How to Deal with Frustration – An Open Letter

Dear student,

I think we’ve all been there. Sometimes, we just get stuck and we don’t seem to be moving forward anymore, not even one single step. It’s an awful feeling and it needs instant treatment, as this sentiment makes us feel horrible about our learning process. We feel unmotivated, unproductive, and frustrated—or in one word: frozen. Unfortunately, this can happen to everyone in any thinkable situation, with language learning not being an exception. It’s absolutely reasonable to feel sorry for yourself for some time, but let’s face it: The problem needs to be tackled and put in its place. 

Step 1: Identify the problem 

The most crucial step is probably tracking down the problem, which might take some “Sherlock-ing”. What even is the problem? Is it the vocabulary? Or is it the grammar? Or the syntax? From what I’ve heard from my students, these seem to be the main issues when learning German. Next time when speaking German (or any other language you’re struggling with), try to observe what exactly frustrates you and have a go at putting your finger on it. If you still feel unsure about what exactly frustrates you, ask your teacher. That’s what we’re here for and we’re always happy to help.

Step 2: Tackle the problem

After having identified the problem, try to tackle it and do not make any excuses. If German vocabulary was giving you a hard time, write down even more words and study them in every form possible. Draw neat mind maps in your notebook, decorate your flat with colorful sticky notes (don’t stick them on your cat; they’re very likely to get upset about it), or switch the language on your phone to German (also a fun way of turning your phone into a maze in 3 seconds). In case German syntax has turned into your worst enemy, pay even more attention to it than already needed—meaning 200%. Is the verb at the end when you want to construct a subordinate clause with “weil”? No? Backtrack and correct yourself or ask your friends to do it for you. Eventually, you’ll form a habit of catapulting your verbs to the end of the sentence, and it will start feeling like second nature. 

Step 3: Improve (and stop being so hard on yourself)

Step 3 is a bit easier and will only reveal itself after some time of facing your frustration, namely slowly improving. Sometimes, this happens without the person even actively noticing it. This is due to the fact that your initial frustration has been transformed into an everyday habit by means of actively tackling the issue. In fact, some people only start noticing this when they start receiving praise from their teachers and German native speakers or when they can start expressing their frustration in German. This happened to one of my students who explained to her landlord how having a recently opened pub downstairs wouldn’t let her sleep at night—and this in very, very, very direct German, which seemed to have helped a lot. Nobody wants to be shouted at in German. The next day, my student showed up to class and she was more than proud—and believe me, so was I. 

On a more personal note, please do not be too hard on yourself. Like anything else in this world, and especially in 2020, language learning takes time, practice, and commitment. You also wouldn’t run for president after having read one Wikipedia article about it (only one guy felt like this was enough). And on this note: It’s perfectly fine to be frustrated. But it’s not perfectly fine to stay frustrated. 

Sincerely yours, 

(An occasionally frustrated) teacher 😊

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