The German language is one of those languages you hate and love at the same time.
It is overwhelming and the need to speak grammatically correct German when interacting with the locals can be massive.
For me anyways.
I’ve met foreigners who don’t care about their grammar so long as you get the gist of what they are saying and I really admire that. It takes a lot of weight off your shoulder and gives you the illusion of fluency. And it’s amazing.
My german has definitely improved since taking the business German classes and although I still struggle with words and of course synonyms, I’ve started to pat myself on the back for my efforts.
So here is a list of the things I did or still do to help me navigate my life as a person living here and learning the deutsche Sprache!
GOALS: Some people might think it weird that you set goals on language learning but it does help to have some sets of goals for yourself when learning a new language. For some people who already have the basic knowledge of the language, your goal could be learning to make appointments on your own. Or going to your Amt appointments on your own, or even just plain reaching the C2 mother tongue level. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, the point is to have one you want to achieve by any means necessary.
LEARNING VARIOUS VERBS AND USING THEM: Here’s the truth, in learning the German language, you may not learn all the possible verbs in the German vocabulary at once. A lot of them sound so alike but have different meanings, a lot of them also don’t sound anything alike but have the same meaning. It’s crazy I swear and I remember how frustrating it was for me first learning the verbs then learning the synonyms. I would come home and grumble to the Mr about it and sometimes even have arguments in the classrooms until my instructor explains it properly. Sometimes I won’t even understand it until I hear it used in various contexts. So, have a print out of all the verbs you can collect, and practice the various forms you can use them all in present tense, past simple and participle. I learned this at the CDC language school and it was the best tip ever. Every morning in class we would all be told to mention some verbs and their forms as a way to wake up our zeal. It helped me remember so much.
LISTEN TO THE RADIO: I was never a radio person at all. But after my last language school, I began listening to the radio a lot and of course because the Mr would turn it on when we both prep for work. And this is particularly important because the listening exercises (hörverstehe) involved the radio. They seam to speak fast and if you so much as “blink” you get lost completely and there’s no playback. You gotta answer questions based on one time hearing. You are not given individual headsets(at least not the schools I attended) so you need to have full on concentration for the tests. Sure at home, if you missed one or two words or sentences, it was OK because you get the gist of what they are talking about and no one was grading you. So constant radio is a great way to pick up the language. Of course the TV too but let’s be real, a lot of people prefer to watch TV in their own languages and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. I’m still getting used to watching TV auf deutsch, and do subtitles for some shows. But listening to the radio is one of the best ways to improve your language skills.
ACCENT: A lot of us foreigners have accents when speaking and damn we can’t escape it. I always used to think I had no accent at all until I began the B2 levels. My classmates would mimick me and everyone would have a laugh. Mind you, they too had accents and I proudly called them out on it too????????. I was asked to read a text once, and I remember the teacher correcting my “zehn” and I kept repeating myself and three corrections later I asked why she was correcting me when I say “ten” and then I go “oh”! All the whiile I was saying ten auf englisch not German and I didn’t even realize it. Sometimes I forget to pronounce my letters V and W properly or my umlaut or worse, pronounce a word differently. But it’s OK to have an accent. There’s really nothing wrong with it. Of course, if you are those people gifted with the superpower of languages and accents then we hail y’all! But for the rest of us, own that accent and wear it like a beautiful crown.
READ BOOKS YOU’VE ALREADY READ IN YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE: I would recommend first starting with kids books, then teenage books and then get the German versions of books you have read in your own language. Or just German books with a dictionary. The Mr gave me these tips and I would always get excited reading Harry Potter in German and making the connection to verbs and forms and their usage. For example: I struggled with learning HÄTTEN and worse, using it. I didn’t quite understand why using it in various contexts was even possible. Then I read The Philosopher’s Stone. The part where Longbottom said: “du hättest ihr Gesicht sehen sollen” and just like that, I understood it. All the examples my teacher used made complete sense! Books you are already familiar with help with improving your language skills. I used to read Things Fall Apart on my kindle and I never really read the book growing up but because it was written by a Nigerian author, it was another perfect book for my german lessons.
WARTEZEIT LANGWEILT NICHT: Put away that cellphone, leave Instagram alone, and don’t check in on WhatsApp while waiting your turn at the doctor’s. Pick up those colorful magazines and read all the entertainment gossip in there. Sure you probably are like me and know nothing about the German entertainment industry or even care less what Meghan and Harry plan to name their kid but all that info is a means to an end. Written German is hugely different from spoken German and it can get very, very intimidating when in all your language confidence, you pick up a magazine and have zero clue what the hell all that writing is! It’s why sometimes, when you want to impress the locals with your skill, they nicely inform you how nobody speaks like that in reality only in books. So while waiting your turn, or just simply have time to spare and there’s a magazine lying around, pick it up and read it. Who cares if you spend ten minutes reading three lines?
STRIKE UP CONVOS : Yes it might seem weird to suggest this, but I’ve had times where I’m waiting for the train and someone says stuff to me and I reply back and we get talking. This one time, a guy was minding his business, smoking those dubious things people smoke thinking it’s way less dangerous than actual cigarettes, blowing the vanilla scented smoke into our faces and we both wave off the offending smoke in disgust and she turns to me and complains about it and of course I respond with how they keep deceiving themselves while giving us the high risk of cancer even though it’s a non smoking train station. You don’t have to actually start the convo if you don’t want to, but if a passenger says something to you in a way of communicating, you reply and practice your German on them. If you have nothing to say, just simply say you are still learning and they shouldn’t be weirded out if your grammar has holes! The locals are actually very accommodating especially when you speak the language. Some may even want to practice their English or French with you. My point is to not feel intimidated when someone speaks German to you. It’s the perfect chance to practice and you will go away feeling very accomplished.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: This is probably one of the hardest things you can do to improve your skills. I would say this though, have faith in your ability to speak German. Believe in your skill and overcome that fear and doubt hovering over your mind and head. I’m taking driving lessons at the moment and some days it’s very challenging. One friend doesn’t think I should write the test in German and most of the foreigners I know who drive took the test in English. The Mr thinks it’s a great idea to write it in German. While studying I sometimes get overwhelmed by the words and the fact that driving can be a dangerous thing if I don’t understand the rules. My driving instructor says I should sit for the theory after ten classes but I haven’t been able to pass the test simulations on the first try. So I won’t be sitting in for any actual test until I pass the simulation three times on the first try.
Of course there are a gazillion other ways to help with improving your language skills but these are the few that have worked for me and are still working so far. The truth is that it’s not easy learning a new language especially if you are doing it to integrate. It gets things done and it’s a huge step towards understanding the traditions and culture of the place you now call home.