Thank you all for participating in my little survey. Below are the results of about 500 answers. Below the image you’ll find how scientists answer the question and why you should be skeptical when someone tries to sell you German learning with fun.
Interesting was also to see that most of those who pledged for “fun” also took the “easy path” in the (about.com) newsletter. I have a very critical view on all those “Learn German with fun” approaches. I understand that it is necessary to entertain learners when the content is dry and possibly difficult. But the German language itself is amazingly beautiful and learning something new is incredibly motivating by nature. There’s no need to add any more “fun” to it.
Honestly spoken, I’d say that it is the school setting that makes it necessary to entertain German learners despite their initially strong motivation. You can compare it with normal schools for children and teenagers and the question arises whether language schools are actually doing the German language a “Bärendienst” (lit.: bear service, disservice). The talk by Sir Ken Robinsonat the bottom of this post dives a bit deeper into this topic.
They say: “The best way to learn German is to fall in love with a German.” I read this like: when your motivation is right, the circumstances are “zweitrangig” (secondary). I’d simply remove the article “a” from this statement: “The best way to learn German is to fall in love with German.” I’m in love with my own language because I have understood it to a degree that reveals its full beauty to me. And I’m happy to share my insights with you so that you can, too, one day fall in love with it or if you are already infatuated keep this feeling alive forever.
Last but not least I’d like to recommend Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning to you if you got a few hours to spare and if you are interested in learning German for a longer period of time. If you are an educator of any kind, this book is a must. It provides a solid and understandable overview of relevant studies about learning efficiently. I have read hundreds of books and articles over the last years and this one sums it all up.
The German alphabet is more or less like the English one. We have just got four more letters. One problem you might encounter though is the different pronunciation of German letters. Some letters or two letter combinations in German even have several sounds. Continue reading “The German Alphabet”→
Guest post by Kerstin Cable of fluentlanguage from the 10th of August 2015
There is a reason the Germans and Germany go by different names in different languages. When you travel to our country, you’re always travelling to a specific region too.
When you want to learn German, what does that historic heritage mean for you?
The German you are learning in online classes and textbooks is our standard dialect called Hochdeutsch and will help you understand the language anywhere. But did anyone mention the 26 dialects? Beyond distinct identities, our different regions also speak different dialects. Some vary so strongly from German that it becomes almost impossible to make out what we are saying even for other native Germans.
Once you get down to speak to a native speaker, perhaps in conversation training or in lessons, you’ll quickly realize that they do things a little differently. A rolled R or a curious idiom are all parts of the many German dialects. To find out where exactly you are, you don’t even need to ask your conversation partner. Their language alone is going to give it away.
In this article, let me introduce you to some of the most remarkable signs of German dialects.
1. How did your friend greet you?
In order to discover if your conversation partner is going to be using a strong dialect at all, take their greeting as a clue. Young people often greet with “hi!” and very formal environments ask for a “Guten Tag”, but beyond that the local colours come out to play.
The area around Hanover is famous for employing the clearest German in Germany and regarded by many other native speakers as accent-free. Going further South, the regional varieties become stronger and stronger, but Eastern Germany and Friesland also hold their own.
As a rule of thumb, the more rural your environment, the more obvious the speaker’s local dialect will be. Look out for the following ways of saying hello from the different regions:
Moin in Hamburg
Un?in the Mosel Valley
(G’n) Tach in the Rhineland
Servus in Bavaria
Grüß dich in various Southern regions and Grüezi in Switzerland
“…..” in Berlin (they have a reputation for not greeting at all!)
2. Listen to the R
German dialects run through the whole range of what a speaker can do with the R. The North gives it a gentle roll, such as when a Hamburger speaks of the steife Brise. The middle doesn’t really do much and reverts to the “French R”, a gentle sound created at the back of the mouth. And finally there’s the South: Bavaria, Austria…that’s the rolled R as you know it from the movies.
So if you want to produce an authentic German R, don’t worry about rolling or not rolling. Just don’t round your lips like you do in English and you’ll be on your way.
3. What’s for lunch?
The regions don’t just vary in language and landscape, but also feature their very own interpretations of German cuisine. Traditionally, Germans eat a warm lunch as their main meal of the day. But at any time of the day you can find something very regional. This map from zeit.de shows what’s for lunch where.
So next time you’re on a trip to the German restaurant, can you spot the authentic food beyond Schnitzel and Bratwurst?
4. A drink to go with that
Here’s a shocker: Germany may have a reputation as one of the true places of beer love, but not all Germans are beer drinkers. In fact, I think there’s something we love doing more than anything else when it comes to fizzy drinks. No matter if they’re alcoholic or not, your German, Austrian and Swiss friends will mix them together with gusto. This leads to fantastical creations like the filling Bananenweizen (wheat beer with banana juice) and refreshing Berliner Weiße (beer with raspberry syrup).
So if you want your German friends to reveal where they grew up, it takes nothing more than a trip to the nearest pub. Drink words are another giveaway to show you where someone is from.
Here are a few examples:
Words for sparkling water: Sprudel, Sprudelwasser, Wasser, Selters
Words for lemonade: Limo, Kracherl, Sprudel (confusing, much?!), Brause, Alsterwasser
Words for coke and lemonade mix drinks (yes, really): Diesel, Spezi, kalter Kaffee, Mexikaner
Words for beer-based drinks: Alsterwasser, Radler, Berliner Weiße, Panaché, Russe, Pots
Words for wine-based drinks: Schorle, Arbeitersekt, G’spritzter, saurer Gespritzter
If all that language has your head spinning, it’s simple to return to “normality”: Just switch on the evening news for a friendly “Guten Abend, meine Damen und Herren.”
And if you’re excited about learning German, I would love to invite you to join the VIP list for my new German course.
The list includes a completely free email series, guiding you through the most important points that you need to know so you can lose your accent, speak German with confidence and master every sound.
Kerstin is a native German speaker and has lived in the UK since 2003. She’s passionate about languages and has studied 7 languages. Kerstin is the lady behind the popular Fluent Language blog and has created Speak German like a Nativefor German learners, a course that focuses on helping learners develop better pronunciation and accent in German.
Also try out her free 7-day email series to boost your pronunciation skills at fluentlanguage.
I was asked, what I though about denglish and the anglification of the German language. Here are my thoughts on these topics:
Language is a living thing and is constantly (!) developing. Trying to control and regulate it is doomed to fail. All we can do is to analyze it and to try to understand it so that we can teach it to a certain degree. Trying to “protect” a language from new words is simply impossible, no matter how many regulatory boards you invoke. It also is a sign of fear of change and therefore of life. In my 40 years of existence I can guarantee you that life means constant change whether we like it or not. And I base that notion not only on my own experience. Just ask around and try to find someone who hasn’t changed since he or she was born. Let’s observe. No one is forced to use a certain word if he doesn’t like it. And no one ever should be. To forbid words or whole languages is a tool of dictatorships and therefore oppression. And I am so not a friend of these.
Denglish in Advertisements
Adverts are used to raise attention and address a specific crowd. I don’t see a problem here. Re-naming an “Information” at the Bahnhof into a “Service Point” could cause trouble to those who really don’t speak any English (while “Information” would be easily understood by English-speaking travellers) and therefore might not have been a wise choice. But also here, feedback is everything. If the Deutsche Bahn realises that there are less information-requests since the change, they might rename it again. If not, well… we are stuck with “Information Point”. While that is not the Denglish it is related and also in the eye of those who claim to want to “protect” the German language.
Babel reverted – The Future of Languages
One more thing that comes to my mind: the fact that languages are constantly being developed – which is a nicer term for Denglish – is a sign of evolution. It is extremely inefficient to keep 250 different languages up (not counting in the endless number of dialects). Just consider the costs for all the translations we need to communicate internationally. All the literature that is lost to billions of people, all the knowledge and wisdom. Consider the costs of mistakes in business due to cultural misunderstandings, which very often are strongly related to language issues. If we are going to make it on this planet (or others) together we will have to speak and write (more or less) the same language one day, whatever that language will be called by then. I will not live long enough to witness this, neither will you, but this is the future of any (!) language despite all resistance. And I wouldn’t worry about the loss of diversity. I’m certain those who come after us will find a way to distinguish themselves sufficiently or just be fine with being all the same. I can’t see that far into the future with my crystal ball and it is “müßig” to think about it at this place.
I get many comments on youtube of which all (non-troll) are just amazingly soothing. I would ilke to share them with you in this form. I went back approximately six month. Every feedback motivates me to improve my teaching and to create more material. So, keep it coming.
Thanks to all who have commented and who study or have studied with my videos. Without you my work would not be of any use. Ganz herzlichen Dank.
Endlich (At last)! Funny Germans tricking us into believing that, even if German is a bit trickier than it ought to be, we can crack it. And it seems to work – I’m a believer. I am just wondering whether the tango that plays under the closing credits (‘Pasional’) was chosen entirely at random, or from a deep German sense of irony? This is what the lyrics have to say to us, the German learning viewers: “… lo que es morir mil veces de ansiedad” – “… what it is to die a thousand times of anxiety” 😉
thank you so much for this, it helped a lot, other rules were hard to grasp, you cannot always think of everything when a word comes up while speaking, but these three mantras are amazing, very practical 🙂
Hahaha I was looking for this song to remember it from class. Poor girl is so embarrassed, it’s so funny to watch hahahah. Good job, this is a better version than what I learned in class 🙂 more videos with the cute shy girl!
Hello again. and what finely crafted wisdom do I impart today , this time on B1? None….just the usual, thanks for clear explanations, insights into the grammar which I have yet to deal with in depth and the pleasant videos. 15 mins , the lot.
great work and much [more] success. your mnemonic tips even in one video point the right way to go… I have been struggling with a Linguaphone “complete”course” for YEARS , 4 books , 15 cassettes… still explaining the case / article system half way through in a most laborious manner with not ONE single mnemonic. I did memorisation work however of the article/ case charts and finally it is paying off GRAMMATICALLY but not when it comes to speaking it , even now! No wonder people give up…utmost perseverance with that course.
Really, thank you for the beautiful advice. I was desperate from the German language, but when I saw you and your videos, especially the second and third lesson, made me feel hopeful. Thank you ..you are amazing :-)..
I’ve just discovered your channel. I am so happy that I find finally what I need. I start to learn German because I will be in Cologne next March with ERASMUS programme. I need to start from the first step. Thank you for this awasome videos. You are great 🙂
Ich komme aus Taiwan und lerne Deutsch jetzt, Das video ist sehr gut!!!!!!! Danke schön!
Hello, I just found your channel right now and I enjoyed watching your video ,you are doing great job , I have b1 test next month and can you please tell some advices .. I live In Austria Tirol ..and do you do on line course in skype for example and how its working ,, Many thanks , Rami
Great, innovative techniques, as always! Congratulations to you and to Maggie Jabczynski! By the way, I still owe you a complete review on your recent effort “Greek in 30 Days”. I still haven’t managed to see the whole series, but I hope I will do that soon. Bis bald, Michael!
Are you going to be doing another one of these series? I really enjoyed watching the progress of Ewelina over the 14 days. I believe I remember you saying that you like to do another one of these series (if people were interested). I would love to be a part of that next project!
hello,i realy thank you. becous of your helpful videos ,we are learning deutsch at home.we never been any deutsch corse,but we able to speak littil bit deutsch.jetzt ich habe ein frage,wie ich kaan finden [day 02 bis day 09 A1]. ich besuche aber nicht antwort.vielen dank
As someone who’s new to learning the language (by myself), I feel self-conscious (and might, at times, over-think) about how long/short my vowels are and if they’re long/short enough, so I appreciate your attention to that greatly. Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂
My beliefs are exactly the same. I was smitten too when I started learning German. Thoughts about how much there is to learn and where to begin from and how I am going to go about it made me so tired that I was feeling very lost. Your approach is also exactly the approach I was looking for too.
This is an updated version of my Article about Duolingo & Co. in a much gentler tone than the original article and a few modified insights.
Inspired by a few commenters, I would like to clarify a few things beforehand.
I do not offer a product or service similar to Duolingo or any other language learning platform. My videos solely focus on German grammar and my tuition costs 4.000€ or more. My videos are rather a supplement (!) to any other German course or software out there and it is highly unlikely that a Duolingo user switches to my private tuition. I personally don’t have any benefit nor do I take pleasure from criticizing other people’s hard work. Everybody is free to evaluate my material under the same standards and I welcome any constructive criticism as it helps to improve my material and my work. And I hope that is also the attitude of other producers.
Therefore it should also be clear that I do not compare my products or services to those mentioned in the article.
As for the intention to raise attention, sure, I would love you to check out my material, yet I sincerely figure that those programs and platforms that I discuss here do have significant flaws that you should be very aware of. But it is still up to you to use whatever program you like. After having read this article you can make a more educated decision.
All my claims follow solid reasoning. Should you have a better and proven argument or find a mistake in mine, I have no problem, updating it, as that is what improves my work. So far I unfortunately have not come across better arguments than mine.
Language Learning Softwares like Duolingo claim to help you learn German
While in the following I will refer to Duolingo, much of the criticism applies to any other language learning software out there. They are called Busuu, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, Tell Me More, Talk to Me, BliuBliu, Rocket Languages’ German just to name the most known language learning programs respectively language learning platforms. I will simply call them „Duolingos“ as that sounds the catchiest but they all suffer from the same problems. Just let me make one thing very clear at the beginning: The idea and the efforts behind Duolingo and it’s competitors is remarkable and absolute worth being further developed and acknowledged. Watch this entertaining and impressive TED-talk by Duolingo’s CEO Luis von Ahn to find out what it actually is all about.
The following article also wants to show that even in 2015 it is still a challenge to learn languages online or via software.
In my opinion you shouldn’t use any of the above softwares exclusively if you are serious about learning proper German in the shortest time possible. Some of them might prove as worthwhile add-ons to your regular learning as they seem to push ones motivation. Also if you don’t have access to any better resource or simply can’t afford standard tuition, then yes, you might want to play around with those.
In the following I would just like to raise your attention regarding relevant flaws so that you are aware of them and can find workarounds for them.
What am I Exercising Exactly?
Duolingo is a nicely programmed and optically well designed platform to learn a few languages. I am mostly concerned about German so I took a closer look this weekend and here is what I found:
I wonder what this exercise is about. There is nothing achieved by performing this task as you could still successfully solve this task even if you wrote anything in Marsian below the photos. You will come across such introductions every once in a while and they are pretty common among such programs. Rosetta Stone e.g. uses four pictures with solely the German term written below each photo so you associate the German word directly with the image. I can find some sense in that although it still lacks depth. But more about that later.
This is also a good example for the shallowness of many of the exercises that I have found in Duolingo & Co. Often there are only three options given as a possible answer. Which then can simply be guessed. A 33% chance is far to high to let anyone be certain about his achievements. They also don’t require any thinking but are mere acts of visual recognition. And that’s one of the easiest task to perform for your mind as it is a recognizing machine. You can recognize a man or a woman (or many other things and beings) from pretty far away solely by certain clues that you have been trained in or were born to see. Recognizing visual clues is necessary to understand but it is a very weak form of learning. After all you want to be able to understand and use language and not only recognize it visually, right?
Lost in Translation
There are much more challenging exercises in Duolingo that make up for this a bit. But one still has to remain attentive. Take a look at this screenshot here:
Again, the execution of the exercises is lovely. I especially like the ‚almost correct‘ and that they take it easy on the capitalization in the beginning while mentioning it. But as soon as there is more than one kind of mistake, Duolingo goes down on its knees. Do you see the ‚is‘ in the German translation? This even more serious mistake is overlooked by the machine and can as easily be overlooked by the man or woman in front of the screen even though the correct transcription is given in the green field.
Randomness Kills Interest
Another issue I see is that these translations are random. There is very little context as the sentence you have to translate are ripped out of their context. While that is still better than learning isolated words, our brain prefers greater context. Not for nothing do we love good stories and we wouldn’t read a bunch of isolated sentences to our children at bedtime.
Although Duolingo mentions the grammar, it doesn’t get clear in the exercise itself. But more about German grammar later.
If you provide information in its greater context, you don’t have to motivate the learner by adding fancy jingles or highscores. The motivation will come from understanding something intelligent in a foreign language.
To give you an impression of what I am talking about here a few examples. The following sentences were taken from consecutive exercises:
•Meine Freundin macht Internet-Seiten >> Darum sehen wir einen blauen Himmel. >> Ich spreche mit meinem Freund am Computer >> Ich habe keinen Hunger geha bt.
• My friend creates webpages. >> That’s why we have a blue sky. >> I speak with my friend at the computer. >> I wasn’t hungry.
Those are just random sentences even though the CEO claimed in his very interesting TED-talk that the examples in Duolingo would be ‚real content‘. He can only have meant those later exercises in which pretty advanced learners are confronted with translating real life articles into the chosen language. But until you get there you will have spent plenty of hours with the kind of information mentioned above.
Reden ist Silber…
All in all Duolingo offers all necessary kinds of exercises. There’s reading, writing, listening and even speaking. But the latter still seems to be in its beta phase as I wasn’t able to get the computer to understand what I was saying (just to remind you: I am a native German testing their German learning program) nor was I able to replay what was obviously recorded. I tried it on a fully functional 2011 Macbook Air with the newest OS, so that might be a specific issue with my machine. But I also tried it on a new iPad Air where it understood my speaking but I also could have said just anything and it would have been accepted as correct. So, when I was asked to repeat: ‚Ja‘ I would say ‚Nein‘ and get away with it, meaning the machine accepted it as ‚correct‘. I tried that several times with the same results.
And simply getting one’s utterances through the voice-recognition is not yet proof of correct speech as they usually have a quite high level of tolerance. Rosetta Stone (RS) and Rocket Languages (RL) seem to be exceptions. They also show the sound waves and compare yours to the original ones. That would be pretty neat feedback if it worked. I’m not sure anymore regarding the precision of that feature in RS but in RL it simply seems useless to me. Take a look at this screenshot of my try to pronounce a German sentence to understand my harsh conclusion:
The problem in Rosetta Stone as well as in Rocket Languages and Duolingo is that one just has to repeat what was spoken by the computer a few seconds ago. That’s not really a substitute for a conversation partner as you are not really using the language but merely copying what you hear. But this could be used to train your listening comprehension and auditive memory. It would be nice though if you had the possibility to deactivate the writing. But of course you can always close your eyes. Another issue I have with this feature is that you don’t really get corrected (except visually by being shown the sound waves in RS or RL). It seems that no software is capable yet of correcting your pronunciation or sentence melody and that’s often crucial to be understood properly.
It would suffice for now to have the option to be able to record your speech and then have the opportunity to play that back right after the original sentence so that you can compare your speaking to the original. I’m not certain whether RS is not offering such a function at this time (04/2015) and will take another look. RL offers this function and uses dialogues as context. That’s a huge plus.
I am a big fan of dictations. Duolingo offers mini-dictations that also give the learner the opportunity to slow the pace of the spoken sentence. But they have chosen to let a computer read the sentences that you are about to type. And while quite often that sounds surprisingly good, individual words are often mispronounced and deprived of their natural melody. Just one sample. Try to understand first before you read the transcription at the end of this article.
Democracy is surely a nice concept but I am not a big fan of it, when it comes German teaching. We have a saying in German: „Zu viele Köche verderben den Brei“, meaning „Too many cooks spoil the broth“. In Duolingo you often have the opportunity to discuss the translation of a sentence or even a single word. If you click on ‚discuss sentence‘ you can find users that ask questions or help others with their answers. You can rate each answer by voting it up or down. So far so good. This is a great idea for upper intermediate or advanced learners but for beginners I find that too confusing. It might be too overwhelming and you can not really be sure about the quality of an answer as you don’t know who has given it. Even the best German learner might have a few blind spots here and there that they then transmit to others. This leads me to my dearest point: the lack of grammar explanations and learning aids.
Grammar: The Ugly Stepchild
This is not the place to discuss the necessity and usefulness of solid knowledge about German grammar. You might find my point of view in many of my other articles on my blog here. While browsing through my learning tree I found some grammatical explanations in Duolingo but wasn’t be able to find them again once I was done with a certain chapter. There were also not too many of them.
Duolingo introduces tiny bits of German grammar in little speech bubbles as you can see in the second screenshot ‚all nouns are capitalized‘ which is a very nice idea but I can nowhere search for grammatical explanations except in the Discussion-forums. Luckily those have a search function which on the other hand requires me to know the grammatical term for what I’m looking for.
No Instruction on how to Learn German
I haven’t come across any instruction on how to learn things quicker or with less effort except in the main forum. And the advice that I had found was not really precise. The German language is often perceived as a difficult language but I honestly think that it is completely unnecessary as the basics are very quickly understood if explained the right way.
Another problem is that very often we make use of what we already know when learning a new language. That means we apply those techniques that we have acquired in school. Unless you had an outstanding German or other language teacher, your techniques are most likely self-tought and might be far from efficient. They probably did the job but you might already know how little is required to „just to the job“, right?
How to (not) proof Efficiency
I understand that Duolingo heavily relies on a numerous user base and the money of VCs. Providing both interest groups with an official study that ‚proves‘ that the program is helping people to learn languages is surely beneficial for this purpose.
Yet, when it comes to numbers I am always skeptical. Although I have thorouhgly read through the description of the study, I am left with quit a few significant questions:
If ~100 out of ~200 participants bailed out of the study, doesn’t that also say something about the quality of Duolingo or simply about the clientele that believes to be able to learn a language with its help?
Which elements of Duolingo are actually relevant for the found results and
how are they relevant for the progress that was measured?
What does the result actually say? I mean, what do I do with the information that „after working 34 hours in average with Duolingo the average of participants showed progress that is comparable of one semester in a language course at any college“?
How many hours of language instruction does a college student get?
How im portant are those classes for his or her success at the college?
Where do I find the control study/group that was instructed to work the same amount of time with their own or even without any (if such a thing is possible) method or help?
Isn’t the goal of most language learners to be able to speak that language? Why wasn’t the oral skill tested as well?
There were many other questions that came up while working it through but without the above questions answered any conclusion drawn from that study is merely worthless. And I apologize for being a bit harsh here but if you claim to have scientific proof, better make sure it is scientific. This study is far from it.
I am sorry to have taken apart such a good idea and also technically well executed product (with the exception of the audio/speaking part on my machines). But it is not Duolingo alone that doesn’t hold up to its claim to teach us the German language. All other softwares are also suffering from the same basic flaws: under- or overchallenging exercises, lack of greater context and lack of instruction (i.e. German grammar and language learning techniques). These programs are made for millions of learners and using software to individualize and optimize the language learning process is certainly the right approach. But until today the programs that I have discussed in this article are far from being more beneficial than a solidly thought through self-learner book like e.g. those from Assimil (German with Ease). I find them harmful in the sense that they take away valuable time and in my evaluation prolong the learning process unnecessarily. They also approach German learning in a very unnatural way, mainly monolingual teaching, isolated exercises often far from reality, no specific vocabulary training, bad speaking training.
I simply would like to make German learners aware of the fact that they could do much better if they hired a professional private tutor. I understand that flexibility, a great UX (DL) and low cost are factors that are tempting and might let one overlook the problems that I have mentioned. And as my last article seemed a bit hostile towards these softwares, let me assure you that I am the first to adapt good language learning software for my clients as soon as it exists. So far I am working with memrise and yabla.com. I also recommend learners to get their writing corrected at lang-8.com. Those are excellent pieces of work that solve a very concrete problem efficiently. But the software that solves all problems is yet possibly ten years away.
I have no problem with you using any of the programs that I have mentioned in this article. After all it is your lifetime and you are free to waste it on whatever you like. I wouldn’t use them at this point in time and that is my very personal conclusion that I have given you a few solid reasons for.
If you are looking for a well-designed German language course for self-learners, I can recommend the Assimil-German with Ease series with audio. The dialogues are boring though yet the concept is efficient and offline.
Should you like any of the Duolingos, that’s totally fine with me. I see no need to criticize or discuss your personal experience or preferences. Maybe I have been able to make you aware of a few traps on your path to learn German and you can now enjoy it even more.
Either way I wish you success with your German.
Transcription from audio (DL) above: Wir haben Jacken. We have jackets.
Someone recently asked, what are common typical mistakes German learners make. Here is my analysis of the last 20 years of dealing with all kinds of language learning and learners:
Setting realistic goals: Many German learners simply don’t set SMART goals, nor do they plan their learning properly or at all.
Underestimating the necessary effort necessary to be able to use the language freely and effortlessly. These learners begin to struggle and suffer as soon as their expectations are not met (and that’s very often pretty soon).
Learning the language for the wrong reasons: Learning a language because you hope (!) that one day you will find a better – i.e. better paying – job is like buying 50 packages of butter because you might get a 10% discount. While it certainly is true that learning a language might (also) yield such benefits, that path is an extremely cumbersome one.
Using inefficient tools: As a layperson it’s almost impossible to judge right away what works well and what doesn’t. There is an abundance of online-learning tools and even a bigger abundance of “experts” who recommend them even without financial but the more psychological benefit. Sure, those tools do something to your language learning, or better: they at least do not hinder your learning significantly at best. Our brains are learning machines and it is hard NOT TO LEARN something. We often associate random events with our successes and failures. You might know this phenomenon as “superstition”. And when it comes to language learning superstition is widespread. A bad advice is a bad advice, even if well-meant. Better than nothing doesn’t necessarily mean good. With the right tools you could save a lot of time and later frustration. Memrise is such a lovely tool for German learners. Another is Meister der Konjugation. Other than that you need a text book, a dictionary and a source for grammar (more formal approach or easier to understand), et voilá: you are set up at least regarding all necessary tools.
Using language learning techniques from school: Not many of us learn any significant language learning technique in school or university. We usually stick to those techniques that we have “invented” ourselves and that did the job. But doing the job is not the same as being efficient. Learning a new technique or following an approach that differs from what we know raises suspicion and causes discomfort. Yet, just like with almost anything else (except with eating icecream) all beginning is difficult. We can compare this phenomenon with learning how to type. You can certainly go through life (and university or both) by typing your way through with two fingers. But it makes the hell of a difference to be able to use all ten blindly.
Saving money at the wrong point: 1h with a professional private tutor might be worth the same as 10hrs in a group stuffed with random language learners. No amount of money can substitute quality of teaching. From a learning point of view what matters is the teacher and the group that you are learning with. So whether you spend 1.200€ / month at the Goethe Institut or 250€ / month at the Hartnackschule, what you get from it is not mainly determined by the price. What makes a good teacher you can look up here.
Believing in miracles: Yes, it’s possible to reach B1 in many languages from scratch in 14 days as I have proven but mainly for the pretty gifted and with a specialist at hand. 99% of learners will simply need more time than that, especially (!) when on their own. Estimate one year of constant (!) effort (3hrs/day) if not two years.
Overestimating oneself: That is not meant in any arrogant way. Learning a language just somehow without worrying too much about mistakes or pronunciation is simple and quickly accomplished even on one’s own. But learning a language properly on one’s own is a very strenuous and delicate undertaking. From my experience it’s rather a minority who is good at this and/or enjoys this. Of course this is just my subjective observation and feel free to prove me wrong as that would mean that you have achieved something really great. I couldn’t want more to be wrong in any other area of my life.
Last but not least: I wouldn’t mark “being afraid of making mistakes” as a mistake as this actually is nothing that you can consciously influence and is rather part of your psychological set up. If you are too afraid of communicating with others you might simply want to focus your language learning efforts on the other skills. Yet, I personally am a strong proponent of psychotherapy for overcoming inhibitions that hold us back to become who we truly are. That can make an immense difference for your ability to acquire a foreign language. But that’s stuff for another post one day.
So these are my two cents to the question of typical mistakes German learners make. Maybe you find yourself in some of the points above. I certainly have made all (!) of the above mentioned mistakes myself in the past and have paid with invaluable lifetime and suffered more frustration than I should have. Luckily I didn’t mess up my languages. But I’m highly analytical which is a huge benefit when learning languages. Yet, I have met many who have to walk around with broken German or English for the rest of their lifes (!) and I feel with them as that is hard to fix. Be wiser than me and try to avoid the above mentioned mistakes and you will experience your German learning as a wonderful journey with many surprises on its way.
How to sound like a real German – Hendiadis learned by heart
German hendiadis are combination of words that usually mean the same or at least something similar combined with „und“. This emphasizes the words’ meanings. The following hendiadis are very common and will upgrade your German significantly and make you sound like a real German. Don’t bother to figure out each word’s individual meaning as the differences are not only subtle but also will not be helpful for understanding their use in the hendiadi. Learn them by heart, where possible with help of the linkword technique and of course with help of memrise. You can find the most common hendiadi and some other interesting constructions in a ready made memrise course here.
Hendiadi – Meaning
ab und zu – sometimes/every now and then // Ich denke ab und zu noch an meine Ex(-Freundin)
in Amt und Würden – in exalted position // Seit 2012 ist die Kanzlerin in Amt und Würden.
angst und bange- scared // Wenn ich die dunklen Wolken am Himmel sehe, wird mir angst und bange.
Art und Weise – manner // Seine Art und Weise gefällt mir einfach nicht.
in Bausch und Bogen – lock stock and barrel // Sie haben meinen Vorschlag in Bausch und Bogen abgelehnt.
unter Dach und Fach – in the bag (coll.) // Das Geschäft ist unter Dach und Fach.
dies und das – this and that // Wenn wir uns nach langer Zeit wiedersehen, reden wir erstmal über dies und das.
mit Fug und Recht – quite rightly // Ich kann mit Fug und Recht von mir behaupten, dass ich ein ehrlicher Mensch bin.
Feuer und Flamme – to be on fire (coll.) // Ich bin ganz Feuer und Flamme von unserem neuen Chef.
frank und frei – openly and honestly // Peter sagt immer frank und frei was er denkt. Das bringt ihn manchmal in Schwierigkeiten.
Grund und Boden – one’s (own) land // Auf meinem Grund und Boden wird kein Casino gebaut.
Hab und Gut – worldly goods // Sie war spielsüchtig und hat ihr ganzes Hab und Gut verspielt.
Hans und Franz – every Dick and Jane // Den kennt doch heute jeder Hans und Franz.
Haus und Hof verlieren – to lose house and farm // Sie haben bei dem großen Feuer letzte Woche Haus und Hof verloren.
hin und wieder – every now and then // Hin und wieder gucke ich mal den Tatort (=German criminal TV-series).
kreuz und quer – criss cross // In der Panik liefen alle kreuz und quer über den Platz.
Kind und Kegel – with bag and baggage // Meine Freunde sind mit Kind und Kegel nach Canada ausgewandert.
klipp und klar – as clear as daylight // Du hast alle meine Fragen beantwortet. Es ist jetzt alles klipp und klar.
wie er leibt und lebt – That’s him all over. // Der laute Mann da hinten? Das ist der Wilhelm, wie er leibt und lebt.
Lust und Laune – to do sth the way one likes it/just as the fancy takes you // Sie können ihre Arbeit ganz nach Lust und Laune einteilen.
Lug und Trug – lies and deception/pack of lies // Das ist doch alles Lug und (Be-)Trug.
Mord und Totschlag – blood and thunder // Im Mittelalter herrschten Mord und Totschlag.
(ge)recht und billig sein – That’s only fair. // Wer arbeitet, soll auch vernünftig bezahlt werden. Das ist mehr als (ge)recht und billig.
Recht und Ordnung – law and order // Nach dem Bürgerkrieg müssen erstmal Recht und Ordnung wieder hergestellt werden.
mit Sack und Pack – with bag and baggage // Als sie erfahren hat, dass er sie betrogen hatte, ist Sie mit Sack und Pack ausgezogen.
samt und sonders – the whole lot
Saus und Braus – to live on the fat of the land // Der neureiche Millionär lebte in Saus und Braus bis er pleite war.
mit Schimpf und Schande – in disgrace // Sie haben den Dieb mit Schimpf und Schande aus dem Dorf verjagt.
hinter Schloss und Riegel – behind bars // Schlimme Verbrecher gehören hinter Schloss und Riegel.
schön und gut – fair enough // Dein Vorschlag ist ja schön und gut, aber ich sehe da trotzdem noch ein Problem.
Tag und Nacht – day and night // Ich arbeite Tag und Nacht.
Treu und Glauben – good faith // Ich habe ihm den Porsche in Treu und Glauben für 10.000€ abgekauft. Ich wusste nicht, dass er gestohlen war.
Tür und Tor öffnen – to open the doors to sth. // Wer Anhänge von unbekannten Absendern öffnet, der öffnet Viren Tür und Tor.
Wind und Wetter – (in any) wind and weather // Ich gehe bei Wind und Wetter mit meinem Hund Gassi.
ganz und gar – completely and utterly // Ich vertraue ihm ganz und gar.
einzig und allein – solely // Das hast einzig und allein Du zu verantworten.
geschniegelt und gestriegelt – prim and proper // Fonzy war sehr eitel. Er war immer geschniegelt und gestriegelt.
nie und nimmer – never ever // Das ist doch nie und nimmer wahr.
Ort und Stelle – then and there // Komm. Das klären wir an Ort und Stelle.
rank und schlank – lithe and lissom // Er ist rank und schlank. Kein Wunder. Er geht ja auch jeden Tag ins Studio.
voll und ganz (up) – to the hilt/entirely // Ich bin voll und ganz deiner Meinung.
Hinz und Kunz – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick, maker or simply: everybody // Zieh doch bitte die Gardinen zu. Es muss ja nicht jeder Hinz und Kunz in unser Wohnzimmer gucken können.
mit Rat und Tat zur Seite stehen – To help in word and deed. // Mein Supervisor steht mir mit Rat und Tat zur Seite.
nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen – to the best of one’s knowledge and belief // Politiker sollen Ihre Entscheidungen nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen treffen.
When I find the time I answer questions on different forums. Someone asked today what are the most important (grammar?) rules for a beginner German learner. I had the idea of such a post in my head for a long time so I took the opportunity to finally write it down. Here are my top 10 “rules” for anyone who would like to learn German efficiently. I hope it helps you on your path. Take care and viel Erfolg with your German.
To ask for things politely or express your desires also called wishes you will need the Konjunktiv II which is very (!) simple: use a form of “würden” (=would) + Infinitive. One example: Ich würde gerne einen Kaffee bestellen. (=I would “like” a coffee to order) The forms of “würden” are: ich würde, du würdest, es würde, wir würden, ihr würdet, sie würden. Done. Next.
Get a book and start reading it. Here’s the book that I have already prepared the vocab for at memrise. Any other book will do, too, yet you’d have to enter the new vocab into your own memrise course yourself. Do not exceed 25-30 words per level if you intend to do so.
Know what’s expected of you and check out these freely available model exams (there’s also videos showing you samples of an oral exam of each level): Goethe-Zertifikat B1 (other levels you will find in the left sidebar of that page).
Enjoy what you are doing, that mainly means that you should connect German to the things you love to do most as then it will not feel like work. It’ll still be an awful lot of work, but it won’t feel like it.I know the last four points are not actually grammar rules but they are rules of highly efficient German learning. I hope that these tips will help you getting started. There is much more to the German language and learning it but this will cover quite a lot of your path to your aim of proficiency. And if you are thinking about taking your German learning to the next level, you might want to take a look at my video courses and ebooks here (or just click on the dandelion = Pusteblume below)
Dear German learner, I absolutely understand your desire to find a tutor using English to learn German more efficiently. In using a language that you already understand well your tutor is able to explain things way more clearly to you than if she taught you solely in German. That is the most reasonable and efficient approach. Just because it is usually done otherwise doesn’t mean that it is the best method. I also share the Berlitz experience a user has mentioned. You will not easily find a school offering such services in form of groups. I have seen one a while ago, that took it lightly with using English in the classroom, but can not find it anymore. The best is to go for a private tutor which you can find for anything between 20€ and 80€ per lesson (i.e. 45mins). Find one that uses common sense and uses English as instructional language.
Here is why your request is reasonable and why you won’t find it in (many) language schools:
You UNDERSTAND quickly and can make immediate USE of it. Like this you have more time to practice CORRECT German instead of guessing around or at the least feel uncertain about it.
Grammar is a quite complex matter. Explaining something complex in a language that is not well understood is just unreasonable and creates frustration and uncertainty.
If the teacher can not explain things properly as she doesn’t have the tools (English language), she has to work with many examples. Next to being a waste of time, you are the one doing all the figuring out. Why would you pay for that? Isn’t that why we hire experts to explain things clearly and faultlessly?
The direct approach as this kind of teaching is called has not been proven scientifically i.e. measurably to be any more efficient than any other approach.
The concept is from the sixties and has widely been misunderstood. Just because one has to listen a lot to German, that doesn’t mean that everything has to be taught! in German.
We do not learn languages like children. We learn them also much faster. Considering that a learner learns best when she’s exposed to a language like when she was a child is jus bad didactics.
NOT IN SCHOOLS BECAUSE
Language schools in Germany need many students to run economically. It often so happens that there are students that are not able to understand English (or any other common language) so that the teacher has to refer to a language that everybody understands to the same degree. Ironically it is the language everybody doesn’t understand to the same degree: German.
Usually language schools have a high fluctuation of language teachers. Those have to be replaceable to run a school economically. As not all German teachers speak good English, this widens the range of available staff members for the school to chose from.
If a school teaches the monolingual way although the group is homogenous, i.e. e.g. speaking a common language, then they haven’t done their research and still believe those behaviorists from the sixties.
These points are not just my opinion. These are the results and the conclusions of years of experience and scientific and practical research. If you claim that teaching German solely in German is more beneficial for any learner and not just the tutor / school, prove that it is or tag it as your assumption. A good entry read not only for tutors is Butzkamm.