Sprechen Sie German?

I have absolutely no wish to insult the German population, but it has to be said the German language is not the simplest to learn. The grammar is notoriously complicated, and whilst the language is generally phonetic, the length of some of the words are so enormous that you almost need to draw breath half way through saying them.

Having studied French and Arabic previously, I must admit to finding German the most difficult of the lot. To exacerbate matters, I find in many situations that no matter how hard I try to speak German, I am often met with a giggle and a reply in excellent English. Me being me finds that a little patronising – on the one hand my German friends tell me it’d be great if I learned German, but on the other they find it easier to speak to me in English rather than endure me struggling to utter “Es tut mir leid aber ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch” in a heavy East Midlands accent.

However, I am not one to give up easily and I honestly believe that anyone living in a foreign country should have the decency to attempt to learn the local lingo even if to never master it fully. There are plenty of courses around – private lessons give the opportunity for tailoring the learning around your abilities and lifestyle, but it is an expensive option. Then there are classes run by most community colleges, or “Volkshochschule”, which offer a variety of group classes at many levels both during the day or evenings. They are also remarkably good value. Other group classes are available at the private learning institutes which tend to have smaller class sizes but correspondingly higher prices. If you are looking for something more fast track, there is a variety of intensive courses in most larger towns and cities where you can do anything from one week to more than a year. Goethe Institute is probably the best known example, and these courses are popular with overseas students looking to reach the minimum level of proficiency required to study here. These course providers can usually also arrange accommodation, often with a German host family to continue the learning experience after class.

If you are really pushed for time, there are some excellent online learning materials available allowing you to learn at your own pace. One of my favorites is those run by the DW television channel which start from the beginning and progress to more advanced levels. They are interactive, well structured and above all, they are free. Oh, and if your first language is not English, no problem as they have platforms in a host of other languages too. You can find details of their courses here.

Another online resource I can thoroughly recommend is Duolingo. This is available as a website or as an app on IOS or Android devices and you can learn a host of other languages too, all for free. Duolingo has a particularly good structure and the content is not overly boring as it is on some paid packages. Additionally, the system remembers areas where you are struggling and will automatically reinforce those, it encourages you to revisit things periodically to reinforce what you have learned and it will not let you move to the next level until you have mastered the current one. Oh, and it has speech recognition to check your pronunciation. Clever, huh? Their website is here if you want to take a look.

These are all just suggestions and are based on my own personal experiences. However, we all have our own learning styles so what works for me may not be so great for you. But I do recommend the DW courses and Duolingo simply because they are free and are a great way of reinforcing any other learning path you choose to follow. Viel Glück!

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4 Comments

  1. I found Germans spoke excellent English in the main cities but when we traveled to country regions English wasn’t spoken much at all. I have always wanted to learn German. I am currently struggling my way through learning French. Good luck! I’m sure you will master it.

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    1. It really depends where about in Germany you are. I lived in the city of Essen for a couple of years and as it is a former industrial city, folk never really needed to speak English. Just down the road in Dusseldorf however, which is more business orientated, the level of English was better. We English speakers tend to be a little smug and unfairly think that everyone else in the world should speak English. People forget that the Germans learn English at school in the same way we in the UK learn French, and that is very basic, and of course if it is not practiced regularly it gets forgotten. I did German at school but 40 years later when I needed it found that none of it came flooding back!!

      Keep up with the struggle with French – it is a nice language to know 🙂

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    2. I hear you. A problem with most language institutions is they only teach the “correct” dialect as opposed to the stuff you will hear in daily life. I studied Arabic which is worse as they usually teach Classical Arabic which you only generally here on the TV news programmes or in the mosques! The normal spoken Arabic is generally very different.

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  2. Living in Austria! Can´t understand a word once I leave the safe “Hoch” Deutsch enviroment of my german institute. LOL

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