Guten Tag! Sprechen Sie Deutsch? That means ‘Good day! Do you speak German?’ and if you’re studying German, you probably knew that already.
Learning a new language or becoming fluent in a language you have been studying can be tough and intimidating, especially a language like German where you have really unusual verb conjugation and genders for each and every individual noun in the entire language. Plus, you have super long words like Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung und Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. (Seriously, look it up!)
In all seriousness though, German isn’t that difficult to learn if you do it right. (And not all of their words are that ridiculously long!) Here are some study tips and practical advice to help make your learning of German more effective:
Learning German — or any other language — requires a long period of sustained exposure to German. You didn’t learn your first language in a few months, so don’t think a second one will come any faster. Progress in language learning does not follow a straight-line graph. You cannot expect to make the same amount of progress, day after day, week after week. You may find yourself struggling at times, seeming to make no progress. Don’t get discouraged if the going seems slow. And use all the resources at your disposal for READING, LISTENING, WRITING and SPEAKING.
Remember that language is first and foremost oral communication. A written alphabet is merely a collection of symbols used to represent the sounds of the language, and cannot be expected to capture every nuance of sound and intonation. Try to develop a “good ear” for German. An easy and fun way to do this is by listening to German music, watching German movies or just listening to German radio in the background (There is SBS German and heaps of radio channels that you can stream online).
German, like most languages other than English, is a language of gender. Other than for example French, Spanish or Italian, the German language has three genders: der (masculine), die (feminin) and das (neutral). Make sure that as you learn each new noun, you learn its gender at the same time – learn das Haus rather than just Haus for ‘house/building’, and der Kuchen instead of just Kuchen for ‘cake’ (if you have been to Germany before, you know that this word is essential!)
The only way to learn to speak a language, is by actually SPEAKING. You can study for years, and master all of the grammar rules, but unless you actually practice speaking, you will never speak well. When you are practicing speaking, remember to do it out loud, at normal conversational volume. Also, try reading out loud. You will get all of the benefits of reading, plus you’ll get really good pronunciation practice. In fact, as a beginner, you should read aloud as much as possible.
One of the best tips we can give you is always having a German language tool with you – this can be a bunch of flashcards small enough to easily carry with you, or fun and free German apps for your smartphone, for example ‘duolingo’ or ‘babbel’. This way, you can capture “wasted” time (standing in line, riding the bus, waiting for class to start, etc.) and turn it into productive study time. Even if you only have a couple of minutes, you can use it to study a few flashcards or complete a new ‘level’ on your app.
Make labels for things all over your room or house and don’t forget the gender! ‘Der Schreibtisch’ (desk), der Stuhl (chair), Die Tür (door), are things you see every day and your sticky notes will make the German translation super easy to remember. Remove the labels only after you have mastered the vocabulary and add new sticky notes. Give yourself a realistic timeframe, for example remove and add 20 sticky notes in one month.
This is the most fun and exciting way to learn German – go to Germany! There are great student exchange programs in the Australian summer holidays that you can go on without interrupting your schooling. Not only will you improve your language in a very short period of time, but you also get to experience the culture, see the country and meet new friends.