German language

Learning German: Passing the critical stage

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American Emily Rasch offers some tips on how and where to learn the German language, and enjoy it.

Learning German is easier said than done. There are plenty of books, programmes, and methods on how to do it successfully, however the most important thing to realize is that it takes both time and persistence.

In a busy world, time isn't always easy to come by--particularly if you are moving to Germany for work. Some companies will include language courses with expat packages, so that is definitely worth inquiring about during negotiations. Even having a brief knowledge of German will exponentially increase the quality of life here, whether it for understanding a changed train schedule, visiting the doctor, asking directions, or reading a menu.

Being forced to learn the language can lead to some interesting situations, so it certainly helps to have patience and a nice dose of humour. The process can be exciting, frustrating, and sometimes downright scary.

Shortly after I arrived in Munich, a linguistically savvy friend visited. She had not studied German, but was eager to learn simple and useful words. We were at a café and she asked me how to order a coffee to go. I could not recall how to tell them she wanted to take it away. Rather than saying anything in English or motioning I told her to say 'Los!'  While it does in some sense mean 'to go', it translates better to 'move it'. One simple word and the barista thought we were rude and impatient. Of course, her coffee arrived in a mug rather than the paper cup she was hoping for. We kept quiet.


Language schools and integration courses

If you're already living in Germany, it's essential to find a good language school. Ask other expats about their experiences. Surprisingly it's not always the most expensive schools that have great teachers. Depending on the type of visa you have, it's also possible that you qualify for discounted integration courses or you may be required to take courses from certified schools. These courses often comprise a large mix of people from various cultures and all walks of life. Attending classes is actually a lot of fun, because everyone unites over facing similar situations and navigating a new culture. Some of my closest friends are from other cultures and we've learned to speak German as a common language. From my experience, finding a school with a small class size was ideal, because it enabled plenty of speaking time.

Meeting native speakers

Hearing locals pronounce the words also helps, though meeting native speakers can be difficult in the beginning. Many foreigners complain that Germans are 'cold' and the social network is more formal.  A fantastic resource for those that would like to do a language exchange is SprachDuo.

 

Learning German


Germans aren't known for their flexibility, and this can unfortunately carry over to not appreciating that it  takes time to learn a foreign language.  At the beginning, I had instances where people asked flat out why I didn't speak better German. Grocery store cashiers and the elderly seem to be the most direct. Sometimes the natives fail to realize that language doesn't work by osmosis, and often they have never attempted navigating daily life in another country with a different language. The other issue is that  people often respond in English. Some are simply impatient, while others are eager to practice English themselves. When this happens I just repeat myself in German until they listen to what I am saying. Repetition is important.

Keeping it fun is the key, and the good news is that every small milestone is reminiscent of learning to tie your shoes or ride a bicycle. It takes a lot of effort and fearlessness, but once you are determined you soon realize the persistence pays off and the quality of life is dramatically better.

Whenever I travel, I make an attempt to learn several words and phrases. It's incredible to see someone's face light up if you try. For that you can print out cheat sheets at Single-Serving. Another idea is to get a visual dictionary like one of my favourites from DK and cover objects around your home or office with post-it notes with their name in German. Make sure you don't forget the article for every noun! They will help in taking some complexities out of the grammar, which is one of the most challenging aspects of the German language.  

Websites for learning German

For those with more time, there are several terrific websites catering to people who are diligent, but not always able to attend a class. One is Live Mocha and the other is Lingq. They have different programmes and methods of learning, but provide a variety of reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities that certainly help.

 

Language schools and integration courses

If you're already living in Germany, it's essential to find a good language school. Ask other expats about their experiences. Surprisingly it's not always the most expensive schools that have great teachers. Depending on the type of visa you have, it's also possible that you qualify for discounted integration courses or you may be required to take courses from certified schools. These courses often comprise a large mix of people from various cultures and all walks of life. Attending classes is actually a lot of fun, because everyone unites over facing similar situations and navigating a new culture. Some of my closest friends are from other cultures and we've learned to speak German as a common language. From my experience, finding a school with a small class size was ideal, because it enabled plenty of speaking time.

Meeting native speakers

Hearing locals pronounce the words also helps, though meeting native speakers can be difficult in the beginning. Many foreigners complain that Germans are 'cold' and the social network is more formal.  A fantastic resource for those that would like to do a language exchange is SprachDuo.

When all else fails and frustration sets in read  Mark Twain's essay The Awful German Language. It will provide laughs and understanding the jokes provides extra encouragement that you're making progress.

 



EmilyEmily Rasch is an American expat from Ohio who loves to travel. Visit her blog at http://munichbavaria.blogspot.com/

 

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Tom posted:

    on 15th November 2011, 23:28:52 - Reply

    Hi Denise,

    Just found your comment, i'm interested in a language exchange, i'm trying to find you on Expatica but so far no luck :( Ah well, I'll keep checking back!! :) Hope to speak with you soon!!!!

    Tom
  • EditorDE posted:

    on 14th September 2011, 13:44:47 - Reply

    Hi Denise,

    I think that loads of expats in Germany would be interested in your language exchange. Why not join the Expatica Community and post your offer.
    http://community.expatica.com/

    Good luck!
    EditorDE
  • Denise posted:

    on 2nd July 2011, 11:50:21 - Reply

    "Many foreigners complain that Germans are 'cold' and the social network is more formal"
    Funny, I´ve known quite a few Americans and Brits who seemed `cold´ to me. Appeared to me, they want to stay with their own kind and their own kind alone, which poses an interesting question: What are they doing here? Just earning money? I´d like to offer a language exchange,
    being bilingual and a German nativespeaker, but so far no luck.