When you decide to learn German, you want to make a little bit of progress every day. But often, you don’t know how to make progress towards fluency. There are lots of techniques and promises in the language learning world, and it feels like you have to spend years finding what delivers.
What if you could cut the questions and simply focus on the best methods for learning German?
In today’s article, I will share with you three surprising facts from my new course How to Learn German Faster. Knowing these three tricks alone can save you hours, and I hope that you’ll be checking out the course reading to learn how to truly learn German much faster.
Vocabulary Works in Chunks, not Words
There is no way around learning vocabulary and it’s one of the most challenging tasks when learning any language. But when you understand the power of learning in context and in chunks, you will finally start putting words together so that they make sense.
This is why I recommend you throw out the classic wordlist. Instead, focus on learning your word in context. The German word Bank for example is best learnt as bei einer Bank arbeiten (work at a bank) and auf einer Bank sitzen (to sit on a bench), which helps you recall the correct meaning much quicker.
There are great vocabulary tools out there, and in How to Learn German Faster I have included videos to guide you through the full technique and learn it step by step.
The Difference Between Passive and Active Listening
Most German learners would like to have a conversation in German at one point but real life rarely provides us with ideal conditions for conversations. So instead, many learners focus on listening and understanding more. They spend hours with audio courses and radio shows, and wonder why progress won’t come.
The trick here is that you have to know two types of listening:
Active Listening is more than just listening. This step requires your full focus, and you will need a text and its recording to work with it. In active listening, you are following every word, sound and sentence to grasp an audio piece’s full meaning.
Passive Listening describes those times when you are listening to native German speakers. This will familiarize you with the sounds of German, help you distinguish the words from each other and follow the language at natural speed. Focus on environments with natural atmosphere, so that means you should avoid the news and audiobooks.
Listening is Step 5 in the Learning Cycle, which is my biggest tip. Check the course-video for a first insight. The book will provide you with a deeper understanding of the technique:
Think About the Learning Cycle
At the heart of How to Learn German Faster, I am sharing the exact details of the German Learning Cycle, a simple and reliable system for learning faster and remembering better. If you usually sit down and try a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and feel like you’re not getting anywhere, the Learning Cycle is going to be exactly what you need.
You are going to learn exactly how to follow this cycle. There is a version for beginners and a special level for advanced learners, and my videos will show you exactly how to build this into your daily life.
This course is based on the knowledge I share with private clients who regularly reach level B1 in just 3 months, and it is now available in the smarterGerman shop.
Die Binaurale-Methode ist eine Methode zum Erlernen von Fremdsprachen. Im Folgenden bezeichne ich die Sprache, die man lernen möchte, als Zielsprache und die Sprache, die man benutzt, um die neue Sprache zu lernen, als Ausgangssprache.
Beschreibung der Methode
Im ersten Schritt wird ein Text in der Zielsprache Wort-für-Wort in die Ausgangssprache übersetzt. Diese wird im Folgenden “Spiegelung” genannt. Diese Spiegelung darf jedoch nicht zu wörtlich genommen werden, da an manchen Stellen eine wörtliche Übersetzung eher verwirrt und den Sinn des Textes in der Zielsprache verstellt. Die Spiegelung wird entweder neben dem Text in der Zielsprache dargestellt oder Satz für Satz darunter.
Die Spiegelung in der Ausgangssprache soll in einer blasseren Schrift oder in einer anderen Farbe gedruckt werden, um die Aufmerksamkeit des Lerners auf der Zielsprache zu belassen. Der Lernende soll die Spiegelung – die z.B. unter einem roten Vordergrund verschleiert liegt (siehe Beispiel unter: http://www.taponet.de/projects/verschleierung/) – entweder mittels einer entsprechend farblich getönten Brille oder mittels einer diesem Prinzip entsprechenden Software-Applikation sehen können. Die Spiegelung erübrigt das Nachschlagen einzelner Wörter und kann je nach Lernfortschritt ein- bzw. ausgeblendet werden. —– Anhand dieser schriftlichen Vorlage wird nun der Text eingelesen bzw. eingespielt. Dabei ist darauf zu achten, dass die Textversionen in der Zielsprache und in der Ausgangssprache auf zwei getrennten Stereokanälen von den Wortsilben her möglichst deckungsgleich aufgenommen werden. Auf dem Daten- oder Tonträger soll der Text in der Ausgangssprache später auf dem linken Ohr zu hören sein, während der Text in der Zielsprache auf dem rechten Ohr zu hören ist. Jedoch ist auch eine umgekehrte Anordnung der vertonten Texte denkbar und hier miteingeschlossen. Ziel ist dabei, dass der aufgenommene Ton von Ausgangs- sowie Zielsprache so deckungsgleich wie möglich zu hören ist. Ein Beispiel soll dies illustrieren:
Die Sonne scheint. Es ist ein schöner Tag. (rechts) The sun shines. It is a beautiful day. (links) oder umgekehrt
Der finalen Aufnahme können noch Klangeffekte und Hintergrundmusik hinzugefügt werden, um die Atmosphäre zu vertiefen.
Vorteile der Methode
Die Spiegelung eines geschriebenen Textes ist nichts Neues. In der hier beschriebenen Darstellungsform sowie in hörbarer Form gibt es sie jedoch noch nicht. Vorteile der geschriebenen sowie der auditiven Spiegelung sind die folgenden:
Der Lerner muss keine unbekannten Wörter oder Satzstrukturen mehr nachschlagen. Die Struktur der Zielsprache wird mithilfe der Ausgangssprache deutlich gemacht. Der Text in der Zielsprache wird somit vor-analysiert und der Zugang zur Zielsprache erleichtert. Durch die Vertonung beider Versionen des Textes wird ein weiterer kognitiver Zugang genutzt. Neben dem visuellen wird auch der Hörsinn des Lerners angesprochen. Das simultane Hören beider Versionen bringt die Vorteile der geschriebenen Spiegelung auf eine auditive und somit auch weitere emotionale Ebene. Dem Lerner ist es durchaus möglich, sich bewusst auf jeweils eine Version einzustimmen und die andere in den Hintergrund zu verbannen und sogar spontan zwischen beiden Versionen hin- und herzuschalten. Dies hat eine tiefere Auseinandersetzung mit dem zu lernenden Material zur Folge. Der Lerner kann selbst kontrollieren, wie viel neuer Information er sich aussetzt. Diese Kontrollmöglichkeit vermittelt ihm Sicherheit, die den Sprachlernprozess aller Voraussicht nach positiv unterstützt.
Ausführung der Methode
Der Lerner spielt die zweisprachige Audio-Datei mit einem geeigneten Abspielgerät ab. Um in den Genuss der möglichen Vorteile der Methode zu gelangen, muss der Lerner einen Kopfhörer benutzen, denn das gleichzeitige Abspielen zweier Sprachen über einen Lautsprecher ermöglicht keine Trennung des zielsprachigen Textes von seiner Spiegelung und würde nicht zu dem angestrebten Effekt führen. Der Lerner hat den zielsprachlichen Text idealerweise bereits vorbereitet, z.B. indem er das Vokabular gelernt hat oder den Text gelesen hat. Beim Hören versucht der Lerner sich auf die zielsprachige Version zu konzentrieren. Ein wiederholtes Hören kann von Vorteil sein, da jede Wiederholung hilft, das Erlernte im Gehirn zu konsolidieren.
Weitere Übungen sind angeraten. Ziel der ganzen Übung ist es den Text ausschließlich in der Zielsprache hören und verstehen zu können. Hierfür sollte eine gesonderte Aufnahme erstellt werden. Diese Methode wird von smarterGerman auch für musikalisches Lernmaterial in Form von Liedern und kurzen Audio-Übungssequenzen verwendet.
(c) 2016: Diese Methode wurde im Rahmen der Unternehmung smarterGerman erdacht und entwickelt von Michael Schmitz, 12047 Berlin und Margareth Jabczynski, 12045 Berlin. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.
The Binaural-Method to learn foreign languages developed by smarterGerman
The binaural method is a method to learn foreign languages. In the following, I will call the language that one aims to learn “target language,” and the language that is used to assist the learner in learning the target language is the “helper language.” The helper language might be the learner’s native language or any other language he speaks on a level of B2 or higher.
In the first step, a text in the target language is translated word for word into the helper language. This almost literal translation will be called “mirrored text” from here on. A mirrored text is always written in the helper language. The mirroring process should not be taken too literally as, at times, a too literal translation would rather confuse the learner than be of help. The mirrored text is being placed either next to the text in the target language or sentence per sentence below it. The mirrored text should be presented in a lighter or different color than the text in the target language to help the learner focus on the text he aims to learn from. The mirrored text could be hidden under a red foreground, as in these examples: http://www.taponet.de/projects/verschleierung/. Ideally, the learner should have to use accordingly colored glasses or a suitable software application to be able to read the mirrored text. The mirrored text makes the process of looking up words in a dictionary redundant and can be made visible or invisible according to the learner’s progress.
Based upon the written version of the text, it is now being voiced over / recorded on two separate stereo channels: The text in the target language, as well as the mirrored text, will be recorded separately, but when played on a suitable device later, the target language text will be heard on one speaker and the mirrored text will be heard on the other speaker. Both texts need to be congruent so that when, e.g., the learner hears the German words “Die Sonne…” on the one ear, at the same time he will hear “the sun…” on the other ear. One example:
Die Sonne scheint. Es ist ein schöner Tag. (rechts) The sun shines. It is a beautiful day. (links) oder umgekehrt
We suggest that the target language should be recorded on the right stereo channel while the mirrored version is recorded on the left channel. However, the di rections might as well be exchanged. Additional sound effects and background music can be added to the final recording to deepen the learning atmosphere.
Advantages of the method
Producing mirrored texts is nothing new. However, in the form described here, as well as in audio form, it does not exist yet and is, therefore, an invention of smarterGerman. We believe our approach brings the following advantages to language learners:
The learner doesn’t have to look up unknown words or structures in a separate dictionary. The structure of the target language is being clarified with the help of the helper language. The text in the target language is pre-analyzed, and accessing the target language is, therefore, a lot easier. By recording the audio of both text variants, as described above, the learner can use an additional cognitive channel during his learning process. Next to visual cognitive input, the learner also gets auditive input. The simultaneous listening of both versions transfers the advantages of mirroring onto an auditive and therefore also another emotional level. The learner can focus on each version of the song individually and, with a bit of practice, will be able to switch between both versions with ease. This way, he is engaging with the material on a much deeper level than normal. The learner can control by himself how much information he exposes himself to. This possibility leads to a feeling of being in charge of the learning process and provides him with a sense of security, which is crucial for any language learner, and therefore most likely has beneficial consequences for the language learning process.
Execution of the method
The learner plays the bilingual audio file with a suitable device. To make use of all the benefits described above, one needs to use headphones as only then can our brains differentiate between the two versions. Ideally, the learner has prepared the text in the target language by having learned its vocabulary and having read it once or several times, for instance.
While listening, the learner tries to focus on the version in the target language. It is certainly beneficial to repeat this process several times as repetition consolidates any information that has been learned before.
It is advisable to perform further exercises. The aim must be that, at the end, the learner is capable of listening to the target language version of the text and understanding it to a satisfying degree. To test whether this goal has been achieved, it is recommended that, next to the binaural version of the audio, an audio solely in the target language is also created. We at smarterGerman use this method also for songs or short audio sequences. Other uses are thinkable.
(c) 2016: This method has been created and developed by smarterGerman, aka Michael Schmitz, and Margareth Jabczynski, Berlin. All rights reserved.
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 180min 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). 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. Every once in a while I have to teach other classes than mine and find people without dictionary. Not because it is their first day or week but because they are 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 make 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. Usually the school or the tutor provide you with the working material, of course they will charge you one way or the other, but still… But the book should be userfriendly. 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 and CD or at least MP3? Is there a glossary 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)?
Last but not least I strongly recommend to get good grammar books. With our German learning material you will get explanation in your native-language, so you at least have a chance to understand the underlying structure of the German language. 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. Gute Fahrt.
smarterGerman’s grammar courses are excellent tools to accompany your German language classes. Just click on the image below to find out more.