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German is easy, and so is any other language. Here’s why

| 35 comments | Category: particular languages

Yes, you read that right. German is easy. I have just written a detailed guide that explains, in detail, why.

I took the “hardest” grammar and vocabulary points and presented them in a different way that focuses on efficiency in speaking the language as quickly as possible. You can read more about the Why German is Easy guide here.

The guide includes an e-book in three formats (ePub for iPads/Sony Reader etc., basic printable version that wastes as little paper as possible, and the computer screen readable PDF) and many extra files to help explain this and help beginner to intermediate German learners currently struggling with the language. I’ll be adding more content later as free updates. You can download the table of contents and an example chapter of the e-book for free before deciding if you want the full version. Read more about it here.

Any language is easy: it all depends on attitude and focus

About a year ago I wrote a post about why Czech isn’t as hard as you think. To this day it is still one of the most popular posts on this blog and many people have told me that my suggestions have helped them immensely with their Czech.

Now I’m taking it a step further and instead of just saying that German isn’t as hard as you think, I’m boldly claiming that German is easy and this time have explained it in much more depth. Give me enough time and I can gladly explain to you how any language is easy. There is no such thing as the hardest language in the world.

This isn’t because I was bitten by a radioactive multilingual spider. I’m not a genius. If languages came “naturally” to me, then I would have aced German the first time round during my five years of German schooling. Instead, I got a C as my final grade and couldn’t even order a train ticket in German when I visited Munich a few years ago.

Despite that, in just three months of my second attempt, I passed four out of five sections of Goethe Institut’s Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung (German mastery exam). What I changed in my approach to learning the language is something everyone could implement: I stopped telling myself how hard German was and started focusing on the positive. Being a positive filter made the language easy for me.

This isn’t fooling yourself with empty mantras or willing the universe to make it easy for you. There are very logical and systematic ways of looking at a language to make sure that you keep this positive feedback loop up and make swift progress in the language.

The “hard” fallacy

This approach also works extremely well to argue that a language is hard. Although that argument has no benefits at all, unless demotivating people is how you get your kicks.

In fact, someone could counter my book with a list of reasons German or any language is hard, and they already have! You can find this in almost every academic language course in the world.

Most technical courses I have come across are nothing more than lists of differences between English and the target language. These grammar points are different and those words of vocabulary are different. It seems like the most logical thing to do – English does it this way, German does it that way. Of course it’s different – that’s why it’s another language, right?

The problem with this approach is that it usually focuses on nothing but the differences. What about the patterns? What about the many similarities? At best these are nothing more than minor after-thoughts in courses. I focus on these patterns within the grammar and vocabulary and that gives me a huge short-cut to speaking the language quicker.

This is something that many other successful language learners do too! I managed to interview Stu Jay Raj for 55 minutes as part of the latest update to the Language Hacking Guide, and he had the following to say when I asked him about languages being hard:

Go in there and say this is the most unbelievably easy, logical and systematic language that I could ever learn – no matter what language it is, and your brain will make it so. And you’ll start finding finding patterns that native speakers do naturally.

Finding the patterns and making mistakes

To see what I mean, download the free chapter of Why German is easy and see how I explain my way of looking at German word plurals. It was suggested to me in school that I simply learn the plural of the word each time I learn a new word, as well as its gender, irregular declensions etc. This is a grossly inefficient way to learn a language, especially if you want to speak it soon.

You would be intimidated and not ever say the word in particular contexts (plural, different case, not sure of its gender etc.), because you haven’t learned that particular word’s special properties yet. This makes a language even more intimidating when you realise the mountain of vocabulary waiting to be learned and how your work is increasing exponentially with what you have to do for every single word. It’s better to find the patterns that work most of the time, and make mistakes in the remaining infrequent cases.

What I did with plurals was find the patterns, learn these, see what the majority situations are, and then guess if I wasn’t sure. This has never hindered my communication in the language. When I get more confident then I can come back to these points and tidy them up so that I am speaking more correctly. At that stage it is much easier because you will be used to the language so much more.

But focusing on perfection in the beginner to intermediate stages of learning a language is a huge mistake. Even natives don’t speak perfectly – and you would indeed have to be a genius to speak with no mistakes throughout your entire learning process. Some rules and vocabulary take a few tries to sink in. The only way to get there is by practice and this involves practising even when you are still making mistakes.

Accepting that mistakes are inevitable and not being too intimidated by that has been a key factor to my success in all languages. I still cannot say fully correct sentences in my current Hungarian mission, and yet I am communicating in the language already because I’m not afraid to make mistakes. Later I’ll be communicating at a much more impressive level, but only because I accepted that this mistake-heavy part of learning is a necessary stage to pass through. I embrace making mistakes as a fun and necessary part of the language learning journey.

——————

If this new guide sells well, then I will gladly make ones for other languages (including Hungarian at the end of this mission).

Keep in mind that sales from the Language Hacking Guide and now Why German is easy are helping to support me and give me the time needed to focus on helping many other people learn their languages. In September I’ll be very active on this blog with many interesting new posts! Your support is always appreciated!! :)

Let me know your thoughts below about making mistakes and finding patterns in languages, and what you thought of Why German is easy guide! Also, don’t forget to share this on Facebook and twitter :) Thanks!

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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.

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Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.

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  • Polly

    Benny, thank you.

    I’m sick and tired of people telling me everything is difficult and really hard before I start something, even the teachers of the classes I’m starting now are telling us how difficult it’s going to be. Not really a great thing to motivate students. Now, I know it’s not going to be smooth sailings, but it’s not insurmountable.

    So thank you for being the one that constantly tells us it can be done!

    • niloofar

      dont listen to other. you achieve every thing you want. impossible is impossible

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Try taking on Hungarian! Almost every single native, learner, teacher, student and random person I’ve met has told me it’s the hardest language in the world :) If I didn’t have years of enthusiasm and confidence behind me I’d actually believe them! It’s a pity because it’s a vicious circle. The myth propagates itself!

    Hopefully I can help people out of that circle with a different perspective ;)

  • Anders Carlos

    Hi Benny,

    Thanks for the German tips. I would like to ask something. With your experience in short time to achieve fluency or high level in a language, could a person with intermediary~advanced English (like B2 level in European system) stay one month in US or Canada, fully immersed, become fluent in English in this time?

  • http://findalanguageteacher.com Find A Language Teacher

    Similarities are very important. I approached learning Spanish and Portuguese the same time by looking at the similarities, which helped a lot on the long run.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    That’s definitely possible, but it would be HARD – you’d have to be totally devoted to getting corrections and focusing all the time to make sure you are constantly improving. Why just one month? You could do work in advance and meet English speakers no matter where you are in the world.
    It would be possible in a month but you’d have to expose yourself mostly to the type of people who would nitpick your differences away and you’d have to be extremely passionate about it. This would leave less time for checking out sites etc.
    This also depends on how you define fluency. I have my definition, but maybe you have your own?
    If I were you I’d aim to greatly improve your level, but enjoy yourself and keep it up before and after. English is the easiest language of all to work on outside of an English speaking country. I have met people with C2 English who have never in their life been to an English speaking country.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks for the comment – in future please use your NAME, rather than your company name. I’ve had to remove this comment because it seems more like spam because of that.

  • M.C.

    Hi, Benny,
    I haven’t received the email you mentioned in your last post. I’d like to get the German guide, and I purchased your language hacking guide last month. Please advise… Thanks! :)

  • Lisa

    Hello Benny,
    I just read the free chapter of “Why German is easy” to check if it could help my friend who is learning German and complains about these grammar problems. I think it is really helpful for people who want to speak German without struggling so much with grammar, so well done! I really like it! It is even interesting for me as a German to see some sort of system in my own language that I did not notice until now. I just have to say that you made one small mistake: The plural of “Gehalt” is “Gehälter”, not “Gehalter”.

    OK, I don’t want to hold you up any longer!
    Good luck with your new mission!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Hi MC, please e-mail me from the e-mail you used to purchase the LHG. I searched for the e-mail associated with this comment and it didn’t come up, so maybe your paypal or purchase e-mail is different. It’s likely you didn’t confirm the e-mail to receive updates and I can fix that, but it’s better to e-mail me about it ;) (Use contact-me form on the website)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I ran my guide through a native speaker already and she corrected my other minor mistakes – strange that she missed this one. I’ll fix this for future updates. Thanks! :) Glad you enjoyed the free chapter!

  • M.C.

    Thanks… you’re right, they’re different… will do right now.

  • kim

    Benny, I got a problem downloading the sneakpeak version. I use IE and know it won’t be a problem with Firefox, but I got a problem with my computer right now and won’t have firefox for another month. Is there any other way you can send me that version?

    Kim

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    IE, what a crap browser!! Trying to natively open the file leads to some problems, but just right click and save as to your desktop and open it separately ;)

  • Yuzhou

    I totally agree that being motivated makes learning a language much easier. However, with the same amount of motivation and time a learner will progress much faster in one language vs another. At least that has been my experience after learning more than 7 languages. Acknowledging the difficulty of a task does not need to be demotivating, in fact it can be extremely motivating. Sometimes we do things not because they are easy but because they are challenging. People don’t climb Mt. Everest because it’s easy.

  • Yuzhou

    I totally agree that being motivated makes learning a language much easier. However, with the same amount of motivation and time a learner will progress much faster in one language vs another. At least that has been my experience. Acknowledging the difficulty of a task does not need to be demotivating, in fact it can be extremely motivating. Sometimes we do things not because they are easy but because they are challenging. People don’t climb Mt. Everest because it’s easy.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I disagree with the “same amount of motivation and time” because this is impossible to replicate precisely for all languages. Someone putting the same amount of work into each language would likely just be studying them and not living through them or socialising or at least talking to people online. I maintain that Hungarian is easier than Spanish for me. I was “motivated” to learn Spanish and put more time into it, but motivation is extremely hard to quantify and compare so easily. I learn quicker now because of a better attitude and learning strategy.
    I do agree that the challenge in itself motivates many people to learn. Every time someone tells me Hungarian is the hardest language in the world (perhaps 5 times a day?) it’s extra motivation to prove them wrong ;) Some polyglots pick languages from different families simply because of the challenge (that is definitely not my reason for learning languages, which makes me “less impressive” to people who think that I learned Spanish and Italian out of laziness rather than cultural curiosity).
    These kinds of extra language learning challenges are fine for people who already speak several languages, but for beginner learners being reminded how hard it is is very demotivating.

  • Yuzhou

    For some language A vs. B scenarios you will progress much faster in A even if you put in much less blood, sweat and tears. There are some languages I almost got for free. Don’t get me wrong here, I think your self motivating techniques are great and go a long way. But according to my experience, positivity alone won’t make all languages equal in terms of the challenge they present.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Of course some languages are easier and they come “for free”, and I’m not suggesting at all that positivity ever makes “all languages equal”. I’m suggesting that this entire comparison is bogus and never helps anyone but linguists who like speculating on grammar and vocabulary difficulties. It’s a pointless comparison for people who only have one language to learn. In an empty box with no context, Spanish vs Hungarian is harder for a native English speaker, but people aren’t empty boxes.
    I write mostly to people struggling with their first language rather than for polyglots. People who choose a language based on difficulty levels have little emotional or practical investment in the language. I’m not learning Hungarian for the challenge for example. I want to use it with people. That makes it way easier than my five years of German schooling and no context did, regardless of how many cases or common vocabulary it has.
    I don’t talk in As and Bs myself. There is usually just one language someone reading this blog would actually ever be interested in ;)

  • Anders Carlos

    Well, I know there are many people that speak English in my country, but there are two problems, as I live in a region in Brazil with not so many English speakers, that are only a few people I could talk and also being 14 years old allows me only to go out with friends and their English is not good enough to talk for 2 minutes, so I could spend my vacation in Canada/US or Germany (so I could improve English and German), but as many people are telling me it was almost impossible any improvement, saying I could only improve after 6 months (even if I tried to immerse myself and forget about thinking/speaking Portuguese), I am starting to see no advantages in spending vacation abroad (1~2 months). I was thinking in getting books in English and German (Assimil), and after finishing the book, spend vacation using what I learned, even people saying I could improve nothing.

  • Kim

    Got it! And I really like what I saw. The way you put it really fit with how I learn new stuff. Awesome!

  • Ron

    Great post, very encouraging and well said Benny! “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet , Wm. Shakespeare; Act II, scene ii

  • Vessy

    Dankeee danke dankeee :) This is something that allways annoys me about people who talk about German, they allways say how German is much harder than English.

  • http://strengthin20.com Hudson

    Ordered my Why German is Easy guide, anxious to devour it. I look to live there 2-3 months a year beginning on Silvester of 2011. Thank you Benny

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Hudson, I just checked and I have no record of you ordering the book. Maybe you used a different name? Whenever you get it, I hope it helps :)

  • http://yourholiday.kablog.com http://www.allinclusive.co.uk

    German is quite easy to pick up, I think most languages are apart from those who use completely different typography and alphabets like mandarin.

  • http://yourholiday.kablog.com http://www.allinclusive.co.uk

    German is quite easy to pick up, I think most languages are apart from those who use completely different typography and alphabets like mandarin.

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  • Dóra Kartali

    Hello Benny,

    I’m a native speaker of Hungarian, I speak English, lived in the Czech Republic for 6 months and now getting acquainted with German. Your post has opened up my eyes, since both in the cases of German and Czech I tended to focus on their difficulty.

    Being an English major and a teacher of English as a foreign language, I find linguistics very important to understand the logic of a language. I’m no good at memorizing words but gaining a deeper insight to the ‘whys’ helped me enormously.

    I’m looking forward to follow your posts!

    Dora

  • German

    ICH HASSE DICH DORA! DO HAßT JAH KEENE ANUNG DU OPFA.

    VESSY DICH HASSE ICH AUCH ! ICH HASSE EUCH ALLÉE

  • German

    Wooohoooo, Soviel zum them,a Dutsch is a beautifool luangage ! VOM ARSCH IHR ZWERGEN KÖPFE. HALT DIE FRESSE.

  • Lee derbyshire

    No language is easy to learn.FACT. Fluent in three moths? utter BULLSHIT .
    .

  • bu falah Sabre

    what is the best way to be fluent in english?