5 Traps To Avoid When Learning German

Here are the things that did not help me learn German. I’ve been through a lot of different types of lessons and learning platforms along my journey, and I have the scars to prove it. Learning German online was trickier than I thought. You may find this list a little surprising - if so, read my blog post to find out what did work for me.

1. Lessons After Work 

This is how a lot of people will learn, because people need to put bread on the table. But for me, this never worked. For the first week of 2x 2 1/2 hour lessons per week after work I was motivated and attentive. I relished the lessons. By the 3rd week I started to dread them - I was always tired after a long day, and found my motivation waning. On the other free evenings, I had to do the homework. I made some progress of course, but for me it was hard to sustain this schedule. As I wrote about before, I learn much better by doing something intensively [link to other blog].


2. Private Lessons

The private in-person lessons I organised weren’t much better. There was no curriculum to follow, no real order or flow to the lesson. These were also after work. Most annoyingly, the teacher kept talking in English about her ex-boyfriend. I had to keep switching to German to get us back on track. I think she should have been paying me. Empirically, most people whom I've met who have good German have: studied it in school, studied it in university, done intensive courses, or are Dutch. I don't make the rules.

3. Duolingo 

There is a big caveat here - Duolingo is free - so there is little ground to stand on when complaining about it. But a lot of people confuse motivation for learning when using the happy owl. Duolingo is great in that it can push you through periods where you’re not speaking German, or haven’t yet started lessons. It gets you excited about learning a language and keeping your streak going. But it will not make you fluent. If you want to learn German online, you'll have to do a bit more work. Duolingo is the dude giving you the pep talk - but you still have to put in the miles and run the race yourself.

Me introducing myself to the end of infinity to my tandem partners

4. Tandems 

Tandems didn’t agree with me one bit. These are when you use a platform (there are many) to organise an hour long meetup with a native speaker of German, for example, who wants to learn English from you, a native English speaker. You speak the first 30 minutes in German, and the second 20 minutes in English. Theoretically speaking, you make friends, have a culturally enriching experience, and kill two owls with one stone. 

What happened was a series of missed messages, changed times, incorrect Skype IDs, bad connections, the same introductions being repeated, and not much of either language being learned. No fans of tandems here.

5. In-Person Meetups 

Having never been to any, I really have no place in putting these on the list. The idea of them was off-putting- they sounded awkward, conversations were apparently shallow. So I started online ones instead. I’m not going to turn this blog into a never-ending ad for myself, but the online meetups that I organised through Deutsch Gym was a massive part of how I can speak German. I’m biased, but in my opinion, regular online meetups with guided conversation topics beat weekly awkward in-person meetups. 

I'm the founder of Deutsch Gym. In the past I've worked in startups as a marketer and frontend developer, started 12 side projects, and surfed a few waves along the way. I moved to Berlin from Ireland a few years ago and learned German - prompting the idea for Deutsch Gym.
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