When You’re Learning a New Language: My Tips


This post has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite a while.  This is a subject I am always so excited to talk about.  Chances are, most people have had to study a foreign language sometime in their life.  I myself studied Spanish for about three years in high school and have taken one class in my undergraduate years.  The study of languages has always been interesting to me, but only in the last year has it really taken off.  Not with Spanish though; with German!

I’m sure I’m not the first person to discover this, but learning a language is so much easier when you absolutely love it!  About a year ago I first discovered the world of German musical theatre, and it’s been a wild ride ever since.  All my career goals have seriously changed within the past year and I now know that I will want to go abroad as soon as I can.

If you have been studying another language for a while, I bet you can probably relate to a few of these things.  However, some of these are probably just unique to the German language.  Regardless, I wanted to share what I would tell someone who is just starting off on this journey.

Don’t compare a new language with English too much

This might sound kind of strange at first, so I wanted to start off with one of my favorite quotes that often crosses my mind when I’m studying:

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” -Charlemagne

Because English has borrowed so many things from other languages, it’s easy at first to focus more on the similarities than the differences.  This can get frustrating quickly, so I recommend just letting go of it completely.  Afterall, you’re growing a second soul, so don’t expect it to be exactly like the one you already have!

I think it’s amazing when things can’t exactly translate verbatim between German and English, and they shouldn’t have to.  If one language were enough to describe the world, then we would probably all be speaking it now.

Get friendly with the phonetics

Some languages may use many of the same phonetic sounds that English uses.  I know when I studied Spanish all of the sounds were fairly easy for me to make because English speakers already use them.  In fact, I believe the only challenging sound is the rolled “r” and even that can be said by many English speakers.

German is a little more complicated.  The “uvular r” and other sounds in the back of the throat are used often.  Ignoring such trademark sounds of a language will really inhibit your sound and overall connection to the language.  Although unfamiliar sounds can be hard to get at first, I think anyone can master them with practice.  It will help people understand you when you can finally speak the language.  Think of someone whose mother tongue isn’t English trying to minimize their accent.  The same concept goes for anyone learning a new language.


In case you didn’t realize, these images are from Germany in Epcot, not the actual country, but still pretty close for staying within the US!

Accept what you cannot change

This kind of goes with the first tip.  Here’s a quote for my German learners:

“German grammar is like the weather- you can complain about it all you want, but it won’t change anything.”

If you’ve taken any German classes, you probably know that German grammar is hard!  This quote helped me get past that point and just focus on learning the language.  You will actually get it if you don’t freak out about it and give it up!  I’ve actually come to appreciate the small part of German grammar that I actually understand, I even think English should take a few pointers

*Sidenote: If you think other languages are strange, start looking at the English language a little closer and I think you’ll see we’re are just as strange!

Find things you enjoy in that language

This was, of course, the reason I wanted to learn German in the first place; because I kept finding things in German that I loved!  Listening to music, reading books, watching movies and television in your chosen language is essential in my opinion.  Not only does it expose you to that much more of the language, but it keeps you interested and motivated while learning.

If German is your chosen language as well, then I have some recommendations for you as far as music goes.  Chances are there is German music for any genre you prefer, but here is the worship album I often listen to by Outbreakband.  It’s pretty great!

Just from listening to music you can expose yourself to so much more of the language, and probably some things that you wouldn’t be exposed to if you only took a class.  Of course, since I’m the musical theatre type, I have to recommend to you my favorite musical auf Deutsch: Elisabeth.  Not only is this my favorite German-language musical, it happens to be the most successful German musical ever.  I could give you tons of recommendations for German musicals, but that would be an entire post on its own, so leave a comment if you want to know more.

Additional Tips and Resources

I’ve been using Duolingo for about a year now, and I’d say it’s pretty helpful!  The great thing is that it reminds you every day to practice, and pretty soon the threat of breaking your streak will make sure you practice!  Duolingo was recently updated, but before the update, I was 59% fluent in German.  I can understand why they got rid of the fluency percentage (I definitely do not know over half of the language) but it was kind of a fun way to measure your progress.  I’m still open to exploring resources similar to Duolingo, but for now, I think it fits me pretty well.

I know teachers say Google Translate is taboo when learning a language, but I wouldn’t say it’s completely useless, so proceed with caution.  One trick for whenever I use google translate is to swap the languages so you translate it both ways.  Often times a phrase will change when you do this.  I have found wordreference.com to be a pretty reliable online dictionary, simply because it will give you multiple definitions of a word.

And Finally…

In reality, this is only a small part of what I’ve been doing to learn a new language.  I think one of the most important things I have learned is to stay inspired and remember why you started.  I’ve experienced periods of little growth and times when it seems a dozen light bulbs will go off at once, so stick to it when things seem hard!  You are definitely not the first person to learn this language, so don’t throw in the towel.  Best of luck!  Here’s a lovely German proverb to leave you with.

“Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.”

“Starting is easy, persistence is an art.”