Do you benefit from breaks?
Hi everyone. I apologise for the somewhat negative post. I've been learning German since late 2015, but have been stagnant for the last 2-3 months. My original goal was to be fluent but I can't push myself to learn the ~30% I don't understand. The new words (especially verbs!) are sounding extremely similar to the ones I've already learnt, being distinguishable by just an "ab", "auf", etc. So I've only been maintaining or fixing what I know.
I've been through a lot of shorter stagnant phases before. These were overcome by still getting practice/ immersion everyday. Like, usually I'd do some exercises, watch German videos or play the German version of Ace Attorney (DS) to keep things fun. Lately however, it feels contrived and I feel a bit smothered.
I haven't taken a "day off" since I began as I'm worried that with every day you don't practice, your skills decline a lot (not the duolingo skills). There's also the risk I could enjoy not learning German and get lazy with it. On the other hand, I'm getting sick of the language by forcing it onto myself when I don't feel like learning.
Has anyone had a similar kind of conflict? If so did you benefit from taking a break, or just pushing yourself until your motivation returned?
I took a break of several months and it rekindled my motivation. I restarted both trees (Spanish and German). By letting go of the streak, it also helped me take this learning website less seriously. I now enjoy my lessons. And, I also chose to access other tools like reading books and watching movies in German and in Spanish.
Most everyone has addressed your questions, so I will simply add some encouragement.
I've been studying German for about two years. There are some days where I genuinely feel like I'll never be truly proficient; there are some days where I have to force myself to do my lessons, and I've taken breaks I didn't intend to take. This is part of the language learning process, and it's certainly not a fun part. But ultimately, the good always outweighs the bad in hindsight.
Stick with it. Few things are truly enjoyable until you get good at them, and you will get there.
I think it's good to take both study breaks and complete breaks from learning a language. Studying is important, but it should be enjoyable and interesting to keep you motivated. Also, spending time with the language can mean doing other things too like chatting with a friend, listening to your favourite music, watching a movie/tv show, etc.
Complete breaks are good if you feel lost or overwhelmed. It can help to refresh your mind and gives you the chance to think about different ways of learning. I've done this several times and it's worked a charm. I'm always surprised by how much I can remember if I haven't looked at a language for several months.
I don't think there is anything wrong with taking a break. I've been doing Irish since last year, but I took a break of several months after I finished the tree. I was able to get motivated again once I realized I was missing it.
My issue is that I want to keep practicing my Irish while learning German. So far, I haven't had any issues, but I wonder if I'm going to get confused once I get into more difficult German concepts. I took German in college, and I did well, but it's been a long time.
I do not think taking a day or even a week off necessarily means your skills will seriously decline. I am no expert on this, but I think, like other skills, when you learn a language some things become a sort of "muscle memory". You do something enough times and it gets stored in the back of your mind, recalled when necessary. So, you may forget some things, but they can be triggered easily or you already have the template of understanding in your mind. I use a memorisation app called "Memrise" and I am sometimes surprised by the words I learned 50+ days ago and still recall.
For me, breaks are necessary. Just like taking a small break from marathon training, it won't hurt you if you take it from time to time. For me, when I take a break from French, I usually take a lesson from a different language. Haha, that doesn't sound like a break, but I feel great when I learn another different language.
If you need a break, you need a break. Whilst it can be good to force yourself through things which aren't fun, if it drains your motivation, eventually you'll stop anyway, and may not restart.
Secondly, I'm not sure what you mean by 'fluent' - possibly it means different things to different people. If you mean C2 level in the CELF - well, I know some native speakers who can struggle to tick all of those boxes (in English) - but they'd consider themselves fluent. And I know people who would easily be considered fluent, but wouldn't be mistaken for a native speaker. So, without knowing exactly what your goal is, all I can say is, set yourself a realistic target. (Mine is C1 level - I want to be able to discuss and write confidently, with precision and nuance. I don't think C2 is realistic, without living in the country for years, and having high level formal education in the language.)
As for motivation ... It may not be feasible for you, but I would suggest actually going to Germany (or Austria) and finding a small village where English isn't spoken at all, and stay there for a bit. You'll have your motivation, because you can't communicate otherwise - it does wonders for you ;)
That's real immersion. It's tricky to manage though, financially.
Maybe you just need to have some fun with it. To that end, I listen to Schlager Musik (it's easy to follow, repetitive, and not too fast.) And I read Märchen für Kinder - again, not too tricky, but fun to read. (As well as full novels - but they're more hard work. Helps if you know the stories well in English.)
In the final analysis, you can only get so far through study. The only real way to get good is to use it for real. My sons were learning Spanish, so I took them to Madrid for a week. I speak no Spanish at all - I said I would pay for everything, but they had to do the talking. Initially, they found it incredibly difficult - Spanish had been a purely academic exercise til then. But after a few days of having to fight their way through buying metro tickets, dealing with the Hotel (exclusively in Spanish - I asked them not to use English for them - so mean!) ordering food, talking to museum staff, tourist information, etc, (I even forced them to ask questions and for recommendations in restaurants, to get them speaking more.) By the end of the week, they were getting talked to by native speakers, and were responding happily, answering questions - giving directions in the street, even. No accident that in the oral exam at the end of the year, the older one got the highest marks in the school, only dropping one, and the examiner apologised when the exam was over for having to stop, as it was going so smoothly.
So, my advice is, have some fun with it, and make yourself use it, for real (in situations where there's no alternative, if possible.) Then it stops being work, or an exercise, and becomes a means of communication. Which is what it's really all about, I think.
Aside from taking a break, you might also want to study up on the function of the prefixes "auf", "ab", etc. There is some logic to them which makes it easier to learn some (although not all) words that use them.
I took a 30 year break learning German. I'm glad I've finally returned to it and was surprised by the random German words my brain dredged up once I got back into it. Please don't take as long a break as I did!!
That is a long break. Glad you got back into it though! I find German interesting! I only knew how to say one, two, three before I started Duolingo, and that was just because a character from an anime I watched said it, kind of as a catch phrase I guess. Also taking a break from something you're growing tired of is a good idea.
I am also studying German again after being away from it for about 20 years. I took it in college, but I discontinued to study Latin, which I needed for grad school more than I needed German. I find that phrases and words do come back, and that I inexplicably know some of the vocabulary and grammar without having studied it for years.
I'd definitely take a break if I felt I was doing 'negative work'. That's just me though.
I can definitely relate. I have been pretty consistent with German for the past few months (except for a few short 1-2 week "breaks" like you mentioned, including the one that killed my 170+ day streak last week haha), but I have been on break from Japanese for several months now (long story short, memorizing kanji is hard for me, so I'm stalling out because of my limited vocabulary).
Something that helps me in both languages is finding activities that keep me interested in (and learning about) the culture, but doesn't involve studying the language. For example, I'll watch popular German movies with English subtitles, read English translations of books by German authors, or listen to German bands (my favorites sing in both English and German). Doing this usually reminds me why I wanted to study the language in the first place, which helps to bring back my motivation.
I also find that taking a complete break - even for just a few days or weeks - helps me figure out what to learn next. It's easy to be a total beginner at a language, because the path to get started is pretty clear. But once you get past the basics, it's easy to be overwhelmed by how many things there are to learn. When I take a complete step back, and then pick it up again after a little while, it helps me see the next step much more clearly. For example, I feel stuck in a similar spot as you with German - my vocabulary is growing, which is great, but sometimes I confuse similar-sounding words. So I'm drilling those right now, and also learning to recognize suffixes.
But to answer your real question... I haven't formally "studied" French in about 15 years, but still remember much of what I learned. And whenever I jump back into it by reading a book or news article (or manga lol), I find that it doesn't take long to regain most of what I forgot. So if you have a pretty solid foundation in the language to begin with (even at about an "intermediate" level), a few months off probably won't hurt you.