Last updated on August 7th, 2017 at 11:59 am
The three of us had our own unique reasons for joining the class. A young woman from Spain was in Zurich to be with her boyfriend, the Israeli mother for her husband’s work, as was I. We all had one common goal:
Wir lernen Deutsch. Es ist sehr schwierig. (We’re learning German. It’s very difficult)
Learning German reminded me of a new relationship gone bad:
The excitement settles in. Everything feels right between us. I feel open, free, and adventurous. Then three weeks later you’re sideswiped. Not because he lied but because you were delusional about the truth.
Discomfort is Necessary
German will make sense one day, until the next day when it doesn’t. Go figure right?
Learning another language makes you question yourself. This is certainly not for the half-committed.
My initial reaction most of the time was to quit – more than I wish to admit.
But eventually I learned that discomfort is necessary. Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean you quit.
The only way to grow is by pushing past comfort zones. To get anywhere in life you must allow discomfort to exist as you move ahead. Text a loved one if you need to (my husband got many texts during the first two weeks lol).
Here are some great things to keep in mind when you’re struggling to learn:
1. Keep Learning
Getting comfortable is easy. When you don’t exercise the muscle of change, you become complacent and closed off to new experiences.
The strength of mind and body will eventually atrophy and the life force which drives you will weaken.
Don’t become one of those people filled with regret for not continuing.
Time is finite. Experience the awkward discomfort in doing something new today, rather than the overpowering anguish you’ll feel when it’s too late.
2. New Areas of the Mind Are Discovered
My mind is thinking in whole new ways. German grammar has helped me edit blog posts in English with greater clarity.
If you take a piano lesson or a drawing class for the first time you’ll notice your head will start to hurt or things feel a bit funny. This is because you’re making connections you hadn’t before. So exciting!
3. Make Tangible Goals
Without a number or metric to reach there’s no way you’ll feel inspired to continue. You need a way to track progress.
My overall goal is to be able to speak conversational German by October. My tangible goal is practicing two hours a day.
Now I can gauge each day how I’m doing. If I’m behind, I feel pressure. If I’m on task, I feel good.
4. Set Yourself Up for Success
Find ways to create a sort of “culture” around the language you’re learning.
On Duolingo, you can join language clubs and compete with other members to see who earns the most points per week. As a naturally competitive person this has greatly kept my attention and commitment (I’m on a 32 day streak!).
I take a language intensive course here in Zurich with 4 other students. Learning with a teacher and other people has been really helpful. We’re social creatures, after all.
Listen to media in the language you’re learning and try to speak to as many people as possible. This is definitely easier if you’re in a country that speaks the language.
Try and keep tabs on how this type of learning is enhancing your life. I’ve met new people, tested my strengths and weaknesses, and seen improvements in my writing. These realizations start becoming your “why” for continuing which motivates you.
It Goes Even Deeper
Learning another language humbles you. Sometimes you have to stumble and fail your way through practicing before you start to get half of a sentence out correctly.
Aside from learning a new language, I’ve gotten the unique and wonderful privilege to unite with women from completely different countries (and cultures) and share struggle and triumph in a class setting.
In this situation, I learned more how to love others regardless of their flaws, viewpoints, or creed. The young Spanish student believes in moving in with a boyfriend before marriage while the Israeli woman with two kids believes in waiting until marriage. Our walks of life are so diverse yet we share common ground learning German.
We’ve come to realize how learning is relative. One day in class I couldn’t grasp a certain concept and felt humiliated. But 5 minutes later someone else couldn’t grasp another concept while I could. We each have our strengths and weaknesses.
Regardless, we formed a camaraderie and have the desire to help each other succeed.
I’ve come to enjoy and cherish differences – also to notice more similarities – and to see beauty in the shortcomings I have, which have made themselves very apparent in German class. This, in turn, has helped me to judge others less and love the beauty of their flaws.
When you put yourself out there, you end up learning way more than you expect. It’s ok if you suck at first. Languages are hard but if you keep going you’ll surprise yourself.
Implement one of the steps listed above. You can shoot me an email too about struggles you may be having in learning a language.
Francesca Phillips is a writer who recently moved back to States after living in Switzerland. In her previous life, she worked in the music industry for six years in Los Angeles. As an avid reader and holder of a degree in Psychology, she covers topics related to self-improvement, finding your purpose, and energy alignment. She’s a contributor for her own blog, Thought Catalog, and Medium. When she’s not inspiring creatives to be a light in the world you’ll find her traveling, hanging with her husband, and obsessing over dogs on Instagram.