Y’all, Language Learning is Hard

So, file this under “things I should have known and probably did, but forgot” — learning a language is hard work. I chez noushave been teaching German for many years now (more than I care to count, really) and so, on some level, I knew this. After all, I learned German (and French and Latin) at some point and I’ve watched students struggle, so I should know this, right?

Wrong. I had forgotten it. Until this semester. I am sitting in on a first-semester French class and well, it’s hard work. Harder work than I remembered. Here is an incomplete list of what’s hard about learning a language:

  • Time/vocabulary — as someone who generally “gets” languages, the structure/grammar part isn’t all that difficult (I say “all that” because I have more to add on this below). BUT, finding the time to memorize vocabulary is damn near impossible. My fellow auditor and I did not take the most recent chapter test, but got to see it today. Friends, I would have been in D territory because I simply would NOT have been able to produce the vocabulary required to do well on this exam. Ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. I need to figure out a way to find the time to a) make flash cards and b) memorize the words on them. Easier said than done, let me tell you.
  • The “this is weird” syndrome — I cannot tell you how many times I have said to students “German is not weird, it’s just different.” And now here I am , freaked out — FREAKED out, I tell you — at the way French constructs its questions. The main difference being that for my students, English is normally the standard, whereas I am comparing French to German — and wondering where the hell the verb is and why it’s allowed to come after the subject in a question. I mean, that’s just wrong. Everyone knows that 🙂
  • The other students — our prof (who is an amazing teacher) has a rule that we are supposed to sit with someone new every class. There are a whole bunch of pedagogically sound reasons for this, all of which I forget the moment I find myself paired up with someone who is not prepared for class and who has not done her/his homework. Naturally, I end up teaching said student and helping her/him catch up. Which. Drives. Me. Crazy. I complained about this to my husband tonight, and he said, “but, of course, that’s what you want as a teacher — to have the strong students help the weaker ones.” “Well, yes,” I said, “but it’s annoying as the strong student.” I am not entirely sure what to do with this information — my husband is, of course, correct, that always pairing students of similar ability does not work, but I do now empathize with the better students in a way that I didn’t before.
  • Time — I’m just going to state this again. Learning a language takes up a fair amount of time. I’m able to slide by for now because I’ve had a lot of French in the past and it’s coming back. But I know that I am going to be in a world of hurt in a few weeks.

I’m only four weeks into this experiment  and am loving it i (there is something really fabulous about leaving the office for a bit at lunchtime to go learn something), but I am also learning a lot — much of it things I’d forgotten as it’s been a long time since I was on this side of the classroom. I’m hopeful that by the end of the semester I will not only have (re-)learned some French, but that I will have learned enough about myself that I’m a better teacher in the future.


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