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  5. Hitting the wall


Hitting the wall

This is a cry of anguish! Duolingo is IMO by far the best online language system, and getting even better. My problem is not with DL as such, but with German. After nearly 2.5 years of daily practice I am just not getting near fluency. By that I mean even being able to construct a sentence on the fly. I may not be in the first flush of youth, but I'm not a total duffer at languages. I have spoken French passably since school, and kept it up. About 8 years ago I did a Michel Thomas audio course on Spanish and could cope with it after just a few hours. Then I did a year of Italian evening classes, and was commended on my command of it when in Italy. But German! The grammar is bad enough, but it's the word order that flattens me. It's worse than speaking Yoda. Even native German speakers say that "Deutsch ist verrückt!" My next door neighbour is English/German bilingual, and he can't explain what on earth is the point of separable verbs. You have to get to the end of the sentence before finding out what flavour of verb you have just forgotten about because the sentence was so long.

I know, any website that says "German (or any other language) made easy" is lying to you, but what tools can folks recommend to help me get over this? I am trying to remedy a mistake made at age 12 when I chose to study Latin and not German, and I would dearly love to crack it.

March 27, 2018



the only thing that can really help u is practice, practice, practice. have as much contact with german speakers as possible. watch german tv shows or listen to german radio, read german books and newspapers. if you can afford it, plan a longer stay in germany. (if your company is doing business in germany, you could ask if there is a possibility for you to work in germany for a while). you said your neighbor is german and english native? make him your best friend, make him to introduce you to other german speakers (if possible)... look if you can find german speakers at your workplace. if you have a community college nearby: ask if they have discussion groups for people who want to learn german. make an add in your lokal newspaper to look for german speakers to meet up etc. the only way to get even nearly fluent is to develop a feeling for the laguage and that will only happen if you are surrounded by it.


Thanks folks for all this encouragement. I forgot to say that I have tried several other resources. I watch German TV programmes (eg all episodes of Deutschland 83) , numerous YouTube videos (eg Learn German with Anja), and Lukas Kern's story-telling stuff. The new stories in DL are excellent, and I have done them all several times. I don't want to impose on my neighbour too much. He did introduce me to some German acquaintances but I made 4 grammatical errors in my first very short sentence!

I agree that if I spent a few weeks in Germany I would get this, but I'm retired and just doing it to help with leisure travel. What I find so odd is that English is a West Germanic language as is modern German, but our sentence structure is much closer to the Romance languages.

I never expected DL to make me fluent on its own, which is why I have used other resources. I think it's quite poor on grammar, and the exercise sentences are far too short. I'm attracted to another Michel Thomas course which might help a lot. Some good signposts from you all here so thanks again.

  • 1687

I watched Deutschland 83 too, and then I watched about 200 hours more of different shows before I could watch shows very comfortably and believe me, sentence building skills (=better feel for the grammar) really gets much better after doing this. I have watched/listened probably about 400 or 500 hours of German material over two years and watching a German movie now is as easy as it is in English or my native language. And with that inevitably comes better writing and also speaking (even if you don't actually practice it).

What I'm trying to say, volume is the key here. Find something that you like, whether it's a TV show or documentaries on some topic (I recently watched few documentaries on Egyptian pyramids for example...) and watch a lot of it.

Good luck and don't give up.


Have you tried to just listen to audiobooks in German of books you already know? It worked pretty well for me when I learned English from German.


"What I find so odd is that English is a West Germanic language as is modern German, but our sentence structure is much closer to the Romance languages."

German vocab and pronunciation has never struck me as hard. It is the grammar and sentence structure that seems very... foreign. English has spent a lot of time being mutated by neighbouring France (and from the times when it was ruled by French speaking Normans.

English may have had it's origins as a Germanic language but it has been influenced by French for centuries.


Why not be happy (for now) if you understand what German-speaking people say and you are able to communicate in Yoda-type sentences?That's a lot more than most English natives can do. Enjoy it. Enjoy being able to read German texts despite the "crazy" word order. One day you enjoy them just because of it. And yet another day you'll enjoy using the vast flexibility of the German word order yourself. Take one step at a time and enjoy the process.


I think I read somewhere that when eye-tracking is used on German compared to English readers, the eyes of German readers move around the page quite a bit, whereas English readers read much more left-right. Maybe when reading, check the end to get the complete picture of the verb for now; it might be easier for you, and maybe you'll notice some patterns more quickly rather than get frustrated. You could try this when writing sentences too in the beginning.

Obviously, when speaking and listening you can't do this. I think connecting the sentence order just comes with a lot of practice listening, and if you haven't already done this, try listening to audiobooks and reading along (then in the beginning you can "cheat" by peeking at the end). There are beginner ones out there where the reader talks slowly.

There are also simple language-learning tv programs in german that you may want to try if you haven't already. You can find some with German subtitles, like Extr@s (can be found on youtube). In videos I think the ending of the verbs is easier, because you can see the action. And as you get practice, you'll hopefully find it easier to know in the context of the situation or sentence what is more likely, though I realize that isn't always possible. Deutsche Welle has some great video courses too (Nicos Weg and Harry - gefangen in der Zeit), which also come with quizzes to test your understanding.

I agree that German can be really tough, but it might be that you've maxed out the benefits of your current approach. Duolingo is great for vocab and introducing a language, but it has its limits.

  • 1687

Duolingo is not the way to get fluent. It's a good way to start with the language and buiId some vocabulary but if you want to get anywhere close to fluency you have to use other resources. You can look at my old post here at resources I used for German: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/24437249

Also native speakers are not necessarily qualified to / capable of explaining the grammar of their language. That is why people study to be "teachers of XY language as a second language". If you ask a native speaker about grammar, their usual response is going to be "hmm... I don't know why it is so... it just feels right"... A good grammar book or google search can usually serve you better.

So don't give up and happy learning :-)


If spoken production is your weak point, I'd strongly recommend the Michel Thomas German audio course -- especially since you already had good experiences with the Spanish one. I find the MT courses in general are an excellent complement to Duolingo.

You should also start the reverse (English from German) Duolingo tree. Duolingo is unfortunately very heavily biased towards L2->L1 translation, and doing the reverse tree is a workaround (albeit an imperfect one) for this.



I am much encouraged by these replies, and have ordered the Michel Thomas course.


What resources are you using and have you used besides DL? How many times a month do you get the opportunity to have a conversation with a German native speaker?


You are lucky you didn't start studying Hungarian! ;-)))))) Enjoy German bearing in mind there are numerous languages more complicated.


I can't help you with German but I can disagree. I chose German over Latin in school back in 1971 and have always regretted it, particularly when doing crosswords. If Duo did Latin I would be straight in there.


As I hate crosswords this argument cuts little ice with me! :) At the time I had enjoyed French for a year so was keen on languages, and thought Latin would be a good basis. It no doubt helped me with Spanish and Italian, although knowledge of Caesar's Gallic Wars is hardly career-building. Also schools pushed Latin because it was needed to get into Oxbridge (for me, fat chance), and medical schools (ditto).


My own two cents (or should this be euros?)...

I am a French native, who has lived in English (if you know what I mean) for the past 30 years. I have started learning German with Duolingo and find it quite difficult, and I am obviously not as advanced as you are! Like you, I learn Spanish in the past, picked up Italian later quite quickly and have a (very) basic command of Chinese (mandarin), so not totally un-able, but I find German-learning through Duolingo a little 'challenging'.... to say the least; here are my views as to why and what to do based on my own experience - this is an assessment 'in progress' and not meant to be the final word on the matter, and also, not two people learn in the same way, so some of it might work for you but not all of it... hope some of it helps though.

  • Picking up Italian after French and Spanish will be a doodlle, as the grammar is very similar, the sentence construction, the vocab etc... In fact as soon as you know one of them, learning a second one of the three will prove easier, for these same reasons. So one should not feel disheartened because German (or Chinese! or any other non-romance languages) suddenly sets us back

  • Duolingo is brilliant BUT, with a language like German, I find the grammar (i.e. what gives you the 'recipe' for building up sentences correctly) is not emphasised enough and I believe that - just like Latin in fact, which I too studied at school - the issue of declension (for example, not exclusively) requires that one be familiar with the rules in addition to the spaced repetition method of Duo and other programs...

  • Watching films, listening to audiobooks etc. is great to familiarise oneself with the way people speak and will help increase aural skills; if you are after fluency (in the sense of you speaking) this will not help much... Personally, I have decided to start learning simple German songs (try this one, https://youtu.be/AGrsasgsFuQ) to get my tongue to perform the new gymnastics! :-) These kids songs are great in that they should also help acquire basic vocab...

  • I also practise reading poetry and do not bother too much about understanding the meaning; for example, I got the text of 'Hoffnung' a poem by Schiller, read a translation to see what it was all about, and then, practise reading line by line by following a youtube reading... it is great to give the sense of the musicality of the language, plus, I firmly believe it helps, subconsciouly, to acquire the grammatical structures

and one last thing:

  • about being corrected by a native speaker. You say you made 4 grammatical errors in one sentence, so I assume the person you spoke to corrected you? This can be very counterproductive! Do not ask native speakers to correct you as you speak - unless they are language teachers - ask them to tell you if they can understand what you mean / say despite errors. Very oftern, a foreign language learner may make mistakes, but these may not be dramatic, and you would probably be understood. This is not to say you do not want to speak correctly, but as you can see, you felt depleted after being told you made 4 mistakes in one sentence! Wouldn't it be more productive to be told 'wow, you are learning by yourself? you doing well! There are still a few mistakes here and there, but honestly, you sound quite good' (or something like that!) Instead, go get a professional tutor (with experience!!!!) to help you identify the grammatical errors and to guide you as to which grammar rule you needs to revise / practise!!!

Hang in there!


Many thanks, you are very encouraging. I must say I am very impressed by all the people on DL who are learning German from English, which is not their native language! I have just gone back to using the timed practice app in DL, which forces me to think quickly. This is a good thing, as before I was stopping after every other question and trying to unravel what the grammatical rule was.

I didn't mean to imply that the German listener corrected my grammar. They did understand, but afterwards I realised what I had got wrong. Which perhaps shows that I should not worry so much.


I Will gonna be honest with you..... Duolingo is a good tool to get some vocabulary but just using Duolingo won't gonna get you a "good" german level, If you are trying to improve your german skills I strongly recommend you to look for a tandem, (you teach your mother language and in exchange the other person teach you its language) I actually learn the most of my german by writing to strangers, of course some people is really nice and others not so much, but is an entertaining way to force yourself to write, and you can make some friends that speaks the language you are aiming to master. :) I was in the same position that you are right now, like a year ago, I used to practice in memrize (other app like dulingo) and after 2 Months of practicing vocabulary, I was unable to write a long sentence but now I have made a couple of friend in germany, and in Switzerland and we tend to talk (via Skype) for hours about tech and things like philosophy (of course I still made a lot of mistakes while I talk).... It is quite entertaining. :)
You can try for example: https://www.interpals.net

Remember duolingo , and those kind of apps can get help you to learn new vocabulary, but if you really wanna master a language you need exposure, you need talk with natives, watch tv in your targeted language, you need to force yourself to go beyond your current level.

Gut Glück, und Ich hoffe dass du can verbessern dein Deutch bald :) , obwohl Deutsch nicht so einfach ist, man kann verbesern wenn die richtige Motivation habe, darum bin Ich sicher dass du kann dein Deutsch verbessern. :)

"Die Definition von Wahnsinn ist, immer wieder das Gleiche zu tun und andere Ergebnisse zu erwarten." Albert Einstein


Give up on always trying to say perfect sentences with the subordinate clause. Germans do break those rules as well when speaking.

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