This month, we are happy to introduce a new series of posts dedicated to learning German in Berlin! Our offices are located in the German capital, and the city’s growing appeal to foreigners have made it one of the liveliest places in the world.
However, learning German isn’t always easy, and many Wahlberliner (somebody who is a Berliner by choice, meaning after moving there) struggle with the language, all whilst relying on the fact that a large part of the population is able to speak English.
Therefore, we have decided to interview several non-German, Berlin-based bloggers to find out about their German learning process.
Up this week is Polly who created a project we really like: Days Of Deutsch.
- Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Polly, originally from London but before Berlin I lived in New Zealand for four years. I’m a social media manager by day and on the weekends and evenings I devote my time to Days of Deutsch–it’s a project to help me and others learn German through photos. Each day I post a new photo with the German word next to it and occasionally bring the words together in a blog over at daysofdeutsch.com.
- When did you move to Berlin and what were your motivations?
I moved here in May 2014, a year and a half ago now. My sister already lived here and my boyfriend was about to start studying here so it made sense to come back and be on this side of the world for a while.
- Did you learn German before moving here? When and how did you start?
I started out listening to Michel Thomas a month or so before I left but when I made it to Berlin I realized that I was pretty much clueless. I didn’t have a job and had some savings so threw myself into 2 months of intensive lessons. Since then my learning has been a little more ad-hoc.
- As a Berliner, how important is understanding and speaking German to you? How does it affect your life?
As everyone says, you can get by without German in Berlin. I work at an English-speaking company and many of my friends are fellow foreigners. Having said that, I don’t feel like you really get to the heart of a city if you can’t understand the language and don’t make friends with the locals. I think it would be a shame to leave Berlin without a good command of the language, because when else do you get a chance to immerse yourself in German?
- What is your stand on “English-speaking places” in Berlin, a.k.a restaurants which only have an English menu etc.
I guess it goes with my comment above, if you don’t want to immerse yourself then it makes living in Berlin easier but it also makes us lazier. What annoys me is when I watch Germans try and talk German to an English-speaking barista and they get told ‘English only please’. I can understand that non-German speakers might need a bit of enabling as they transition into speaking German but I don’t understand if, in turn, that disables native speakers. As foreigners we need to respect the country that we live in.
- Have you ever felt like your level of German was holding you back? If so, in which situations?
Oh yes, I often wish that my German was at a higher level from the miniscule conversation with a neighbour in passing on the stairs to the larger life decisions such as flat hunting. We endured a gruelling couple of months recently trying to find a new flat, from trying to figure out what forms we needed to fill in, to applying for flats, to signing contracts–every step of the way I wished that my German was better in order to make the whole process a lot less painful.
- What’s the most challenging thing about learning German?
The grammar. Dative, nominative, genitive, der, die, das–there’s a level of complexity there that’s hard for me to wrap my head around.
- What would be your advice to other future or struggling German learners?
I’ve actually written a blogpost on that very subject. Nothing really beats taking lessons but in addition to that I think trying to read and watch as much German content as you can is great. It’s easy to revert to English if you live in Berlin so stick at it, keep talking German. It’s natural to panic when someone talks to you too fast in German but don’t just reply that you don’t understand, ask them to speak more slowly.
- Any funny anecdote linked to learning (or struggling to learn) German you would like to share?
I know far too many inappropriate words now. I’ve spent the last week reading a graphic novel called Hexe Total which is chock-full of swear words and slang that I’ve been using with great glee around the house and then have to remember that they might not go down so well in my local cafe or on the street. Remember, just because you learnt a word doesn’t mean you should use it.
- What is your favourite German word? And the one you still cannot pronounce right?
I’ll start with the pronunciation– I don’t use this word much but ‘das Eichhörnchen’, which means squirrel is a tough one to pronounce, it takes all my mental powers to say it correctly. The knowledge that many Germans also struggle to say ‘squirrel’ comforts me though.
I have 3 favourite words, two were recommendations from Days of Deutsch followers– ‘der Morgenmuffel’ meaning a morning grump, and ‘der Kabelsalat’, it literally means cable salad which is the tangle that your cables get into. I love those words so much because there is so much meaning encompassed in the one word that’s hard to translate across to English. My final one is one that my brother-in-law taught me when I first moved here. He told me the word and then proceeded to tell me that I should never use it because only middle-aged people in small villages would use it thinking they were being funny. Which sounds right up my alley. Tschö mit Ö – a silly way of saying goodbye as a variation on tschüss. So on that note, tschö mit ö!
You can also read our other interviews: