Book Review – Essential German Grammar


This post will be my first book review and it will be about “Essential German Grammar” by Guy Stern and Everett F Bleiler.  You can find it on here.  It is relatively cheap at $5.95.  I’m not an Amazon affiliate so I do not make any money off of any purchases, I’m just trying to give out good information.

To start out, I will explain what this book is NOT:

1.  It is not for the absolute beginner.  It does assume some knowledge of basic German vocab and phrases.  There are many example sentences but I would not recommend this as your first German book, but I would recommend it as your first German GRAMMAR book..

2.  This is not a complete reference on German Grammar in all situations.  This is a small (120 pages) “bird’s eye view” type of resource.

3.  This is not a text book or a workbook.  You will not find drills and exercises in it.  This will not help you pass any tests in German class at school.

Now, What this book IS:

1.  This is a reference for the most important basic German Grammar points you will encounter while teaching yourself the language.

2.  It is written clearly and concisely.  It gets right to the point and does not waste time with theory and historical explanations.

3.  It is designed primarily for the native English speaker who is learning German through self-study.  The book focuses on drawing parallels between English and German rather than the differences.

So.  Now that we have establishes what this book is and is not, my opinion:

I think this book is great.  I bought this book about 2 Months into my learning and it really helped bring everything together for me.  When I got this book, my biggest issues were word order and noun/adjective declinations.  Both of these topics are covered in this book and I have been through it several times over.  It is clearly written and offers several example sentences for every concept presented.

Another great thing about this book is that it never tries to be anything but an overview reference to get you up and speaking.  I sort of think of this as an anti-textbook.  Textbooks focus on trying to make you an expert at a concept by preparing you for exam-type questions and answers.  This book will not prepare you for any exams, but it will help you to formulate sentences in German and not sound like an idiot.

So that is my review.  In short, I recommend this as anyone’s first grammar book once they have a little vocab and pronunciation under their belt and they are looking for some clear explanations about some of the most basic topics.

Let me know in the comments if you think I am spot on with this review or if I need to have my head checked…


My Four Month Progress Video in German


So, I decided that the next logical step would probably be to record myself speaking German so that I could better analyze my shortcomings (at least as far as German goes).  So, here it is, my first attempt at speaking German in front of a camera.   In hindsight, I was VERY nervous and it shows.  I think it gets a little better towards the end as I start to get more comfortable.  The grammar may or may not be totally correct in all parts, but at least I gave it a try and I will have something to compare to next Month when i do it again.


So, there it is.  For all the world to see.  As you can see, I still have a lot of work to do but I am still proud of my progress.

Bis bald!

Four Month German Learning Check-in


Well, this is the 4 Month check-in post.  It doesn’t FEEL like 4 Months.  I can’t tell if it feels closer to 1 Month or 10 Months, but not 4.

So what have I been doing lately?  Glad you asked:

1.  I’ve been adding and reviewing paper and ANKI flashcards everyday.  I do not take days off from this.  I still see vocabulary as the primary ingredient in the language learning process.  Vocabulary is like the meat of the dinner plate with grammar as the side dish.  Between the 2 methods, I have roughly 900-1000 flashcards that I review at regular intervals.  As I don’t make flashcards for every word, these usually are words or phrases that I either struggle with or may not come up frequently enough in my studies for me to retain them as easily. 

One thing I really like to do when I struggle with a particular word or phrase is to use it out loud.  If it is a phrase, I say it aloud and try to role-play myself in a situation that I may use it.  This practice and context helps me retain it.  If it is a word, I make up a sentence (or 10) and use it out load.  Context is king when it comes to retention.

2.  Reading.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know I am reading Harry Potter und der Stein der Weissen right now.  I am picking up speed, but I have gone back to the beginning several times and I find my understanding is much greater each time.  My goal is to read it through without a dictionary (eventually).

3.  Grammar.  Yes, I’ve been studying some light grammar.  I do not spend an enormous amount of time on it, but enopugh to not sound like an idiot or a 3 year old (no offense meant towards 3 year olds of course).

4.  TV audio.  This is a new one that I’ve recently started and am enjoying.  Here’s what I do:  I find TV shows in German on Youtube.  I convert the youtube file into an Mp3 and put it on my iPod.  Right now I have 3 episodes of “How I Met Your Mother”, 2 episodes of “American Dad” and a couple episodes of “Garfield” the cartoon.  The beauty is that it’s all audio (thus the Mp3).  I went grocery shopping yesterday and listened to 3 full episodes while tooling around the grocery store.  I was actually surprised at how much I was able to follow and how many words I was able to pick out.  I am finding that even though it is a bit above my level, I am understanding more and more.  I kind of wish I had done this earlier.

5.  Language exchange emails without a dictionary.  I have been emailing a German penpal for about 3 Months already and I decided to try writing without a dictionary or Google translate help.  Wow.  What a difference!  I am finding my limitations better at this point and sometimes I have to find a roundabout way to say something if I don’t know the vocab.  This also makes sure that after I send it, I go look up those words I was missing.  Because of the corrections that my penpal provides, this is an amazingly effective practice.

So. am I going to take a test this Month?  Not sure yet.  I am leaning towards no for one big reason:  I don’t think I’ve been studying the things that most tests are geared towards measuring.  As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m learning this language to communicate.  I’m not learning German to count farm animals or discuss the color of my clothing (I’m colorblind anyway).  I’m learning German to talk to (or email) other people that speak German.  Most courses and tests are not geared toward this. 

I hope this has been useful.  Please leave a comment if you have anything to add.


Stuff That Didn’t Help My Language Learning

So, this post will be the opposite of my last post.  This is all about stuff that did NOT work for me (at least not as well as I had hoped).

1.  Word of the day emails.  I signed up for a “word of the day” email service and thought it would really help.  Unfortunately, it did not.  Maybe it just never came at the right time, but I have a backlog of 20+ emails and will probably never even look at them.

2.  Word lists.  I thought that if I could put together 5-10 words in a list type format, that I could learn a list every day.  Not so much.  Even when I was able to memorize the wordlist, I would find that I would often memorize the order of the words as much as the meaning of the words.  I guess my mind does not memorize those kinds of things very well.  Flashcards are the answer here.

3.  Vocabulary at the expense of grammar.  Let me explain.  I started by learning copious amounts of vocabulary with almost no effective grammar constructions at all.  Come to find out, all this did was cause me to speak in English with German words.  By this I mean that my sentences were coming out using English grammar and word order.  The nonsense I was spouting would never be mistaken for German by a real German speaker so it was effectively useless.  Once I started studying more stock phrases and substituting my vocabulary words in and out to make new phrases (while keeping structure in place)I found I was making more sense and feeling better about my speaking.  I still believe that vocab is more important than grammar in the early stages, but I now think that at least some basic grammar and phrase study should be incorporated early on.

4.  Learning vocab words that I would never use.  I started out with a combo of basic Kindergarten-type words and “frequency lists” of vocab to study.  I found many of these words to be so useless to me in everyday conversation that I really was wasting my time learning them.  Things like:  The names of the Animals, shapes, colors, types of food, clothing, etc…  Now I know many of you are saying “Hey, those are the basics!  You have to learn those things first.”  Do I?  I looked back on my recent conversations with friends and was amazed at how rarely I talked to people about Tigers, sweaters, potatoes, teal, squares, etc…  I understand that eventually I will want to learn these things, but if I’m trying to work up to conversational fluency, I need to work on conversation.  I need to know how to talk about the things I talk about in real life.  I need to know how to say “Hangover” (Der Kater), “Chess” (Das Schach), awesome (prima, toll, super), etc…  Learn what you want to talk about.  It will be easier to remember things that you will use consistently.  There will be plenty of time to learn how to say “The Giraffe and the tomato are wearing pink sweaters” (“Die Giraffe und die Tomate tragen rosa Pullover.” for those keeping score at home).

5.  Learning verbs from their infinitive only.  I have re-evaluated the way I go about learning verbs.  Knowing the infinitives only has proven to be very limiting.  There are a few things that should be learned for each verb besides the infinitive.  When I put together flashcards, I include the following information:  regular or irregular, past participle and if it uses haben or sein), whether it is a reflexive verb, whether it is has prefix (separable or non).  If it is irregular, I list the irregular forms as well.  This is a lot of information but it is all very necessary I have found.  Not learning the past participle was the biggest mistake.

6.  Reading more about language learning than actually learning German.  This may seem weird, but if you have ever delved into the mysterious underground of language learning enthusiasts (which is unbelievably fascinating to me personally), then you know what I am talking about.  Forums, articles, blogs, youtube videos, etc…  All dedicated to talking about how to best learn a foreign language.  Maybe its our innate need to know how other people are so successful at something that we are struggling with?  Maybe someone out there has a pain-free, easy, quick method that will save us time, money and frustration?  Whatever it is is very time consuming. There are no shortcuts.   Honestly, I am still doing this one and probably will continue to be involved in the language learning community, but it IS a time leech.

OK.  There you go.  My list of lessons learned.  I am hoping to post my ultimate resource list soon as I’ve found many websites and books that I think were extremely helpful and I would love to share with you.

What mistakes have you made in the language journey?  Let me know in the comments below.

The 9 Things That Helped My German Language Learning

Hallo Freunde!

So, I have been pretty quiet the last Month or so and I figured it was probably time to chime in and discuss some things that I have been doing for the last Month in regards to learning German.

1.  I have been reading Der Kleine Prinz and Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen.  This has been very slow going but it is really helping me understand the past tenses and how they work.  I can usually only get through a page or two in a sitting but it has been a lot a fun.  I will continue this.

2.  I have been listening to Podcasts on Germanpod101 .  These have been very helpful.  I am on the Upper Beginner series and the cultural tidbits and helpful grammar points are great.  One thing I did was download the dialogs from each lesson and put them all together on a CD that I listen to in the car.  This gives me about a half hour or so of continuous German only audio that is appropriate for my level.  When I listen to it, I try to distinguish each word and translate as I go.  This is helping me with my listening comprehension.  I will continue this.

3.  I have picked up a few books including Barron’s “501 German Verbs”.  It is fantastic and has really helped me in my study of verbs and their conjugations.  I recommend this book.  In a future post, I will lay out my recommendations for books, online resources and courses in detail.

4.  I have been using the ANKI flashcard App on my android phone.  This App is great!  I have been building my own decks based on words that I feel fit in with the things that I would want to talk about in German rather than the typical boring beginner stuff (farm animals, weather, etc).  I recommend this App.  I will continue this.

5.  I have been watching movies in German with English subtitles.  The selection is very limited on Netflix and I have only found 2 Blu-Rays with German audio and subtitles (V for Vendetta and Constantine).  I have also found several episodes of How I Met Your Mother in German.  It has been a great help to hear how real German is spoken and I will continue this as I have picked up quite a bit of vocab from this.

6.  I mentioned Pimsleur and Michel Thomas CDs in previous posts so I should mention them here as well.  I made it through the 30 lessons in Pimsleur German I and through the 10 CD Michel Thomas Beginner Method.  I enjoyed Michel Thomas quite a bit and will look to buy his Advanced course soon.  Pimsleur has been great for my pronunciation but is seriously boring.  I will be checking out the Level II and III course from the library, but I may or  may not finish them.  They are a struggle to get through and are only really good for pronunciation as my vocab and grammar are far beyond even the level III CDs at this point.  I would recommend Michel Thomas and the Pimsleur German I for anyone starting out with no German background.

7.  Paper flashcards.  Yes, I’ve still been using them even though I have ANKI.  There is just something about writing a word or phrase down with pen and paper that helps solidify it in my mind.  I usually reserve this for verbs at this point.

8.  Journal.  I have been keeping a journal of useful phrases and words (especially slang) as I find them on the internet or in Penpal emails.  I have been reviewing these phrases often and they are starting to stick.  I will continue this practice.

9.  German Penpal email exchange.  I found an email Penpal in Germany that I have been emailing back and forth for 3 Months now.  We generally exchange 2-4 emails per week and I correct her English for her and she corrects my German for me.  It has been great having this kind of access to a native speaker and we will be talking over Skype soon.

I hope this gives some good ideas for German and for Language Learning in general.  I will devote another post soon to things that did not work for me.


3 Month Testing results (a little late)

Hallo! My three Month checkpoint came and went on April 24th and I took the BBC tests (as usual). I had not posted them to this point due to a very busy couple of weeks at work and at home.

Anyway, here they are:
Post-Beginner: 82%
Reading: 88%
Writing: 45%
Listening: 100%
Speaking: 94%

Intermediate: 76%
Reading: 75%
Writing: 43%
Listening: 92%
Speaking: 93%

 As you can see, there is some improvement over my Post-Beginner 2 Month score and my Intermediate score was better that I would have thought. My writing skills seem to be the overriding negative here and I will focus some attention this Month on improving that area.

 I am getting more and more confident everyday and I am really happy with my progress so far.