German Progress – Always Evolving

Guten Tag meine Freunde!

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post, so I figured it would be a good time to update you on my progress:

1.  I’ve been learning verbs.  I haven’t been learning them at quite the clip I was aiming for, but I feel like I am retaining the ones I do learn.  I have been creating sentences with new verbs that I learn.  This helps with context and helps me to remember the conjugations as well.

2.  I have been learning sentences.  Yes, complete sentences.  I have been pulling them from multiple sources like:  The dictionary, emails to/from my German penpal, forum posts, fiction books, and textbooks.  I have been writing them down and reviewing them everyday.  These sentences are not necessarily related to anything in particular, but they are all sentences that I could see myself using somehow in conversation.  I have filled almost 2 dozen pages with sentences this way (over 200 sentences so far).  This sentence method is doing 3 things for me:  First, they are giving me some stock or “canned” phrases that I have practiced and feel comfortable with.  Secondly, they are providing a grammar framework that I can use to form other structurally related sentences by substituting other nouns and verbs but maintaining the grammar structure and organization.  Thirdly, they are helping me learn vocabulary (especially verbs) as these are sentences that are not necessarily sentences I could construct with my current vocab knowledge.

3.  I’ve been listening to The news, read slowly in German.  This has been helpful in continuing to “tune my ear” to German and to improve my vocabulary.  I listen to it a couple of times and follow along with the written text (in German).  Then, I try to determine what the particular article is about.  I then translate it to determine how close I was.  Once I read through the translation, I listen to it again a few more times with the translation in mind.  I can usually get 3-5 news vocab words out it without really even trying.  Every little bit helps, right?

And that is pretty much what I’ve been up to on the German front.  It’s a slow process but I am very proud of my progress and I feel confident that we will reach our goal of fluency in 7 more Months.

This German Just Got Real (bad)

Guten Tag!  So, I was at the local Brewery Bar last week with some friends from work and I had an experience I would like to share that really opened my eyes and made me understand exactly where my German shortcomings were.

There we were, about 10 of us, just chatting away, drinking our beer and somehow it came out that one of my co-workers spoke fluent German.  Turns out, her Dad moved here from Germany and she was raised bi-lingual.  Well, of course I told her I was learning German and she started to speak it to me.  That’s when the crushing blow came…

All of a sudden, I couldn’t remember basic vocabulary.  She was talking and I was not processing.  I tried to speak back and baby talk spewed from my mouth.  What was happening?  I knew this stuff.  She was speaking reasonable, short, basic sentences and I was just not getting it.  She actually asked me “Wie viele Biere trinkst du heute Abend?”  This translates to the super simple “How many beers will you have tonight?”.  My answer?  “Ummm, uhhh, ja (yes) Bier (beer), ummm…”  She looked at me like I had lost my mind.  I hung my head in shame.

So, I found out 3 things that day:

1.  I’m NOT very good at thinking on my feet in German.
2.  My listening skills could use some sharpening.
3.  I need more automatic “canned”-type responses to help give me time to gather my thoughts.

So, I started thinking about some things I could do to fix these:

1.  The only I can do about thinking on my feet in German is to get more exposure to speaking to native speakers.  No way around it.  The more I talk the better I will listen and the better I will speak.  This one is easy.

2.  I need to kick my listening into high gear.  More movies in German, more dialogs, and more podcasts.  I have several audiobooks in German that I will add into my everyday routine.  Again, verbs are an issue for me because of where they fall in the sentence but I have already addressed verbs in my last post.

3.  I feel like I should explain “canned” responses.  I hadn’t really thought of this concept until this day.  I can’t help but think that if I had some stock sentences that I felt were automatic that I didn’t have to think about then I could have recovered.  These would be sentences that I had drilled and worked on so much that I couldn’t help but spew them out even under the most stressful of circumstances.  These would be sentences that steered the conversation in a direction I was comfortable with.  In theory, this would help to de-stress me and as the conversation moved outside of my comfort zone, I could comfortably move with it.

I need to think about #3 some more…  I’ll see what i can come up with in a future post.  

Do you have any stories like the one above (positive ones are great too)?


Verb Power!


This post will be about actually doing something.  Anything really.  Actually, it is about verbs.  Michel Thomas believed that verbs were the heart of any language.  I’m starting to think he was on to something.  One of my weak spots at the moment in German is verbs and it is kind of frustrating me a little.

Truthfully, I know about 150 verbs (according to my flashcards) and their conjugations.  Truthfully it isn’t nearly enough.  I’m finding that (like English) German has several verbs that mean relatively the same thing.  I’m also finding that just because I learn one of those verbs doesn’t mean that other people/books will use the one verb that I happen to have learned.  Weird huh? 

So what to do about it?  Well, I’ve narrowed by plan of attack to the essentials.  I need to know the infinitive of the verb and it’s meaning.  I also need to know if it is irregular or not.  I also need to know the Past Participle and whether it takes haben or sein.  Really that’s it.  Now, to my mind, a verb is equal to about 3 regular vocab words because of the additional information required.  Because of this, it makes sense that I would not be able to acquire verbs at the same rate as adjectives or nouns.  Typically, I like to add 10-20 vocab words per day to my list.  By this reasoning, it would make sense to add 3-6 verbs per day, right?  Sounds like a plan.

So, how do I do this?  I mentioned in a previous post that I had purchased a book called Barron’s 501 German Verbs.  Well, in this book, they list 55 “essential” verbs.  These are the bad boys that you simply have to get down.  These are the most common verbs you will encounter and should be the 1st verbs you learn.  I reviewed those and found a few (about 6) that I was not familiar with.  So, I wrote them all down in my notebook, infinitive, meaning, Past Participle, the whole nine yards.  I reviewed them all and created an ANKI deck just for them.  I then went through the rest of the book and highlighted the verbs that I already knew (161 of them to be precise).  Given the overlap, I am left with about 334 verbs of the 501 most common. 

My guess at this point is that if I know the 501 most commonly used German verbs, I’m probably good to go.  I will absorb additional verbs as they come up, but 501 should be sufficient for my goals of conversational fluency.  So now I need to learn 334 verbs.  If I devote each day to learning 5 new verbs and I do this 5-6 days per week, I should be able to get this down in 12 weeks.  That’s 3 Months of very manageable verb study.  I think I can do this.

My next issue is what order should I learn these in.  Alphabetical?  I would rather not learn them in alphabetical order as I may rely on that subconsciously to memorize them in that order (being that they are so closely related by spelling).  So, what then?  Random?  Random could work.  By importance?  I supposed I could type them all into a spreadsheet and evaluate their usefulness on a scale from 1-100 and learn them based on priority.  In fact, the act of typing them into a spreadsheet from the book could help to give me an overview of the new verbs so that I would be a little bit more familiar with them come learning time.  The drawback would be that it would take me several days to do this as I have a full-time job and a house full of kids.  I think random is the way to go here.

Ok, well I guess I will start today.  I do need to be very careful that I don’t neglect any of my other vocabulary study or reading time. 

Thanks for reading!  Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Bis bald.