Trying hard to learn German
My story: I am American, married to a German, and living in Munich. I took 2 semesters of intense college-level German (every day for 1 hour, 1 hour homework per day) 2 years ago, made it 3/5 of the way through Rosetta stone during breaks during the time I was taking classes, am taking a casual (2x week 1 hour) B1 level class right now, and have been happily using duolingo on the s-bahn commute to work most days (I'm almost done the tree!). You would think I've got this German learning thing down.
The problem? My work at a scientific institute is entirely in English. I speak English with my husband (whose English is perfect) at home--we just want to be able to relax and talk to each other, not struggle to communicate. Almost all of our German friends are scientists/engineers, and speak far better English than my German, so most conversations default to English.
While I do try to interact in German with the occasional salesperson or telemarketer (that second one is actually fun if you are trying to learn a foreign language!), I feel that due to the limited interactions in German, my German is really not getting much better. I'm really shy about speaking German with people who speak English extremely well, as I feel terrible for forcing them into a difficult interaction instead of just letting the conversation happen easily. I really have no trouble trying to speak German with people who speak very little English though.
I empathize with you. I lived in Berlin for the better part of a year. I had studied German for 4 years and spoke it fairly well. But in Berlin if someone spoke English, I'd always revert to the comfort of my mother tongue. Then I took a room with a German family. Only their son spoke English. I was forced to speak German and it was the best thing in the world. I rapidly attained a degree of fluency, and it was all due to total immersion. Don't be afraid of your inevitable mistakes. Germans are flattered that you want to speak their language and they will be eager to help you. Unless you have a real desire to become fluent, you never will. Its all up to you.
Set aside an hour a week on a Sunday or something to speak German with your husband. You don't have to speak German all or even most of the time, but I'm sure you could both spare an hour for trying to communicate in your second language for the sake of improving said communication.
As you improve you should be able to spend more time speaking to him in German without it being a problem.
And, in fact, if you've got something to say to him that you know in German, if there's something you can say that isn't a struggle, say it in German. If it's his turn to cook, or if you're both compiling a shopping list and you can remember that you need to buy shampoo or something, say it in German. Anything that is problematic, say in English. And he can speak whichever language he chooses. But say what you can say in German and, as you learn new things, add them in to your repertoire.
How about taking a simple non-academic course at college, anything from ice sculpture to tyre changing! You could improve your language skills without the self-conscious feelings that you experience with your family and friends.
That's actually not a bad idea. Many of the academic courses at TUM are now taught in English, but I'm sure I can easily find a non-academic course in German--most towns even have an "adult continuing education program" that has classes on anything you could think of. I will definitely look into it!
Just have courage and tell the people around you to talk to you in German. I've sat through a lot of those "difficult interactions" and I don't mind them. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the most important part is that you DO start. It's better to have some slow conversations now than sitting there in twenty years, still living in Germany but not spaking a word of German.
As for your husband, would it be possible that he speaks German while you still speak English? If you understand enough, you both don't have to struggle to find words but you still will get some immersion.
Practice makes perfect. I Say talk to your husband as much as you can in German. Do things such as maybe dedicating an entire day where you two speak nothing but German, or as much as you can. If you get stuck, have him help you out on what you're trying to say.
I just watched this Ted Talk today about language learning. It focuses on the importance of just getting out there and trying. Making mistakes is not only okay, but is necessary! It even addresses my main concern, which is "forcing native speakers into a difficult interaction." I found it really encouraging and recommend watching it to anyone who is feeling timid about starting to speak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x2_kWRB8-A
You might benefit from my experience when living in Berlin. I would sometimes meet Frenchmen who spoke no English. I spoke no French, but we both spoke German. One day I got into a two hour conversation in German over our political views. I was amazed at myself for I actually started thinking in German. Do you know anyone with whom you HAVE to communicate in German?
My husband's parents! But we only see them every few months as they live quite far. It's amazing how much my German improves after a weekend with the in-laws. It's also amazing how mentally exhausted I get, but it's so worth it!
Exactly! Your husband's parents. When you have to speak in German, you improve your fluency. Don't worry about the inevitable mistakes. You wouldn't criticize someone trying to speak to you in English; you'd want to help them, nicht wahr? All of these suggestions can be helpful. But I found, that for me at least, I did best when I had no choice but to speak German.. From what you said about visiting your in-laws, it seems to be the same with you. You can do it!
I am in a very similar situation except no husband to practice with - ie live in Germany, most friends and work colleagues are English. I wish you well and will look for what advice you get from your post.
All the below suggestions are good. I would add that for me what has helped enormously is to meet with other expats, who speak German as a second language and are willing to speak with you. Just google what groups there are around you, I am sure you will find some. Meetup for example is an excellent example. There are also websites where people offer to speak with others, either by text or skype or viber, so whatever helps to kick start the process is good.
I'm English born but ethnically german and currently visiting german family,and I empathise- I also feel embarrassed trying to speak German to them, but keep trying, practise makes perfect ;)
Immerse yourself in German pop-culture/media. Read German newspapers instead of English ones, watch German films and listen to some German music. I believe the ultimate feat for language learning is to begin thinking in that secondary language (especially while in the country), and doing this will certainly improve your cognizance in German. When you are thinking in German, you will feel less conscious about whether you are bad or good, and perhaps initiate conversations with your colleagues in it without even realizing. Then they may just oblige you response in the same language.
I am child ,but I think my advice will be a bit helpful.You see, I am Greek and I have been learning English for 5 years and have been being taught German for 2 years.I think it could be a great idea to buy a German book .As you read it ,mark the words you don't know and ask your husband to explain them to you.You can also ask him to learn you German Grammar and Vocabulary.Don't panic.I think you will finally learn German by heart. Sincerely, Maria
Maria, I am an adult American and I was very impressed with your wise advice. We all could benefit from you . You have a bright future ahead of you. The very best of luck!