The key to learning a language is context. Learning in context gives meaning to the vocabulary and grammar one learns. If you just learn vocabulary by using lists, you are likely to use the words wrongly. Grammar often only starts making sense, when seeing it used in example sentences. Learning vocabulary as part of a sentence, helps with connecting new words with words you already know. But German grammar exercises need to be carefully thought through and well designed.
One way to learn with context are cloze tasks. They can be effective in increasing recall. When filling out gaps one has to consider the meanings of words. Once the meaning of the word is involved a different level of learning is engaged. Cloze tasks add a deeper level of processing because they embed the words in a particular context. Completing them will expose you to actual language usage.
When does one say zahlen rather than bezahlen? What’s the difference of können and dürfen? How about bringen and holen? If you check the dictionary, both of them essentially mean „to bring” or „to get”, the differences are subtle. All these differences are mostly based on context.
At smarterGerman we make use of Learnclick for creating cloze quizzes. Learnclick is a great tool for asking questions in context. Check out our interactive exercises for Lesson 01. When you hover over the i-icon, you will get a tip of what you have to enter into the gap. For instance, you will need to ponder which verb to use and how to conjugate it. Other exercises give you options as a dropdown list and you have to choose the correct German translation for a sentence. If you’re stuck, click on the button „I give up! Show me the answer(s)“.
Do you find yourself always making the same mistakes? Why don’t you try our German grammar exercises for free? You can access them in lesson one of our Everyday German online course here.
In summary, when learning a new word or grammar point try to understand the context and practice using it yourself more often.
Germans will be obliged to take integration test – Re-education upon failure
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.
I watched Arrival together with my 15 year old son, whose attention span is even worse than mine. We both were captivated by the wonderfully written story about humans trying to communicate with aliens who visited earth. Throughout the movie the humans try to figure out what the aliens’ intentions are by trying to establish some form of communication. If you want a more detailed description of the plot I can only recommend Wikipedia or even better, just watch the movie. The main focus of Arrival lies on linguist Louise Banks.
Show and Tell
Louise approaches her task to establish a form of communication first by trying to understand the spoken language of the Heptapods but soon realizes that that would take too long. So she decides to learn their language with help of written language and initially a show and tell approach. She finds out that the written language of the Heptapods is not a phonetical representation of their language. Linguist Betty Birner compares this with Chinese. You should read her interview after this article (link at the bottom).
Im Zweifel für den Angeklagten – Benefit of the Doubt
It takes a couple of months until Louise gains a basic understanding of the new language but at one point things turn around. This is when the Heptapods use the word “(offer us) weapon” as an answer to “Why are you here?”.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for you so I leave it at mentioning that Louise is warning the military, which is of course now even more alert, to come to quick conclusions as they are not yet certain whether both species have the same understanding of this word. An approach I usually recommend when you are in a foreign culture and feel offended or notice that someone is offended by what you have just said is not to take things personal unless you are absolutely sure they are meant that way. And to also keep in mind that people who don’t know you well usually do not abuse you without reason. If they do, it’s also rather their problem, not yours. I wish I didn’t have to gain this insight the hard way.
Language is not as Deterministic as one Might Think
While the language hypothesis that underlies this movie, namely that language determines your view and perception of the world and even the perception of time, is not very scientific (after all Arrival is a Science Fiction movie – see also interview with Betty Birner below), after more than 10.000 hrs of teaching German to over a thousand human beings from all over the planet, I fully agree with at least one conclusion of the movie: that knowing a foreign language can be a gift. And it’s not only a gift for you.
A new Language is a Gift
It’s a gift in several ways. Above all when you start learning German, you will get to know the real you. The part of you that is hidden behind your mother tongue. Without any (or almost no) means to express yourself, what’s left is who you really are. For most of us this feels very uncomfortable for a long time.
The Secret of good Language Learners
With growing knowledge of German you will build up a extended identity of yourself step by step. It is almost like taking yourself apart and putting yourself together again. This sounds worse than it is. It can be very exciting if you accept this instead of fighting it. And therein lies the secret of good language learners. They do not identify with what they can not express but with what they are able to communicate no matter how little it seems.
Knowing their Language Alone won’t make you Understand the Germans
In contrast to Arrival’s fictional deterministic assumption, knowing the German language alone won’t really give you any significant information about how Germans think and feel. For that you’d have to actually experience their culture and behaviour over a longer period of time and you’d have to analyse and compare it with your own culture and behaviour. And what a gift this is because it is like looking into a mirror of truth, in which we can see our true selves. A good starting point to take a safe look at the German culture is the book “Doing Business with Germans” which presents several incidents that non-Germans had with Germans and tries to interpret these carefully. Don’t worry about the “business” in the title. It will give you a solid range of possible interpretations for the behavior of Germans.
A good gift Always Makes two People Happy
When you are learning German it is also a gift for the ones that you are learning it for. Germans highly appreciate when someone makes an effort to speak their language. It will establish a whole different kind of contact between you and them which will also make you feel a lot better. After all, if you live in a German speaking country I assume you want to feel as much as home as possible. And the more you understand the world around you, the more at ease you will feel. The more at ease you feel, the easier your life might be.
Worauf wartest du noch? The best moment to learn German is now. We at smarterGerman are happy to accompany and support you on this exciting journey. Talk (German) soon.
When looking into studying the German language, you may come across the abbreviations of A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. But what do they mean? These abbreviations indicate levels of the Common European Reference Framework (CEFR), a way to standardize language learning and teaching across Europe, no matter which language. According to the Framework, the principles behind this is to “improve the quality of communication among Europeans of different language and cultural backgrounds… this is because better communication leads to freer mobility and more direct contact, which in turn leads to better understanding and closer co-operation” See more here
The three different language levels: A, B and C
According to the guidelines put forth in the Framework, these language levels can be broken down to three categories: the A level represents a “basic user” of a language, able to answer simple and direct questions put to them such as what time it is, introduce themselves and talk about their family in a basic manner, and so on. This level generally assumes that the user of the language will regularly need help or prompting from native speakers. The B level represents an intermediate or independent user of a language – this kind of user might not need as much prompting from native speakers, and can give reasons and explanations in the language they are trying to use, but might still need correction on the finer points of grammar, idiomatic usage, slang, and regional variation. A C level user is marked with proficiency in both spoken and written forms of a language, recognize implicit meanings, and can express ideas spontaneously, even if on a topic they are not already interested in.
Different tests, students and requirements
Different organizations provide different estimates on how long reaching each level would take assuming regular instruction in a language. Attaining A1 level (from a point of no previous knowledge of a particular language) has been estimated to take between 60 – 80 hours of instruction by both Deutsche Welle and Alliance Française. While language courses and institutions try to standardize their goals and proficiency markers to align with the CEFR, the CEFR itself provides no particular methodology for attaining these levels of proficiency. In this way it is similar to test-based evaluations of language learning such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) – while there are certainly study guides and classes specializing in trying to get you to reach a certain level of recognized proficiency, it also depends on the student learning those languages, their own resources (how much money they can spend at language institutions or traveling abroad to study, a tutor, books, etc) and other factors. The TestDaF (Test Deutsch auf Fremdsprache) corresponds loosely to the CERF levels of B2 and C1, as the test is meant to assess whether a student has the German language skills necessary for academic study in Germany, and is thus not suited for beginners. Meanwhile, the Goethe-Institut has adapted their certificates and levels to match the CERF levels. For people studying German in the United States, please make sure that the CERF levels are being used or that your language institution has equivalency tables: at universities in which German courses are offered, your German teacher or head of the languages department may be better able to offer advice.
I often get contacted by companies who are looking for in-house German lessons for their employees. This is what I tell them, why they should look for a better solution than in house language lessons.
To be bluntly direct, in my opinion, most in-house German lessons are a complete waste of money and lifetime. They demotivate learners in the long run and your employees might end up with broken German which is incredibly hard to fix.
This article names the reasons behind this and offers a cost-sensitive solution based on the materials and services developed by smarterGerman.
LONG VERSION (MAX 10 MINS)
In-house German lessons are a often complete waste of money and (even worse) of your employees’ lifetime and motivation
(German) language classes in a group simply do not work no matter what size. This is due to the following reasons:
The Turtle and the Hare: Language learners are rarely on the same level which means that one is usually faster than the other. The faster learner has to slow down, the slower learner knows that the faster one has to wait for him. Or the slower learner has to race after the faster one. Either way not an ideal situation.
Bad Input: In a German learning group of 5 participants there is only one who speaks proper German: the teacher. That means 5 out of 6 times when someone speaks you hear bad German. And what goes in comes out.
Inefficient Correction: We don’t really learn from the language mistakes of others. The teacher can’t correct everybody all the time and if she does, she most likely corrects a mistake that the other participants wouldn’t have made as mistakes are strongly dependent on a learner’s background and learning psychology.
Immersion: Complex matters like the German grammar require clear and concise instructions in a language that the learner clearly understands. If your German tutor only uses German to teach German, you might want to consider changing to another provider as this approach is outdated since the 70ies. Watch this video for more information.
Homework: Homework is the essential ingredient to successful and rewarding German learning, because you only learn from constant repetition and use. Usually course participants are not given sufficient homework if any at all. This homework is rarely checked or valuable course time is wasted on homework checking that the participants could have done themselves if properly instructed.
Nobody seems to care about learner’s progress: A friend of mine is the head of a department in a big concern and said that while the language school they hired for language training protocolled the learners’ progress, no one in his company ever looked at that. I’m not even sure the learners themselves were shown these reports nor whether they were actually interested.
Missing Intimacy: Learning the German language is actually a very personal matter. One often feels insecure, dumb or simply vulnerable when trying to speak the new language. Those are all feelings one doesn’t really like to share with coworkers but they are a natural part of the language learning process and can be easily dealt with in a protected environment.
Missing Opportunities to Speak: In most international companies English is the working language. But even if one could communicate in German, at work things have to go smoothly. So there’s often not enough time to speak slow German. Either one is already fluent or one has to use English. After an 8-9 hour work day one is happy to head home and not spend another 90mins in the office even for such pleasant events like a German class. At home most learners also speak English or another language than German. Short: There is very little opportunity to practice one’s German even in real life. In classes there are opportunities but the topics one talks about are often artificial and generic. As a language learner, I always found role playing to practice dialogues embarrassing.
The Solution: How to help your employees learn German Efficiently
There are even more reasons that speak out loud against in-house language training in a group but in my opinion these are the key reasons. Now you might wonder what might be the solution to this quite delicate matter. Here is my suggestion in short:
Individualized Tuition in combination with blended learning
The key to many of the above issues is to provide employees with individual tuition combined with blended learning. While one on one lessons in German might seem more expensive at first glance, when looking at the desired outcome they are the only way to go. But you can still achieve good results with a lot less money than you might think.
Der Goldene Mittelweg
Most German learners do not need a German private tutor every day. All they need is some assistance and someone to practice their German with without having to be afraid of making mistakes.
Use smarter German Learning Materials and Learn to Learn
I suggest to use the smarterGerman Starter Kit (soon to become an online German course, ETA 08/2017) for your employees. This Starter Kit provides German learners with a solid and easy to adapt learning structure and easy to follow German learning materials. The German grammar is explained in simple and concise words in English and the accompanying exercises are intelligent and not predictable. Key to our material is that the German learner learns how to learn more efficiently. The majority of language learners is still applying language learning techniques from middle school.
I have developed a learning technique based on intensive study of learning patterns of hundreds of students. The aim of the Starter Kit is to make the learner independent of any teaching as soon as possible. With our materials learners can study whenever and wherever they like.
Work with a German Conversation Trainer
Most of the learning process can be outsourced with help of our online German learning materials. But the speaking needs to be practiced with a (near) native speaker. Unfortunately not many native speakers make good conversation practice partners. There are a few things that need to be considered. A conversation trainer needs to have knowledge of the learning method and needs to be able to correct sensitively and intelligently. She also needs to establish a good connection to the learner as that will help with her motivation.
Learning German can be quite overwhelming especially when trying to approach this task on one’s own. That’s why we offer dedicated learners weekly live Q&A sessions in which they can ask me, Michael Schmitz, the creator of smarterGerman, any question they like. Those weekly sessions are not teaching lessons. They are there to make sure that our customers know how to make the most out of our materials and have someone to refer to when they encounter a motivation low or struggle with a certain topic. Often it is just a little nudge that makes the difference between failure and success.
Cheaper than your Current System
With the above approach you will most likely pay even less than you currently pay for your language training but at the same time you will get a lot more individualized training for your employees which will lead to better German, higher motivation and happier employees.