Fear of Sounding Dumb

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

The biggest barrier to me speaking German was the fear of getting it wrong and sounding dumb. I was afraid of sounding stupid. Maybe that’s something you can also relate to. I realized I was afraid of being judged and if I didn’t get over it, it was going to block myself from learning the language all based on my own fear.

Obviously in my native language I’m completely fluent and confident. I’m a writer and an actor so my command of language is high. When I started my journey into speaking German I wanted to have the same ability to speak as in my native language. If I have something in my head that I want to say, I want my mouth to open and the words to come out. The question then became ‘how could I do that as quickly as possible?’

I went to language school but I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand the process they were following. I had to take it on trust that the teacher had a master plan that was going to lead me to my goal but I didn’t feel that. Frankly, I was frustrated and often bored. When I was bored my motivation went down. When my motivation was low, the energy and time I could devote to the job went down too. I realized that it wasn’t going to work for me. So I took a step backwards to look inside my head and try to understand how I converted an idea I wanted to express into words coming out of my mouth.

I want to make simple statements describing the world around me. I want to be able to describe what I see and then what I do. I want to talk about children in the park, dogs on the sidewalk, cars in the street, beer in the fridge and people waiting in the line. This is the world around me. I see it and I want to describe it. Then, apart from what I see, I have my other senses and my feelings of hunger or tiredness or happiness. This is my daily experience.

I found I can divide the world into how it is and how it changes. I want to talk about movement, about ‘going’ and ‘coming’ (i.e. traveling around) and I need to talk about ‘when’ I’m doing it. This became the foundation of what I wanted to say and then I could progress to expressing an opinion. It seemed to me that it didn’t really matter whether the language was German or some other language. My objectives were the same.

Knowing my language objectives, the big problem was confidence. I had to build up my confidence so that the fear of being judged would not stand in the way of me speaking.

Before I could hope to solve this problem I would have to do my homework. It was not so much the words (vocabulary) that were the problem, it was the grammar and the word order. It became obvious to me that the way any language is constructed follows patterns and the most effective thing to do was to master these underlying patterns. The patterns in German are different from English (Spanish, Russian, French whatever), but I needed to know how they were different. I didn’t want to directly translate from my mother tongue because I knew that was wrong.

The most basic elements of language are NOUNS (essentially things, people) and VERBS (action and state). In German, understanding nouns is about der, das, die. This is the CASE system (Kasus). Verbs contain information of ‘when’ something happens; now, in the past, in the future. A specific interesting point about German is the fascination with verbs of movement and how that changes things. The other pattern that’s vital is to understand is where the verbs go (their position in the sentence i.e. word order).

Knowing my objectives and then the patterns that were different from my native tongue were the first steps. Breaking down the patterns came next and finally communicating these patterns to other people was the step that gave me the confidence I needed. To prove to myself that I truly understood the patterns I started teaching them to other people. Once I could explain the patterns, then I found my confidence started to increase and one day I could speak and it was correct. That was a good day.

Now there’s more to the process then what I’ve described. There is reading and writing and listening. All of this takes time and time is always precious. But I’m not going to find the time if I’m demotivated and the work seems to have no pattern and I can’t see my progress. If I make a mistake, in the best case, I want to only make that mistake once. I have to understand why it is a mistake (because I refer back to the patterns I’ve learned). Mistakes are fine (mistakes are necessary) but I’d like to continually be making new mistakes rather than making the same ones over and over again.

This is how Language Gym came into being. The first thing about Language Gym is we teach/share the patterns that are unique to German. It’s like seeing patterns in your head. We’ve had enough students now to know that it works. Patterns are like magic. People remember because they have a structure. They have language ‘anchors’.

If you want to learn German according to the structure of how the brain takes on new information, then consider learning it with us. Yes, maybe you’ve already done level A-something, or B-something, but are you really satisfied that the information is in your head? Are you confident that you can teach to somebody else what you ‘know’? If not, try this method. It’s fast. You commit to working for 1 month. That’s it. You get the language ‘lecture’ face to face and then the resources are online and you work through them yourself. The cost starts at 153€. Whatever happens your confidence will be increased. You will stop being fearful that you don’t really understand. You will understand. And you can then teach a friend. In fact I greatly encourage you to do that.

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languagegym.net is where you go to read about the details. You can always PM me. I’m here.

I’m a computer scientist, a writer, a teacher and sometime actor. I taught myself German. This program is about grammar, reading, writing and storytelling. I work with native German actors in the storytelling modules that you do after you’ve mastered the patterns.