Recommendations for Learning German with a Speaking Approach
It’s important to understand that taking online lessons once or twice a week might not be enough if you want to improve quickly. You need to dedicate time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes.
The process of learning a new language is a complex matter and involves many factors, but one thing is certain: the more you can immerse yourself in the language the faster the process will be.
In our language acquisition process we will cover six particular skills or scopes:
In order to improve quickly and smoothly, you need a healthy and steady development of all of them. Neglect one and you won’t improve as fast.
You might be inclined to think that very young children have impressive communication skills without knowing how to read or write, but aiming for a child’s ability is not the best approach.
The myth of learning like a child
The whole learning like a child approach has always been a very questionable objective for me.
You are a conscious adult with conscious decisions and objectives.
The decision of taking the learning approach of a child, in reality, means getting rid of any decisions and responsibility, that’s why it sounds so appealing.>Now I’ll just be a child, and I’ll learn automatically. No, your not and, no, you won’t.
The learning environment of children cannot be recreated for an adult.
No matter in what learning aspect, you are not a child and you don’t have at least two people constantly hurrying around you. You are not going to Kindergarten and your little friends don’t hit you with a shovel after a misunderstanding. There’s no committee of 6 people that will start clapping when you’ve learned a new word. People won’t laugh and correct you while pinching your cheek when you say something wrong. You don’t have 15+ hours of natural absorption of the language with people biologically engineered to teach you a language so that you can survive in this world.
In short, you don’t have the same lifestyle nor the same motivations. Please forget the idea of learning like a child.
Vocabulary vs Grammar
Vocabulary is at the top of the list because it is the one you should focus the most on, especially in the beginning. There is speech without grammar, but there is no speech without vocabulary. This realization is more important than you think. Many students think that they can advance and take their speaking ability further by learning more and more grammar. But this shouldn’t be your primary focus. Think of grammar as a tool that can be of better or worse quality and of vocabulary as the essence of speech.
There are many different approaches and techniques for learning vocabulary. I use and recommend spaced repetition.
Grammar is also important especially with German which has a complex grammatical structure, but it’s nothing you should be obsessing over. Learning all the grammar rules will serve you little if there is not enough vocabulary to use them. I have encountered many students that didn’t realize they were way too focussed on Grammar due to the fame it has for being so difficult.
This can be very counterproductive and frustrating for you as there are two possible outcomes:
- You understand the rules and usage very well, but you are unable to speak due to the lack of vocabulary.
- You understand the rules but not the usage, because you are not giving yourself time to practice what you are learning and to get used to the structures.
So don’t obsess over grammar. Getting things wrong when you speak is not only better than not speaking at all but a desired effect as long as you have the desire to improve and keep paying attention and being curious.
Remember you don’t have to understand the why of every structure, sometimes it’s okay to just accept that sentence as it is and keep watching out for patterns. It might just still be too advanced for you and would overall not bring you much further.
Sometimes certain grammar structures can also be learned by intuition and/or imitation. Who knows maybe in the future you discover a pattern naturally and without any conscious effort? For everything, there is a time and a place. The road to follow is common sense and a good mix of everything. Slang, for example, would probably be a bad idea for beginner students.
Don’t be proud whenever you don’t make any mistakes. That is the wrong mindset. You have to be proud whenever you have used the language a lot.
Of course, we don’t want to be oblivious to speaking correctly, but we should first prioritize on practising the language and everything new we have learnt. Then we can slowly start to leave our most common errors behind and to apply new grammar correctly.
Practical Tips For Improving The Six Skills
- Always try to review class vocabulary between 24 and 48 hours after class
- If you have a hard time remembering the vocabulary you can use spaced repetition apps like Anki or Quizlet.
- A common notebook where you write down the vocabulary also does the job.
- Reading vocabulary doesn’t equal reviewing vocabulary! You should be testing your brain if it knows the answer, not giving it the answer directly and hoping for the best.
- We will be reading texts regularly in class
- After a few lessons depending on your level, I will send you easy books for you to read on your own
- Always try to read texts that are a little bit above your level.
- You should never aim for understanding every single word. That is a boring process and unnatural. When natives read they often do it quickly, skipping words and sentences that they didn’t understand or didn’t think relevant. We want to train your mind to read in another language, not learn a book by heart. Of course, in the beginning, there will be a lot of words to look up. Try to learn to differentiate between relevant vocabulary and words you can skip. Here’s an article on how to tackle difficult texts in German.
- Write at least once a week about any topic (what you have done, things you like, a movie you have seen)
- You can either post it on italki, send it to me or even not share it at all
- Maintain an ongoing conversation with me. Send me messages during the week telling me about your improvements, discoveries or setbacks. Whenever you feel unmotivated to study or review send me a message. What better way to fight procrastination than action?
- Use fillers to give you time to think. Here are some tips to consider when speaking with an online tutor, but the same applies to any conversation with a German native.
- Have at least one weekly class or conversation with a native.
- Speak slowly, especially if you’re a fluent speaker. To know whether you are a fluent or an accurate speaker, see this post.
- You should be watching German content even if you are a beginner. We will try to find something suitable for you depending on your level.
- Starting to watch your favourite movies and TV shows in German is always a good choice because not only do you know the whole plot but you might even know entire scenes by heart. Dubbed material is also a lot easier than original content which makes it a great resource for beginners.
- Do active listening: don’t lose time by aimlessly listening to German hoping you will somehow miraculously improve. It takes a little effort. As always if there is zero effort, benefits are low. Watch or listen to something suitable for your level or slightly above and then pay attention.
- For more tips see my guide on how to improve your German by watching TV Shows and Movies.
Putting it into practice
More than rigid studying see it as a kind of routine. Learning a language is just like starting to have a healthy lifestyle, building a business or getting fit. No one loses 20kg or learns a new sport without a certain routine.
Slowly but surely try to develop a routine that feels comfortable and that you know you can maintain in the long run.
Here are some example ideas for a learning German routine:
- Have one book that you read at a particular time. Read it without hurry. Read for 10 or 15 minutes every night.
- On Fridays, you can write me or your language partner a message talking about something you have learned or done.
- Spend 10 minutes every morning to review vocabulary while you have your first cup of coffee.
For you to learn a language you first have to become someone who learns a language.
How much time you spend developing the six skills is up to you and depends on how quickly you want to see progress. However remember to make it realistic, it’s better to do 1 hour every day for a year than 5 hours a day and losing motivation after a month. Try to turn certain activities or a daily time commitment into a habit.
And always remember not to aim for perfection, native speakers aren’t perfect and you’re wasting valuable time (remember the 80-20 approach). The students I have seen improve the fastest were the ones that simply enjoyed the process and their language learning habits.
Rules and Guidelines for our lessons
Lesson frequency and length
When in doubt about lesson length and frequency remember that it’s better to practice twice a week for 30 minutes than once a week for 60, especially if you have almost no contact with the language elsewhere.
Tech set up
The optimal setup for Skype lessons includes:
- A laptop
- any online translation software ready for you to use
These are no requisites, but they are very helpful.
With a laptop, we can make lessons more interactive including links, videos, google docs, etc.
Headphones are not only important to reduce background noises like fans or the computer itself, but they also avoid me hearing myself in the background which can be distracting and sometimes its impossible to follow the conversation.
The online translation software will help you look up easy words during class so that you don’t have to interrupt the conversation if you don’t feel like asking for the word.
Have realistic expectations
If a student takes only one lesson a week but still expects huge results, he’ll quickly get frustrated. But think of it. Four hours a month is very little time dedicated to your language training. With so little time invested, you can’t expect great results in the beginning, but rather in the long run.
If you feel you need to take more lessons, but you’re not sure when or how and my schedule seems too full, please write me a message.
Rescheduling and lesson length
If I don’t have a student immediately after you I don’t mind spending a bit longer, especially if there is something important to finish so I will often exceed the scheduled time, but please keep in mind that generally my 60’ lessons are 55’ minutes long and 30’ lessons are 25’ minutes long to leave time between lessons for preparation and administrative tasks.
Please reschedule 24 hours in advance. If you don’t attend a lesson I will wait 15 minutes. Depending on the reason the lesson might be rescheduled deducting the 15 minutes from the lesson length.
I seldom post feedback on italki, first because many students don’t need it or don’t want it to be publicly available, and second, because I always work closely with all my students and give them feedback in class or in a written message. I will also be tracking you’re improvements and aims so we will regularly speak about aims, common errors and recommendations in class.
And please remember to give me feedback, too. I do my best to keep all of you happy but it’s always nice to hear your thoughts on it.
If you’re new to italki and you would like to have a lesson with me click here.