Friday, July 24, 2009

Why you must study German every day to become fluent.

If you have young children, you can probably cook dinner one-handed while balancing a baby on your hip, supervise a mischievous preschooler, and listen to a CD, all without breaking a sweat. Simple right? You do it every day, and without too much fuss. Your childless friends probably wonder how you do it all. But think back to when your first child was a newborn and everything took hours and required absolute concentration. Bathing your first newborn probably required at team of 2-3 adults and coordination rivaling an Indy 500 pit stop. And forget about finding the time to take cook a real dinner.

Learning to manage life as a new parent is exhausting and not just from lack of sleep. You're learning a whole new set of skills. This learning requires lots of practice before it becomes second nature.

In the same way, learning a second language requires lots of practice before it becomes second nature.
Of course you already knew this. No one expects to learn a new language overnight. But did you realize that how often you study is as important as what you study?

Daily practice is absolutely critical when learning a new language.
In some form or other, you must study daily in order to make your learning "stick." Whether it's reading, doing grammar exercises, having a conversation in German, or writing a letter, you absolutely must exercise these new German skills your brain is learning on a daily basis.

When you first learn a new fact, word, skill, etc., your brain ingests that information but after a while, it can only take so much and it starts to protest. That's why you get tired at the end of a German lesson or after reading a particularly challenging book. You don't need more sleep; you need to stop. Your brain is "full." And of course you're not going to remember or understand everything you just learned. But when you encounter the same concepts, words, and nuances the very next day, they're no longer new to you. Your brain recognizes them. "Hey! I've heard this before!" And this time the word, fact, or skill doesn't tire you out so much and you understand it a little better. This sense of familiarity makes German seem almost easy. When you wait too long to get back to your study, you'll start over at square one.
Your brain won't recognize the material as familiar and you'll go through the same struggle you did last time trying to memorize or understand a concept. Making your brain start back at square one is very tiring. Without daily practice, those new words that you were starting to remember, that grammar concept you thought you had mastered, or the verb you conjugated perfectly at the end of your last session is now a distant memory.

Daily practice isn't always easy.
Sure you'd love a few days off from being a new parent - imagine sleeping more than 3 hours in a row! And while you may leave the baby for an afternoon, you know without thinking twice that experienced parents are the result of hours and hours of dedicated and often thankless work and you cannot postpone your parenting duties until you are completely refreshed. The show must go on and through trial and error, parents figure out what works best and life settles down.

So, too, you may not want to open that German book or listen to that audio or go to class day after day. Hey, everyone needs a break now and then, don't they? Well, yes, sure but you can have your break when you're done studying . If you study a half an hour a day, you can take the rest of the day to allow your brain to digest the information you've learned and gear up for tomorrow's session. This means weekends, too! We're not talking about marathon training here! And once you've tried this for a while, you'll see the tremendous benefit you get from daily practice.

Getting started is the hardest part.
This is always the truth, isn't it? Whether it's getting out of bed early on a cold morning, giving a speech in front of a crowd or taking that jog, getting started is always the hardest. Once you're moving (or studying), it's not so bad and you're usually glad you did it, or at least glad it's over.

Daily practice is the secret to real progress whether you're a beginning German speaker or already very advanced.
This is why college language courses are usually scheduled for 4 or 5 days a week. This is why people who "dabble" in German a little here and there will eventually get bored or frustrated and give up. This is also why if you have made a commitment to improve your German, you need to practice every day!

Once again, don't forget:
1. Daily practice is essential.
2. Getting started is the hardest part.

If you want to learn German, be sure to add the critical ingredient of daily practice to your German study. Just like as a parent, you will gain skill with practice. You may be surprised at how fast you outgrow the beginner stage. And maybe you'll find out that you're zipping through your German lessons and German is fun!

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