Progress? What progress?


This is my first time posting in the forums. I have always wanted to join in, but have merely lurked -- until today.

I began German in March, and added a heavy rotation of French in May to prepare for a trip to Switzerland (and Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands).

To date I have finished my French tree and am half way through German ("Deutsch ist schwer"). Along with Duolingo I've been using podcasts, switched languages on all my devices. have turned French audio on nearly every movie and television show ( to my family's dismay); I have even been texting and emailing in both German and French. Things had been going well. I was not only strengthening my vocabulary with Duolingo, but increasing my confidence in verbally manipulating the language for basic communication.

See, I am now experiencing a tiny dilemma. The closer I get to my trip (I leave in 3 weeks), the more all this wonderful language learning has begun to seep out of my head. I kid you not, I have been using either German, French, or both daily since March. However, today I struggled to remember simple salutations to greet my Austrian dentist. To try and stem this gradual loss, I've started both trees from the very beginning (not just clicking "Strengthen").

What is happening to me? Have any of you experienced a slow brain drain of most, if not all, of your language learning similar to this? Is this temporary? Any advice for getting back up to speed? Können Sie mir helfen? Est-ce que vous pouvez m'aider?

Any and ALL suggestions, advice, and pearls of sage wisdom are welcome and much appreciated.

Avec toute ma reconnaissance et/und Mit vielen Dank,


September 4, 2014


Don't worry too much about it. I had similar setbacks in the past. In my experience the knowledge will come back easily if you do a bit of reviewing.

Two pieces of advice: First, expect talking to be difficult if you haven't done it yet and don't feel discouraged.

And now is probably a good time to consolidate your progress before the trip. Don't learn too many new things and focus on reviewing and learning travel related vocabulary.

September 4, 2014

I would agree. I frequently "forget" large chunks of the language where I live and it eventually comes back to you. Relax and do your best to communicate. Speaking the words will probably be difficult but remember that communicating can be achieved through relatively few words!

Also, congrats on finishing your tree!

September 4, 2014

Dear Rashona, Whatever it is, I'm sure the travailing will do you good, I am always amazed by how much language comes in just by being in the country where that language is spoken.
You will read signs, talk to people, hear French and German words all around you, all day every day! All your hard work is still there, it's all gonna come back and sink in by exposure. Don't worry!! Have a wonderful trip :)

September 4, 2014

I don't know if you've ever trained for something athletic... Consider yourself preparing for a marathon. If you do too much, too fast you will only do yourself harm and not reap the benefit of your training. Slow and steady wins the race! With a marathon, there are built-in rest weeks, and the few weeks before the big event you scale back as well. Give yourself a break and just do a bit of fun/easy stuff before you leave. Once you're on your trip it will be a whole different kind of learning and all the training will pay off!

September 4, 2014

Marclegris hat Recht. Du brauchst eine Pause. Und verlaß dich ruhig auf dein Unterbewußtsein. Wenn du erst mal von Deutsch umgeben bist, kommen plötzliche die Vokabeln alle zurück, die du glaubst, vergessen zu haben. Viel Glück auf deiner Reise!

September 4, 2014

Maybe it's the pressure of actually using the other languages with natives. I have learned a lot of French but when people ask me to "say something in French" I get flustered. Try to relax :)

September 4, 2014

Happens to me with German. My friend is German and I know a decent amount to say a few phrases. I'm just afraid of pronouncing something wrong. Sometimes, you just have to get over your fears.

September 5, 2014

After the initial wave of "Oh no! all this work, all this time and I'm gonna get lost in the middle of Europe now!" wore off it occurred to me that I was being my own worst enemy. I can now admit that some of the worry was performance anxiety related. It's been all fun and games, but with the trip drawing nearer, it is going to be a different experience. Thank you for your advice.

September 5, 2014

Have you practiced with native speakers much? Because it might just be that. I'm currently comfortably reading Game of Thrones in Spanish and watching Avatar: The Last Airbender in French. I understand pretty much everything and just look up a few words here and there, but I haven't practiced actually speaking with natives, so when I'm put on the spot it feels like my brain freezes up and I can't even form the simplest sentences. It's normal. Speaking is a different skill, and your brain is working in a different way when it's interacting with other people. It just takes time, exposure, and practice and you'll get to the point when you're more comfortable and the words will come easily. I can comfortably speak Chinese with Chinese people now, but it took a lot of time just listening to them talk and trying (and often failing) to participate in the conversation before my brain fully wrapped its way around really communicating with people, and now I don't have big problems with it anymore. You just kinda have to dive in and trust that you'll figure things out as you go.

On the other hand, it might just be how language skills naturally feel. I can't find the graph, but there's a great illustration someone did of actual language ability and perceived language ability. The actual graph moves up rather steadily, but the perceived graph looks like a bunch of waves, because it seems every other day you can fluctuate between feeling like you don't know anything and you're fluent. I've just tried to learn to ride the waves out.

September 5, 2014

"... ride the waves out" is a wonderfully visual way to describe the more tranquil and fluid frame of mind I am going to exercise going forward. I once watched a clip of a Bruce Lee interview where he said, " Be like water...empty your mind and be formless. Don't be too rigid but adjust to the object." I'm paraphrasing to a certain degree of course, but you get the idea.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me. Along with giving very good advice and words of encouragement, you've also peaked my curiosity about this actual vs. perceived language ability graph. Glad to know I am just suffering from a regular, run of the mill symptom of the human condition.

September 5, 2014

Glad my response helped. :) Good luck!

September 6, 2014

It's probably just a combination of things, like putting yourself under too much pressure, learning volumes of information over a short period of time, and perhaps worrying about how well you'll perform?

You'll be fine. First and foremost, enjoy your trip! It's not everyday that you'll be able to soak in that scenery! Besides, you never know, you might find that after a few days of immersion, some of what you thought you forgot might come back to you. Also, if you're in the "tourist zones" it's possible that they know english which might help take some pressure off of you.(mind you I've never been, so I could be wrong) But all you can do is try your best...and make the best of your trip!!!!

bon voyage!

September 5, 2014

Don't worry too much about it, you're probably just tired or nervous.

I moved to the UK a year ago and sometimes I just can't remember a word, especially after a long night of work...

Ça va aller mieux que vous pensez, bon chance!

(Ja Deutsch ist schwer, and that's about all I can say in it)

September 5, 2014

Hi Rashona, Is Duolingo the only way you have studied German and French? It might be worthwhile to start over in another program. I always find it boosts my confidence to see "Hey, I actually know something!" Another approach could be to apply your acquired skills rather than adding more. E.g. you could investigate the places you are going to visit in the German and French versions of Wikipedia. Then you'll see what all the work was good for AND prepare for you trip...

September 5, 2014

This is a great post, and the comments on the thread are wonderful- thanks all. I am going to Nice for a short French language course (a week is all I can be away right now), and I have found myself increasingly panicked and scared about this "adventure", the closer it comes. I leave in less than a week. And, the closer this departure gets, it seems the less French I remember! My mind feels like Swiss cheese (full of holes). I am pressuring myself too much, I now realize.

I have noticed that in the process of trying to learn French, using Duo plus other resources, that I've gone through a lot of ups and downs. I tend to set a certain priority for a time (one verb tense or another) or learning the gender of nouns, for example. Things that I feel are important for me to know. But, when at the same time I test my French here, or with a tutor I have, I seem forget everything else I thought I had learned.

I have concluded that it just takes a while for the new stuff to sink in, and get placed in my mind, and integrated with what I knew before, and that the best way to help this process is simply to back off on whatever part of the language I've been focusing on, and just let it go for a while. Sit back, don't practice that particular thing more and more, sit back and give it time for the new information to percolate through via my subconscious/ unconscious brain.

And, I now realize that learning French has not been a linear progression- a very uneven process, that if I could graph it, is kind of a sawtooth of ups and downs, but an upward direction overall.

My tutor for French wrote me saying what a friend said about trying to learn French-- about the things learned needing to 'simmer' for awhile in one's head like a stew before it all seems to come together...

September 6, 2014
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.