Teach yourself…

… on learning German and the irrelevance of google translate…


This is my first post on a blog I intend to fill with completely random topics from music I like and want to share with the world to movie reviews (that don’t give up the plot). From existential posts about life to not so existential posts about nothing. If you’re in for the randomness I’d love you to come along on this ride 🙂

On to business…

I’m currently a piano teacher and the first thing I’d say to anyone who wants to learn how to play would be “don’t try to teach yourself, find a good teacher who can teach you what you wanna learn (classical, pop, rock, blues) so you have good technique which will ultimately help you never ever have those learning barriers a lot of people reach when trying to learn from youtube tutorials. What a lot of people miss is that “technique” does not consist of playing a bunch of boring notes over and over again. Real technique is always at the service of musicality, the point of it is that you never feel like something is too dificult to play… ever! But that you have the confidence that in the future you will totally be able play whatever you like.

That said… I’m trying to teach myself German… the irony, I know!

I heard somewhere, “How can you teach yourself something you don’t know?” and, arguably, that is true. Being alive in 2014 gives you an advantage in many things, including learning a language. There are a number of apps and websites where you can learn vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and a bit of grammar too.

I know there is just no way by playing with my language apps I will be able to pass a C2 German exam and nor is that my goal!! I’ve had German classes before but for one reason or another I could never get past 3rd semester (groups didn’t continue, economic situation didn’t allow for extra stuff, etc..). My goal right now is to play with my language apps and use language learning websites to at least recover some of what I know and, hopefully, start intensive German classes soon, but not at level 1, hopefully start where I left off.

So my battle plan is:

I’m taking the lessons available on livemocha and duolingo (I use the duolingo ipad app). I take notes (Old school, using a pad and a pen) and do some further research on the verbs they use and some unexplained grammar. Once I think I have it down, I log on to lang-8.com where I write an entry using my newly acquired skills. Native speakers then correct my (many) mistakes. At that point more research is done on the things I thought I got right but weren’t.

Livemocha has a couple of steps during the lessons where you can send written and spoken exercises for people to rate and comment on but there don’t seem to be any people interested in correcting what you write and record. In lang-8 people will correct your writing because that’s what the site is all about! And duolingo checks your pronunciation on each lesson so that’s not a problem.

Yesterday I wrote an entry on lang-8 and doubted myself many times on the process but the most important one was doubting my memory on the word “Männer” (men). I doubled checked with google translate (I know, it’s like I wanted to make a mistake!) and sure enough it came up with a different word, “Mannen”. I wrote “Mannen” and, of course, it was wrong, the correct word was “Männer” all along.

Apparently “Mannen” is Dutch (but I could be wrong about that). The lesson here is, do not trust google translate. If you’re serious about learning a language you really can’t just google stuff, you need a reliable dictionary. For the purpose of this conversation, I should mention using babel fish is not any better.

In conclusion, this is what I’ve learned about teaching myself stuff I don’t know: be realistic as to how far you can get on your own, never stop searching for new ways to learn, google translate sucks and you really need to invest in a good dictionary.

Thanks for reading! If you’re a lang-8 user and speak German or are studying German or Spanish, you can add me if you like, I’d be happy to help… I’d also be happy to get help 😀