Before I share my little story, I like to clarify what I mean by ‚learned english‘. I can’t tell what my current level is or how many words I know. But I would say I am able to understand between 95-100% what’s being said in most common media and I am able to make conversations about every topic I want to discuss, sometimes missing a specific word or using an easier language than natives would do. In other words, I am still learning and this blog is also supposed to help me to get more confident in producing language. So, you can argue if I already learned english or not. But I would say yes.
My journey started back in school, where all germans I know were supposed to learn at least some years a little bit english. In my class, I was maybe the worst learner. Most of the time my sentences were wrong, I couldn’t remember the vocabulary, I couldn’t really speak and I had no motivation whatsoever. And motivation is key in learning anything.
So, in these years even me as a bad student couldn’t avoid learning at least the basics of the english language. But besides the classes I had no real chance using it. Cinema and TV were german or dubbed, the internet was slow, somewhat boring and mainly text-based and I had no foreign friends who hasn’t learned enough german. So, for years nothing happened and I felt like forgetting most of what I’ve learned.
It changed when I started listing to podcast. It’s my absolute favorite medium. I started around 2008, the first years only with german program. There was a lot interesting stuff, more then I could possibly listen to. 2013 I realized how big podcasts in english-speaking countries became and that I was missing out on a lot great content.
So I subscribed to some channels and started listening. In the beginning it was really frustrating, understanding nearly nothing of what’s being said. To fast, to much accent, to many words missing. But I said to myself „Scheiß drauf, ich will das verstehen!“ what translates to something like „Fuck it, I want to understand this!“.
I unsubscribed from all german content and listened to english podcasts whenever I could. At work, at home, on the go. It took only a few months until I was satisfied with my understanding abilities. But I have to say, I really listened a lot. Many hours nearly every day. Maybe 3-8 hours, I haven’t collected any data. Just guessing.
In the beginning 2015 I decided to work on my speaking skills as well. I found some language exchange partners on the internet and practiced. We didn’t use books, grammar instructions or something. Just met in a restaurant, gone for a walk or had a drink in a bar. Natural conversations without fake topics. I realized many missing words that I was able to understand but not remember when I wanted to use them myself. But that got better very fast just by meeting foreign friends from time to time. I knew the words, I only had to practice using them myself.
But could I have learned english just through listening? Hard to say. I shouldn’t ignore that I learned the basics in school. And gradually over years grew my reading skills by surfing the web. The main reasons that I succeeded (in my opinion, I did), were high motivation and interest, a language that share many similar words, that is hard to completely avoid and that is very useful these days. Of course the learning never ends. There might be many mistakes in this article, but I’m confident that you got the message. That is what communication is about.
I’m learning korean for a year now and recently started spanish. For korean I know already the basics and I’m growing my vocabulary mostly with apps. Besides that I’m listing a lot again. Spanish is more an experiment. I’m trying to learn only though listening. Since spanish is not that different from german and english this might work. I’m curious and I will share my experience here in future posts.