Beginners: You Know More Than You Think You Do

I started casually dipping my toe into German before going to Austria in September. I did the usual "beginner" things like Duolingo and Babbel for maybe about a month prior to the trip. Typical. Probably the types of things that you as a beginner are doing. Once I got there I didn't really understand anything and could only read basic signs but I did fine and my girlfriend (who speaks pretty good German) handled most things. I just smiled and asked if they spoke English and they did and it was great and I had a good time.

After the trip I continued my self-study with more diligence. This was all in preparation for a second trip to Austria that she and I were planning to take immediately after the new year. This time I took my self-study with a bit more seriousness (although believe me there were plenty of cheat days.) Thanks to this forum and others I developed a routine:

  • Every morning on the subway ride to work I listened to the Language Transfer course on German. I'd listen to each each episode twice. (Got to about episode 27 by the time I left for Austria)
  • Did my daily Duolingo.
  • A lesson on Babbel a day.
  • Started Assimil for beginners and got to around lesson 21 by the time I flew out. (Life got in the way and I stopped doing this in early December.)
  • Discovered Clozemaster thanks to this forum in early December and did that daily.
  • Whenever I could I listened to Slow German podcasts repeatedly for a week or more until I could more or less "translate in my head" as good as possible as she spoke.

The reason I list all these things is to show that it was all self-study. I grunted and struggled and cried and cursed and app-ed my way through as best I could. I found the time when I could and when I didn't oh well too bad. Last week I was a bit nervous stepping off the plane in Vienna because I thought to myself, "Am I really going to be any better? Or will this trip be a repeat of September where I just smile and ask if they speak English?"

And you know what?

I knew more than I thought I did.

Could I call a restaurant and ask for a table? Of course! I even had to improvise when they didn't have the time I wanted and had to ask about other available ones! I got to a coffee place and asked for all sorts of different things for Frühstück! I listened to the radio and could figure out from context that the snow in northern Austria (where we had just left) was worse than the snow in southern Austria (where we were [thankfully!] driving to!). I had conversations with shopkeepers about where I was from and what we were doing in Austria.

I was, in short, highly functional. And did much better than I expected.

And you will be too.

I guess I Just wanted to post this because there are so many on this subreddit (and I was one of them!) who worry that their progress may not be good enough. Or they worry if they're studying hard enough or that because they can't get to a class or a tutor right now that they'll never learn the language. I was one of you, and this trip really showed me that if you stick to it, mix up your resources as best you can, and plow through, you'll discover that you absolutely know more than you think you know. Stay confident and stay with it and trust me that you are much better in your language than you might think or feel.

Am I fluent? Of course not! Will my routine above make me fluent? Of course not! But I feel good about my progress, and it's motivated me to learn more. I start my "real" German classes at Goethe next week, and I think that will help my speaking in particular. Next time I go to Austria perhaps the polite shopkeepers won't have to speak quite so slowly :-)

But it's exciting to know that I can do this. And you can too.

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