Dear Professor Arguelles,
My name is Ali, I’m a Syrian student in Germany. I’ve recently found your content on YouTube and I’ve gone through most of your videos in one-sitting. I find your wealth of information and insight most helpful and illuminating.
I live, work, and study in Germany but I’ve been struggling with the language. When I first got here I breezed through the language courses and got the language certificate needed to attend university at a record time. I didn’t really put any effort into it, I just attended the courses and paid attention most of the time. I presume that my good grasp of English had helped me acquire the German language with ease. At least when it comes to Grammar and vocabulary.
I speak Arabic, English, Turkish, and German. I yearn to learn other languages such as Japanese, Dutch, Swedish, French and Russian. But my recent struggles with German have dissuaded me from embarking on such time-consuming effortful journeys that may never bear the fruits that I seek.
I may be able to attend a 2-hour lecture in German on complicated technical subjects but on the other hand not be able to manage a 5-minute conversation with a friendly elder or a fellow colleague. As an introverted person I find this to be an insurmountable obstacle that I don’t know how to tackle or even where to begin.
I don’t have a clear question in mind, I hope that you’ve seen such “symptoms” before and perhaps have had some personal experience with such problems. I just don’t know how to improve my language skills, when I speak German in a conversation I keep trying to formulate the sentences in my mind like I’m placing lego blocks, I make mistakes that of which I’m fully aware, just trying to get the conversation going at a reasonable speed for a native speaker yet when I replay the conversation in my mind I cringe at my obvious mistakes. It’s been 4-5 years of the same experiences and I feel stuck in my mediocrity with no way to go forward.
I’d appreciate any insight or ideas you may have, and I would like to thank you for all the content and information you’ve shared with us so far. It’s been truly eye-opening learning all those new things that I’ve never considered or even imagined.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
Thank you for writing. I am sorry to hear of your difficulty, but I do believe (hope) I may have a way for you to overcome your inhibitions.
Given what you have written – that you were able to pass exams to study in Germany, and that you can follow a 2-hour lecture in German without difficulty – your inability to converse is clearly not linguistic in nature (i.e., not due to lack of vocabulary, structural knowledge, etc.). You describe your mind consciously formulating phrases, making mistakes, cringing, and shutting down. So, given your obviously advanced knowledge of the language, what you need to do is turn your mind off to begin with and let yourself function on auto pilot, for you do have what it takes to fly.
How can you do this? I believe it is actually quite simple. The advice I have to give you is similar to that which I have given others recently about learning how to speak Latin. What you need to do is plant the sound of your own voice speaking it fluidly in your brain. You know how we all sub-vocalize our thoughts, hear a little voice speaking in our heads? If you can get used to hearing that voice articulating thoughts in fluid German, it will become second nature to you, and you should eventually become more comfortable externalizing those same kinds of thoughts.
So, what you need to do is:
- Get some written samples of conversational dialogues.
- Practice reading them aloud until you are comfortable with them and can do so smoothly and without stumbling. Don’t worry about your pronunciation for now – that is another issue – just make sure that your voice flows without error.
- Make good quality recordings of yourself reading aloud.
- Listen to them and get used to hearing your voice articulate thoughts without stumbling.
- Then shadow yourself and get even more used to saying these kinds of things.
- Then begin conversations using lines you have thus internalized.
- Then… let yourself go on.
I hope this is clear, and even more so, I hope it works for you!
Please provide a progress report at some point.
With all best regards and hopes that your are able to overcome this difficulty with spoken German and then go after those other languages for which you yearn!