Following on from my previous posting titled “Sprechen Sie German”, I just want to give a bit of an update on my journey along the rocky road to speaking Deutsch.
As pointed out in the aforementioned posting, German happens to be one rather complicated languages to learn. Sure, it is far more phonetic than say English or French and that does reduce the likelihood of certain errors, but the grammar is mind boggling to say the least and much of the vocabulary totally unfamiliar.
I myself have been wrestling to learn it for some time and continue to do so. I did study it at secondary school for a few years but as a teenager I never foresaw myself actually visiting let alone living in the country so my ‘O’ Level grade was a shameful “U”. More recently I took a few private lessons while living in Kuwait but that was not really enough, and recently I embarked on an intensive two week course in Münster which to be honest did not really work for me. Being in Kuwait for much of the time limits my opportunities to learn German, or so I thought. Now the internet is by best friend by virtue of the massive number resources available almost anytime, any place, anywhere.
For starters, there are many online courses available. Arguably some of the best, such as those offered by DWTV or About.com, are in fact free. Add to this numerous other sites offering quizzes, games and other activities, there really is no excuse to not learn a bit each day. One brilliant tip I read somewhere is to learn the first one hundred most commonly used words. It does not take long and the lists are readily available for free online. You can then proceed to two hundred, five hundred and so on. These first few hundred words are of course going to be the ones you need most often. Having separate lists of the most common verbs in order to get familiar with those is also a good idea, and that should be accompanied by a table explaining verb conjugations is also essential until you know them by heart, and later on tables of declensions can follow. And keep a few lists in your pocket and whip them out whenever you have a spare moment or two – on the bus, in the doctor’s waiting room, on the loo, it doesn’t matter as a few minutes here and there of time normally spent idle adds up to a considerable amount of productive study time.
Admittedly, you really need to constantly interact with a language to master it, although that is not so easy if you are living outside of the country or don’t have native speaking friends, but again learn to love thy internet. German TV shows, documentaries, movies and radio, newspapers and magazines are all available in abundance. And don’t fear, nobody is going to expect you to understand everything you see or hear from the outset – the key objective is to become familiar. Try to have German TV or radio on in the background as much as possible as it helps you to become ‘tuned in’ to the accents and dialects. Listening to a German music also helps, and I like to download the lyrics and learn those too – that really impresses my friends at parties when I start singing them. By reading German articles, you will begin to get familiar with many words, the grammar structure plus you will start to notice commonalities with English. Consider getting a German email pen friend or two, maybe offering to help improve their English in return. And don’t be afraid to use chat rooms targeted at people learning the language – it can be fun as nobody is on there to judge you as they just want to practice themselves or help others and it will give you the opportunity to practice your verbal skills.
Another thing I find useful are some of the Apps that are available for various tablets or smartphones. These put a huge amount of learning resources in your pocket and many are free or cost peanuts to buy. Duolingo is my favourite as it is well structured, interactive and above all it does not get overly boring. Personally I cannot stand ‘listen and repeat’ type courses which is why I gave up on Rosetta Stone, although that kind of learning does suit some.
Oh, and jumping off the internet emphasis for a second, it might amuse you to hear that not long after I arrived in a Germany a friend gave me a kid’s book called “First 100 German Words”. Maybe I am a big kid, but as a beginner I found it great and In my opinion many children’s language learning books are more entertaining and much less condescending than many adult equivalents. Don’t knock them until you try them.
I am by no means fluent – far, far from it. But I am making steady progress which is no mean feat given I am in another continent for much of the time. My confidence in speaking German has increased considerably over the last year or so, although I still find a few Schnapps does help break the ice and calm the nerves when dealing with the locals. But saying that, I did impress myself recently when I managed to have quite an interesting chat about all sorts with a new neighbour in the street a couple of weeks ago – what a psychological boost that was! Even in Kuwait, I met a lady in my apartment block from Saxony who did not speak English, and she was really pleased when I started to speak to her in German.
I am going to prepare a separate page on Mosel Musings which will be dedicated to learning the lingo, and will contain things such as my favourite websites, apps, books as well as further hints and tips which will hopefully help you learn German more effectively. I will let you know when it is on stream.