How to practice speaking German online with joy

Finally, learning German online is becoming the gold standard in language education. It simply doesn’t make any sense to travel 30 minutes to a physical location and share a room with 10-20 other people that are so fundamentally different in their learning preferences.  But German learners often ask me how they would practice speaking German online, especially in an online German course without a teacher like the SmarterGerman courses. 

It’s a fact that it is actually much easier to practice speaking German with a course like SmarterGerman than it is in an offline or online classroom where one shares the tutor with many other students. A private tutor is always a viable option, but that’s not only expensive – and if it’s not expensive it’s (self)-exploitative – it’s also inconvenient as you need to be at a fixed time and place no matter how you feel that day. And whether the tutor you find is truly any good is also rather a hit or miss, and it might take a long time to find the right person for your needs.


Simple Speaking German Practice: The Preaching Technique

Here is how you practice speaking on your own with help of simple to use technology at SmarterGerman:

In the early levels, A1 and A2, one should not expect to really speak freely. That’s a skill I’d put at the end of B2 level. B1 is something in between and therefore usually not really satisfying for anyone. What can and should be done in A1 and A2 is guided speaking. At SmarterGerman we do that with an exercise I named “Preaching” because you’ll “preach” important grammatical structures and words until you believe them which means until you can say a sentence like “Du hast einen schönen Garten.” without thinking about any rule whatsoever.

And if you have already taken a look at the German language you know that “schönen” is an adjective and that adjectives can take many endings which are impossible to figure out in the beginning. The Preaching frees you of the idea that you need to know grammar rules or that you need to understand every single word in order to speak German fluently. 

Needless to say that the Preachings get a bit more complex over time. Here’s a Preaching dialogue from the end of A2:

A | Magst du meinen Computer?
B | Welchen Computer meinst du denn?
A | Na den Computer, den ich gestern gekauft habe.
B | Den Computer, den du gestern gekauft hast, mag ich nicht.

At the end of your course you’ll be able to say each of these phrases without thinking about gender, cases, tenses, verb position and word choice (e.g. welchen). Knowing rules will not help you with speaking any faster, but it of course will help you improve your ability to spot mistakes you make after you spoke. That’s why I also teach grammar in our courses.

Practice Speaking German Online the Advanced Way

Late in our A2 course I introduce the Presentation exercise. That’s a technique that allows you to practice speaking German online without the help of a German tutor. It is a learner’s first step into speaking freely, but of course with proper presentation and on a very low level. It makes no sense to try to speak on one’s native level, that would only overwhelm you. But it also makes no sense to memorize and practice dumb dialogues.

I’m of course not referring to the Preaching here which is far superior to those partner speaking exercises you find in any textbook nowadays but to horribly unstructured and overwhelmingly stupid dialogues like this one taken from the textbook currently used in the Goethe Institute it seems. By the way: they won’t provide you with an English translation or instruction. That you have to figure out yourself, costing you even more precious time and effort: 

Suchen Sie einen Gesprächspartner. Erzählen Sie über sich und fragen Sie nach.

deine Tante Amelia ist ja echt toll.
Hast du ein Bild von ihr?
Meine Familie ist auch sehr groß.
Ich bin in … geboren …
Am liebsten mag ich…
Sie/Er ist sehr

was ist dein Onkel von Beruf? nett/lustig.
Das habe ich nicht richtig verstanden
Wie schreibt man das?

Du verkaufst Uhren auf Flohmärkten?
Echt? Ich liebe
Flohmärkte. Wann …?

From Menschen A2 (https://www.hueber.de/media/36/mns-portfolio-A2-1.pdf)

I really always try to find good in my competitor’s work as I really believe the Goethe Institut at least does a lovely job spreading the German culture world wide but I really can’t find anything good to say about such exercises. I find them uninspired, not thought through at all and simply overwhelming and ineffective from the learner’s point of view. Which is why I created my own exercises.

In the Presentation you prepare a sheet of keywords – German and English keywords are allowed – for a simple topic you feel familiar with and then you practice creating full sentences solely based on these keywords. E.g. you see the keyword “greeting” and you have to remember the German greeting “Guten Morgen”. This way you are really using your brain to its utmost capacity as you need to remember what you have learned and not just use ready-made phrases like in the bad example above. 

Initially you’ll only speak 30 seconds as that’s more than enough. You’ll work your way up to 2-3 minutes in B1 which will already get you through the oral exam.

But how do I know whether what I say is correct, you might wonder? For that, we make use of technology. I recommend using Speechnotes.co, but Google Docs does an excellent job as well. When you speak freely, you simply turn on the dictation feature of those tools and have them transcribe what you are saying out loud. Afterwards you run your transcription through our correction tool which will point out potential mistakes and once you have corrected most of them you repeat the process. 

It might sound more complicated than it actually is. It is really simple, but at times our minds can’t deal with working on a level that’s “beneath” us and that requires a bit of getting used to. 

And if any of my students ever struggles with an exercise or with the technology, I’m always just a click away in our Community. 

Other Way to Practice Speaking German Online

On the higher levels B2 and C1 there are other, slightly more challenging exercises like the Oral Translation, where you either translate a written or a spoken text from English into German orally. And there’s the Listen and Repeat exercise, a kind of slow Shadowing, where you simply repeat what you have just heard. And like before with technology you’ll become aware of your weak spots that need more work. 

Machines beat Humans

A German tutor is unlikely to be patient enough to practice speaking German online with you in such a structured, guided and efficient manner as I described above and even if she was inhumanely patient, you’d have to pay a fortune to do this exercise with you. And trying to do such a training in a classroom is simply impossible. 

The classroom teacher simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with 10-30 students and provide them with useful, feedback that doesn’t embarrass the student in front of everybody else. And practicing with another student only makes sense when it is about relaxed practice and not about performance at all. A student should never correct another student (without proper training) as they usually don’t know how to do that properly. 

It’s therefore simply unfeasible to practice speaking German online in the way necessary to progress quickly with a human being. Using software over a German tutor is the much more feasible approach to achieve fluency in German.

A robot teacher showing how to practice speaking German online

Are Humans Redundant Already?

Of course not, but why should a human try to do something that a machine already does better than us? A private German tutor makes perfect sense, e.g. when you are preparing for an oral exam or a job interview. Those are very specific and measurable goals, and they don’t require much teaching but more feedback and encouragement.  But in order to practice speaking German online you should never work with a German tutor.

Working with fellow learners can also be beneficial IF the element of performance is taken out of the equation, meaning that there should not be any correction other than questions like “I didn’t get that. Could you repeat that?” After all one needs to practice speaking German online as much as possible and I have found no better platform in the last 9 years than Deutschgym which is why I’m promoting it heavily among my students. 

Deutschgym allows learners to practice speaking German online without any pressure and with just the right amount of guidance and supervision for each level from A2-C1. It’s a wonderfully safe space where one can just explore their capabilities and limits when it comes to speaking German. 

Combine the beautifully structured approach of SmarterGerman with the safe and relaxed environment of Deutschgym, and you’ll be fluent soon and also feel good about yourself for years to come. If you are interested in trying other alternatives, you can also check italki but it might take a while before you find someone willing to work with you and you’ll very likely pay a lot more than you would for Deutschgym.

Don’t forget to enjoy your German learning e.g. with our Online German courses for self-learners. Learning German is an adventure, not a chore.

Alles Liebe
Dein Michael

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