Learning German is not easy. I am fully with you if you’re struggling to remember the random genders, master the pronunciation of umlauts, and move one part of the word to the end of the sentence – sometimes.
A languages degree provided me with a solid foundation, but is by no means the sole reason that I became fluent in German. I graduated in 2013 – so there’s been plenty of time to forget the plusquamperfekt along with everything else. There’s no ‘get out of jail free’ card, but if you start doing the following, you’ll German will improve in no time.
1. Be efficient
I’m not sure that my German teachers would be happy with this one, but it does adhere to German efficiency – so I’m going to share a secret. When first learning German, I focussed on being able to communicate, rather than actually understanding everything.
Let’s take the word ‘doch,’ for example. There’s no direct English translation, so when sat in a classroom at school, I just couldn’t quite grasp how to put it into practice. Rather than getting hung up on ‘doch’ and spending hours trying to learn it from a text book, I decided to focus on areas that I knew I would be able to understand. So, after all that studying did I only learn how to use ‘doch’ after living in Germany for a few years – maybe 🙂 But had I already mastered all 16 ways of saying ‘the’ – hell yeah!
2. Expose yourself
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Exposure. Is. Key. And it’s even possible if we are in and out of lockdowns – you have to make German a part of your everyday life, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re constantly doing homework. Watch Netflix with German sub-titles, follow German Instagram accounts and listen to German podcasts. If you’re looking for a starting point, check out the accounts I follow on Instagram – there’s loads of German ones in there.
3. There’s logic in this madness
German can drive you crazy (trust me, I know), but there are a few logical rules worth following, and they make the world of a difference. Learn them, memorise them, and use them when putting your German into practice. Here’s a few to get you started:
a) Sentence order is always ‘time, manner, place.’ I’ve done a whole blog post on this one.
b) There is a list of words that boot the verb to the end of the sentence. They’re waiting for you here.
c) All words that end in ‘ung’ are feminine (die)
d) All nouns start with a capital letter. Yes, ALL of them.
e) Every word that ends in ‘chen’ is neutral (das)
4. Accept that you may not always feel 100% like yourself
When I relocated to Germany, so much of my language learning experience was about listening to what others were saying and focussing on comprehension rather than my own input. At one point someone referred to me as being ‘quiet’ (which I am far from), but that’s because they only knew the German-speaking Alisa, who wasn’t actually doing much speaking at all!
I wasn’t at a point where I felt I could express myself in the way I wanted to, which was sometimes challenging. But I was at a point where I could walk away from spending time with people and know that I understood everything that was said – woohoo! This was a HUGE achievement!
The expressing myself came later, very much in baby steps, but I did get there. Just be patient with it. You can read more on my experience of this here.
5. Fluency is subjective
The better I became at German, the more linguistic goals I set myself. I was fluent but still wanted more, to the point where I was asking myself ‘When will my level of German ever be enough for myself?’
My advice to you, would be not to aim for ‘fluency’, because this term in itself is quite vague, but instead, to set yourself small, realistic goals that will motivate you to keep going and continue achieving in German. Goals could include:
- Memorise 5 boots words that you use regulary
- Order a meal with confidence
- Speak to a friend in German for 30 minutes every time you see them
- Learn how to describe what you do at work in German
Setting and achieving managable goals will make your experience so much more enjoyable!