Learning a new language might prove difficult, especially when this language is German; pronunciation, declension, past tenses to mention but a few. Granted, every language has its own difficulties and challenges. However, the most difficult part in learning a language is not coming in terms with the basic rules of grammar, syntax or vocabulary, but maintaining regular contact with it beyond the few hours one spends in a classroom weekly.
The traditional teaching method would expect the student to improve his language skills by discussing rather mundane and/or out of touch topics and doing grammar exercises off a textbook. While that can prove efficient to a certain extent -annoying as it is, learning a new language avoiding grammar is impossible- it does not bring one’s language skills to the next level. By “next level”, I refer to the level, where the student is not exclusively dependent on a traditional course and a teacher, but they integrate them organically as one of their many tools in their attempt to elevate their language level.
In order to bring our German language guides to the next level as well, we spoke with someone who is an expert on the topic. Sela is the founder of the language school Sprachsalon in Neukölln and has had her fair share of experience with learning and teaching languages. We sat down with her and discussed some advice on how to fine-tune your German skills.
Speak with Natives
Having people to talk to in German on a daily basis, for example, is essential, in order to reach the point of confidence, that will prevent you from constantly thinking about the mistakes you might be doing and will make you focus on conveying your message to your partner. In other words, find a tandem-partner: it is easy, fast and free, there are special websites for it and you get to meet new people on top of it. However, remember that a tandem partner is not a teacher and, thus, they serve different purposes. Through tandem, you will be able to feel more confident while speaking. Make sure your partner and you have more or less the same level of German, so that you can both improve through talking to each other.
Use the Media
Moreover, learning through books, music, TV, podcasts, radio, newspapers and any kind of media can be very rewarding, since they represent the language, as it is spoken and written with all its flaws, colloquialisms, figures of speech and contemporary expressions; if you find yourself overwhelmed by the plethora of media outlets and sources of information out there, start by choosing something that is close to your interest, such as listening to a specific artist you have always admired or reading your favourite book again, but this time in German. Listening to Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, or watching German films with subtitles could, also, serve as a start.
Non-Textbook Language Courses
This is, where Sprachsalon will prove to be of great help, since it offers a wide variety of non-conventional courses, focusing especially on German literature, creative writing and pronunciation. In the German literature course, for example, students have the opportunity to get exposed to expressionism through the work of Kafka, which is a writer they would be too scared to read in the original on their own. When it comes to creative writing, the teacher will focus on and ameliorate the writing style of every student individually. As far as Sprachsalon is concerned, it is a very cozy and welcoming place. Taking a look at the classrooms, the decoration, the colors on the wall as well as the people inside -both staff and students- it does not take long to realize that learning goes back to its initial roots of fun, culture and sheer joy. Sprachsalon is a place of coming together and communicating via different codes than our mother tongue in the heart of the vibrant melting pot that is Neukölln. What is more, readings, exhibitions and various cultural events take constantly place here.
Learn through fun Activities
If you think about starting a new hobby, regardless of its nature (e.g. sports, cooking class, music etc.), do not be afraid to go for it, even though the class might be totally in German; if it is possible, make sure you try it out especially for that reason. In that way, you will be able to kill two birds with one stone. If it seems scary, just bare in mind that German people will always be very happy to explain to you anything in English, should things get really hard.
Discipline yourself by setting Goals
While the following tip might not be helpful for everyone, I have personally become more efficient at improving my German, when I had a specific language certificate I had to prepare for. That was when I was investing time in my goal the most. By no means, this should mean that having a language certificate automatically translates into commanding the language very well. However, it has been a way for me to discipline myself into not “leaving things for tomorrow” and cure, thus, my tendency to procrastinate. However, as Sela wisely points out, language certificate or not, it all comes down to your ability to express yourself in the respective language.
By and large, bringing your German to the next level in Berlin might turn out to be tricky, since the German capital is extremely international and there are, thus, numerous temptations to just stick with the obvious, convenient alternative of English. Moreover, not every suggestion mentioned above is for everybody. As Sela wisely underlined in our discussion, it is very important for every student to figure out what type of learner they are and choose methods that are in harmony with this type. After all, part of integrating in a new city means learning the local language, since this brings along countless benefits; the freedom and magic in communicating in a language that is not your native one belongs to the greatest of them.