It’s easy to give tips on pronunciation, listen to movies and TV in German, but how can you practise your new-found vocabulary and “Ü”s and “CH”s? Here are a few tips to help you integrate learning the German language into your daily life.
When encountering German words you don’t know, don’t use a translation dictionary. Instead, use a German one, and let the German definition tell you what it means.
The Duden is the main German dictionary. (By Users Igelball, Stefan Kühn via Wikimedia Commons)
If you don’t know the words in the definition, look them up – you might get the meaning from them. This is obviously for advanced students. The standard German dictionary is the Duden.
Lists are boring, alphabetical and impractical. Instead, take small-format index cards (A6 is my favourite) and write the word in English on one side and German on the other. Don’t forget to always write the article and plural on the German side so you learn them, too.
Then take a bunch of cards, mix them up, and start learning. If you have trouble with some words you can put them aside and work on them more intensively.
You can put them in playing card holders and bring smaller or larger packs with you wherever you go, or leave them at strategic places around the house for a quick little vocabulary lesson while on the loo or waiting for the coffee machine to finish brewing.
Remember to mix up your packets regularly and learn them in both directions to really consolidate your vocabulary.
Physical flash cards have the advantage over vocabulary apps that you are writing down the words, which in of itself helps memorization. If you really prefer that light, handy digital device that also has all your music and telephone numbers, the Anki app lets you make your flash cards yourself. And if you are a visual learner, you can upload pictures and videos, too.
More of a visual learner? Instead of writing down the English word, print out a picture illustrating the thing.
Or put little post-its around the house with the German words for “table”, “cupboard”, “knife” etc. and say what you doing in German as you do it (tell family and housemates what you are doing, first, so they don’t get worried).
The website of the public German TV station ARD has a visual dictionary for learning German words, aimed at refugees.
The beginner level of duolinguo’s online German course lets you discover words for yourself using a visual hint. That is helpful in freeing yourself from translating your thoughts from English – that way, you associate the word with the thing from the start, rather than with another word.
Many books and German learning websites offer little scenarios to introduce vocabulary, often a dialogue exchange. This helps form context associations and make it more likely you will remember the vocabulary in that or a similar situation.
Babbel.com offers little dialogue segments in which the same elements are mixed up and even taken apart. You hear them spoken and can, if you have a microphone, say the words yourself when practising (or not).
This German vocabulary trainer app offers different ways of learning and applying your vocabulary as well as an audio file for each word.
This one from the Goethe Institute is better for a higher level of vocabulary and challenges your knowledge in new ways with different little games such as crossword puzzles or memory games.
Write down what you did every day. At first you might just look up and write down a list of words that describe your day.
Writing down in German what you do each day helps you learn vocabulary and grammar. (Photo via Visualhunt)
It might look like this:
But try to integrate them into small phrases as soon as possible, for example:
Ich bin um 7:00 aufgestanden. Ich habe Müsli gefrühstückt. Dann ging ich zu meinem Deutschkurs. Ich hatte Nudeln für das Abendessen. Vroni und ich sind ins Kino gegangen und haben einen Liebesfilm geguckt.
Don’t feel obliged to put down your whole day or your most intimate feelings. Do try to add one or two new words every day, or find other ways of saying things.
(I went to the movies could be ”ich bin ins Kino gegangen”, “ich habe mir einen Film angeschaut”, “ich habe einen Film geguckt” “ich habe “Tanz der Vampire” gesehen”).
If you are creative, try writing short stories in German to really challenge your vocabulary and practice your spelling.
Again, watching films and series in German is a wonderful way to practice your German understanding.
First watch with German subtitles, or watch once in English so you know the plot, and then again in German.
With modern mobile devices, you can watch on the Tube or while on an exercise machine, too.
Once you are used to hearing German in an easy-to-understand context, use YouTube videos in German instead of English to bake that “Sachertorte” or sew your own “Dirndl”.
The step-by-step instructions are presented visually, with the right vocabulary accompanying the gesture. Some even have German subtitles. Chefkoch.de has a YouTube channel for cooking; all the recipes are also available on their website in written form.
L’Oréal Deutschland offers makeup tips, or for the handymen among you, Hornbach (a hardware store) offers do-it-yourself tips on their channel.
I have chosen three professional channels, but of course there are countless private German YouTubers out there ready to help you. Once you feel confident, watch German news – the public German network, ZDF, has some online videos with their most recent segments.
This is obviously the most difficult to do. Ideally, to learn to speak German you would spend some time in a German-speaking country and soak up the language by being in the very middle of it. Remember that there are regional differences in German. The Goethe Institute offers language immersion courses in Germany.
If you are looking for a longer experience, try au-pair programmes to Germany. Be sure to read comments about the programme you are considering to see others had a good experience with it.
It should offer an easy and uncomplicated switch if your host family doesn’t suit and, ideally, German lessons (some partner with German language institutes).
You should not be paying anything (except possibly for the lessons) and should receive a small allowance for personal items.
However, remember that most people looking for au-pairs are working couples with children. You will be expected to work for your food and board, either watching the children or doing housework or both. If you feel uncomfortable around children, au-pairing is not for you.
Or consider studying for a semester in Germany. Contact your college or university for their foreign semester programmes.
If you are working for an international firm, they might be willing to station you in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Talk to them about it; many companies appreciate someone willing to be flexible and acquire new skills.
Learn German colloquialisms and slang to help you integrate to life in Germany.
Naturally, we at Superprof suggest you take lessons with one of our qualified tutors and speak German with him or her as often as you can.
Many German learning websites offer forums for discussing problems or simply speaking in German with other students. For example, the Goethe Institute offers “Deutsch für Dich”, an online community for students of the German language.
Learn German using Online Forums (Photo via the Goethe Institute)
This has two disadvantages, though: people writing in imperfect German and no one to correct your mistakes.
However, if you have a special interest or hobby, consider joining a German forum or Facebook group with the same interests. Talk about gardening, coin collecting or the latest superhero film with like-minded Germans.
You might consider putting the fact that you are not a native speaker in your signature, as well as whether or not you welcome grammar corrections to your posts.
(You might prefer to read native German but not have to shrink back in fear that your post will attract 50 answers merely correcting your use of the language. This should be fun and motivating for you.)
Language exchange or language tandems are a simple concept. For example, an English student of the German language meets with a German student of the English language. They meet or chat online (or over What’sApp, or Skype, or however) and spend some time speaking in one language and one in another.
Or you might find a German native speaker willing to simply speak with you rather than tutor on grammar and vocabulary.
Several websites offer language exchanges in Britain: here and here, and of course others that are purely online. If you decide to meet your new language partner live, plan your first exchange in a pub or other public meeting place. Most offers will probably be honest, but it is important to stay safe.
Also be sure you delineate how much time you want to spend on each language. Easiest is to meet twice a week, if your schedule permits, with each meeting dedicated exclusively to one language.
Try and define a topic for each meeting – a movie you should both watch beforehand, planning your holidays, or an element of the culture you want to know more about. Avoid politics and religion.
Setting a subject beforehand lets you prep your vocabulary and makes sure you have something to talk about – after all, you’re not there to grin shyly at each other wondering what to say. After that, if the chemistry is good and you stray from your subject, that’s all right – after all, practising normal conversation is what you’re there for.