what i’ve learned about language learning after 4+ years abroad


“if i spend years in central europe without even bothering to study languages… what a waste of time that would be!” i had this thought shortly after a fateful conversation occurred, the one that spurred me to finally sign up for a czech language class. more and more, this statement continues to be so correct.

since last autumn, i’ve kicked my language learning into high gear when my german group course was cancelled, taking it as a sign to sign up for an individual german tutor. so since october, i’ve had weekly german and czech lessons… but turns out, studying two languages simultaneously takes a lot of work. suddenly, it became my primary hobby. not necessarily my favorite, but the one that i spend a large amount of time on (or try to). so, i’ve been pretty intensively studying both for the past five months and i’ve started to have some realizations and good thoughts about language learning.

one-on-one classes are worth it

it’s tough for me to spend money on myself, but i decided, “I AM WORTH IT!”, supported my my husband who also thought it was a good idea and pushed me to do it. as i mentioned before, i spent over two years in german group courses where class preparation really wasn’t necessary, the other students hated homework, and i felt like i was simply keeping my head above water rather than making any notable gains. there was hardly time for individual speaking practice so i was still totally shy to try speaking german to others, let alone to native speakers of the language!

 for me, confidence is a huge part of learning any skill, and group classes just weren’t providing me that. now with a private tutor, i feel like i am definitely making gains and i’m much more inclined to offer to speak german to anyone than i was before. 

why are one-on-one classes worth it?

speaking time. individual attention to your problem areas. you are hiring both an educator and a cheerleader. and damn, it feels nice to have someone caring about and cheering on this particular aspect of your life! individualized workload: the class is personalized to your wants and needs. i like a fair amount of homework and felt like my classmates in the past were holding me back. (plus, i was always that girl asking for homework… i’m sure they all loved me)

i am aware this is not always financially feasible for all learners, but if you are on the fence, believe me, it is an upgrade and an investment.

there will be off days

we all know the days that we’d rather hide in our homes than even face the foreign language that exists outside our doors. sometimes i don’t even want to deal just with the routine interactions involved in going to a cafe… and that’s totally alright.


it’s not always your fault

i mentioned above that language learning is hugely a confidence issue. but it wasn’t until i read silvia’s recent post (also about language learning) did i realize that when communication problems occur, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s my fault. it could be that the person you’re trying to talk to doesn’t have any experience communicating with foreigners, or is just a terrible communicator in general. we don’t really know. i used to beat myself up when i had incredibly awkward language interactions, but now it’s at the point where i can just laugh it off. how freeing!

just try

does anyone else ever feel like they should just get a free pass to speak english? because you don’t understand, i’m from the u.s.? or something like that? once in the not too distant past, my landlord wanted to talk in german rather than english because his english isn’t the easiest for him. i told him, “i’m not so great at german” and he said, “much better than my english!” which, honestly, is true. growing up in the united states means i’ve never had to communicate in a foreign language for any reason, so it’s still so easy to rest on my laurels here because some people do speak some english. OR, i can just be confident and try. it’s hard and you’ll often be racking your brain, but why should you get a free pass no matter where your home country is, especially if you are the foreigner and even more especially if you chose to be there?

however, it does annoy me when people are so extremely unsympathetic in forums or message boards. for every post about someone needing help because they had trouble as a non-czech speaker, there is always someone who comments saying “then just learn czech”. i see the point, but that ain’t going to happen overnight! also, not helpful.

slip sliding away

to prevent my german from slipping away while living in czechland, i find that i have to put in about twice as much time with it as i do with the czech, which is more readily available "on call” in my brain. i try to study at least two separate days a week apart from my lesson!


surrounding self with inspirado

the main reason i get really interested in studying a language to begin with is inspiration, and the lack of it is the main reason to fall out of studying or caring. it’s so important to continually immerse oneself in the very reason you wanted to study in the first place!

right around the time last autumn when i became obsessed (!!) with the show deutschland 83, i knew it was time to up my german language game. in fact, i think it was this show that actually pushed me to make the call and sign up for individual lessons. whatever works, keep doing / watching / hanging around it!

consume all the media

in addition to watching programs or movies for inspirational purposes, watching youtube videos in my languages of study is huge for me. there are a load of wonderful learning german youtube channels and vids (i love easy german, smartergerman, & a few others i’ve found surfing around), and i make a weekly date to sit down and watch one, take notes on new vocabulary, and then watch it over (and over and over) again at least two more times to better absorb what i’m hearing and seeing. 

it works, too! my german teacher was super impressed when i busted out one day with a slang phrase i learned from a video! movies, reading news articles, listening to the radio, or anything that is interesting to you can also work.

how do you study a foreign language? (if not, would you like to?) i was using duolingo as well but i grew a bit bored of it, although i still hop on there from time to time.

ps, you might like the conversation that lead me to study czech, an american in a czech german class, & adjusting.

this post is a part of wanderful wednesday.