How to Learn German Faster: Avoid These Language Poachers

It’s a fair expectation that if you live in Germany, you’ll have ample opportunities to speak German.


Well, if you’re one of the many English speakers trying to learn German in Germany, you’ve already discovered that this may not be true.

The culprit? Language poachers.

Language poachers (LPs) are people who continuously turn your conversations from German to English, despite your best efforts to maintain them auf Deutsch.

It’s frustrating to not be able to practice your language skills, and it impacts your progress tremendously!

While traveling through Germany or living abroad, chances are very good that you will be bumping into these guys. Knowing the German language can open up many doors, so why let someone slam those doors shut on you?

Standing your ground with LPs can be the difference between learning German in one year or five, so it’s worth it to know how to handle them.

Not to worry! It can be done.

When confronted, LPs offer a lot of excuses for switching to English. You’ll need to have a retort handy for all of them if you want to turn things around. To help you with this, we put language poaching under the magnifying glass and were able to identify some common “types” of LPs, along with their associated behaviors. Below you will learn about the four types of language poachers we’ve encountered and how you can deal with them, once and for all.

How to Learn German Faster: Avoid These Language Poachers

Before we look at the different kinds of language poachers, let’s talk about a powerful way to ward them off: through the native-speaker German you’ll learn with FluentU.

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1. The “Enabler” Language Poacher

This type of LP is a bit oversensitive to your pain in learning the language. So, when you start struggling in German, they are quick to throw you the safety net of sweet English surrender. While their intentions may be good, this type of LP is preventing you from thinking long-term about your German language acquisition. Once you have worked your way through a few uncomfortable, halting, sometimes excruciating conversations in German, you become less inhibited in using the language and you gain a much more diverse vocabulary.

In order to get through to this type of LP, you have to be clear about your priorities. Communicate to the LP that the struggle is worth it for you, that getting through it will help you progress faster and that you really need them to give you the support that you are asking for, not the support that they feel tempted to give. If they still can’t manage to gain control over their helper attitude, try to direct that energy toward something useful. Involve them actively in your language learning by asking them to listen to your German and correct your grammar or pronunciation. You should find that, in no time at all, this type of LP can become a valuable resource.

2. The “Selfish” Language Poacher

This type of LP is usually someone who has lived in an English-speaking country for a longer period of time, but is fearing the loss of their finer English language skills in Germany. It’s not that this type of LP doesn’t care about you learning German, they just care more about preserving their English. With this type of LP, you may have to compromise. After all, we all want to learn. However, it’s important to negotiate for equal time and make sure that you don’t get left behind.

With this type of LP, the easiest way to deal with the problem is to structure your time together. You might consider suggesting a tandem, in which each of you gets a specific amount of time in your target language. For example, the LP gets 30 minutes in English and you get 30 minutes in German. Additionally, you can see this type of LP as a resource and ask them for tips on how to make language learning successful. Whatever approach you choose, it’s important that you let this type of LP know that they aren’t the only one trying to broaden their horizons and perfect their language skills. Once you’ve established that, this type of LP usually doesn’t have a problem accommodating you.

3. The “Lazy” Language Poacher

This type of LP is the most pernicious and challenging to avoid or correct. You know the scenario: again, you’re struggling to get your point across in German and the LP cuts in, finishes your sentences, offers you words (before you have had a chance to try and conjure them up from your vocabulary list) or simply continues a conversation in English. Why? Because this type of language poacher finds it annoying to have to be patient and wait for you to finish your thoughts. In a group setting, especially one entirely comprised of German speakers, this type of LP behavior can make you feel uncomfortable. When the only reason everyone is speaking in English is because they think you need or want it, it can make you feel like you are a burden.

This LP needs to hear the straight talk from you. You’re going to have to tell them that you need their support to keep the conversation in German, even if it is sometimes difficult or aggravating. Remind them that you are trying to learn and that passive understanding of a language is important. The more time you spend around German speakers actually speaking German, the more you will be able to hear how people express themselves in the language. While having practice in German class is valuable, there is no replacement for being a part of regular, everyday conversation. You might need to remind this type of LP repeatedly to give you a chance, but hopefully, with persistence, you will manage to get through to them.

4. The “Forgetful” Language Poacher

This type of LP is usually someone who is not a native German speaker, but who has spoken German for so long, they have forgotten how difficult it was to learn. They no longer remember how they vanquished their own Language Poachers and now, they needn’t worry about them anyway! In fact, when conversations turns to English, this type of LP may actually feel relieved to fall back into a language that is more comfortable for them, having already secured solid German language skills. These LPs can be hard to spot, especially if their German is so good that you cannot hear an accent.

Luckily for you, this type of LP is very easy to handle. For this type of LP, the best solution is a simple reminder. Telling the LP how hard you are trying to get people to continue speaking German with you should jostle up some old memories. This should be sufficient to win you a hearty apology and a promise to be more supportive in the future. If you are honest and upfront with this LP, you will find that they are willing to help you deal with other types of LPs in their presence as well.

As an English speaker, dealing with LPs is going to be a regular part of your life. They are everywhere. However, with even a little less English in your life, you will find that you can develop a really solid foundation for a variety of topics in German, without breaking open the books. Your German will progress faster, your pronunciation will improve and your ability to integrate yourself in German speaking environments will be monumentally improved.

Now that you know about these types of LPs, what other types of LPs have you encountered? How have you dealt with them?

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