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I never thought I’d make it.
Yet here I am, one month later, at the end of my One Month Without English language mission. It’s a day that felt so far away but at the same time came around so quickly.
I know the question you’re dying to ask me:
Did I really make it an entire month without speaking English?
Well you’re going to have to read on to find out…
Mission Complete: One Month Without English
Okay, I’m going to be brutally honest with you here: I managed the entire month except for one day.
I had some British friends turn up for a party in Düsseldorf and they called me to ask if I wanted to go with them. I said yes and took the day off from speaking German, because why would I want to miss that?
However I consider this a success because 30 out of 31 days I spoke no English. And, as of last week, I found myself at the Cologne Carnival speaking only German and never once having to speak English:
But how much has my level of German improved?
After going for an ‘assessment’ at a language school, the teacher put me at B2/C1 level. With the direct quote being, “I teach a B2.2 class right now and you’re much more fluent than they are”. This was less than six months after I started learning German with Benny Lewis’s Language Hacking German course.
That for me is mission complete!
If you want to see my skills in action, check out this video of me and my girlfriend playing a game in German right here:
The Amazing Moment it Finally Clicked
One Monday evening about 22 days in, my girlfriend and I were getting ready to go and meet a friend for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in a year and I’d never spoken German with him. But I’d made him aware that I was only allowed to speak German for the duration of the meal.
About an hour before we met an incredible nervousness came over me. I don’t know why but it was the worst yet. I couldn’t keep still and I felt like I wanted to be sick. I imagine it’s how people feel before they walk out and give a talk to 10,000 people.
He walked over to the table and I stood up. I asked him how he was in German and did my best to just say the first words that came to my head. We spoke for a little while and I was amazed: I could understand every word that he said.
For the next four hours the three of us sat and chatted and drank wine and ate and put the world to rights. We spoke about politics and restaurants and films and anything that came to mind. I never once got asked to re-explain myself. I never had to ask someone to slow down or repeat themselves.
The next morning I woke up and it felt like every song I listened to was clearer, every conversation was slower and every word that little bit clearer.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about The Tipping Point when small actions reach their peak and then momentum builds and you come downhill. I think that conversation finally took me beyond that tipping point.
Would I Recommend a Month Without English?
I’d recommend that all language learners commit to a period where they can’t use their mother tongue.
This should be a specific time where you’re not allowed to back out and revert to English. And you’re regularly having conversations and exposing yourself to the language. But I don’t think this time needs to be one month long.
I’m fortunate that my life as a freelancer allows me to be flexible, not see clients in person and completely avoid English on a day-to-day basis. I know that this isn’t an option that’s available to everyone.
If you can I’d suggest taking at least 10 days to give up all use of English. I found the first five to six days to be the most frustrating. Afterwards you find more of a groove and can begin to naturally use the language even if it’s not grammatically correct.
If you do want to take time without English here’s what I’d suggest you do to make sure nothing gets in the way.
Step 1: Notify All Immediate Friends, Family and Colleagues that You Won’t Be Speaking English
Let everyone who normally gets in touch with you know that you’re not going to be able to speak with them for the next few days or weeks. This stops people randomly calling you or getting annoyed that you haven’t returned their calls.
When you’ve made your friends and family aware of what you’re doing, there’s little temptation to give in and just have an English conversation.
Step 2: Remove All Social Media Apps from Your Phone
This was a big one for me. Removing Facebook and Twitter was important for making sure I didn’t try and escape to English entertainment.
While you can set up your Facebook account to be in your target language, you can’t control what other people are posting.
Step 3: Go to a Country Where You’ll Meet Native Speakers Every Day
I highly recommend you do this while you’re on holiday or travelling. Although you can immerse yourself at home, I wouldn’t recommend it.
To do a month without English from home, you’d essentially have to lock yourself in your house and Skype people all day to avoid using English. Meaning this wouldn’t be an enjoyable or sustainable project.
Step 4: Learn to ‘Talk Around’ Words and Topics
One of the biggest compliments I got was that I’ve developed an incredible ability to describe what I mean without using the word I want. This is a valuable skill in reaching fluency!
For example, try and explain the next three items and movies without using their actual names:
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
- Tom Hanks
This technique is really helpful for describing words and themes in your target languages. When you can talk around a subject, you can lead people in the direction you want to go, even if you’ve forgotten (or not yet learned) a word.
Step 5: Stop Worrying About Grammar
Nobody ever died from using bad grammar.
For the days or weeks you’re on a No English mission, let all of your worries about grammar go out of the window. You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to speak.
If someone corrects your grammar, use it as an opportunity to learn. But you’ll have time to improve your grammar later; this is the time for talking.