In my recent travels I got to know Josh from New Zealand who has lived in Germany for about a decade now and he has shared something with me I found remarkably interesting. When I asked him how he had learnt German so well (a language that is rather complex and difficult to learn for a native English speaker) he shared how he was able to wrap his head around it in such an impressing manner.
Theory complexities vs. practice basics
Many times when we learn foreign languages we go through the motions and strategies the so-called educational system has laid out for us: We study vocabulary, we learn about tenses and we try to make sense of all the peculiar in's and out's foreign to our native tongue.
But as many language pros have long stated: You don't really learn a language that way. You learn it by speaking it, by being there and by interacting with people in said language - slowly picking up on more and more of the finer points, subtleties and conventions of the language in question.
How then is Josh's way of learning German different? Well, he learned it from Kindergarten kids! By accident...
As he put it: "Learning from 2- or 3-year olds is awesome because they speak in simple terms. They focus on the essentials and are really just trying to get their point cross to other kids, rather than fulfilling some formal requirement or being "correct". But what's even better: When they correct you after you made a mistake, they're not dicks about it!"
I could totally relate!
He had actually been hired to teach young kids basic English and to interact with them as a New Zealander coming to Germany. But he said what ended up happening is that they taught him ultra-efficient German! He said that whenever he talked to German grown-ups or friends afterwards they would always say to him: "You speak like a kid."
But you know what's so funny? I would rather speak like a kid but be understood in what I meant, being able to eventually build upon a solid linguistic foundation that actually gets the point across to native speakers... than use unnecessarily complicated tenses and vocabulary too complex to enjoy and leaving everyone around me puzzled as to what I actually meant.
Since he is one of the best non-native German speakers I have met in recent years I can definitely testify: His way of approaching the German language has payed off massively and dwarfs all those who have studied German in language school for years, biting their teeth out on a language that could be so easy if we learned it like children in Germany naturally do.
By talking basics with their mates. And not harping on the meaningless details that are only in the way when learning how to build solid language foundations...