PART 4: The Big Problems with Traditional German-learning approach...

G. Wyner was the first who spelled out for me the problem with traditional approach.

He pointed out the reason why we can’t learn languages is because of the books, the curriculum. 

The books are written in chapters (because it’s easier to write them like that). And teachers are forced to follow the curriculum.

You see, on paper, it makes sense to learn words in categories.

You learn members of the family, then fruits, then colors and so on. You as a student feel psychologicaly better also... when you tell yourself this week I learned all colors, next week is fruits, etc. 

However, what happens in reality is something completely different…

Maybe you are familiar with the following saying…

“Repetition is the mother of all learning.”

But... if you can’t HEAR (or say) these words repeatedly in conversations, on the streets, in the bars, in REAL WORLD APPLICATION, no learning happens.

And because regular people on the streets don’t talk in categories… You just can’t start talking to someone at the bus stop about all the kitchen utensils just because that’s what was in your book that week!

Real conversations happen with repeated use of the most frequent vocabulary, which is roughly 20-30% of each category.

At the beginning, words like ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ are way more frequent (and therefore way more important) than ‘cousin’ and ‘son in law’ f.e. even though they're from the same category.

So because... you can’t get those repetitions, you enter vicious cycle of forgetting, where in semester 2 you forget 80% of semester 1, in semester 3, you forget 80% of semester 2 and so on, until you wake up one day after 4-8 years of “study”, without being able to speak the target language. 

Which was my case.

Wyner’s case.

B. Lewis case.

Basically, according to Wyner I was learning wrong vocabulary at the wrong time. Instead of learning the vocabulary I needed to express myself, I studied words like, elephant, giraffe, raspberry, screwdriver and so on.

This misconception is so bad that... even many language teaching youtubers produce content in categories (not polyglots).

Wyner recommends instead to start with he 500 most frequent words in German.

That was my first AHA moment.

B. Lewis on the other hand is the proponent of speak from day 1 method. A lot of conversations. But that wasn’t completely for me. I think it’s great advice for some, but because I’m not an extrovert like Lewis... 

It was kinda scary for me just to walk up to a stranger and start speaking in a broken language.

It was making me anxious.

So, I kept researching...

You know, back in school, I used to think that the reason I struggled to learn German was due to my limited vocabulary and lack of knowledge about sentence structure and grammar.

So I tried to put thousands of words and grammar rules into my brain, using conventional schooling methods of brute-force memorizations.

But somehow, these methods did not help me to speak at all. I mean, it was evident every time I opened my mouth and tried to string a sentence.

And it wasn’t until I stumbled on work of an American Linguist and Researcher Stephen Krashen... and his scientific research in second language acquisition, which has opened my eyes and confirmed many of my hunches.

Actually, I first came across his research in 2009, just before I moved to Spain.

My Spanish & then Italian went well so I kinda forgot about it.

It was so nuanced that I didn't grasp it fully at that time... also it was going against a lot of what I believed so it took me few years to fully understand it...

My French struggle forced me to re-read it again to see what principles I was violating.

Krashen found, that the traditional approach isn’t helpful at all.

Even hurtful. 

And this came from a passionate grammarian. 

Krashen has a phd in grammar

Let that sink in. 

But after seeing an overwhelming evidence in a study after study, that he and his colleagues performed on students... Even he...

A linguist who loves grammar and has a phd in it... had to acknowledge that we don't acquire spoken fluency by studying grammar (not by accumulating conscious knowledge of grammar rules or memorising words from vocabulary lists of categories).

And what's even worse... he found that not only isn't a grammar approach helpful, but that it is actually damaging... like, that... it hinders students' speaking ability. And countless polyglots agree with his research...

Like Steve Kauffman, who speaks over 15 languages, and learned bunch of them after the age 60.

He too was talking about grammar not being helpful even damaging, especially at the beginning.

But Whaaaat?

Apparently, if I put too much grammar into my brain, I’d develop something called a monitor. Where I monitor my speech and think about grammar constantly, doing slow and painful mental gymnastics or translations with each and every word...

And that was exactly my case. Eyes looking up left, always trying to recall the rule or word and place it into the phrase.

No flow.

Painfullly slow.


As a results of my halted and broken German I used to believe 3 things about myself...

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