Why I’m Quitting German Language School

Quitting German language school

I am not a quitter, yet I will be quitting German Language School as soon as my current course finishes in two weeks. I am rather surprised at myself. Where did all my enthusiasm go to learn German that I had when I first moved here? What about my plan to finish two more levels of intensive German? What about my plan to be fluent in German within a year? All gone, I don’t know where it all went, but it’s been long gone.

Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to learn German and I still have the goal of becoming fluent sooner rather than later (no I’m not quitting early because I’m so naturally gifted in languages and became fluent in German so quickly 🙂 but it just won’t be along the nicely laid path that I had laid out almost a year ago. Strangely enough, I’m not learning as much German as I should be in German Language School. This time this is not the fault of the school, (see What I Learned from Choosing the Wrong Foreign  Language School) and the blame lies entirely with me. Although I go to class, I am a bum in a seat, counting down how long until the next break.  I don’t remember the last time I sat down to memorize a vocabulary list and most days I rush through my German homework while in physiotherapy for my knee an hour before class starts.  I realize this is not the way to learn German – although speaking to the physiotherapist in German has been very helpful and I’ve developed a good German vocabulary around knee ailments.

My motivation has come and went after five hours a day, five days a week for the painstakingly long last eight months. When I first arrived, I would ask expats how much German they had taken. Most had only taken a course, but a few had taken six months of intensive German classes and then quit. I didn’t understand it, if you were going to live here, shouldn’t you take all the German classes that were offered to the highest level?

Now I get it. Learning a language with the goal of becoming fluent is hard. Learning German is the hardest thing I’ve ever done academically wise, far harder than any university course I’ve ever taken, far harder than completing my Master’s degree while working insane hours at a full time job.

I am burnt out from trying to learn German combined with running my blog, teaching an online course, planning a wedding and recovering from knee surgery.    I have realized that my efforts to continue to learn German in an intensive German course have been fruitless.  I will continue to learn German and am currently exploring different ways of doing so, some conventional, some not so conventional (stay tuned), but yes they will be fun( see 5 Fun Ways to Learn a Language.)  But in the meantime, I am relieved to have arrived at the decision to quit German Language School.  Yes I am a quitter – and I’m OK with that.


Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their hiking, cycling and wildlife vacations in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.



  1. inka May 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    Didn’t I tell you to leave the language course alone? Either one on one or, believe me, you will pick up the language just muddling through every day. I’m fluent in Spanish and never ever had a single lesson, just listened and started talking. We’ll be corresponding in German in no time. Now go and concentrate on the wedding and in church all you have to do is say: Ja. you can do that, can’t you???

  2. Lita May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch!
    Ich denke, die Entscheidung gegen die Sprachschule war eine gute!
    Es ist ein viel einfacheres Lernen, wenn man sich in die Sprache einsinken lässt, als wenn man Grammatikregeln und Vokabeln lernt, die nichts oder nur mit dem wahren Leben zu tun haben.
    Kommunikation ist das Zauberwort und das geht nur mit richtigen Leuten und in Situationen, in denen man reagieren und mit denen man sich arrangieren muss!
    Viel Glück, viele gute und schöne Erfahrungen mit dem Ausprobieren – und Du wirst sehen, es geht so viel einfacher!

    I think the decision against language school was a good decision!
    It’s easier learning if you let yourself sink into the language than to study up grammar rules and vocabulary that have very little or nothing to do with Real life.
    Communication is the magic word and it works only with the real people and in real situations where you have to react and deal with them!
    Good luck, lots of good and nice experiences with trial and error – you will see, it’s going to be much easier this way!

  3. Adam May 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    I totally understand. Learning a language is very hard, and it’s a lot harder for some than others. I think taking a break will be a good thing. There are certainly other options, and I’m sure you’ll find the one that’s right for you.

  4. Debbie Beardsley May 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    I have never lived in a foreign country but I think I can see your point. At least you are living in Germany and will be picking up the language just by living in the community and shopping etc. Later if you feel you need to learn grammar etc you can always go back.

  5. Andrew May 2, 2011 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    Seems like you bit off an enormous bite to chew. 5 hours a day is a lot for something as mentally intense as learning a language. Every day for 8 months is insane. It seems like a few months then see how you get along in society for a bit then go back. The “sinking in” process is important. And shoving some much in at once disturbs this sinking in.

    Glad you aren’t giving up on the language completely, just the courses.

  6. Sabrina May 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Yeah 🙂 You’ll have so much more fun learning it as you go anyways! I’m sure you know the basics (and more) through all the German classes you’ve already taken and the rest will come as you keep hanging out with Germans.

  7. [email protected] May 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    I feel your pain. I took a four-week intensive course, then a follow-up once weekly (but still intensive) course for Dutch. I live in a Dutch neighborhood so practice daily with neighbors, errands, etc. I listen to the radio, check out Dutch Word of the Day online, check words with Google Translate/Babel Fish all the time, try to read a little every other day, listen while reading subtitles on a little television, etc. I bought the next level interactive CD ROM but never seem to get to it. In all honesty, I’m a little stuck in ‘Intermediate-ville’. The thing that helps the most? Chatting with the other parents at my daughter’s Dutch voetbal games, walking with a Dutch friend trying to only speak Dutch, etc. In other words, when the opportunity meets the will to REALLY make an effort. You’ll do fine if you make the effort.

  8. Zhu May 2, 2011 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    You know, I barely spoke English when I came to Canada almost ten years ago. I knew the basics (I took a class in high school for a couple of years) but I couldn’t understand people and my grammar was awful.

    And I didn’t take classes here. I just read a lot of books in English (first few were painful to go through because I was so slow), listened to TV, chatted a lot… and here I am today! Okay, I’m not looking for praise, just saying that sometimes it’s good to learn the basics at school (like for Chinese, honestly, I don’t think you can go very far learning it without any structure whatsoever). Sometimes, you need something else.

  9. Gina May 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Good decision 🙂

    I think this is some of the best advice I’ve seen for language learning: http://www.yearlyglot.com/2010/10/learning-as-a-lifestyle/. It basically sums up to: if you’re trying to learn a language, just do whatever you normally do, but in the new language. (For me that means reading a lot in German and chatting with my colleagues. Seems to have worked.)

  10. Katherina May 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    I can so relate to how you feel about it… I quit studying french in a language school too. I now try learning french at home and on the streets – so far, I think I’m doing much better!

  11. jade May 3, 2011 at 12:05 am - Reply

    Totally understand! For me, I just have to sit and listen and try to work out the sentences in front of locals.. .that was the only way I simi-learned spanish. Good luck when you try again!

  12. Roy | cruisesurfingz May 3, 2011 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Good for you for at least giving it a go. Live and learn.

  13. Gina May 3, 2011 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Hey Laurel, I learned German pretty much without attending any classes (I did to a once-a-week conversational class for a while). If you want any tips or links to what I found useful to learn it, let me know. Or maybe you’ve already worked it all out for yourself.

    p.s. election results… ugh… now I have to stay in Germany 😉

  14. ayngelina May 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    I take Spanish lessons off and on along the way in Latin America but the most Spanish I’ve learned is on the street. Take a break and do it on your own and when you’re ready you can go back, IF you want to go back.

  15. Norbert May 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Wow, you have a lot in your plate. Don’t feel like a quitter, that’s ok. Sometimes when you’re juggling a lot of plates it is necessary to let some fall in order to manage the others best. Also, like you’ve experienced, you can learn the language outside a school by practicing it in your daily life and assimilating it… instead of just memorizing it. I’m sure you’ll do fine with your German and everything else. Hope you knee heals soon!

  16. Barry May 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Welcome to my world of foreign language learning capability. You will likely learn faster from conversational exposure and you can always back that up with the grammer and technical component. There is probably a ‘German for Dummies’ book which would be my choice. In my experience there are some excellent interactive, home computer-based courses but long term experience will likely do the job best. I know you will get the task done. Bonne chance!

  17. Laurel May 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much to everyone for your kind words, encouragement, tips and for sharing your experience. I was hesitant to write this post, but feel much better after all your support. Thank you!

    @Inka – Yes you did tell me that (several times in fact). You make me laugh, I’m sure I’ll have more time for wedding planning in 2 weeks when I’m no longer doing German school 🙂

    @Lita – Thank you so much for your kind words and you’re right, I need to focus more on communication than I do on the grammar side of things, which at least now I have the basis.

    @Linda – I’m afraid of getting stuck in “intermediatevile” as well. At the very least I will start a conversational course once a week in September which will hopefully help, but I know that I need to make an active effort to move forward with speaking German.

    @Zhu – Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It’s really nice to hear from people who have succeeded at something that I’m currently going through.

    @Gina – Great tip, I’ll definitely try that thanks. I get lazy with J.P. We speak German for the easy stuff and then switch to English for the more complicated stuff, but that doesn’t help my German. If you have any tips or links that you could share, I would definitely use them/appreciate them. Thanks so much!

  18. Christina May 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    I totally understand, Laurel. Reading about all the things you do you are one busy lady. And you know, you’ll still be exposed to German all the time and will probably pick it up more easily from reading books, watching TV, talking to locals, etc! Being a native speaker of German, I am grateful that I never had to learn German grammar. So focus on the positive, no more rules rules rules!

  19. Gina May 4, 2011 at 6:53 am - Reply

    Hi Laurel,

    Here were my favourite German-learning things:

    For reading:
    – Deutsch Perfekt magazine for German learners (your local library should have it if you don’t want to buy it): http://www.deutsch-perfekt.com/
    – Neue Kontakt digital magazine for German-learners (although this seems more geered to teenagers): http://referentiemateriaalvo.noordhoff.nl/neuekontakte/digizine/archief.html
    – Actually everything at Deutsche Welle is pretty good, especially the “Deutschkurse” section.

    For listening:
    – Slow German – podcasts spoken in clean, slow German and you can read the text on your ipod while you listen: http://www.slowgerman.com/
    – Grüße Aus Deutschland – 60 episodes made for German learners.

    Obviously speaking and writing are both key factors. I think the once-a-week conversation class I was in was really useful for getting me to speak regularly. I also joined a local choir and I always stay after to socialize to make sure I’m speaking German regularly. Otherwise the time just slips away and you forget the last time you’ve “practiced”….

    Hope that helps!

  20. Linda May 9, 2011 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    I’m so with you on this. I’ve never actually been to a language school, so I shouldn’t really comment, but I’ve had people come to me for English lessons who were learning nothing in a specialist school. Obviously one or two to one is more concentrated, but some of the things they were told in school were so wrong I can’t believe it!

    Spanish was much easier for me to learn because I’d done French and Latin in school, and I spent a couple of years learning on the street/every life until I took some private lessons to sort out my bad grammar! I’m still dodgy on more advanced grammar, but I’ve taken courses in various things in Spanish, and most of my friends are now Spanish, or at least we speak Spanish, which was the best thing I ever did. Luckily for you, one thing you are not likely to do is get mired down in ex-pat life.

    German is different from English/French/Spanish and some other common languages, though, the grammar rules, like word order, are quite difficult for us, I think. Looking back I think what I did was good, but I should have taken the one-to-one classes sooner. The problem with those is (speaking as the teacher here) that you do need to motivate yourself between classes. I usually tell pupils I give them the tools and teach them how to use them, but then it’s up to them to become proficient by practice.

    However, you have far too much on, and this is the obvious thing to drop, because you will go on learning because of your circumstances, just a bit slower for the moment. Lots of luck!

  21. The Honourable Husband May 9, 2011 at 7:35 pm - Reply


    Good idea. You need to take your foot off the gas to change gears.

    Learning a language may seem like an academic pursuit, but it ain’t. The brain is an organ. It gets tired. Relax a little and a lot of what you know will fall into place. Rather like practicing scales until they’re perfect before you move onto melodies.

    I used to teach Englsh to immigrants in Australia. We ggave them eight weeks of intensive instruction, and then insisted they couldn’t do another course back-to-back. Their heads were swimming in new words and ideas, and not letting them come up for air just meant thay would drown in the language tehy were supposed to be learning.


  22. Chris May 10, 2011 at 4:09 am - Reply

    You’re not being a quitter–you’re just taking a different path to the goal. Have fun with it!

  23. Jessica February 12, 2012 at 12:44 am - Reply

    I am going through the exact same thing as you did…I am feeling like such a quitter, yet your words are my exact words, at the moment, and reading your post has really lightened my mind and reminded me that an intensive course is not for everyone. Thank you.

  24. […] frustrated and fed up because classes are moving as slow as the slowest student or you’re staring at the clock waiting for class to finish, it’s time to […]

  25. Katharina Gerlach January 18, 2014 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I keep telling people that German is most like up on the pedestal with Chinese when it comes to difficult languages. 😉
    The best way to learn it is to speak, read and listen (kid’s TV does wonders for beginners, watch KiKa).

  26. Patty K. May 31, 2016 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    True true, there’s only so much you can push yourself. And often after a break, you end up feeling ready once again to tackle the language (at least my own personal experience – took me 4 years to reach C1 level German, with breaks in between because otherwise I was feeling way too much pressure). A good teacher and school are mega important too – can’t tell you how many times a German teacher’s bad attitude ruined my own enthusiasm. Something to keep in mind as well, and what ended up being a better option for me – some schools offer intensive courses that are less intensive, and I found, much more manageable. The last school I was at offered intensive courses that are 4 days a week and just 12 learning units a week (many schools have 18 -20 a week but that always fried my brain, haha). Not everyone learns the same, we need to recognize and accept that. 🙂

  27. Figtree April 4, 2017 at 6:14 am - Reply

    Hi there- I am in a similar situation- my language course was compulsory though since I am from New Zealand and married to a German. I.e we were sent a letter saying I MUST attend. I can not stand my German course. Excitement pretty much gave way to terrible depression at the thought of suffering through yet another day of language school hell. 5 hours a day- 5 days a week. Two 15 minute breaks. It sounds dramatic and no one I explain it to really gets it- but it’s torture! Even the other 20 or so people in my class are a challenge (yesterday 2 of them had a shouting match which interrupted the lesson for almost an hour!) I’m trying to drop out of even just change schools but I have no idea how- do you have any tips?

    • Laurel April 4, 2017 at 11:30 am - Reply

      @Figtree – Sorry to hear about your situation. I changed schools after A2 and it helped. The new school was better but still not amazing. I totally feel you that it’s torture when you’re in the wrong class or have the wrong teacher. Re: new schools, I asked for recommendations and chose my new school on word of mouth instead of the internet as I had done with the first one. I just had to complete B1 for visa reasons which I did, then quit.

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