German, the language that provides the best of both worlds. Easy words like Katze, (cat) and more unique words like Eichhörnchen, (squirrel). An accent that’s not too difficult for an English speaker to master in time but grammar that’s impossible even for native German speakers to explain. I did not really know German before arriving in the country. I dabbled in Duolingo here and there just to get some basics down. However, you simply cannot learn a language without actively speaking it and dedicating time each week to maintaining your progress. So, this article will detail my German studying schedule and my favorite German language learning resources.
My week of German learning begins on Monday as I usually spend the few hours before my class finishing up homework. I am currently at the level A2.2 but I am a bit more advanced than that in my speaking and listening skills. My German teacher usually assigns at least an hour’s worth of homework, typically consisting of writing paragraphs on different topics and some grammar or vocabulary practice from worksheets or our workbook. Last week, we made mini-presentations on famous figures from German literature like Goethe or Thomas Mann. I always ask my German friends to review my work before I go to class and this gives me a bit more practice as I can ask them questions and make adjustments.
Our German classes last for an hour and fifteen minutes, just like any other class, and are on Monday and Wednesday evenings. My class has around 25 students in it. While there’s not so much time for long discussions, my teacher makes sure each of us has spoken at least a few times in each class. I am always on the edge of my seat because you can get called on at any moment. Don’t get too intimidated though — we are encouraged to ask any questions we have throughout the class and she always explains concepts in detail.
We open class by going over our homework, each of us reciting a few sentences we wrote. This can take as long as 20 minutes. If our teacher notices a pattern of mistakes, we sometimes have an impromptu worksheet to review. Then, we look into our textbooks and briefly go over any vocabulary on the page we’ve never heard before. Typically, we take turns reading texts and doing the accompanying exercises. Our main focus is grammar, we drill it constantly until it becomes second nature. This takes up the majority of the class and it shocks me how much we can accomplish in such a short period of time.
On Wednesdays, I have German class once again. We sometimes have a bit more homework assigned on Wednesdays since we have all weekend to work on it. In the evenings, I go to a little German club with some friends. We spend half an hour exclusively speaking German and ignoring grammar completely. I find this method very practical as it forces you to get creative and spontaneous. There’s always a way to express what you want to say, even if it’s using simpler words. That’s better than not saying anything at all.
The real danger days are Thursday to Sunday, nobody’s holding me accountable! I do a mix of activities here which I’ll go over according to the skills I am trying to train.
I happen to be extremely lucky as I have a German boyfriend. Every weekend, I go to his family’s house in Hamburg and am bombarded by German. I am pretty shy with speaking but it has certainly improved my listening skills significantly — I can now understand almost everything. If it’s been a while since I’ve seen him, I turn to German Netflix! My favorite show is Dark, though the vocabulary is not super useful for everyday life as it is a sci-fi show. Still, it’s good to get exposed to German in lots of different situations. For something a bit more normal, I watch Berlin, Berlin, which is a sit-com and the episodes are only 20 minutes long.
This is my Achilles’ heel of German learning. It can be very intimidating to speak German in front of others. The ideal way to go about it would be to throw yourself into it headfirst and speak German whenever you can with whoever you can. I am a bit shy though, so if you’re like me, I recommend starting by ordering your own food in German. This can build your confidence and there are only so many ways the conversation can go. Just don’t get discouraged by how many words there are for receipt! Now, I speak Denglish (a mix of German and English) with my boyfriend, my roommate, and other friends. When I am out and about in Germany, I only speak German.
Reading, Writing, and Grammar:
For me, the skills of reading, writing, and mastering grammar are fairly intertwined.
I recommend the Dino lernt Deutsch books, which are short stories designed for non-native German speakers to practice reading. These are perfect for A1/A2 students because they start very slowly and include vocabulary lists and quizzes to test comprehension at the end of each chapter. Aside from that, the classic advice is to start with children’s books. I have picked up the Greg’s Tagebuch series as there are just so many books and the vocabulary is very easy to get through. I try to mark down any new words that continuously come up but I don’t write down everything. My strategy is just to get the main points of the text and I refine everything else later.
A great thing about learning German is that there are tons of online resources. I love the free Deutsche Welle website (and so do my German professors) as it has lots of interactive exercises and videos to help with grammar. The Nico’s Weg series can take you through German from A1 to B1+.
On my phone, I work with the Nemo German app for vocabulary flashcards. I often do these while on the train or waiting for things, as they don’t require wifi to work with. There are over 1,200 words and phrases organized in various categories such as essential words, food, shopping, or directions. I love that you can set how familiar you are with words so an algorithm reinforces the words you have trouble with. There are also various settings on this app, such as German to English, Accent Inspector, or Slideshow, to work with your preferred methods of learning. This app has a one-time cost of 12 Euro for access to the full flashcard library.
For conjugation, I work with the app, Conjuu DE as it has a reliable dictionary and drills the conjugations of verbs in all kinds of tenses. I often do this with the verbs we work on in class as a review. This app costs just 7 Euro for access to the full flashcard library.
The last app I work with is Seedlang, by the creators of the free YouTube series Easy German (which I also recommend.) Seedlang teaches you vocabulary and grammar in the context of little scenes. There is also a flashcard section. This app has various monthly or yearly paid subscriptions for full access. I use this mainly over the summer when I’m away from Jacobs as a review so I don’t forget conversational phrases. There are lots of excellent free German resources, these are just the ones that work the best for me personally.
I often do the extra writing exercises from our textbook, it is easier for me to follow a prompt than to journal freely in German. To polish my writing and grammar, I use the workbook, German Grammar Drills, by Ed Swick. This book explains a wide range of grammar concepts and provides over 200 exercises of various types to work with. Grammar is much more important to German than it is for other languages, you simply can’t work around it. I have had this book for almost two years now and I have still not gotten through everything.
I caution you not to get too caught up with maintaining a certain rigid study schedule or attaining a language level. Goals are great to work towards but we are students first and foremost. Try to be easy-going and forgiving of yourself if you don’t make as much progress as you hoped. Especially with COVID, it can be hard to meet new people to practice speaking with.
Learning a language is a long and beautiful process, so make sure to savor special moments like finally pronouncing a hard sound correctly or suddenly understanding the poster you’ve walked past for weeks. Working your way from basic skills to fluency is so rewarding, hopefully these resources will help you along the way!