Germans obliged to take integration test – Re-education upon failure

Germans will be obliged to take integration test – Re-education upon failure

Germans obliged to take integration test - Re-education upon failure
(c) EvgeniT via Pixabay


Today, the German office for migration and refugees (BAMF) published a report which admitted a partial failure of their current approach of teaching migrants and refugees the German language and culture via so-called Integration Courses (Integrationskurs). Yet the problem doesn’t lie on the side of the migrants, but rather on the side of the culture they seek to integrate in.


90% of Germans would fail an integration test

“Those who have created these integration courses especially the part where participants are supposed to learn about the German culture, social life, history and politics must have lived in a different Germany that anyone we interviewed. We asked about 2000 Germans the same questions course participants have to answer and 90% would have failed that same test,” said the head of intercultural studies at Viadrina University Frankfurt Oder, Prof. Dr. Hans Deutschendorf. “It almost sounds like an April Fool’s Joke,” he continues, “but we simply can’t ignore the evidence any longer.”
Ironically about 92% of the migrants pass that test (see official statistics of the BAMF here).
As a consequence the BAMF in cooperation with the ESF (European Social Fund) have worked out a new approach to optimize the integration process: All Germans citizens (18 and above) will be obliged to take the same integration test migrants have to take.

“We can’t have a situations where migrants end up to be the better Germans,” states Dr. Willer Nixsagsehör of the BAMF. It’s time the citizens of this country brush up their knowledge about the culture they expect others to learn about.


Political and Social Re-Education of Native Germans

Those who fail the test, will be obliged to spend 100 hours in so-called re-integration processes (Re-Integrationsprozess or short: RIP). That’s how many classroom-hours current integration course participants have to spend to learn everything relevant about the German culture therefore it should be more than enough for native Germans. Those courses can be taken in the evenings or on the weekends after work hours and will last between 3-6 months.


Proper Language trainings

It has become also blatantly obvious that High German, the language that is being taught in current integration courses and that ironically is even being used to teach German in those courses, is only spoken by about 3,14% of the German population (that’s pretty exactly the exact number of citizens of Hannover the capital of Lower Saxony). Though through some miraculous circumstance most Germans understand each other even in extreme situations (check this seemingly miraculous example of inter-dialectal communication) it would be humanly impossible for anyone to learn all 250 remaining German dialects. The new initiative therefore aims at making regular High German training obligatory for those who fail their High German oral exam which will be conducted via various institutions like the Goethe Institut or the Volkshochschulen over the coming ten years with all German citizens born after 1945. Participants will be randomly assigned to their exams so some Germans might still have a couple of years before they will have to face re-education. “We hope that everyone will take matters into their own hands and start brushing up on their language skills voluntarily.”


Heavy support from the EU

While the budget of approximately 600 billion EUR (that’s approximately 1000 EUR per German citizen) for the next ten years might seem steep at first glance, the economical benefit of a better integration on both sides and of fewer language related issues among Germans themselves will soon make up for this investment. The European Union is also heavily funding this project with 75% of the costs which is no surprise as Germany is the EU’s strongest link.


Similar consequences as for migrants

Those who fail their re-integration process, will have to face grave consequences e.g. loss of voting rights and continuous re-education until passing the test. “In a democracy we can’t have people vote, who have no clue why and what they actually vote for.”, says Prof. Deutschendorf. He continues: “We also think that the Germans will become more empathetic with migrants that had and still have to go through the same experience, especially when they realize how irrelevant this kind of knowledge actually is and when they are subsequently threatened with harsh consequences.”

Currently integration course participants might face shortenings of their already rather limited state welfare or non-prolongation of their right to stay.


Merkel welcomes new approach

Woman chancellor Merkel welcomes this initiative and, setting a good example, is already participating in one of the first model re-integration courses herself together with her favorite party member Horst Seehofer of the CSU, hoping to pass her test by the end of her current term. “I wouldn’t bet my house on Horst passing though”, Merkel said only half-jokingly.

Beam of hope for German citizens

We at smarterGerman are already developing a course for German natives to help them pass their Integrationstest with flying colors and to become better citizens of this beautiful Merkelocracy. How is your German today? Can you already answer the following questions from the final test of current integration courses? Give it a try. The questions are in German of course.




International German Speaking Celebrities

International German Speaking Celebrities
© Pixabay


When it comes to celebrities speaking foreign languages, German isn’t one of the ones that might immediately cross your mind. We can watch videos of famous stars speaking Japanese, or rapid-fire Spanish/French/Italian with an interviewer and be impressed by their command of the language, but German-speakers tend to fly under the radar. Which is a shame, when you notice how many well-known individuals over the world have solid command of the language that formed one of the roots of modern English.

Christoph Waltz

Okay, this one is cheating. Waltz, famous in the US for his roles in Django Unchained, Spectre, and his star-creating turn in Inglorious Basterds, was born in Vienna to German parents, and spoke the language as his first. However, what sticks out to me is the visibility of the actor in the US: he is famous and identifiable, and yet despite his ancestry, I still see him as an American celebrity. He could speak any language other than English, and somehow that would still surprise me.


Pope Francis

Also fairly well-documented, the sitting Pope speaks conversational German…alongside six other languages, and is recognized as a living polyglot, or speaker of many tongues. Having lived in Argentina and Rome, and serving all over the world, this ability no doubt serves him well in his position, and has allowed him to develop ties with many of the Catholic nations around the world.


Claudio Castgnoli

Like the Pope, Castagnoli is also a polyglot. The Swiss born athlete speaks two forms of German (Swiss in addition to “standard”) alongside English, Italian, and French. Unlike the Pope, he earns his living as a weightlifter and well-respected professional wrestler. Castagnoli competes currently in WWE under the stage name of Cesaro, where his original “gimmick” involved him disparaging opponents in all five of his spoken languages, before “knocking them out” with European uppercuts to cheering crowds.


Bruce Springsteen

This one might b subjective, because the legend of his German speech traces itself back to a famous concert he gave in 1988 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. To a cheering crowd of fans, he pulled out a paper and proceeded to give an impassioned speech against greed, corrupt bankers, and a system designed to oppress the working man, all in shaky, but still understandable German. It was a moment that crossed language and cultural barriers between audience and performer, and when it comes to rock music, that really is the heart of the matter.


Sandra Bullock

Her ability to speak German is very well-documented. Bullock spent the bulk of her youth living in Nuremberg, where she learned and spoke the language all the time. But after her star turn, she rarely brought it up in public, owing to her own shyness about speaking it imperfectly. That said, her speech when receiving a Bambi award was spot on, and worth the lookup on YouTube.


Leonardo DiCaprio

This Academy Award winner is no stranger to German either, as his maternal grandparents were both German themselves. He credits his grandmother with teaching him the language, and has conducted numerous interviews in his second tongue. I wonder if he dubbed his own lines in any of his films that have been translated into German?


Gene Simmons

This one genuinely surprised me, though in retrospect it really shouldn’t. The famous bass player and songwriter for the rock band KISS speaks fluent German alongside quite a few other languages. Born in Israel to a Hungarian mother who survived WWII, he also learned Hungarian, Hebrew, and English. But his alter-egos, such as Dr. Love and The Demon, distract from details of his personal life when looking into him.


Tina Fey

The talented actress, comedian, producer, and Saturday Night Live writer/alum is herself half-German, and busted out her language skills during an episode of 30 Rock. She speaks what she calls “less than first grade German,” and her lines on the show reflect as much, but you can’t fault the lady for embracing her roots on TV.


Vin Diesel

Since I cheated for the first entry, I’m cheating for the last as well. Vin Diesel doesn’t speak German. Or at least he’s never confessed to speaking it. The multi-ethnic actor, who IS of German ancestry in part, made considerable waves however, for providing the voice for his character in Guardians of the Galaxy in 15 different language tracks. Now granted, he only speaks five words the entire film, but he went all out with his dub work, which is nothing to sneeze at.

German Auxiliary Languages – Weltdeutsch

Auxiliary Languages - Weltdeutsch
© Pixabay

The 19th and 20th century saw a spike in the development of the so-called constructed languages. Especially “Auxiliary Languages” were created, as the different colonial powers aimed to erect empires and the western conquerors felt the need to turn their respective language into a “lingua franca”, particularly among their colonial subjects. Auxiliary Languages were meant to enable the communication of people from different countries, not speaking the same mother tongue. English and Spanish are basically the most used Auxiliary Languages in Europe and the Americas today, while Greek and Latin would count as ancient Auxiliary Languages.

The Origin of Weltdeutsch

Even though a late bloomer in the colonial game, the German Empire, of course, had to have its own global language. Thus, in 1915, when World War I was still viewed with optimism and the outlook of an Empire spanning across vast regions of the world, Weltdeutsch (World German) was invented. You see that the creation of auxiliary languages was heavily influenced by contemporary politics. Linguists quarreled about the best language to base their product on and the German ones were eager to argue, that the early German successes in the Great War meant that the German language was the obvious choice, as e.g. English would be somewhat obsolete as the Empire was in decline.

The Development of Wede

In fact, Weltdeutsch was not one specific language, but the name for a number of different projects for the development of an auxiliary language based on German. A simplified version of German, created as “the language of all peoples”, had already been published in 1913. After the Nobel Prize Winner Wilhelm Oswald first proposed Weltdeutsch, a man named Adalbert Baumann published “Wede”, an auxiliary language solely based on German. It was widely simplified and drew from several German dialects. In 1916, he already published an even simpler version of the Wede. His basic idea was that language users should write exactly as they spoke. The conjugation was limited to the use of “tun” (do) and the new article “de” replaced the former German articles “der”, “die” and “das”. Wede had its foundation in the deeply nationalistic beliefs of Adalbert Bauman, who was convinced of German superiority. Thus, it is not surprising, that his work stepped into the spotlight once more in the Third Reich. In 1928, Baumann had reworked his Wede into the more internationally labeled “Oiropa Pitshn”.

Colonial German and Kitchen German

Also in 1916, another variant of Weltdeutsch was published. Colonial officer Emil Schwörer had developed Kolonialdeutsch (Colonial German) as a Pidgin language (even though a designed Pidgin is an oxymoron) particularly designed to be used in the German colonies, more specifically in German South-West Africa, a colony on the territory today belonging to Namibia. Schwörer incorporated his knowledge of African contact languages of the region and proposed a specific vocabulary. He thought, that it was necessary to “organize” the German language in order for it to be used in the bright German future (meaning, that he was quite sure there would be more colonies and more international exchange that would call for a German Auxiliary Language). He wrote that German was simply too hard for other people and despite its untouchable status should be simplified. His Pidgin language was never more than a proposal and was thus never implemented in the German colonies. Nevertheless, there are still about 15.000 Namibians who speak a kind of pidgin German. The so-called “Küchendeutsch” (Kitchen German) was developed in the relationships of the African servants and their German masters. But as most of the speakers of Küchendeutsch are past the age of 50, the language will most likely perish.

Bridging the gap between nine and eight

Numberphile: Bridging the gap between bet eight and nine
© Pixabay

Numberphile: Neu and neun – New and nine

Have you ever wondered why they sound so similar despite having seemingly little in common? It’s time for a little etymological journey. Including a journey over all of your eight fingers.

Wait, what? All of my eight fingers? We’ll get to that, first things first: My fascination for the number nine. In German it is referred to as neun, and it sounds similar to the word for ‘new’, neu. If you happen to know any other Indo-European languages, you might have noticed that the words for nine and new are somewhat similar. Let’s have a look at some languages:

English           nine    new

German          neun    neu

Dutch              negen    nieuw

Swedish          nio    ny

Danish             ni    ny

Icelandic        níu    nýr

French             neuf    neuf

Italian              nove    nuovo

Spanish           nueve    nuevo

Latin                 novem    novis

Kurdish           neh    nû

Persian            noh    now

(See the entry for nine in Wiktionary)

Across all these languages we find a striking similarity to the respective words for ‘new’. Doesn’t this make you wonder what’s so inherently new about the number nine? (Oh and by the way, yes! Kurdish and Persian (also known as Farsi) are indeed Indo-European languages and share a great deal of similarities with English and German.)

Now stop nodding for a moment and take a look at your hands. Ideally you’ve got five fingers on each hand, so when you count objects in front of you, you can use these fingers to represent one object each. Five fingers times two, that’s ten, so using both of your hands combined can “hold” ten objects, so to speak. For any quantities higher than that you’ll need a new set of hands, so you’d go “one set of hands plus one”, giving you the number eleven (which also is an interesting word to have a closer look at another time). If you choose to go with this finger-procedure, there it is: the base-10 (or “decimal”) number system that is so ubiquitous today.

Base-10 is, however, merely one of several systems to count in. For us who have grown up in a base-10 world, it might seem like the one and only system there is, but behold. The fact that the words for the number nine in so many Indo-European languages is similar to the word for ‘new’ is evidence that the people back then used a different way of counting.

Above I stated that the hand has five fingers attached to it: Index finger, middle finger, ring finger, little finger and the thumb. But wait… Did you spot the odd man? The only finger that’s not explicitly referred to as a ‘finger’ is the thumb. The little finger is often referred to as ‘pinkie’ or ‘pinkie finger’, but ‘thumb finger’ sounds just awkward. The same goes for German: Zeigefinger (‘index finger’), Mittelfinger, Ringfinger, kleiner Finger (‘little finger’), but Daumen (‘thumb’) stands out as separate. It seems that, for some reason, our ancestors didn’t quite consider the thumb as a finger. For further discussion on the thumb being a finger or not, check out this article and video by Oxford Dictionaries.

Which this kind of mindset in place, you’ll be able to count up to eight objects, after which one set of hands is depleted, and you’ll need a new set of hands for any quantities greater that 8. Every set of hands thus represents eight things. Welcome to the base-8 number system! In this way of counting there is no concept of the number nine: Nine objects are just one set of hands plus one. So formally there is no difference compared to base-10. For base-8 people the number nine is a novelty, so this might be why they referred it as “new (number)”.

These are, however, merely pieces of evidence as to how our present number system came about linguistically, and it remains scientifically disputed. Nevertheless, I have found this topic quite fascinating as it gives us an idea of the immense creativity of mankind throughout history and, in turn, provides us – the modern, reading, speaking, working human beings – with fresh perspectives outside the box.

Unserdeutsch – The only Pidgin German

Unserdeutsch - The only Pidgin German
© Pixabay

Unserdeutsch – Definitely the most exotic Version of German

Due to its geographical position in Europe and its size, Germany is home to a diverse structure of dialects. Some of those dialects derive from old Germanic dialects so different they could count as languages. It’s actually not that hard to imagine that there were numerous very diverse languages in this country when you come from northern Germany and meet someone from a remote Bavarian village. Some of the differences between the various dialects still are quite big, in grammar as well as in phonetics. But by far the most exotic version or dialect of the German language is called Unserdeutsch (basically: Our German). And it’s spoken in Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Nuns and Colonies

The German empire was not only late to the colonial “game”, it also wasn’t by far as successful as its rivals from the British Empire to France or the Netherlands. Known most for the appalling genocide of genocide of the Herero people in Namibia, German colonial campaigns in Africa are pretty much common knowledge. But there was another large colony with the illustrious name of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Land. This territory was comprised of the northeastern part of Papua New Guinea as well as a couple of archipelagos. From around 1885, the territory became the protectorate of a German colonial company, but after the company did not perform as expected, it became an official German colony in 1899. At the beginning of the first World War, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Land was occupied by Australian forces and was handed over to Australia after the war ended.

Even though the German rule over this part of Papua New Guinea was relatively short, it had a few long lasting effects: among others, the emergence of Unserdeutsch, also known as Rabaul Creole German (named after the town of Rabaul). It is the only Creole language that is based in German. Unserdeutsch was created by children around 1900 in the capital of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Land. The children of German colonialists and adventurers with local women were raised in a catholic mission on the edge of town. The nuns taught the children German, which they mixed with English and the local language of Tok Pisin in their everyday life. As the nuns stayed in their mission even after the colony changed rulers, they taught quite a lot of pupils who gave the language to their kids. Today there are around 100 speakers left, most of whom migrated to Australia after Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975.

Our German

Unserdeutsch is only spoken, not written. The language is basically a simplified variant of German. But still, there are numerous differences to the superordinate language. There is only one article (de instead of der/die/das) and the plural is formed by putting “alle” (all) in front of a noun. “Die Männer” (The men) becomes “Alle Mann” (All man). Further, the interrogative pronoun is placed at the end of the sentence.

Unserdeutsch is especially exotic because there are only very few people left that actually speak it. We spoke about Namibia earlier and you might wonder whether there is an equivalent language to Unserdeutsch in the former German colony. There is. It is called Küchendeutsch (Kitchen German) or Namibian Black German. The name Küchendeutsch clearly indicates who its speakers used to be: slaves or employees of the German masters.

Küchendeutsch is still spoken by about 15.000 people, as opposed to the very few Unserdeutsch speakers. Apart from the linguistic differences, there is also a systematic distinction between the two languages. Küchendeutsch is classified as a pidgin language, whereas Unserdeutsch is categorized as a Creole-Language. A Creole-Language usually derives from a pidgin language when it becomes a native language.  

How to address a German properly – Sie or Du

Duzen or Siezen? Photo via Pixabay / Unsplash

Talking to German People Properly: Formal and Informal Speech

In English, “you” is just “you” – whether formal or informal. It’s great for when you don’t know your relative social status or want to make a point of equality; however, a lot of languages make a distinction between people, and encode social status and considerations into the language itself. German is one of these languages. Here are two of the most important examples:

Sie and du

Sie or du? Both mean “you”, but du is for your friends and family – and also children and pets. Sie is for everyone else – at least until you make friends with them! And even then, if you’re speaking to them in their professional capacity (such as talking to a professor or a teacher, lawyer or doctor), please use Sie.

How do you know when to change from Sie to du?

It used to be that people would have get-togethers over schnapps to celebrate moving from Sie formalities to using du with each other. It was a sign of intimacy – not necessarily the intimacy between married couples, but the intimacy of friendship, of knowing a person well. In fact, if you look in literature and in plays, the transition between Sie to du becomes a key plot point.

With social media being as popular as it is, though, do not be surprised if you see people using du on Twitter or on Facebook. That seems to be the trend across different languages – whether it is a function of the Internet or an influence from other languages, such as English, remains to be seen.


Even though aristocracy ended in the German speaking areas in the early 1900s, the idea of respecting authority and social hierarchy still persists. Therefore, if the person you are speaking to has earned a professional title, it is good German manners to address them using that title. Your Dr Schmidt is still going to be Dr Schmidt – she earned the doctorate or medical degree and has a degree of authority and knowledge in society. To English speakers, this can seem overly formal, but it is just a way to respect the person who received that title. This goes when you are studying in Germany also – when in doubt of their official title, ask them what you should call them. Academic ranks in Germany are very different than in the United States (or even the United Kingdom) and a professorship is a major career milestone: by law, depending on the area of Germany, it takes up to 5 years of service before an academic can use Professor as a title.

Greetings in German

Greetings in German
© pixabay

Greetings. We all use them in some form or another – whether it’s a polite formality or an enthusiastic meeting with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. In German classes, it’s common to learn phrases like “Guten Tag” or “Guten Abend” right off the bat: but these words can sound formal or old-fashioned, so know when to use them! (Hint: if you would feel comfortable calling the person sir or ma’am, that’s probably a good time to say Guten Abend.)

Here are some other greetings in German that you should be aware of.

Borrowed German Greetings

• Hallo!
This is used often and is great for any situation. “Hi!” is also used in Germany, but just like using it in English, try to use it among people you’re already familiar with.

You’ll not only hear this in Italy, but in various areas across Europe now too. It’s used as a greeting and as a goodbye, especially in the larger, more metropolitan cities.

Back to German: Formal and casual Greetings

• Wie geht es dir? / Wie geht es Ihnen?
Translating to “How are you?” in English, “Wie geht es dir” is the form used for close friends while “Wie geht es Ihnen” is the form you would use for people in authority (Read more about addressing a German: Sie / du). However, this is not used exactly the same as “how are you” is in English; while in English, “how are you” is said to anyone and everyone, “Wie geht es dir” (and “es Ihnen”) tends to be said around people you already know.

• Alles klar?
Literally translating to “is everything alright?”, this greeting reminds me of the Japanese greeting “daijoubu desu ka?” – while it can be used to ask after someone, it is usually used like “how’s it going”. The meaning changes whether the speaker’s tone sounds worried or not. However, because of that very versatility, this phrase is essential to know.

Regional Greetings in German

• Moin Moin!
Now we’re getting into regional variations. For most of its history Germany was not a united region: it was a loose federation of states, and because of that history, there are a lot of regional differences – from the north to the south, and from the west to the east. “Moin Moin!” is considered an all-day greeting in northern areas like Hamburg and East Frisia.

• Grüß Gott!

This one’s from southern Germany; invoking God, this way of greeting in German can sound old-fashioned to those in the north, but is still heard in the south where it means “hello”.

• Servus!
Another one from the south, this one is my particular favorite greeting. It comes from the Latin.

How does it feel to Learn the German Language from Scratch

Learn German From Scratch

It’s kind of weird. I will actually be trying to learn German from scratch again. I decided to take part in an intensive German sign language course for four weeks from June, 13th until July, 8th. For three hours a day I will go through the experience of an absolute beginner of German and explore my emotions, thoughts and the way it is being taught to me. Without any prior knowledge I expect to feel afraid, frustrated and angry but also joyful and curious. Whatever comes up, I will share it with you in the playlist above (click in the upper left corner or the info sign on the right to get to that playlist).


Putting Myself in Other’s Shoes – Sich in Andere Hineinversetzen

I think that a good language tutor needs to know how his clients feel and think to be able to guide them through difficult phases during their German learning process. Last year I studied Greek for 30 days and gained invaluable insight in the language learning and teaching process which helped me to optimize my German private lessons and my material (a new video course which will teach you most of these insights is already in production).  I am very excited about what I am about to experience and learn from this project. Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel above not to miss any of the upcoming videos or future projects.

How Gestures can Enhance your German Learning

This is exactly what I would like to find out. A gesture can be seen as a three dimensional word. It takes place in a certain physical space and it has a direction. It therefore might stimulate one’s brain in different ways than other languages based solely on sound. There is a professor A.D. Ludger Schiffler, who has been promoting the use of supportive gestures in foreign language learning for many years now (get his book here). But my problem with his approach is that if you take a look at his videos that he presents at his public speeches (e.g. at the Expolingua in Berlin) his clients do not seem to enjoy those gestures too much. They leave the impression as if they felt silly performing them. I know that feeling from my foreign language tuition in the past. I had to play inefficient and silly games, participate in artificial role plays or sing songs, that made my brain want to jump out of my skull, run to the next river and drown itself.

Adults need to be treated like adults. If they are exposed to material like this (NSFB-Not safe for brain), they could suffer severe motivational damage. Be assured that IF I find a way to integrate gestures into the German learning process it will be in a way that respects Article 1 of the German constitution (Grundgesetz): Human dignity is unviolable.

Let me know what you think of this project and I hope to inspire you to pursue efficient lifelong learning.

Take good care. Pass auf Dich auf.

Getting Started with Learning German

german for beginners
die Läuferin – the (female) runner / Image by Ryan McGuire via Pixabay

Learning German: Useful Questions for Beginners

Are you having trouble with learning German? You are not alone. How to get started with learning the German language. Some important questions for beginners before you start your journey.

I love my job and I am really passionate about it. I want my students to learn German very well and damn fast. But being fast on my feet at least as far as languages are concerned and being highly rational I do not always find my expectations matched.

People often just want to have fun in classes or just not be alone with this mighty task of learning German. Nothing wrong with that. I enjoy that a lot myself. But there are also students that prefer to do boring and tedious grammar exercises over and over again and then compare the answers in class, although they could easily check them themselves. This goes beyond my understanding and I would never do that in class unless I am lazy or badly prepared for my lesson, which in my case is never. It is simply a waste of time.

What on the other hand is valuable, are the questions that occur while doing an exercise in class or at home. This is where learning can take place and where the student’s and the teacher’s attention is undivided. Over the years most of these questions repeat themselves and there are a few core problems, every learner of German is experiencing sooner or later:

  • the articles der, das, die
the cases, mainly the dative and the accusative
the adjectives and their uncontrollable endings
the irregular verbs aka past tenses
the prepositions and their appropriate cases
  • the vocabulary of course

just to name the more important ones. These require usually a lot of effort and persistence and almost never have I met a colleague or student that knew how to make these issues go away in an appropriate time. And this is not only about German for beginners. People living in Germany for 10 or more years still struggle from bad grammar. That should not have to be. So let me introduce you to some powerful, because efficient and effective, techniques to take the edge from German grammar once and for all…

How to get Started? German for Beginners

Well, if you are going on a journey, you usually think about your goal first [exceptions prove the rule] and then plan the route, or simply type it into your navigation system. The same applies when you want to learn German or any language actually. If you want to learn how to speak it wouldn’t make sense to visit a writing course. Most students (I’ve only seen around a thousand, but that should do for same basic statistics) have pretty vague goals if it comes to learning German. “I want to learn German.” That’s like saying “I want to cook.” You might end up with Spaghetti and ketchup instead of a fine Moroccan parsley squash pastry spoiling your senses. So the very first step should be to become clear about your goals.Here are some questions to help you defining it:

  • Where do you want to use your German? In a social, scientific or professional environment? Which means would you like to use German at work or just around friends, cooking courses or soccer games? Or would you like to study at a German university?
  • How much time have you got & would you like to spent on learning German? Hours per day? How many months?
  • What level would you like to reach in that time? There are some standardized levels that indicate your proficiency called GER. They reach from level A1 (beginners that are already able to write German letters) to level C2 (very sophisticated, native-like German). Just to give you an idea: The German government requires some migrants to pass the B1 exam. To reach that goal they have 600-900 lessons. This should enable them to deal with most everyday situations using German. These are special classes though and “normal” students usually take around 500h to reach this goal. If you are planning to work or study in Germany the B2-level is the minimum you’ll have to master. For some studies you will have to pass the C1-level-exam.
  • How would you like to learn? In a class? Individually? With or without a tutor? I guess it all comes down to the costs here. Many people attend classes just because they (think they) can’t afford a private tutor. And besides that, schools offer plenty of lessons in short time, giving you the feeling that you get a lot for your money. Don’t be fooled. Do you really think schools would want you to learn German as fast as possible? Wouldn’t that mean, they earned less money? And then, why are private lessons more expensive anyhow? Because the tutor has to prepare more for one student than he has to for 12 or even 20 students? Again, don’t misunderstand me. Schools are there for a purpose and of course they are not (only) money making machines but also want to provide something to others beyond that. But they have to find a compromise between these two goals (earning and contributing) and that surely isn’t letting you know that there are faster ways to learn German. They are usually not doing this on purpose. They are just not interested in it and simply adopt to the market’s demand and their co-competitors. Nothing wrong with that in our type of economy.


Private Tutoring is the Better Economical Choice

So let’s do some short and simple calculation. Intensive classes with approximately 12 students (rather more) cost around 300€ (around $400) per month. Intensive often means that you have approximately 80 lessons (á 45min) per month, usually divided in sessions of 3hrs per weekday. So one lesson costs around 3,75€ (around $5). A cheap private tutor from that same school would cost around 35€ ($40). That makes it roughly ten times more expensive. But now the hook: in class you would have to divide the teachers attention and the possible actual practice time by 12 as he has to focus on 12 students instead of solely you. So you get the same quality (not really but later more on that) as a private lesson for the price of 3,75€ x 12 (as you need 12x more time to have the same amount of attention and practice – this is of course a Milchmädchenrechnung but I only want to proof a point). So one equally valuable class-session costs you 45€ ($60). That’s 50% more than a private tutor would cost you (from that school! Freelancing tutors are usually even cheaper). But that’s only when taking a class is comparable with having a private session with a tutor, which it isn’t. The teacher-student relationship in class never reaches the same depth and level of skill-analysis as it does in a private setting. Imagine searching for oil and having to dig in 12 different places at the same time instead on focussing on one spot. It not only postpones the individual’s success but also the positive feedback for the teacher, making his job less rewarding. Also the teacher has to multitask and no matter if it’s a woman or a man, that never reaches the same quality of work than focussing on one project at the same time.

As I have written before, taking classes in a school-environment can make sense to you but if your aim is to advance fast, you might consider taking private lessons with a professional. You wouldn’t even have to take the same amount of lessons than you would have to in class. A lesson or two a day would do at the beginning and later on you reduce that amount to three or even two times a week, saving lots of money and above all: time.

The most Supporting Environment to Study

Be aware of possible distractions. Not everybody can work at home. Maybe there’s a nice library near you or a silent café. In summer there are nice spots in the parks.

What material do you need?

Above all you need some kind of dictionary. Back in the days, when I was still teaching groups, every once in a while I had to teach classes other than my own and I came across German learners without any dictionary. Not because it was their first day or week but because they said they were too expensive (the dictionaries, not the people), too heavy or they simply “forgot” them at home. Some come with very tiny books lacking a lot of elementary vocabulary needed even for the first months. We are not talking about rare cases, I would actually say in the lower levels such as German for beginners these students made up to 1/4 of the class. Imagine a plumber coming to your house trying to fix your pipes with his Bob the builder toolkit made of finest plastic. What results would you expect? The same is valid for German learning. There’s only a few tools needed, make sure they are of the best quality available. Electronic devices are a gift to the language learner. So are apps for smartphones. Make use of them. Second important material is a workbook. A good school or German tutor should provide you with any necessary working material, of course they will charge you one way or the other, but still… But the book should be user-friendly. Could you use it to study at home or would you need a teacher to explain the exercises and the grammar? Does it come with an answer key audio? Is there a glossary for your language or at least English available? That would speed up the vocabulary learning quite a bit. Are the texts interesting enough to keep you interested (most probably not really due to the generality of the subjects, but having no other option)?

Final Advice

Last but not least I strongly recommend to get good grammar books. And maybe one book explaining your native language’s grammar to you, so you can compare phenomena with German in case you think your native grammar skills are weak. This makes an invaluable toolkit for many students. If you are serious about studying or working in Germany, find out where you are heading to and then plan your route and make sure you have the resources needed.

If this seems like a lot of organizational effort to you, and you’d rather like to have someone else organize these things for you and to guide in simple and small steps through the jungle which is the German language to every beginner, check out our Everyday German Course (click on the ad in the right sidebar or on the tomatoes below). You can preview the first lesson completely for free and can even test the full course for 30 days without any risk as you have a 30-day money back guarantee.


I wish you success and above all fun, fun, fun with this wonderful language. I envy you as I’d love to learn it again with our materials. What a joy.
Take good care // Pass auf Dich auf


smarterGerman’s grammar courses are excellent tools to accompany your German language classes. Just click on the image below to find out more.

german beginners



One Billion Hours

Mission Statement

  • By 2020 we can save one billion hours of lifetime worldwide. Yearly.
  • This will have a significant impact on the personal development of millions of people
  • With the liberation of such an amount of time comes great economical benefit for everybody.
We can save Billions of Hours of Lifetime if we optimize language learning
Illustration by Florian Hauer nach Leonardo Da Vinci

One Billion Hours

Any language -and I believe any other topic- could be learned up to 2x faster than the way it is taught and learned in most places today (proof one / proof two). The principles that I have worked out over the last years are applicable to any kind of learning. My calculations are based on the German learning process. An improvement of 12,3% in learning speed would result in 66,6hrs or three weeks of intensive German tuition per learner*. The Goethe Institute, a governmental institution, estimates 15 million German learners worldwide. 15 million learners saving 66,6hrs each make 1 billion hours saved. Even if only 1% (=150.000) of those 15 million German learners are reached, that would still mean 150 000 x 66,6hrs = 10 million hours saved. Still worth the effort if you ask me.

*It usually takes 540hrs in six months to reach level B1


The Problem

Currently the way German and other languages are taught, is highly inefficient. After up to 466 hours in 7 months only 50% of German learners pass their exam (page 124 on the linked document). That is a very sad outcome. The results of private schools will most likely not excel this quota by much. Also 50% of university students from foreign countries cancel their studies and go home. One reason is definitely lack of mastery of German.

A Fix

  • Individualized learning with help of smart apps optimizes learning speed and saves travel time (120 hrs and more). Missing classes will have less impact.
  • What can be learned on ones own, should be learned on ones own: e.g. grammar, reading, listening, writing and even part of your pronunciation practice can easily be outsourced with help of well-organized videos and ebooks.
  • Learners learn faster and better when they are instructed in their mother tongue. This way complex matters like the German grammar can be made clear in minutes.
  • No need to speak right away. Learners should get accustomed to the sounds and rhythms of German first. →  less pressure, better pronunciation/articulation.

  All of these things I aim to combine in a German language learning app. I know. There are already plenty out there. But from my experience and the experience of many others I came across, those are horribly designed from a didactical point of view. Even Duolingo’s own “study” found an abortion rate among their more motivated users of 50%.


The best idea is worth nothing if no one hears about it. Share this idea and maybe my current free online course if you like it so that people become aware of the problem and gain hope again when it comes to learning languages. If you see anything that I might need that you are able to provide, just write to me. Maybe we come together. All people I work with get paid properly as they help me save time and fulfil my dream. This project is my life’s vision and already deeply satisfying. But it’s with your support that it gains momentum and will make a significant difference in the way we learn. Thank you for your time. Michael

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