Motivational Monday: Trying to learn German is a joke …
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Motivational Monday: Trying to learn German is a joke …

Motivational Monday: Trying to learn German is a joke …

Learning German… at least according to those who keep laughing at how “cute” my German is.

As you know from my previous posts, I am studying German. Perhaps “studying” is an overstatement — an expression of where I want to be rather than where I am or a minor linguistic exaggeration that I use to keep myself motivated.

A lot is said in the self-help books on the importance of goal setting. Whether you set short-, intermediate-, or long-term goals, says the popular wisdom, it’s at least important to have goals at all.

Mine? To keep going.

My German language story begins back in 2004. It started innocently enough. There was a boy. There was love. And, boom, it’s ten years later and I am living in Berlin.

As I have come to learn from other Americans living abroad the “I fell for a German” story is a pretty typical one. So too is our story of struggling year after year to master the language.

A decade of living with German has not made me fluent. The knowledge of that is occasionally more embarrassing than others. Just recently, for example, I participated in a book discussion auf Deutsch. There was another American attendee who, in little more than six months, has achieved as much — if not more — with German language learning as I have in these ten years and her primary language is Esperanto. Wie schrecklich ist das denn?!

Placing embarrassment aside, how do we language learners — especially those of us who are apparently slower than others — keep ourselves motivated for the task?

We set measurable goals.

A friend of mine is married to an American working for a German company. She has decided that she would like to attend a medical school in Germany. Because, no surprise, medical school admission would require a higher degree of fluency, non-native-speaking applicants have to pass a language proficiency examination. A test is a useful and objective tool for anyone, let alone those wanting to measure their success in reaching a language learning goal.

Why not add this to your own toolbox, if you haven’t already?

We imagine the impossible.

For my German husband’s Christmas present, I bought tickets for the Berlin performance of the British comedian Eddie Izzard. (Don’t know him? YouTube him now!) The posters for the performance said it would be auf Deutsch but, come on, that had to be part of the joke, right? I anticipated some kind of wacky translation multimedia support; he thought it would be a Mark Twain like take on the horrors of the German language. Nope! Not only had Izzard prepared his usually off-the-cuff hilarity in advance, he’d learned German for this tour specifically and pledged to perform the show in the native tongue of each other country booked on his tour: in French, Russian, and Arabic. The result? A courageously stumbling and hilarious performance auf Deutsch that we — an audience filled with fellow German learners — could relate to all too well.

Whether for trips abroad or presentations, why shouldn’t our wildest dreams inspire our language learning?

We dive into pop culture.

True confession, I am a sucker for television crime shows. In the U.S., it’s Law & Order, with some 24 years of ripped-from-the-headlines drama and countless spin-offs. In Germany, it’s Tatort.

Tatort has been running since its premiere in 1970. It’s a boon for language learners. Not only does the Sunday night drama take place in a different city each week, it’s presented in the dialogs and accents of each city too.

Sure, sure, we Tatort fans are learning terminology as specific to crime and punishment as medical terminology is specific to my prospective med school friend, but there’s plenty of everyday life (and language) in there too. Bonus for language learners: the show is subtitled for those with hearing impairments, so that all can follow along with the script. Moreover, for social media lovers, the broadcaster has now taken to showing an optional live ticker of the nation’s tweets with each show.

Want to learn a living language? Maybe skip the books for a while and live the pop culture life like the natives!


I have a long way to go before I am as confident in speaking German as Miss Esperanto but, hey, a little imagination goes a long way.

What about you? How are you keeping yourself motivated for language learning? Share your own stories in the comments!

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