‘Why are you learning German?’ Here is what people say

Why are you learning German? Do you have a clear motivation and end in mind? 

alice in wonderland asking for directions. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/35536284537018516/

I remember learning German at university. It was a mandatory second foreign language class. The first foreign language was English. We got 5 times more hours to learn English than to learn German. Back then I learned German just to get through the term and pass the tests and exams. I always thought that even if I moved aboard, I would go either to the States or Canada. For some reason, I never imagined coming to Germany. For three years, I learned only enough to come through. I graduated with straight A’s, but all I knew in German was basic stuff and basic grammar (that was enough to ace the graduation exam). Some of my classmates were almost fluent by then.

Fast forward five years and I chose Germany and a German business school over all the schools that I got accepted to, including four in the United States. Can you imagine a sense of deep regret that I experienced when I made my choice? Regret about all those years of missed opportunity to learn German.

The question that was lingering on my mind those days was “why wasn’t I motivated enough to learn German?

You see, I didn’t have that problem with learning English. Learning English for me was not a choice as I knew that my career options and quality of life would significantly improve if I mastered it. For sure it was different with German. German was a nice add-on. I didn’t feel an urgency or significance of learning it.

Right now I live and work in Germany. I am working hard to improve my German and my drive is as strong as it has never been. The motivation is clear – if I want to live in this country, be successful, and start my own business one day, I gotta speak German. Full stop. This is what was missing when I was learning it casually at the university. The class was mandatory in the curriculum and the motivation was not intrinsic. It was ‘I had to, instead of ‘I want to or I choose to’.

I asked German learners from all over the world, just like you and me, about what drives them to learn German. Their answers are so diverse, humbling, and extremely motivating.

Here is an overview of what we discovered:

Here are some excerpts from what people shared with me

‘Because it’s cool’ group

“I started learning German because I just happened to hear it being spoken in a movie once and instantly fell in love with the sound. It was sort of my “linguistic awakening” because learning it led to an overall passion for languages/linguistics” @washingtong_breadstix

“I started learning it because I heard a song sung in German and thought ‘wow wouldn’t it be cool to understand this?’ and now… here we are. Alas, I cannot recall the song itself. I keep going because I know deep down I enjoy it.” @allenthaben

“Always had a thing for the German language, probably somewhere around the age 12 is when I seriously started thinking about it. I’m currently a mechanical engineering student and want to move to Germany a few years after I’m done with college.” @Cicimequeen

“I met some Germans a few years back and hearing them speak in German reminded me of taking German forever ago in high-school, and regretting that I didn’t take it seriously and actually learn something useful.” @Aaronwhite1786

“I got bored one day and was like “hey I wanna learn a language” so I had a look around at the stats and nature of a bunch of languages to pick one right for me. Ideally, I wanted one that was similar to English so that I wouldn’t have that hard of a time with grammar, but different enough that it wasnt just learning new words. And I wanted it to have a large speaker body. I decided that french and Spanish and Portuguese were a bit too mainstream (apologies, but they’re also really close to English) and anything Asian was too hard. German was perfect because it’s got a huge online presence (especially on Reddit) and it’s not too far from English.” @pygmyrhino290

‘All those things we do for love’ group

“…I am living and working in Germany and met my fiance here… My motivation is that I will become a citizen here [in Germany]. I will have children here. It would be nice if my children aren’t teased due to their mother speaking bad German.” @Sponge_Over

“I met my soulmate on an online game. I am French and he’s German. We speak English but it is expected that I go to live in Germany with him. I learn German so I can work there and of course like that i’ll be able to talk with his family. He encourages me and helps me a lot. It’s not long since I’ve been learning German but I’m sure I’ll succeed because I think about our life there and I want him to be proud of me, so I have the best motivation possible!” @Dalchadan

“Met my now wife at university in Norway. She’s German. She ended up getting a PhD position at a university in Germany after graduation so we moved here. I need A1 to be able to get a visa to stay, and because we live in a pretty tiny Bavarian town, I need a lot more than that just to get by. Also none of her family speaks English, so that makes family gathering a little awkward for me. So 5 hour per day, 5 day per week intensive classes for me it is!” @yakovgolyadkin

“To finally move to my girlfriend, who is living there. And that’s the main motivation and my fuel to keep going no matter what.” @Skarrsi

“I started learning German because I thought it would make my grandma let me into her life. She was from Stuttgart but moved to the US on her own after she turned 18. I have two older siblings that would go visit her but they were absolute shits to her and because of that, when I was old enough to visit she wasn’t open to that idea. So anyways, I started checking out “how to learn german in 10 minutes a day” from the public library when I was 13. When I was 15 she let me visit her for the first time. The following year, the weekend right before my first time to Germany, she passed away in the Grand Canyon. When I was 20, I moved to Germany on my own” @BigDaddyDrank

‘Heritage and identity’ group

“Part of my family is from Germany and I live in a very historical German US city (Cincinnati) so there’s lots of chances to keep it up. I was honestly pretty good at Italian but there’s very little use here.So with attending heritage events and the older folks thinking I speak more German than I do since I rock a mean Lederhosen to those events, I thought I should really strive to learn” @SuddenlyTheBatman

“I learned German because some of my family is German and I wanted to connect with my roots! I took a course at uni and after that I was hooked. It’s been 7 years and I have lived in Germany several times and will be returning next month!” @eb_83

‘For study and work’ group

“Started to learn German because I’m gonna spend one year there as a member of a family and a student. My tears are blood, whenever I feel I have progressed something, there’s something that reminds me that I don’t understand a sh*t. And I’m kinda scared because I really want to understand what people says to me and all.” @DrissDeu

“I’m planning on taking college in Germany since it’s way cheaper compared to attending college here in the Philippines. And I also to move to Germany permanently in the near future. My main drive are my parents. I’m honesty scared of ending up like them, stuck in a vicious rat’s race. And I’m positive that they also don’t want to see end up like them. They were the ones that encouraged me to go seek better opportunities abroad.” @bryenah

“I started to learn German, in order to work in Germany. It has been 2 years and was able to pass B1 and still learning myself. Now living in Germany and able to somehow manage to attend interviews in German. So far going good. Hoping to learn for C1 exam once I get a job.” @pmun077

“I’m learning German to become a foreign language teacher 🙂 I wouldn’t say I have too much a struggle in German but definitely have a difficult time understanding native speakers. Hopefully I can improve that as time goes!” @goatiesincoaties

“Well, I work in tech, and Germany and Switzerland are two big centers in this area. For this reason, I anticipate that knowing German will open up my career opportunities vastly.” @lesenundhoren

‘Miscellaneous’ group

“I’m learning German because I’m embarrassed by the monolingualism of England in general.” @PanTroglodyte

“I am learning German because of three reasons:

  1. To be able to move to Germany eventually.
  2. Because of my German heritage.
  3. To understand Rammstein lyrics.” @Ogdeys

“I need an escape route for when Brexit hits. That’s my main motivation.” @ursulahx

During 7th grade (USA) I had to take a half a year of French and a half a year of Spanish. Well because of my Dyslexia I would constantly be getting the two languages mixed up. So the school said I was not required to have a language to graduate to high school. Well when I got to my high school they offered German as another language. I figured what the heck let me try another language and see how it turns out. And I did really well! I excelled at it. And its because German is just different enough from French or Spanish that I learned it with out getting things mixed up. Now its been some years since high school and I want to start learning it again. So here i am slowly but surely re learning German. @belac4862

“I’m going on a trip to Germany soon and would like to know at least a little off the basics. Duolingo has been helpful, though I take my studying father than just using the app – I take notes, practice the grammar, and eventually make up my own phrases. My husband thinks I’m nuts because I spend a good amount of time narrating basic things by myself, but it’s been working! I’m a big believer of having no shame when learning a language, and of speaking as much as possible.” @tealstarfish

What is your motivation?

Did you recognize yourself in any of those answers? Could you relate to them? Whatever it is, being crystal clear about what drives your forward and helps you stay at it no matter how hard it gets (and it does get harder after A1 and A1.2 =D). There is a huge community out there of people like you and me who are learning German and are facing the same or similar challenges. Some estimates say that more than 15 million people learn German at any given moment all over the world. That’s a lot. On top of that, there are tons of learning resources for German learners ranging from videos to books to language learning hacks. I hope that gives you some hope and motivation.

Mach’s gut!

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