When the Difficult Becomes Easy: Stages of Learning (+ German Word Order)

posted in: German, German Grammar, Learning Tips | 0

When the Difficult Becomes Easy

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You know, it’s remarkable how we learn new things. We don’t normally think of it as a miracle once we have mastered something, but it is.

Right now I am typing comfortably with the Colemak keyboard layout, way faster than I ever did with QWERTY (and my fingers flying all over the place).

I remember when I could barely type 20 WPM. Now, my record for a 1 minute test is 95 WPM, but mostly I average 70-75 WPM.

But I don’t really remember the struggle. I don’t really get why it was difficult.

We progress so effortlessly from the state of conscious competence to unconscious competence, that we can no longer understand the struggle of someone who has just begun.

I think that on some level, that’s where some of that imposter syndrome comes creeping in.

The feeling I have is that I’ve encountered this many times along my language learning journey, though I’ve doubtlessly forgotten many instances where it has occurred.

One that I do remember is how I was once confused about German word order.

Or rather, I didn’t know why the sentence Das bin ich (“This is me”) was like that. This sentence appeared at the top of one of the first worksheets, where we had to write some short introductory sentence about ourselves.

I didn’t get that the second position was where the verb had to be.

I was trying to understand why the subject was at the end at the sentence.

As I was searching in the wrong place, I didn’t find an answer that day. It was only a few lessons later, when the rules were covered in class, that I understood.

That state of unconscious incompetence, which is usually the first stage of learning, is the worst, because you feel that you are swimming in the dark, and can barely keep afloat.

Some time later, we start to be aware of the things we don’t know: conscious incompetence. I personally find this the best stage to be in for learning. It’s the stage I love to be in when I learn, because I know where to go. The path forward is clearly laid out, and the promise of the future, when I master the material, is there.

Conscious competence usually follows from there, when we get better. I don’t really like this stage, because it signals that it’s time to pick up something else to learn. Still, it’s good to be here, because we are almost done. This is the best time to reflect on how you got here, because, as I’ve alluded to in the beginning, once you move on to the final stage of unconscious competence, it’s sometimes impossible to recapture the feeling and the struggle itself.

That would, in itself, present a good learning experience. It is useful the next time you learn something similar, and it can also help others.

That’s why now, I want to document the struggles I face. So that next time, when I look back, I have a way to know how far I’ve come.

Basic German Word Order

Since I was talking about German Word Order, I thought to cover some of the rules on the subject. It also serves as a good form of revision.

Subject – Verb – Object

For normal sentences (main clauses), the order is Subject – Verb – Object.

Der Mann ist 35 Jahre alt. (The man is 35 years old.)

This order also applies to dependent clauses that start with und, denn, sondern, aber, and oder. These also don’t count as taking up a position. They are effectively position zero.

Sie kann nicht ins Kino gehen, denn sie muss arbeiten. (She cannot go to the cinema because she has to work.)

Two Verbs

When there are two verbs in the sentence, the second verb goes to the end of the sentence. Usually this happens when you have a modal verb, like können “can”, sollen “should”, or müssen “must”.

The other verb goes to the end of the sentence in its infinitive form: Ich muss meine Hausaufgaben machen. (I must do my homework.)

In English, too, the second verb is not conjugated and remains in the infinitive.

Other Dependent Clauses

For dependent clauses that begin with während, bis, als, wenn, da, weil, ob, obwohl, and dass, the conjugated verb goes to the end of the sentence.

Ich denke, dass er recht hat. (I think that he is right.)

Using the same sentence as above, but using weil instead of denn:

Sie kann nicht ins Kino gehen, weil sie arbeiten muss. (She cannot go to the cinema because she has to work.)

There are all really basic, but hopefully they’re useful to some of you. I know the rules now, but I remember when I started that it took some time to piece together even sentences sentences in my head.

I still have that problem now for much longer sentences in German. I look forward to the day when it no longer is a problem.

Have you thought about the stages of learning before? Is there anything that is easy for you to do now, that you remember was a real struggle before?

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