Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tipps zum Deutschlernen

One of the American exchange students I taught recently asked if I could share some tips for learning German so he could improve his language skills as quickly as possible. I started writing a handout on the topic and then decided to do it as a blog post I could share.

Although I'm focusing on German, most or all of these tips would work for any language.

Building Vocabulary

  • Learn 15 new words every day. Choose a topic and learn words in logical groups. Learning leads to remembering the words - just writing them down once isn't enough.

  • Always learn the article/gender (der/die/das) together with all nouns.
    It is also a good idea to learn the plural form right away.

  • Never say any word or phrase in your native language that you can say in German.

  • Keep a small notebook with you for writing down new words and phrases you come across.

  • Make flashcards to practice. Keep them with you and practice on the bus or train.
    It is better to draw a picture on the other side rather than translate it into your native language. For "der Hund," for instance, draw a quick picture of a dog rather than writing "the dog."
    Color-coordinate the nouns on your flashcards according to gender. 

  • Stick Post-it notes on things around the house or apartment (with the article!). Remove them only when you're sure you have learned the words.

  • Search online for flashcard drills like these shared on Quia.

  • Go to Osiander's bookstore in Esslingen and buy a vocabulary dictionary. Most are organized in topics. Picture dictionaries are most effective (less or no English).
  • Wherever you find yourself, look around you. Can you say in German everything you see that you can say in English? If not, ask someone "Wie heißt das auf Deutsch?" or jot down the English word and check in a dictionary later.
Can you name in German everything you see here?

on your own

  • Learn some common prayers in German (das Vaterunser, Ave Maria, table prayers)
  • If prayer is not your thing, memorize some poems or Zungenbrecher (tongue-twisters)!
  • Set your social media platforms to German! You already know where everything is...
  • Learn and sing along with Kinderlieder - children's songs!
  • Learn German pop songs popular now.
  • Listen to the radio and watch German TV.
  • Write your shopping lists auf Deutsch!  

Deutsch in Deutschland

These are opportunities not to be missed while you're in Germany because they're probably not possible back in your home country.
  • Just talk! When you are unterwegs (out and about), don't fuss about grammar and don't worry if you make mistakes. We all do! Don't panic if someone doesn't understand you right away; take a deep breath and try again.

  • Find a Sprachpartner/in! This could be your exchange partner, but chances are you've already established your friendship in English, and it's hard to switch. I recommend you find someone at school or in your neighborhood. A Sprachpartner is a native speaker of German who wants to practice his/her English with a native speaker. It's not about grammar, but rather about getting together for a chat. Speak for the first half of your time together in German and the second half in English. Meet at a café! Meet during a break at school. Go to each other's houses. Go on an outing! But make sure you speak half the time in German.

  • Find and read children's books - at the bookstore, library, or on your family's bookshelves.
The Kasimir books are my favorites! They teach how to do simple projects
along with helpful vocabulary words with pictures!
  • Buy a young reader's magazine - comic books are great! Read them until you understand them.

  • Do you have a favorite young adult book? Find the German translation!

  • Watch movies in German! Start with ones you are familiar with (Disney movies are great!) When you know the story, you can focus on the language. Avoid English subtitles (it's ok if you don't understand every word!), but German subtitles are fine.
  • Even strangers can be friendly and helpful. If you're in the bus/train and have a question, say, "Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Ich lerne Deutsch und habe eine Frage. Könnten Sie mir helfen?" Avoid this in a line (die Schlange) at a store, though. That's not generally a time when Germans are feeling patient. :-)

  • When someone responds to you in English, answer in German. They will eventually take the hint if you are consistent.

This is just a start of my recommendations for learning a language, and I have used every one of them myself. There's no doubt and no getting around it - learning a language (really learning it) is hard work. No one ever became fluent in a second, third, or fourth language by sitting around and waiting for it to happen.

The rewards of your hard work, though, are endless.

Viel Spaß und lern(t) schön!!

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