The question I most wanted an answer to when I first moved here only knowing a handful of German word was ‘Is it hard to learn German?’ After almost four years here I have a definitive answer. Yes and No. Trust me on this, all will be explained.
Firstly, no, German is not hard to learn. That is it is not harder to learn than any other foreign language. Every single language has an element or elements about it that are difficult to master and German is no different in this respect. In fact, English speakers are at an advantage when learning German because of English’s Germanic roots. You will learn lots about English when you start to learn German.
However, yes, German is hard to learn but not for the reasons you might think. German is hard to learn because any foreign language is hard to learn, especially when you are an adult and are learning your first foreign language. I was in my mid 30s when I first started learning German and trust me, the adult brain can be quite resistant to learning a new language.
German is also hard to learn because of the amount of time you need to dedicate to it. When I first moved here I thought that doing 3 hours of lessons a week plus living in Germany would mean that I would just pick it up. That most definitely did not happen. 3 hours of lessons per week was nowhere near enough to get vocabulary and concepts to stick in my mind and just because I lived where German was spoken did not mean I just absorbed it through some osmotic process. Whilst living in a German speaking country gives me lots of opportunities to learn German, if I don’t actively take up these opportunities and devote time to them, I’m going to learn very little. In order to learn a language you need to fully immerse yourself in it. You need to speak German regularly, watch German TV, listen to German radio, read German books and write regularly in German – and all this takes time out of your daily life. The people that ‘pick up’ the language quickly are the ones who are devoting a large chunk of their day to learning German.
Learning German is also tough on your ego and in ways that you could not previously imagine it would be. You need to be 100% okay with making a complete and utter idiot of yourself and having people abuse you for not being able to express yourself properly. Don’t think this will not happen to you. It will and it will happen regularly and it takes a hell of a lot of mental strength to deal with it. You will give up on learning German multiple times. I know I have. I have gone months at a time without any real effort in learning the language simply because I was tired of having to deal with it all. I wanted and needed to go back to my little English-only cocoon to recover and regroup. The important thing is not to stay in that cocoon forever.
The hardest thing about learning German is not learning the vocab but is devoting the time needed and having the mental fortitude to withstand the frustration along the way. If you can do this, you can master the German language. I know I am still on my way there. I don’t spend a large chunk of my day doing all the things I should. Yes I do read German books and watch German TV shows, but I don’t do this every single day nor do I speak German as much as I should and I definitely don’t write regularly in German. Therefore after almost 4 years here my German is only in the functional to conversational range and my written German is abysmal. That, however, is all my doing and is not a reflection on how hard German is to learn. I choose to put in a limited amount of work and therefore I get back limited results.
So is it hard to learn German? Yes and No. If you devote a large amount of time and effort to learning it, then no, German is not hard to learn, but if you don’t or if you get discouraged and give up along the way, then yes, it is hard to learn German.