Tips For Learning German

Dear Alice,

Today I would like to share with you some tips for learning German, which I hope that will come in handy whenever you need to practice and/or to improve your German. So let’s start.

You must know that even if now I am quite confident with talking German and I am also quite fast (even though I prefer to write our discussions in English so as to practice my English a bit more), you must know that I was not always like this. I never learned German as a child in Romania. I only learned English and French as foreign languages while growing up. English was a mandatory foreign language at that time that everyone needed to learn. In addition, back in the days in Romania, everyone needed to learn a second foreign language, which in my case was French. I think it just happened like this, since my parents knew some French and they could have helped me with it.

German never came into question, even though a lot of people in Romania can talk German. Anyway these were the circumstances. So when I came to Austria back in 2006 I could only talk English (and well French, which did not come in very handy). And I cannot say that this was a big problem: almost everywhere I could have made my way with English: at the supermarket, at the doctor, at school, with my colleagues. It is impressive how everyone can talk English here. I find this really great! So even though the language barrier was not as big as I expected it to be, I was still very determined to learn German. Of course I noticed that some things could have been easier for me if I could have spoken German, but still this was not necessarily the main reason: the main reason was that I wanted to talk German and to be able to communicate with the people in their own language, I would have expected to be the same way if it would have been the other way around.

So I started to follow the German lectures at the university back in 2006. And I must say that learning German was a challenge: German is a very harmonious foreign language I would say, but it is very different to all the Latin languages that I can speak, so the grammar structure, even the pronunciation and the writing are different. And I must admit that it took me about 2 years to start talking German fluently and to understand the conversations I was taking part in. Of course other factors such as the Austrian dialect come into discussion here, but still I must say that the beginning was quite tumultuous. Of course I cannot say that my journey concerning learning German had ended (this process will never end I guess), but now I am in a different phase of improving and of enlarging my horizon I would say.

So here are my tips for learning German (which I wish I would have known back in 2006 🙂 ):

  1. Be patient with yourself. The most important thing is to be patient with yourself and to understand that learning a new foreign language is a process that will take time until you will start to assimilate and to improve. Learning anything new is a challenge, learning a new foreign language (and learning German) are also challenges and you have to leave the time to act as needed.
  2. Understand that you do not have to be perfect. Learning German (just as learning anything new) will come with ups and downs, but that is something normal concerning any learning process. Just remember: you will always learn from your failures and you should always celebrate your successes. Just stick to this rule, and you will be fine. Failing is part of life, and learning from failing is what brings us experience and wisdom in our life.
  3. Start following German lectures at least 2 times per week. I would not advise intensive lectures, I am not a big fan of those, I think that any learning process has its phases that you just have to experience. Of course you can accelerate this process, but you must go throw all the phases gradually. So try to follow any German lectures in your neighborhood for at least 2 times per week for like 3 to 5 hours. And try to stick to the rules and follow all the remarks and the tips of your teacher. I would also say here also: try to do any homework (I know it sounds harsh but it is very helpful), and try to have access to most of the literature referenced in the lectures by the teachers.
  4. Use sticky notes to label your surroundings. This one is very helpful. I must say I did comply to this rule and I learned a lot especially the articles of the nouns (i.e. der, das, die). So what you could do for example is: you can start labeling all the jars and the boxes in the kitchen with all the food ingredients that you have (this also included the food in the fridge for instance); you can also add labels in the whole apartment and to the different pieces of furniture, everything that can be labeled will bring you an enlarged horizon. Visual memory is a very good ally in this case.
  5. Read children books and easy literature books in German or translated in German. Just borrow some children books from your friends, and just ask your acquaintances or your colleagues if they can borrow some easy literature books in German (they do not have to be authentic in German, they can also be translated in German, but they should be easy to read). For instance, I would recommend here the whole series of crime novels from the Swedish writer Henning Mankell. I learned a lot of German from the books, plus I found the series really good literature as well.
  6. Use subtitles whenever watching television or movies in German. If possible watch as much television and movies in German, and always add subtitles if it is possible. The visual memory will play again an important role here.
  7. Practice, practice, and more practice. Practices is the mother of all skills and repetition is the mother of all learning. Nothing more true than this, so remember point 1 and 2 and start practicing: start talking German whenever you get the chance to: at home, in the office, with your friends, etc.
  8. Read out load. This is a good practice to improve your accent and your pronunciation. If someone can help you here it is even better.
  9. Find a partner (if possible). The best way to practice and to improve your skills is to exercise talking German with a native speaker. It should be someone you feel comfortable with and someone who has patience and time for you. If you can do this at home for instance, it is the best case I would say 🙂 . But even if this is not possible, you can join some Tandem programs at the universities in your surroundings for instance (in Graz there exist these possibilities at both universities I think).

I hope these tips will come in handy for you. I wish you some productive learning experiences and do not forget: patience and time will solve all problems if any arise your way. I think this applies also in this case. And do not be afraid to practice as often as you can.
Sincerely yours and good luck,