This summer when I drove across the country I tried to learn German from CDs. I went through one set on my way out west, but then came back east too quickly to be able to do any more. (Trying to get through a thousand miles a day seemed inconducive to paying attention to German lessons. And paying attention to German lessons seemed incompatible with not crashing the car. So I opted to skip the German...)
Which was too bad, because I really had very little in terms of local language skills to work with when I got here. This is unfortunate, and pales to my experience moving to France when I had the basics of the language and a reasonable vocabulary under my belt already to build upon. Now I'm starting just a little bit ahead of square one.
On the other hand, I can say things like, "Excuse me, I would like something to eat," and "The opera is here." And I have some idea how the language works, having taken an intensive three-week course when I was 13. Plus I've studied Latin, Spanish, Russian, and French, and have lots of faith in my ability to learn languages. Still, I've got my work cut out for me. Today I took a placement test for the language classes offered by Bucerius and it was all I could do not to completely fail the thing. On the plus side, however, I placed out of the most basic class, and if I make a lot of progress they'll let me go into the next class up. I wonder how much I can cram this weekend...?
But the best thing has been the instances when I've been out and about and managed to use German in conversation. In one case I asked if a store had a little street map. In another instance I asked where something was. The hazard in both cases was that I couldn't really understand the answers when they came at me in German. On the other hand, it was flattering that the answers DID come at me in German, and I don't think they were saying that they didn't understand me – I think they were answers appropriate for the context.
That is the most amazing feeling, to be understood in another language, and it's a huge motivating force to keep doing this, to work as hard as I need to build up this skill. The effort involved is well worth the reward.