Hallo, mein Name ist Andi. Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch. Wie heisen Sie?
Guten Tag! I have been studying German a few months now, and since I find accounts of other language teacher’s language learning journeys fascinating (such as Martina Bex’s French and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s Russian), I thought I would share some thoughts on my progress with German.
I started studying German last October. It’s hard to say exactly why I started (I’m a bit surprised myself I’ve managed to stick with it this long!), but it had to do with curiosity – first, because I love languages and I’ve never had a German class, and secondly, because I wanted to get inside my students’ heads and remember for myself what it’s like to learn a brand-new language. Also, my husband studied a fair bit of German in high school and spent a summer in Germany in college, so I have a person available to help me when I have questions.
I started with Duolingo, and I’m sad to say I recently lost my 100-plus day streak (I swear I had a streak freeze!). That being said, after three months of using Duolingo, I was bored with it. I did learn quite a bit of vocabulary, especially at first, but I hated the lessons on conjunctions, cases, and prepositions, as those words never “stuck” with me and I often didn’t understand why an answer was correct, particularly with cases (and this is coming from a language teacher and grammar-lover!). I have heard that the desktop version does a better job explaining grammar, but I prefer to do it on my phone as it is more convenient. For now, I’m taking a break from Duolingo to use some other resources.
Over black Friday weekend, I spent some money on two German courses: Coffee Break German Season 1 ($69) and Lukas Kern’s TPRS German course ($83). Coffee Break German offers all their lessons as free podcasts, but the paid version gives you access to PDF lesson notes, as well as a video version of the lesson with the vocabulary showing on the screen. For me, this has been money well spent as I didn’t feel I was learning much from the audio-only podcasts. I like to watch the video and pause it to write the words down in my notebook, and also pause it when they ask a question so I have enough time to think of the answer, checking my notes if needed. It drives me nuts that Mark (the German learner) talks more than Thomas (the native speaker and teacher) on the lessons, and that they ask me to translate English to German as soon as they introduce new phrases, but now that I’ve started taking notes as I listen/watch, I’m getting a lot more out of the lessons. No program is perfect, but this one is pretty good for the price, and the structure of the lessons works well for me personally.
I haven’t used the Lukas Kern lessons as much – I’ve actually only done one story, Schneckenwitz, which I believe is free on his website. I found it hard and frustrating, and even the “easy” story for beginners had a ton of words I didn’t know. I really wanted to believe his claims about how effortless language learning could be, but I think the old rule of, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies here (Caveat: I am sure he would say I was using his resources wrong/Not following his rules). I will circle back to these resources eventually, probably when I finish or get tired of Coffee Break German, but for now they are going to wait.
I also keep a notebook, a good old composition book like I require for my students. I have a pencil bag full of pretty pens, and I take great pleasure writing in my notebook and making it beautiful (this is coming from a dysgraphic child!). I love the autonomy of studying for fun, and I write down whatever it is I want to learn in my notebook. I have notes from Duolingo, Lukas Kern, Coffee Break German, as well as things I’ve looked up because I wanted to know how to say them (Youtube, WordReference, Google Translate, and Quizlet are my go-to resources). I draw lots of pictures, and sometimes translate to English or Spanish.
I made an Instagram to document my learning (andi.aprende.deutsch), and I post occasionally. Here is a video of me attempting to say my Spanish 1 unit 1 stamps in German. I sound a lot like my Spanish 1 babies – imperfect pronunciation, imperfect grammar, but comprehensible to a sympathetic interlocutor!
It gave me such a thrill the first time my husband told me, Fruhstuck ist fertig, and I understood him! Making that video above (without studying beforehand) and realizing I can do this! was seriously exciting! I hate being corrected when I’m not specifically asking How do you say ____? How do you pronounce this? which is something that I need to think about in how I communicate with my students – If I say something to my husband in German, and he understands me, by George I want him to respond, not correct my cases! Back in November I ran into a German teacher friend, and it made me so frustrated when I tried to show him what I had been learning and all he did was correct me! I crave praise, comprehensible input, and simple interactions. I want to understand, express myself, and be understood.
So that’s my German journey thus far. Do you study another language? What are your favorite self-study resources?