10 April 2013

Tina's Helpful Hints for Learning German

Hey all!

According to the magical search term thingy on my blog, several people recently have found me while searching for German language links. I am not a German language link. But putting together a blog post with some of the best strategies I've found for learning German? That I can probably manage.

There are a billion and one programs out there attempting to see you language fluency in x weeks for the low low price of a gazillion dollars. There's also traditional grammar-pounding in front of a blackboard. Sorry to break it to you, but neither of these work. One, fluency is never gained in a classroom, and two, no one can learn a language in 6 weeks unless they've got a pretty serious helping of genius with some off-the-charts Asperger's thrown in for good measure.

So here are my hopefully helpful hints you should do/keep in mind when learning German. Or any language, really, although I have yet to test this on Mongolian. I'll keep you updated.

1) Take a class.

Unless you're one of those magical people who can pick up a language on the fly, you should probably consider doing this. And if you are one of those magical people, well then I hate you.

2) But don't take too much class.

Everyone has their own learning style, but I personally have found that language classes for me are more or less useless after intermediate level (131/132 in America, B1/B2 Germany). This is because I find it really, really difficult to learn grammar in a classroom--get me to a level where I can function, and I'll fill in the rest myself. The vast majority of stupid German grammar (Konjunktiv I/II, Passiv, and so on) I failed in the classroom but was throwing around like a pro six months after I moved here.

Also, there's no one you feel sorry for more than the guy who has studied a grammar for twenty years but can't order a meal at a restaurant.

3) Make friends with irregular verbs.

They're irregular because they're the linguistic equivalent of a giant neon arrow blinking "THIS WORD USED ALL THE DAMN TIME" in your eyeballs.

4) Read children's books.

Nothing's says "demoralization" like trying to read in a foreign language at the same level you read in your native language. So start with books for four-year-olds. Two weeks later, you'll be at a third-grade reading level. A month later, you'll be reading young adult novels. Not too long after that, you'll be reading Der Spiegel before breakfast and Faust because you're a bit of a masochist like that.

5) Force yourself into situations where you are required to say something.

Having to speak a language you suck at blows like woah, and I find I can generally think of nine million better things to do. Like taking a bath with poisonous scorpions. Or flaying my skin off with bailing twine. But if you don't talk you'll never improve, which is why I have always found it helpful to force myself into situations where speech, intelligible or not, is required. It can be as simple as going down to the Apotheke and telling the lady there you need to buy band-aids, or asking the salesperson at Karstadt if they have straightening irons. Don't know any of those words? Then...

6) Learn to talk around things.

Even if it makes you sound long-winded and completely ridiculous (and it probably will), I swear this is the best skill you can develop if you're trying to learn a language. So go down to the Apotheke and tell the lady you hurt yourself and you need something for how you just hurt yourself but you don't know the word in German. Or tell the Karstadt person that you have curly hair and need something to make it not curly and what is that blasted word again? It may take a couple minutes of confused back-and-forth, but when the two of you finally hit on the word you're looking for, you'll have just had a conversation. Also, the sheer effort it took you to learn that word means you probably won't be forgetting it anytime soon.

7) Strangers are convenient because you never have to see them again.

So don't be above asking them for vocab help. You entertain them and you educate yourself--also, sometimes it winds up being really fun. One time in Bolivia, I was sitting in a souvenir shop surrounded by wooden animals, and I wanted to know the word for frog. This sparked a 45 minute game in which the shopkeeper taught me all the animal names and then quizzed me. I aced that mother.

8) Have at least one relationship in German.

One of the main things harped at me before my study abroad/move was "Don't talk to other Americans!" "If you want to learn the language, stay away from English speakers! Or you'll get pregnant and die."

This piece of advice is a) completely unrealistic, b) really unreasonable, and c) setting you up to feel guilty when you only make friends with English-speakers. Therefore, I say get on with your bad self and make friends with other English speakers, but also make sure to have at least one relationship that you conduct purely in German(preferably two or three). Whether that be a tandem partner, a club that you join, a prostitute, whatever. Find that balance between fun friends and friends that are still fun even after your brain feels like someone has carved it out with a hot poker.

I mean, if you're feeling really ambitious, have only German friends. But I personally have found that this turns me into an anti-social hermit.

9) Make awkward mistakes and get laughed at.

Newsflash: the more embarrassing your mistakes are, the less likely you are to make those mistakes again. I can still never remember if it's der Laden or das Laden, but I only had to mix up Vögel and vögeln once.

10) Good news!

Don't get yourself down reading English texts by German authors and thinking you'll never speak German half as well as they speak English. They don't speak English that well. The native-English-speaking proofreader speaks English that well. So you don't have to feel sorry for yourself, you're probably awesome.


Questions, comments, better/more suggestions? Hit me up!

Edit: Woah, this post got approvedly stamped by Alex over at Ifs Ands & Butts!  LOOK AT ME BEING OCCASIONALLY USEFUL! You should probably go check out her blog because it is a) awesome, b) super awesome, and c) super duper awesome. And I'm not just saying that because I got approvedly stamped.

        IA&B Stamp of Approval



ifs ands Butts said...

Just had to look up vögeln (clearly making strides in my German) and that mistake is awesome.

Also, I love these tips. I should actually put them to practice. I just started B1+ and it literally pushes me down and then continually kicks me for four hours every morning, but I think it's helping.

bevchen said...

Haha, I love these! My colleague made the Vögel/vögeln mistake :-D

Another one you'll never forget is "Mir ist kalt" after the first time someone tells you what "Ich bin kalt" means!

Apart from reading children's books (which is a great idea), I can also recommend reading books you've already read at least twice in your native language. You'll already know the story so any words you don't understand you can still guess the meaning of without having to stop reading every five minutes to check the dictionary!

bevchen said...

p.s. At the beginning of May I have to change trains in Göttingen on the way to/from the boyfriend's dad's place. If I can convince him to stay in Göttingen for a few hours between trains (so I can take photos and include it in my 30 towns series) maybe we could meet for coffee or something?

Anonymous said...

Another suggestion: watch german TV, starting with children's programs- simple vocabulary, shorter sentences, etc.

old roomie said...

...and there even exists some good German music like Die Arzte, Tim Bendzko, Bosse...

Hm, what about writing? Most of your tips seem to apply to spoken German... I think it is a good idea to keep a diary in German, only short and easy entries a day. This helped me a lot with my French writing skills...

Sherbet and Sparkles said...

Really awesome post!! I should follow your advice... haha.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome and you're hilarious! I look forward to reading more! :-)