since. But I was really psyched when I got back from that trip. What that experience taught me was that languages can actually be self-taught and you don’t have to go through 4 painstaking years of Spanish class only to find that you’re unable to put it to any use.
But I know some people who swear by language classes. I know of at least one polyglot here on LingQ (who I don’t want to name or speak for here on the forum) who has learned a number of languages in a classroom setting.
I don’t think that grammar and theory that is taught in the classroom is necessarily a bad thing. I just think it needs to be applied in a way that is immediate and relevant, with lots of opportunity for practice with expressing your own thoughts through writing and speaking, so that when you go on a trip to Argentina you can actually speak the language. Otherwise there is a major disconnect between instruction and what is actually being learned.
There should also be a way for teachers to measure reading and listening skills with content that is guided by the teacher but ultimately chosen by the student. This is more difficult because it can place an undue burden on the teacher. Which is perhaps why gurkenwerfer’s teacher said that there is very little reading and listening in the class.
I would encourage gurkenwerfer to talk one-on-one with the German teacher to work out some sort of extra-credit activity outside the regular classroom, where reading and listening skills could be practiced and measured. Perhaps in a lab setting, choosing listening content from https://www.daserste.de/ (Extra 3 looks like a really fun show to watch). Or reading from a randomly chosen blog. I have stumbled upon some interesting blogs before, just by searching for a specific phrase. For example, a Google search for “nicht so recht zufrieden mit” brought me to the following website and blog:
https://www.die-berufsoptimierer.de/news/ . (By the way, I’m studying Dutch, not German. That was just an example.)
I’ve had a lot of fun learning Dutch. One of my favorite tv series is a Flemish show, Tabula Rasa (2017). Beau Séjour (2017) is another great Flemish series. And I’m a big fan of actor-director-auteur Alex van Warmerdam: De Noorderlingen (1992), Ober (2006), De laatste dagen van Emma Blank (2009), Borgman (2013). I’m also currently reading Zomerhuis met zwembad (2011) by Herman Koch. And I’m always working on reading Anne Frank’s diary, Het Achterhuis (1942-44), which is where my Dutch language journey began, although the language is more outdated and parts of it are more difficult to read.