Some Practical Advice and 9 Month Progress Report

Hallo!  I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted so i wanted to give an update on my progress and talk about a few things that I have been doing lately.

I would put my level right now at a B1.  I have completed several online placement tests and assessments and this appears to be the overall consensus.  What does this mean?  Glad you asked:

Language Levels explained here

With regards to me and my B1 assessment, here are my abilities/limitations in a nutshell:

Listening:  “I can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main point of many radio or TV programmes on current affairs or topics of personal or professional interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.”

 Reading:  “I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters.”

Spoken Interaction:  “I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).”

Spoken Production:  “I can connect phrases in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. I can narrate a story or relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions.”

Writing:  “I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions.”

Now, as a disclaimer,  some of these are no 100% true regarding me personally.  My Spoken Interaction and Production skills are slightly better than listed above whereas my listening comprehension is not quite as good as what is described.  Overall though, i’d say that is a decent overview of where I am at with German.

Now, as usual, I have some advice based on personal experience:

1.  What are your goals?  As I mentioned, my listening comprehension is somewhat behind my speaking production.  This is somewhat on purpose and is related to the methods by which I have chosen to learn German.  I have, from the beginning, focused on speaking.  I have done extensive “self-talk” exercises as well as shadowing, The Pimsleur Method, The Michel Thomas Method, and Language Exchanges.  All of these activities are designed around output.  They are all specifically geared towards improving verbal fluency, accent, and production in general.  I have not been as good at incorporating things like:  Movies, TV shows, Podcasts and Skype conversations with native speakers.  These are designed more around listening comprehension. 

What should you do?  I would suggest a nice mix of the two, but it really depends on your ultimate goals.  You want to learn to read well in German?  Read a lot of German.  You want to speak?  See above.  You want to write German?  Write a lot of German and have it corrected by natives on Lang-8.com

2.  Verbs. I’ve mentioned this before too but it bears repeating.  Verbs are the key to any language.  Learn to use them and learn to use them well.  You will be in better shape REALLY knowing 50 verbs and how to use them then you will be knowing 200 verbs but not having a good grasp on their usage and/or conjugation.  This is true, not just for German but for other languages as well.  There are verbs in German like lassen, ankommen, finden, halten, machen, stehen and ausgeben that have numerous meanings and usages (especially colloquially).  A solid grasp on their usage and formations would have you head and shoulders above someone who went through and learned twice as many verbs but only one meaning for each.  I try to learn 20+ vocab words per day but only one or two verbs.

3.  Self-talk.  I am a firm believer in self-talk exercises.   These can be as informal as talking to yourself in the shower to as formal as picking a topic, learning vocab specific to that topic, and filming yourself talking unrehearsed.  Will your grammar be perfect?  No.  Will your vocab always be correct?  No.  Will it make you more comfortable speaking?  Yes.  Will it improve your speed and ability to “think on your feet” when speaking?  Absolutely.  I do quite a bit of my self-talk with a dictionary handy to fill in missing vocab that I can add to my ANKI deck later.  There is no right or wrong way to do this, but if you want to improve your speaking skills, you need to speak more.  I said it above with reading and writing.  Practice makes better.

4.  Do something everyday.  I went through a phase where I struggled with this.  There were times when i went days without touching anything German related.  While this can feel like a “recharge”, I found it to be a major setback. 

When I get exposure to German everyday, i find myself thinking in German sometimes.  It may only be a minute until I catch myself, but I do it.  I want to get to the point where I can “think” in German like I do in English.  Maybe not to the same extent as I believe that those neural pathways are developed and cemented in very early childhood, but I have experienced brief flashes of it and it is a great feeling.

I’ve gotten slightly off topic here, but my point is that in order for You to learn something as complex as a language, you need to do it everyday.  I compare it to Math class in school.  After Summer break, it would always take me weeks (or months) to get myself back to the same level that I was when school let out 3 months earlier, much less be in a position to really learn anything new.  Keep it fresh.  Don’t just review either.  Learn SOMETHING new everyday.  Even if it is one grammar point or one new verb or one key vocabulary word.  Move forward.

5.  Learn Colloquialisms.  I’m not learning German to pass a test.  I’m learning German to talk to other people who speak German.  I want to know how German people talk.  I don’t talk like the sentences I read in ESL textbooks, so I know Germans don’t talk like the sentences in my Pimsleur course.  Language exchanges are good for this.  Forums in your Target Language are good for this.  There are books too but be careful as slang can change so quickly that you may sound like your Grandfather by the time the slang book hits the market.  There are great websites devoted to slang in almost any language. 

I have a friend who speaks fluent “textbook” French.  She can conjugate verbs and has a strong active vocabulary but she struggles to watch films in French and to talk to real French people because she doesn’t speak how they speak.  She is embarrassed to tell people that she speaks French because she doesn’t feel like she speaks the language like it is spoken in the real world.  This is fine is she wants to book a hotel room or buy train tickets, but if she wants to meet French friends and hang out and be social, she struggles.

I dedicate an ANKI deck and at least sometime everyday to slang.  I pick up sentences from online forums, from slang websites, from books (checked through Google for accuracy and frequency of use) and from emails with my email exchange partners.  I have also been known to pull some slang from TV shows (like How I Met Your Mother and Friends) in German.

All in all, I feel like I am in a good position to meet my goal of conversational fluency (B2) within one year.  I thank you for joining me on this journey and I hope to have a 9/10 Month video up within the next couple of weeks.

Tschüss!