Yesterday I have spoken about what to look for in an excellent private German tutor. For 99% of German learners there is no way around having a professional guide. But a guide is just a guide, the actual work still has to be done by you. But there is an incredible way to reduce your daily workload and to learn much more in a very short time: conscious listening.
There is no such thing as passive learning
I have been researching ways to learn things faster for over 20 years now and have come across all possible promises. And none, I repeat, none has been kept. One of the most dangerous beliefs out there is the belief that you can learn a language by merely listening to it while you are doing other things. Those who promote that kind of behavior call it: passive listening. They claim that like that you simulate a stay abroad during which you would be surrounded constantly by the language that you are about to learn. And simply by exposing you to this ‚foreign-language-noise’ -because that’s what it is if you are not listening consciously to it- should help you to pronounce the language better and also to pick up a word here and there. I have very serious doubts about these claims.
You don’t hear what I say
If you are older than twenty, your listening is fully developed. You have fine-tuned your ‚ears‘ (actually it’s your brain doing most of the work) to pick up many, many nuances of spoken language in your mother tongue. That enables you to understand different voices or dialects in your own language and makes perfect sense. You have built a very efficient noise-filter for the sounds that you are usually exposed to.
Now comes along the German language e.g. which simply contains certain sounds that differ from everything you have heard before and were trained for. It is out of your listening range! Any word I would say to you would always be filtered through your English noise-filter. You will get the idea of what I say because your brain is actually a very powerful understanding machine, but you will not be able to hear the exact sounds that I have been using.
Don’t give up yet. There is hope!
The bad news is, unless you are a musician or grew up with several languages and therefore having a broader register of sounds that you are able to recognize, you will never be able to hear proper German. The good news is, that you don’t need to! Your brain is incredibly capable of understanding and imitating spoken language. All you have got to do is to recalibrate your noise-filter in your brain and imitate the new sounds.
But this recalibration needs your full attention. It is not going to happen on its own by simply exposing you to the German language. As I have mentioned before. If you don’t listen to a new language consciously, it is mere noise, doesn’t make any sense and your brain will simply filter it out.
How to practice conscious listening
From my own experience as both a language learner and German tutor I find dictations an invaluable tool to recalibrate your noise-filter, actually THE only tool promising significant results. Give it a try on one of the pages or with any of the apps in the link section below. It is extremely helpful if you do them right. But that is stuff for another post.
Where to find material for dictations
A book by Hueber Verlag
There is a book by the Hueber Verlag called ‚Deutsch Üben 12-Diktate‘ (click the title) that is worth every cent of its 26€. Over 80 dictations sorted by their difficulty from A1 to B2. Go for it.
An app made for German kids
Then there is an app for advanced students as it was written for German kids learning German in regular school. But it will teach anyone how to write properly. The only disadvantage is that you can not print out the texts and learning the vocabulary becomes a bit painful. But if you are after your B1 exam, you might want to go for it. Click here to come to the app description (iPhone only, I have got no idea if there’s an Android or Windows version out there. Let me know in case you find something.)
The Slowgerman podcast
And last but not least, partially for free: The Slowgerman podcast (click the title to come to their homepage). Plenty of interesting German culture related texts spoken slowly but not too slow with a clear and nice voice by Annik, the blog-host. She also offers ‚Learning Material’ for little money that you might want to consider buying. She also offers an iPhone app.
This is more than enough material to get started. Stay tuned until tomorrow for the last part of this series on how to master the German language in three steps. There will be an instruction on how to work efficiently with dictations by the end of this week.
Thanks for reading this far. Have a good day.
Continue with Step III-Mind your words (coming 29th of October)
*I choose the gender in my texts arbitrarily and of course always refer to all genders.