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Have you ever reached a plateau in your language learning that you just couldn’t break through?
I kept making the same mistakes and forgetting the same words over, and over, and over again.
It’s in times like this that you need to break the pattern. Make a big change to your language learning and find something new that helps those cogs turn once more.
For some people it’s using podcasts instead of books. For others, it’s taking an intensive course.
Me? Well, I decided to stop speaking English.
For 30 days I took on a Month Without English language mission. I gave up my mother tongue and only spoke German.
In this article I explain my goals for the mission, and how I prepared for it. I’ll also share what you can expect over the next series of blog posts.
A Month Without English – Why?!
One of the mistakes I’ve made learning German (and Spanish in the past) is that I spend a lot of time speaking English around my target language. While I may be speaking and learning German 10 hours a week, that still leaves 102 waking hours a week where I’m living in English. If I’m socialising, relaxing or reading a book there’s a good chance I’m doing it in English.
So I asked myself: “What could I achieve if I wasn’t able to speak English?”
What if I took those extra 102 hours a week that I’m awake and make German my most spoken language? How quickly would my German improve?
Then, I watched a video in Benny’s Premium course where he talked about how he gave up English for a month to focus on his Spanish. And, well…the pieces just fell into place.
Seeing as I was about to move to Germany in just a few days, it made sense to tie the two together and turn them into one big project.
Over the following few weeks there would be lots of times that I’d be forced to use my German. Registering as a resident, meals with friends, rugby training, housewarming and the upcoming carnival to name but a few.
There would really be no escape…
What Is The Goal?
At the end of my month without English is the Cologne Carnival.
It’s a big festival where the whole city comes together, parties, wears fancy dress and has a lot of fun. So my goal was heavily centred around that:
I’d like to reach B2 level in speaking and listening by the first day of Carnival
At day zero, my level was around B1. I could speak enough to get by. Being creative with my vocabulary, and using a lot of gestures, I could get my point across on most major topics. But sometimes I could only pick out the key words and I couldn’t quite get my head around some concepts.
That meant people would often revert to speaking English to me because they’re trying to be nice by speaking the easier language for me. But I wanted to be able to converse confidently and well enough that this would no longer happen.
What Are The Rules for the Month Without English?
For my month without English, I decided to follow a few set rules to make sure I’d stick to my task.
As well as being the Social Media Manager for Fluent in 3 Months (FI3M), I’m a writer and a blogger. Meaning a lot of my work is done in English. So I had to be realistic, because I enjoy eating and hot water and living.
So, taking work out of the equation, here are the rules I needed to stick to:
- No English Conversations: If someone is able to speak German I simply cannot speak to them in English. Not even if they try to start a conversation in it.
- No English Entertainment: All films, music and books must be consumed in German.
- Describe First, Ask Second: If there’s a word I want to know, I need to describe it in German using the vocabulary I have. Only if the person doesn’t understand it can I ask, “How do you say [X] in German?”
- No Studying: I’m not allowed to sit down and study grammar or vocabulary; everything I learn needs to come from conversation. If there’s a grammar point I really need explaining, I can find the relevant podcast on GermanPod101 to talk me through it.
How to Prepare for a Month Without English
With moving to Germany my time was pretty limited to prepare. I certainly didn’t have hours a day to focus on improving my German skills.
That meant I was heavily reliant on two tools to expand my German and improve my vocabulary as much as possible, in the shortest amount of time.
Whenever I was in the car or walking the dog I made sure I listen in to an episode of GermanPod101. The intermediate lessons are only 10-15 minutes long, so there’s no excuse to not listen to at least one a day.
I also used Benny’s Language Hacking German book. I originally used this before I joined Fi3M to get to A2 level. But there are always grammar points and vocabulary lessons to review.
Otherwise I did little intense preparation that you couldn’t manage at home.
My Feelings Before My Month Without English
Honestly? I felt really freaking nervous.
This would be my first month living in Germany and, I knew I’d be feeling a little detached from home in England. So, not being able to use my native tongue was just going to make me feel all that much further away.
I don’t know what it is about language learning, but the thought of saying something wrong or not being understood really played on my mind a lot. More so than I feel if I play a chord wrong on the guitar or if I overcook an egg when making breakfast.
But there was also a part of me that felt really excited. I’d be connecting with German people on a whole new level.
My biggest worry? Speaking German when my girlfriend wasn’t around to help me.
Before this mission, most of my German conversations happened when she was there. She was almost like a language parent who knows how to break down the concepts into grammar and vocabulary that I know and understand. Which was quite a useful crutch to have.
But there would be situations in my mission – like going to rugby training or shopping in the city – where I would need to be able to hold my own without her there to fall back on.
Want to Follow My Month Without English?
I’ll be sharing more updates on Fluent in 3 Months.
In my next post I’ll discuss how I fared during the first couple of weeks of my month without English. Stay tuned!