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I had about 10 hours of German in my life before I moved to Germany. I took a placement test at the university after reading “German for Dummies”, and got placed at A2.2 course level by some wicked magic.
My first day in class, I had a mild panic attack trying to explain my hobbies.
3 months and 20 lessons later, I could pretty much speak basic German and understand the basics. I started breaking down German grammar and making my own rules to learn German to remember why X should go with Y or vice versa.
Do I wish to be close to fluent one day? Yes.
Do I wish to be as good as native speakers? No, because I know that is quite unrealistic.
Whilst, the importance of classroom learning or even individual tutoring cannot be ignored, there are lots of other things that can individually be done to make the process of learning German for beginners a lot more fun! The methods that worked for me are outlined below:
VOCAB, VOCAB, VOCAB
One of the core things at a beginner level we fail to realise is that grammar is not the be-all or the end-all of a language. As I started learning, I realised just how limited my vocabulary was. I started to work on a weekly list that I would pick up from online resources related to things I would need most often. I find the offline dictionary for dict.cc as an app the best on-the-go vocabulary builder. I can find almost all the words I want to find there any time during the day.
Even if you aim at learning 20 new words per week, thats 80 new words per month, and 960 words annually. A lot of words will have at least 2-3 forms in which they can be used, making your usable vocabulary over 3000 words in just an year. I also stumbled across Nthuleen’s teaching portal which has made my life a LOT easier whilst attempting to learn German. It would work best for English native speakers but it definitely has brilliant material and tips for all learners to practice yourself.
I spend close to 5/6 hours commuting for work each week and sometimes try to read a German children book meanwhile. It’s easy to find both online and offline german books for children. They have simple sentences and pictures for you to get some context. It makes learning way more fun because it is not just sitting and learning 48 adjective endings. Also, how cool is it to read Hansel & Gretel, the original version in German? I know i will probably never be able to read Kafka in German in this lifetime, but I don’t much wish to either. For now, light reading is sufficient help to improve my German.
Resources: German Children’s Books
TV SHOWS & YOUTUBE
This one’s quite self-explanatory. The more you watch original German television or movies, the more you get comfortable with colloquial speaking and pronunciation. Often words we find in dictionaries can’t be used in real life or have better placement and/or usage for the same. We just don’t know it yet. Not to mention, the added cultural benefit of watching local entertainment. I sometimes even try to watch english shows with German subtitles and that helps me get the differences in use of words in both languages. Although I don’t recommend this for everyone since for many of you this might take the fun out of watching something. (Note: If you’re a student in Germany, you have access to a free Amazon Prime Account for an year!)
Watching German lessons on Youtube also helped me a great deal, especially to simplify German grammar and make the process of language learning fun. if you have a good internet connection. I highly recommend getting to learn German online using Youtube for free.
DAILY LIFE IMMERSION
The importance of fully immersing yourself in a new language in daily life cannot be under-rated. From the minute you step out of your house (my basic assumption is that you live in Germany or Austria or a German speaking region in the world), you have access to use/stutter/correct and learn new information all the time. The important thing to remember here is never to hesitate to speak German. Talk as much as you can, as often as you can. It will make you learn faster than unlimited hours of just sitting and learning vocabulary. This is especially true to understand the context of German phrases in real life versus imagining textbook scenarios.
You could always go one step ahead and change your computer, Facebook and/or even phone language to German, but for most people this would be a bit too extreme. I switched my Facebook account to German for a month, and learnt 30-40 new German words passively. Many linguistics enthusiasts have also told me to use post-it’s (with German meanings) to replace things in my room, but I find this a bit too extreme. However, if it is something that works for you, then why not!
READ ALSO: How Living in Germany Changed Me
Along the lines of daily life immersion, is also having the discipline and time to find and practise speaking with tandem native/fluent partners. At any given point in time, there will be enough people who want to participate in a language swap with you a few hours per week, and this will help you tremendously. It is easy to find tandem groups on Facebook in almost all major cities in Germany. Alternatively, you can also use the ‘Tandem App’ to find virtual partners all across the world.
Assuming you are a normal mortal who appreciates music as much as any other fellow human being, I’d say it is a good idea to listen to German music on the go, or even when you have nothing better to do via Radio. The news channel specifically gives you access to clear, well pronounced slow ‘hoch Deutsch” which might be easier to understand than watching television for example. Some of my favourite channels include Antenne Bayern, Big FM & Energy Berlin.
Additionally, you always can work on websites that help you practise quizzes and exercises. In my opinion, that should be a part of class-room training itself. In your free time, it’s so much better to work on passive and less boring ways of learning a language as hard as German. The most important thing is definitely to find the discipline to set aside time each week for one of these methods to learn german easily and keep going at it!