Recovery: A Language Diary Entry

Last week wasn’t a very good one for me. First, I failed the B1 mock exam; and then . . . Well, actually, nothing else. All it took to ruin my week was a bad result on a test — even if it was only a practice test. For it was proof that I was not as good as I thought I was. And although my German-speaking friends emphatically assured me that I was not bad, their opinions just rang hollow.

For a while, I lost all my language learning fire. I tried my hardest to kindle it again, but recovery came slowly. While I waited, I took note of the stages I passed on the way.


Three years of German study and I still couldn’t pass the B1 (mock) exam? Perhaps it was a sign that German wasn’t really for me. I’m a natural advocatus diaboli and my inner voice had a field day.

Maybe it was a bad idea to choose German over Italian, it mused. But my doubt over taking the Weg over the via isn’t as strong as it used to be. This taunt had no more teeth.

So my inner voice tried another line: There’s still time to drop German for Swahili! I had looked up Swahili after learning that the new seminarian at my parish was a native speaker. Its grammar rules, unlike any I had ever studied before, were a fresh, fascinating challenge. But I could still remember how Italian, with different charms, had almost distracted me a few years ago — and I wasn’t going to fall so easily this time!

Finally, my inner voice asked: What if you’re sticking with German only because of the fallacy of sunk costs? (Learn more here) And it was when I realized that I’m sticking with German because I truly do like the language that my recovery truly started.


An Austrian friend who was skeptical of my score finally got me to admit I only did badly on the Hören (Listening) portion of the test. I say I “failed” it because the rule is that you need to score 60% or more on all parts of the exam — not 60% overall, hoping your marks for one skill pull up your marks for another skill. But failing only because of listening is different from failing because of everything!

Also, failing a test you don’t want to take is different from failing a test you do want to take. The ridiculous part here is that I wasn’t even planning to take the real exam! Indeed, I’ve never planned to take any of the exams! The only reason I took the mock test was that my whole class was doing it and I’m a team player. And yes, also because I was truly curious about how I would do. Well, now I know.

But does it really matter? I’ve made myself remember my original wish: To be able to read children’s novelists Michael Ende and Cornelia Funke in their original language. I do so much reading practice outside of my German course that I might as well order my copies of Die Unendliche Geschichte and Tintenherz right now! (You mean you haven’t? — my scandalized inner voice asks! And they would make excellent recovery reading.)

Yet it’s also true that my world is so much bigger now that it was on my first day of A1 class. After I finish all the children’s classics I’ve dreamed of reading, there will be many more things I will want to do. And I want to be able to do them, too!


The only way to get better is . . . to get better. I’ve been doing a lot of listening since the great Hören failure of last week — both passive and active. My usual listening practice with pop songs hadn’t helped me much during the test, so I decided to try an audio book. Happily, Spotify had some chapters from Karl May’s classic German Western Winnetou. Listening to it has been an interesting experience that should probably get a post of its own.

Then there is the radio play Die drei ??? or Die drei Fragezeichen. (The title is literally The Three Question Marks, but the official English translation is The Three Investigators.) My Austrian friend recommended it after hearing that the trickiest part of the test for me was differentiating between two speakers when both were male or both were female. If I could train myself to tell the three male main characters of Die drei ??? apart, he said, then the B1 test ought to become a piece of cake! So far I’ve heard one episode and not been able to tell even one boy from another . . . but it’s still early. (Listen for yourself here)

But diving into these new exercises wasn’t a real recovery. You aren’t all right until you are back to normal — and these weren’t normal. Unless I can understand a certain amount of what I’m hearing — oh, for example, 60% — I don’t add it to my routine. So I wasn’t back to normal until . . . just yesterday.


I don’t even remember why I wanted the German translation of Do You Hear the People Sing from Les Miserables. But finding Das Lied des Volkes led to watching an uploaded video of the entire 1989 production in Vienna. And that was the gateway to the world of Austrian musical theater — a world I hadn’t even known existed.

Just yesterday . . . I discovered the musical Elisabeth. Today, I can sing Elisabeth’s part in the duet Wenn ich tanzen will (If I Want to Dance) . . . and I have a very strong opinion about which actor played Der Tod (Death) best.

What does this have to do with improving my listening? . . . Absolutely nothing!

It is as it should be. My recovery is complete!

How do you recover from blows in language learning?

4 thoughts on “Recovery: A Language Diary Entry

  1. Dauvit

    I was fortunate enough to see this: the first time it played in Germany. It’s my only exposure to German musical theater but it was exquisite. I’m not sure if you can find a full performance, or even the soundtrack anymore (you used to be able to get the soundtrack on-line).

    I’m glad you recovered!

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      Thanks, Dauvit! I’m familiar with Ludwig², though it’s a little more classical than what I’m usually drawn to. If I saw it live, I’m certain I’d love it more. And may I say that I’m impressed you know enough German to watch a play live!

      1. Dauvit

        Well… I knew enough German at the time to watch a play live and enjoy it. Although watching it live lets you fill in your spoken language gaps with staging, set, and music. You can feel something even if you don’t understand the words. Honestly I think I understood very few of the songs at the live performance, but I had wanted to see a show there, so I did. I have the soundtrack and understand things better now, but there are still gaps.

        Sadly, my German has deteriorated over the years, though I did find that, when I went back a couple of years ago, I pretty quickly got the basics of day to day navigation back (train stations, stores, that kind of thing).

        Not that I’m actively pursuing German at the moment, but I do miss the sound of it. Any suggestions on German movies that you’ve enjoyed? I’ve seen Goodbye, Lenin, and Sophie Scholl. I know I need to see Lola Rennt, but other than that I haven’t watched a German movie in a long time.

        1. Cristina @Linguavert

          I remember reading somewhere that radio will always be a superior language learning resource to television because there are absolutely no visuals to fill in the gaps. I can see how musicals would be similar to television! And while this means I probably shouldn’t be watching clips of musicals for listening practice, it also means that when I finally do watch a live musical, I’ll understand so much more than I might have just by listening to the soundtrack!

          As for movies, I confess I don’t watch that many. Movies and novels get stored in the “For later, when I’m better” box, and I tend to stick to things that make me believe I won’t feel so bad if I find out later on that I missed so much of a culturally significant work because my German wasn’t up to it yet. (Ah, to be able to rewrite that mess of a sentence in German one day!) But I did review the Thriller Stereo last year; I still recommend it to anyone who wants something gritty and doesn’t mind some violence. For some light comedy, how about Fack yu Göhte?

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