If you’ve set your sights on learning to speak German for one reason or another, it is important that you get real and remember that acquiring a second language isn’t going to happen overnight.
Although the speed at which you pick up a language will be dependent on a variety of factors, like your susceptibility to picking up a foreign language, whether or not you take classes and which resources you use, there are ways that you can attempt to accelerate the process.
I came across a polyglot blogger who suggests that German can be learnt to a very high level in just three months by immersing oneself in the language. By this, they mean plunging head first into German life and culture by setting up a ‘mini Germany’ in your home and changing your entire perspective on your usual surroundings.
Ultimately, they explain that you must almost switch your mindset from being an English speaker to a German speaker, in order to truly reach the goal you have set out for yourself.
Some examples of their proposed techniques are changing language settings on home and mobile devices, watching German-speaking movies or television channels (minus subtitles) and listening to German audio, such as Deutschland Funk radio.
Though some of the proposed methods of self-teaching aren’t completely achievable for many (for instance those living in a house with a number of dependents who may not have total control over their environment), more useful are their suggestions like trying to converse with native speakers from day one, focusing on the easy parts of the language first and foremost and using different learning techniques to memorise vocabulary and phrases.
One of their best pieces of advice, however, is to determine from day one what your purpose for learning German is – as without a target you will fail miserably!
The one and only way to really learn a language fast is to be a part of conversations, in this instance having discussions solely in German.
You can listen to as much German radio as you please and watch as many movies as you have time for, but while hearing spoken German will significantly increase your understanding of the language, it won’t allow you to become advanced, and certainly not fluent. You need to speak it in order to cement that relationship between comprehension and execution.
Secondly, you can, if you’re not currently in education, enrol on courses to help you with your language learning. Courses taught by trained tutors, or even better by native speakers, can help you to get that extra interaction with the language that you need.
Lessons are a good way to speed up your language acquisition as they require commitment and combine group lessons with independent study which means you must always make the effort to keep up with the pace set out by the course leader,
You can also attend evening or weekend classes even if you are a pupil studying German at school, to help move you up a set or to help you keep up with your existing group.
Carrying an English-German pocket dictionary around with you is a good way to learn German, whether you are in Germany or simply walking around your house or hometown.
If you see an object, a place or something else that catches your attention, you can look the word up in German and keep on adding to your fast-expanding vocabulary. Similarly, when left to your own devices in Germany, you can easily translate unfamiliar words thanks to your dictionary and thus deepen your level of understanding of the language fast.
Those who’ve done it themselves suggest finding out the 50 or 100 most commonly used words in German and learning them off by heart, being sure to practice constructing them into sentences.
However, if you are faced with a conversation that forces you to use a bit of guesswork, don’t hold back and do be prepared to say silly things – it really doesn’t matter! The person you are talking to will no doubt understand that you are still practicing and may even be able to help you to learn some new words or phrases. The fact that you are trying will go a long way in their book.
Finally, if you can’t find someone to talk to in German, then don’t give up. Talk at your friends, family or colleagues in German (even if they don’t understand you!) to help you to be more confident in the way you pronounce words and to help you to perfect the invividual sounds that German requires of you.
Change the language on your mobile phone to German, find a German television channel to watch, talk to yourself in German even! You know you have really cracked the whole language learning thing when you start to be able to think in another language!
Learning to speak a language fast has many benefits, like the momentum that is built and the satisfaction of noticing huge improvements in language skills in short spaces of time. Yet, there are also many advantages to approaching language learning at a slower pace and starting from scratch with the basics.
While German shares many similarities with English, it is important to remember that it is ultimately a language of its own with all new phonetics, grammar rules, vocabulary and much more to get to grips with. One should keep an open mind when considering studying German and not expect all of the words to bear some resemblance with English ones, as that is often not the case.
Learning a new language involves taking lots of baby steps and not becoming overwhelmed by all of the different things that must be learnt at once. Some of the very first simple steps to take towards acquiring a second language are to master the alphabet, which is particularly useful in German since its alphabet differs slightly.
You may think that the alphabet is the same in nearly all first world languages, but there are in fact four more letters that make up the German alphabet. So, before you start leaning German, it is wise to up look at the alphabet and how each letter is pronounced phonetically to make sure that you are aware of how some of the individual letters sound when spoken by natives.
Find a chart that gives you examples of how those sounds appear in German words, then that will take you one step closer to your goal of becoming a proficient German speaker.
As previously mentioned, learning key words can be very helpful during the early stages of language learning, but how do you know which words are key and when to move onto the next level of terminology?
Some websites offer lists of the most used words in the German dialect, based on various sources. If you intend to learn German because you will be travelling around Europe, you can also find lists tailored to the most common travel terminology, for example.
Once you have a feel for the language and the way it looks and sounds, you can move onto easy sentences, looking at how they fit together to form coherent phrases using nouns, verbs and adjectives.
The most common areas of speech that you will probably pick up first are how to ask for directions, and the language required for basic tasks and actions like telling the time.
Interesting fact: Don’t forget that the Germans tell the time differently too, looking ahead instead of back (very apt considering their reputation as being forward-thinking innovators!). For example, they will say it is half two, when we in English would say that it’s half one, or 1:30pm. In many ways, this makes complete sense because it is in fact half way through the second hour of the afternoon.
Experts say that the first stages of language acquisition should involve a silent period whereby you are absorbing many aspects of language and experiencing a number of reactions to them, just like when you learnt to speak your first language as a toddler: i.e. interpreting, watching the way the mouth moves to make specific sounds, hearing the unfamiliar sounds, understanding the pace and highs and lows for emphasis, etc…
Language learning app, DuoLingo, offers tips and advice for new German learners, which includes words of encouragement, like not to expect to be perfect straight away and to therefore be patient.
Meanwhile, the specialist tool also provides suggestions to ease and accelerate learning such as finding a partner, listening to spoken German, practicing speaking with others and by reading aloud or talking to yourself as well as using flash cards and labelling your surroundings.
No matter how you decide to approach your individual language-learning journey, there is one thing that stays constant, and that is the need to be motivated and to be prepared to put in effort.
Learn German online with German tutors at Superprof. And if your learning German, be sure to validate your German level with a certification in the German language.