The Top 5 Excuses for Not Learning German… and Why They’re Invalid

I can’t learn German. It is so hard! Der, die, das? What’s wrong with just saying “the”? These words have like 47 letters in them. How am I supposed to read this? I’m no good at learning languages. I failed Spanish in high school. I definitely will fail at learning German. I’m too old to learn a language. It’s easier when you are a kid, but my brain don’t work like it used to. 

Hey! You! Stop making excuses. You can learn German. Let me prove it to you.

Top 5 Excuses for Not Learning German - German Learning Tips

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $9.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

Excuse #1: I’m too old to learn German!

This is a myth that has been allowed to propagate through language learning circles for far too long that needs to be addressed. Children do not learn foreign languages more easily than adults. They learn them differently. There is a huge difference.

When you are a child learning your first language, you learn by doing. You learn through context. Someone says, “Do you want an apple?” and holds out an apple. You just learned that the phrase “Do you want…?” means they are offering whatever is at the end of that sentence and that the word “apple” refers to that weird reddish globular thing in their hand. You do this enough and you start making connections between the real, tangible things around you with the more abstract things like emotions. 

Adults are ahead of the game!

When you are an adult learning a new language, you already have some language knowledge. You know that the people around you say that red thing is an apple. Then you can connect the abstract idea of the word “apple” and connect that to the German word “Apfel”. You are simply swapping out vocabulary from one language to the next. 

That part is usually the easy part. The issue is when it comes to grammar. You have been using grammar rules for your entire life. You probably haven’t given them much thought except for those few times you were taught about grammar in school. But you were taught the rules. You did have to learn them. You had to be taught. Don’t believe me? Why did I say “taught” in that last sentence instead of “teached”? Because when you said “teached” as a child, someone corrected you. You used trial and error to learn grammar as a child and then supplemented with grammar lessons in a school setting once it came time for your brain to comprehend those complex ideas. 

Now that you are an adult (or at least more grown than when you first learned your native language’s grammar), you can compare how things work in your native language to how it works in German. In English we say “I go, but he goes”. In German we say “Ich gehe, aber er geht”. Similar grammar, but some small changes. You need someone to explain these things. As a more mature human being, you are capable of connecting these things. You can have someone explain, “this is how things work in German” and then apply that knowledge to what you already know. In this way, adults are more adept at learning languages than children. 

How do children learn languages?

Think about how long it took you to become fluent in your native language. You said your first word when you were about 1 year old. You probably weren’t putting more than three or four words together until you were two and even then, you can’t really consider that to be a full sentence. Pediatricians will accept “there no cats” as a full sentence, but I would mark it incorrect in my German classes, as there is no verb in that “sentence”. By age 3, you should be able to put four or more words together to form sentences. You wouldn’t get to anything near a B1 rating in your native language until you reached at least age 5. Even then, your grammar would be atrocious. 

Click here to see how language skills progress in children with their native language.

How do adults learn languages?

Compare that to how most people learn a second language as adults or even as teenagers. My students start in August every year and by December they can string together full sentences with a variety of verbs and use grammar properly to describe themselves and give basic information about themselves. This is more than that child you were so impressed with earlier did in the first two years of life.

By the time my students are done with their first year of German learning, they can speak like 4 year old native speakers. They progressed three years worth of development in just one year of language learning (assuming we don’t start counting until after the first word is uttered at age 1). And that is in a high school in the United States. Objectively one of the worst places to learn a language, even if you are learning it from me. 

Input for Babies vs Input for Adults

To compound this even more, that baby we were talking about before was getting input from everywhere all of the time. Every person who spoke to them, every show they watched, every song on the radio, was communicating with them in their target language all day, every day. Language learners generally don’t spend more than 3 hours each day worrying about their target language. There are obviously some over-achievers who will spend 5 hours each day learning a language, but it is still nowhere near the all-day-long immersion course that babies are enrolled in.

Click here to see how many hours you can expect it to take for you to learn German and other languages.

The bottom line is this. Children do not learn language better, faster, or any other -er ending adjective you have heard than adults. They learn differently. You need to adjust the way you think about language learning to accommodate the fact that you already know a language. You are learning a second, third or fourth language. You are not learning as a child does, because you are not a child! You aren’t learning a language like a baby, because you are not a baby! 

Excuse #2: I don’t have enough time to learn German!

Mark Twain famously said, “Life’s too short to learn German.” He even went as far as to write an essay called “The Awful German Language” in which he complained about many of the things that language learners complain about when learning a language. While his frustrations are valid, saying you don’t have enough time to learn German, is disingenuous at best. 

You find time for the things you prioritize in your life. If you want to learn German, you will make time for it. This does not necessarily mean that you have to give up something that you are already doing. It means that you need to adjust how you think about studying German. 

You have time each day that you are wasting. You know you do it. That 30 minute car ride to work every day is a huge wasted opportunity, if you aren’t using it to learn German. Listen to a podcast. Find one of those YouTube videos that have “listen and repeat” kind of exercises on it and do that while driving. You will be surprised how much you can get out of simply listening and repeating while in the car. 

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? I usually have the news playing while I brush my teeth, shave and get dressed. Imagine if you had a German lesson going instead. 

Don’t give up your Netflix time, but don’t waste it either!

Do you spend 4 hours each night watching Netflix? Watch Netflix in German instead. Start with subtitles in your native language and then switch to German subtitles once you start getting the hang of things. Eventually you will be able to watch Netflix in German without any subtitles at all. This same method can be used with Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime or whatever streaming site you use. They all have a German synchronized version of your favorite shows. Watch in German. Don’t give up your Netflix time, but don’t waste it either. 

Again, you don’t have to remove something else from your life in order to make time for learning German. You already have time. You just need to find it. Where are the underutilized parts of your day? When are you doing something where your brain is essentially shut off? Use that time to learn German. You may even find that you become more productive at whatever the mindless task you were doing was. You could, for example, play an audiobook while you do the dishes. It’s a win-win. 

Excuse #3: I can’t afford it.

You do realize you are currently reading a post from a guy with a YouTube channel with over 700 video lessons completely for free, right? There are hundreds of YouTube channels all teaching German and all of them have at least some of their videos out there as completely free. If you are looking for more suggestions, click here.

Everyone knows about Duolingo, but there are other sites out there that are either completely free to use like the websites from Deutsche Welle or the Goethe Institut. Others are cheap or incredibly reasonably priced like my Deutschlerner Club ($9.99 per month) or Speakly (Click here for my review of Speakly). 

I have pages upon pages of free resource recommendations on my website. Everything from free resources I offer or other German teachers offer to online dictionaries, places to read German online and recommended apps, websites and even games.

After all of that, there is still the option to not use any of those free or really cheap options. Your local library likely has a plethora of resources for language learning. I know my local library offers some language learning software that patrons can borrow for free! Stop by your local library and ask what resources they offer for language learners. You may be surprised by the things they have available for you. 

Excuse #4: I’m just not good at languages. I’m not a linguist.

NO ONE IS NATURALLY GOOD AT LANGUAGES! They all trained in some way to be good with languages. They didn’t just come home from the hospital and start learning five languages. People who brag online that they can speak 5+ languages, did NOT naturally get to that point. They trained for years. They had a lot of trial and error. And almost all of them are trying to sell you a paid version of their methodology. 

You may have struggled with language learning in the past and this has left a sour taste in your mouth when it comes to language learning. That’s because whatever you were doing then was not an effective method for you. It might work for other people and that is great, but if it doesn’t work for you, try something else. 

Language Learning in School is Lacking

If the only language learning experience you have is from being in school, especially in the American education system, you didn’t give language learning a fair shake. Language learning in schools is set up in such a way that the majority of students will be able to learn some of the language.

This does not mean that the majority of them will become fluent. It means that the majority of students taking that language course will pass the test that was designed based on what the teachers and the school administration wants students to learn. This is not the best method of learning a language. It isn’t the most efficient for the learner. It is the most efficient for those teaching the course. And I can say this confidently as one of the people teaching the course. 

Click here for my interview with Steve Kaufmann, in which we discuss why you didn’t learn a language in school.

You need to find something that works for you as an individual. You are unique and need a unique plan to learn a language. Find your passion in life and attach your language learning to that. You will find that your language learning moves a lot faster when you are doing something that you love in the target language. 

The bottom line is: If you don’t learn well with one method or one teacher or one site, try another and another and another until you find what works for you. My Deutschlerner Club isn’t for everyone. You can try it for 7 days for free, however, and find out if it is something that will actually help you by clicking here. If it doesn’t work out, no hard feelings, but at least give it a try. 

Excuse #5: German is hard!

So is riding a bike. You know how you learned to ride a bike? Scaffolding. That’s right. You likely started with a tricycle. Something stable that is easy to pedal and easy to steer and has almost no chance of tipping over on you. Then you moved to a bicycle with training wheels. This is more stable than a bicycle, but has less support than a tricycle. Finally when you were ready to transition to a bicycle, you removed the training wheels and fell down a few times. 

How did you learn to swim? I learned by having someone throw me into a pond and wait until I came back up. These are two entirely different methodologies, but both have one thing in common. They both caused some pain along the way. I had bumps and bruises and even a few scraped knees before I learned to ride a bike. I may have learned to swim in one day, but it was a rough day for sure. 

German has its difficulties, but so does your native language. English is notoriously stupid with rules, exceptions to rules and stolen grammar from whichever language was closest at the time or whichever territory the Anglo-Saxon people invaded that month. 

A Scale for How Difficult Languages Are to Learn

There are scales that show how difficult languages are to learn for native English speakers. These are almost entirely subjective and made up. In most rankings I have seen, German is in its own category all alone. Even Dutch is usually ranked as easier than German and Dutch is a Germanic language. 

So… German is a hard language to learn? No. The scale that shows German is more difficult to learn than Spanish and French is based on the number of hours required to learn to level 3 on some exam. All of those other languages take 575-600 hours to learn and German will take you 750 hours. So… 150 more hours? That is an increase of 25% over the high end in the previous category. What about the languages that are more difficult than that? If you take the first category as the baseline, Indonesian, Malaysian and Swahili are 50% more difficult than the first group. That giant list of languages in the 4th category take 1100 hours to learn, which would be 83% more difficult. The last category is double that at 2200 hours, which makes them 267% more difficult than learning languages in the first category. 

Click here for the official FSI language difficulty ranking.

Click here for the graphic I used in the video at the top of this post.

How much more difficult is German than other languages?

Even if we assume that this number isn’t just something a government agency made up, 150 more hours is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let’s say that the 600 hours it would take you to learn a language in the 1st category takes you 6 months to learn. That would be 100 hours per month or 25 hours per week, which is a little over 3 ½ hours of language learning per day for 6 months to pass that exam. German will take you an extra 150 hours to learn. That means an extra month and a half, so 7 ½ months instead of 6 or 4 ½ hours instead of 3 ½ hours per day to complete it in the same 6 month timespan. 

Long story short, German is not THAT difficult to learn. Suck it up, Buttercup. Surely the reason you are trying this in the first place outweighs the extra effort. If not, maybe you should give up. That’s what the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission did. Things got difficult and they just decided to give up and float off into space until they died of asphyxiation.

Wait? That’s not what happened? They persevered and had several movies made about their harrowing tale? I’m not saying that they will make a movie about your ability to overcome learning a language that 90-105 million people already speak as their native language and 80 million people have learned as a second language, I’m just saying, not doing something because it is difficult is one of the lamest excuses on this list. 

Who speaks German?

So many people are already learning German or have learned German. You can do it too. If Tina Fey, Sandra Bullock, Kim Cattrall, Chris Pratt (dirty joke) (on the red carpet), Pope Francis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, Mark Strong and Gene Simmons plus some doofus in a bow tie on a YouTube channel can all speak German, you can do it too.

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $9.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

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