Shane is learning German. He is 29 years old and works in Cardiff.

How are you learning German?

I’m using a combination of things, mainly an Assimil course as well as Duolingo, Memrise and watching stuff in German online.

Why are you motivated to learn German?

I studied German in school but didn’t enjoy it. I developed an interest in it when I lived with a German girl while at university so I began learning it, although it later fell by the wayside. Recently I’ve become more interested in languages in general, so I took up German again. I’ve tried learning other languages as well, but I’m going to stick with German now.

What other languages have you tried?

In my first year of university I did a module of Japanese because I thought that would be interesting. I also tried Swedish for eight months with a private tutor. I did a beginners French class at Cardiff University and I have dabbled in others like Danish, Italian and Spanish with Duolingo.

What is the biggest challenge for you when beginning a new language?

It depends from language to language. German for instance is trickier than other languages I’ve learned in terms of grammar. I’m also a bit hesitant to speak it with native speakers, although that’s what you need to do to get good at it. It’s a challenge to have the confidence to start speaking, for me. I find that when I am learning a language I can understand a lot from reading and hearing it, but when I try to speak I freeze up and the vocabulary doesn’t come to mind.

Do you worry about making mistakes?

Yes, definitely. Everyone wants to be perfect and you can’t be. You have to make the mistakes but you don’t want to. At least that’s how I feel.

What is Assimil like?

I’m really enjoying it. It’s different to all the other methods I’ve tried; for instance with my French and Japanese classes it was what you’d expect from a language class: using a textbook, learning vocabulary lists and doing little speaking exercises whereas Assimil just has dialogues. The book has the dialogue in German on one page and the translation on the other and you’re just supposed to listen to the audio files that come with the book over and over again and compare them to the translation, and you’re supposed to acquire it naturally. It does have information about the grammar but it doesn’t go too in-depth. It’s quite engaging and I think the problem with the classes that I’ve done is that they do start to become a bit slow sometimes.

Do you have any particular goals in mind?

I’d like to be able to have a conversation in another three months’ time. I think that’s totally doable with the course I’m doing at the moment. My goal is just to reach basic conversational fluency and then once I feel comfortable with it I think that’s when I can get into the more advanced stuff then, and maybe take up another language again. I’d like to try the Assimil course in French because I can remember quite a bit of French from my classes but as I didn’t really enjoy the class I think I’d get more out of self-learning.

If you were to speak to someone who has never tried learning a language, what would you say?

I would say don’t assume that you’re crap at learning languages, because a lot of people say that and I think I always assumed that in school because I didn’t enjoy it. Classes in school or adult learning courses pretty much follow a textbook and take quite a traditional approach to learning which doesn’t always work for everyone. If you find a way that works for you and you realise that you can learn a lot more than you think you can then it’s encouraging. People are wired to speak languages and it’s not impossible to learn any language. It’s always a shame when people say they’re not good with languages, but it’s often because they haven’t found a way that’s fun and engaging.

Do you have a favourite word or phrase in German?

I always liked this phrase: ‘Ich komme gerade vom Flughafen’. It means ‘I just came from the airport’. I don’t know what it is about that sentence but it just sounds lovely! And ‘ich möchte bitte die Karte sehen’ which is ‘can I see the menu?’ They’re very ordinary sentences but they just sound nice.


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