I still remember my first day of German class. I walked into the classroom and on the board, my teacher had written the words, “Mein Fish ist tot” and they have been forever ingrained in my memory since the 8th grade. My high school German teacher was amazing and I always had good grades. I loved German and knew I wanted to have a career using German.
Then I got to college. I suffered 5 long years attempting to learn German at University but struggled predominately because the German Department at my University was headed by a crazy old hag who made learning German downright unbearable. But I stuck through it thanks to some encouragement from my mother. I even studied abroad in Germany for a year during these 5 years, hoping to revive my love of German. All I did was party & speak English. By the time I graduated University, there were only 2 students graduating from the German Department (myself included) and the following school year would cease to have a German Department.
For the next 5 years, I would sporadically speak German. Finally, I decided enough was ENOUGH! I had to move back to Germany because I was afraid I would loose the little German knowledge I could remember! So I sold my car, my belongings and bought a one way ticket.
Upon arriving in Germany, it took all the brain power in me to recall my stale German, but I trudged through. This time when I came to Germany, I promised myself I would learn the language & do things differently than I did when I “studied abroad” in 2007.
So here is my little list of how to improve your German based on my experiences! I hope they work as well for you as they have for me!
1. German Roommates
When I studied abroad in Heidelberg, I got placed in an all girls, single flat apartment. I had no roommates and I barely knew any of my neighbors. Therefore, I never really had the chance to speak German other than in restaurants & shopping, and as soon as I spoke, they knew I was American and started speaking English. Plus, all the friends I made during the first six months were only other fellow American students. The final six months our group merged with the European group and then I was forced to speak German with others who couldn’t really speak English.
However, my advice to you upon moving to Germany is to find German roommates! I promised myself I HAD to do this if I was ever going to learn German. Then, I found an apartment and got lucky to have 2 German roommates. Eventually, I started dating the best friend of one of my roommates. (But we speak English!)
This has been one of the biggest impacts on my German!
My favorite Germans!
2. Watch German TV
This has been the second most helpful thing I could possibly have done. My favorite thing to do is to watch my favorite American TV shows that I have already seen in English and watch them in German. I have picked up so many words & phrases just from doing this!
It has honestly made such a difference. There was a day when I was sitting at the kitchen table and Hans was watching TV and I looked up and said “You’re watching TV in English?” and he responded with “No, it’s in German!” Somehow, I had managed to understand everything as clearly on the TV as if I were watching it in English! I was astounded!
As an English teacher to German students, I am always recommending that they do the same and watch English TV.
3. Play Games in German
The first time my boyfriend wanted to teach me a new game, in German I was not very compliant. I really just didn’t understand. But after a few times playing Settlers of Catan in German, I began to pick up new words & phrases, like “I can offer you”, “I can trade you” and more! Plus it’s just downright fun to play in German!
4. Buy German/English Memory cards
I bought some German/English memory cards one day to just sit & peruse through to help me remember German phrases. I bought them off amazon for 10 € or less. I always recommend my students to do the same.
5. Read German Magazines/Newspapers
I don’t always do this, but I do find it helpful to read tidbits in German. But just simply trying to read something in German that is easy, you will pick up new words & phrases
6. Read a Book You Have Already Read in English
I would say, don’t go out and buy a German book which you have never read in English. I started with this and it was difficult. Plus the book I bought was actually rather depressing so I stopped reading after about 40 pages.
I recommend, buying a book in German which you have already read in English. Therefore, you already know the background story and can pick up new words & phrases.
I am currently attempting to read Eat, Pray, Love in German since I have read the book in English twice and loved the movie. So I sit with my English book next to me when I read my German one in case I don’t understand a line.
7. The More German Friends, the Better!
I unfortunately, don’t have many friends in Germany anymore because they keep moving away. At the moment, all of my friends are now Germans. This is a good thing though because it really forces me to speak German more often and only resort to English when its too difficult to say in German or when they would like to speak English with me.
This can be hard sometimes though because when you live in the city center, you are always bound to find people who speak pretty damn good English and they want to use it.
Sometimes, I just have to tell my friends, no, no, we can talk in German!
8. Listen to the Radio
Unplug you iPod or CDs and listen to the radio! Even though Germans listen to more English music than they do German, its still good to listen to the radio announcers speaking about the weather, traffic and news.
9. Have Someone Test You in “Der, Die oder Das”
My boyfriend REALLY loves to play this game. Which then leads us into funny conversations about why a kitchen is feminine (Die Küche) and a table is masculine (der Tisch). The result, because women belong in the kitchen while men are sat at the table.
Nonetheless, this is very helpful in remember the articles of objects. Now we have moved on to ein, einen, einer…
10. Just Have Fun With It!
Don’t be shy to use your German no matter how embarrassed you are! Germans will be amazed that you are even trying to speak their difficult language and will give you mad props! And laugh at yourself if you make a mistake. Plus, if its any consolation, even Germans don’t speak proper German!
I promise you though, it will take time! I have been in Germany 2 1/2 years now already and my German is 10 times better than the day I stopped off the plane because I try to use it every day, watch a bit of TV or listen to music. Every little bit will help!
When learning any new thing, you must be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Don’t judge yourself too harshly.
If you are serious about learning more than just some of the basics, consider buying this German Grammar in a Nutshell! Hans came home with this book for me and we use it all the time so he can better explain German grammar to me!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!
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