I was raised and spent my whole childhood and school years in Serbia where I graduated from the faculty of Pharmacy. Six moths ago I moved to Germany. I am looking for job opportunities here.
All of a sudden everyone expects me to be fluent in German because they heard that immersion is going to do wonders. My wife is also here and she came a year and a half ago but she is still not fluent in German. We both understand a lot of things but we make mistakes when we speak and we have problems to “find the words” during conversation.
No one is forcing us to speak in German and we speak mostly English at home because we have a roommate from Netherlands.
What really bugs me is the pressure from language schools (where I had 28 classes with 20 people who can barely say anything normal or without a lot of mistakes) and my family. Somehow, everyone thinks that we should magically pick up phrases and start talking effortlessly and correctly only because we are in Germany. (…)
The thing is, I don’t feel like rushing with my German language because I feel that speaking bad or slow and incorrect is not helping me. Everyone thinks that we should just start speaking and we will be fluent in no time. It sounds absolutely counter-intuitive to me.
Therefore I started using Mnemosyne to learn German through example sentences and I am listening to language whenever I can. I am trying to apply the philosophy of your site and All Japanese all the Time (AJATT). (…)
Could you give me some advice regarding my German? Am I doing the right thing in your opinion or maybe I should speak even if I feel that I am not ready?
If speaking or writing in German is difficult for you because you don’t know how to express your thoughts in German, your primary concern should be to learn how thoughts are expressed in German (i.e. German vocabulary and grammar). You don’t learn that by speaking or writing. In fact, when you’re speaking or writing, you’re not learning anything new about German. And few people realize there is a huge number of things to learn: thousands of word meanings, contexts where they can and cannot be used, pronunciations, hundreds of grammatical structures with their own usage rules, word forms, etc.
Of course, speaking or writing can teach you new things about German when it leads to input – for example, when someone answers you or corrects your mistake. But it is more straightforward to simply get input by reading and listening to German. From a practical standpoint, it’s easier to find reading or listening opportunities than speaking or writing opportunities. It is also probably more efficient (building sentences in a foreign language tends to take a long time, which slows down the learning process; input gives you more sentences faster).
However, the main reason why speaking too early is counterproductive is that it leads to mistakes (thus forming bad habits). There is little reason to speak with mistakes unless you want to get fluent in bad German. (more about mistakes)
When should you start speaking? Ultimately it is up to you to decide whether you feel “ready”. If you’re in doubt, here’s a good rule of thumb:
You should start speaking when you can say at least simple sentences with confidence and can carry on a conversation with few mistakes (I’d say 1 mistake in 3 sentences is the acceptable limit). If you make more mistakes than that, you should probably keep getting input and studying pronunciation.