Learning to speak German through stories

by Eleonora Calviello
August 03, 2021
5 friends sitting on a bench on the rooftop of an industrial building, laughing and talking

If you’ve ever tried speaking German with a native speaker, chances are it wasn’t easy! After many hours spent practicing German with your teacher in a classroom setting, you finally find yourself in a German conversation in the real world where you can put your new skills to use and then… blank!  

You feel tongue-tied as you try to recall the right words, the correct declension, and.. “what was that verb conjugation again?” Your brain starts spinning as you hear German words flying at 100 mph and your speech seems clumsy and uncertain. 

It is every language learner’s nightmare!  
 
After 2 or 3 nightmarish conversations like this, you might start thinking that speaking German is just too hard. It might even stop you from ever trying again. You might find yourself thinking: “I should give up! This is too difficult.” But, this is not the your fault or a lack of practice, rather it is all about the way in which German is usually taught and how many learners supplement their in-class learning.  

While grammar exercises and classroom practice can be very helpful, and you should never skip a good grammar lesson, these don’t prepare you to speak German with real people in the real world.  

What does it matter if you know all of the uses of werden if you can’t remember how to use it in conversation? 
 
So, what can you do to get over that very first, very scary, interaction and come out of it feeling confident and ready to try again? 

In this article, you’ll discover a unique method called StoryLearning® and how you can implement it in your language practice.  

With the StoryLearning® method, you’ll learn German naturally by immersing yourself into a captivating text, so you can prepare yourself to confidently face your first German conversation with a native speaker.   

The StoryLearning® method was developed by Olly Richards, renowned language instructor and author of over 30 books, to help his students prepare for real world interactions. It based on one simple principle: reading and listening to captivating stories, written exactly at your level, will help you internalize all of the difficult aspects of German that you learnt about in your courses, so that it comes out naturally when you are having your first conversation, without having to stop and search your memory for the right words or conjugations.  

Want to know how it works?  Let’s take a look at one of Olly’s bestselling books for beginners: 101 Conversations in Simple German and use it as an example to dive into what the StoryLearning® method can do for you.  

How StoryLearning® Works: Let’s keep it fun and at your level!  
101 Conversations in Simple German 
Final thoughts 


How StoryLearning® Works: Let’s keep it fun and at your level!  

The StoryLearning® method makes language learning fun by allowing you to forget you are even studying!   

This is a really simple principle based on the knowledge that, if you like what you are reading, you are more likely to spend more time practicing. And, let us not forget that stories make everything more memorable, even the trickiest parts of learning a new language!  

Simple, no? 

So how can you apply the StoryLearning® method?  

To start, you need a fun, entertaining text in German that is at your level. That is why Olly has created his own original series made specifically for fiction lovers. 

This is by no means the only possible resource you can use (in fact, if your reading level is quite high you can even read original German literature, news and articles). Nonetheless, this book is a good way for us to dive into what StoryLearning® actually is.  

First, let’s look at the plot.  

101 Conversations in Simple German 

101 Conversations in Simple German is a fiction story which tells you about two friends, Silke and Julia, going to Berlin on vacation and becoming involved in the investigation of a mysterious robbery of one of Albrecht Dürer’s legendary paintings.  

As the story unfolds, they meet many strange characters including the mysterious “Man in the Hat” who will lead them deeper and deeper in the underbelly of the world of stolen art.  

Reading a brief summary, or introduction, can be a good way to start. It already gets your mind ready for what you are about to read!  

Here it is:  

Text

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This simple, yet intriguing, plot is meant to keep your attention with many twists and turns so that you keep on reading as if you were engaging with a story in your own native language.  

As I said before, there is nothing more memorable than a good story!  

By spending more and more time with the material, you will slowly become used to all of the aspects of German that seemed difficult only weeks before, you will finally stop overanalysing every part of any new sentence you read, and (more importantly!) you will finally… relax.  

You may still ask yourself: “that is all very well, but how does that help me practice speaking?” 

Let’s take a look at the very first chapter. 

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One of the first rule of StoryLearning® is: read at your level.  

In resources such as 101 Conversations in Simple Germanthe text is level-specific and designed for high-beginner to low-intermediate learners (CEFR A2-B1). That way, even if you don’t understand exactly every word, you will still be able to follow the story and fill-in the missing gaps.   

This is true of any level-appropriate material or graded reader, and it allows you to immerse yourself in the story without feeling overwhelmed and without any scary surprises like incomprehensible paragraphs or sentences.  

By finally relaxing with your German book (imagine a setting with a cup of tea and lots of comfy cushions) you will find out that all of those words and expressions which are the hallmark of native and fluent German speakers… finally start to stick!  

By immersing yourself in a story such as this, you are able to achieve the same effect of being completely immersed in the material and let your brain become comfortable with German naturally.  

This brings us to the second important characteristic of a great StoryLearning® resource: choose material that uses natural language.  
 

Let’s go back to our sample text:  

In 101 Conversations in Simple German, the whole story is told through natural spoken conversation which means that everything you will pick-up from studying extensively will be natural, spoken German! 

Instead of using stiff, textbook-like interactions (which are a very good starting point, by the way, but not the end-goal!), immersing oneself in original material which uses conversational language is so much better for your language learning!  

It gives you a chance to see when native speakers would use expressions like “Super!” or “Perfeckt!” instead of something more formal or repetitive.  

This is why, when you are a beginner or intermediate student, is important to use material that uses natural, modern language.  

By definition, a lot of classic literature uses a specific way of talking that is, shall we say, a bit outdated or overly-complex. Think about what would happen if a non-native English speaker came up to you and started speaking like Shakespeare! You’d probably be very confused and wonder why are they speaking this way!  

Learning a language is like installing a new piece of software in your laptop: you have to make sure that the input you receive is always up to date. That is why keeping up, and keep practicing with recent material (podcasts, new books, news channels etc.) is so important: the way languages are spoken changes continuously. It’s important to always stay up to date in order to learn those expressions and vocabulary that are relevant to today.  

This, finally, brings me to the last and very important step of improving your speech with StoryLearning® : choose material that also allows you to practice your listening!  

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Choosing resources that also include audio is the best option to maximize your learning experience. By getting used to the way German is spoken in a natural setting, you will also learn to recognise the rhythm and speed of the words, so that when you find yourself face to face with a native speaker you will find that what used to sound like an incomprehensible jumble of sounds starts to make sense!  

You can really get creative with this: listening first to see how much you understand and getting used to speech patterns and intonation, reading and listening at the same time so that you are prepared for when you’ll hear these expressions in the real world, or simply listening as you go for a run or a walk!  

According to the principle of StoryLearning®, there is really no wrong answer!  


Final thoughts 

In this example we used Olly Richards’ 101 Conversations in Simple Germanbut what is really important is to find material that is right for you, that will hold your attention, and that uses natural language. This will allow you to recreate an immersive environment that will make your language acquisition more natural and…well, less painful.  

Native speakers don’t learn their native language through controlled practice and rote memorization, and neither should you!  

Although there are many benefits of in-classroom settings, this rarely prepares you for your first real world interaction. Rather, the goal of methods like that of StoryLearning® is to re-create an immersive environment where you can have a chance to internalize all of those difficult rules and exceptions so that you don’t have to think about them every time you speak!  
 
As a result, you will see the stress of your spoken practice disappear as you become better and better in German!   


Eleonora has worked as a proofreader and editor for over 7 years and has been taking care of all Olly Richards Publishing’s publications for the last 2 years. She originally comes from Savona, Italy but has lived for 9 years in Kamloops, Canada and 6 years in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has been a book-lover all her life and has multiple degrees in Literature and language teaching. Eleonora likes to tell the story of how she learnt English at 16 by reading (and re-reading) some of her favourite novels, and is a huge believer in the StoryLearning® method having experienced it first-hand. She currently speaks Italian, Spanish, English and is currently learning French. When she is not commissioning new language learning material, or learning languages herself, she likes to travel, make new friends, dance, cook and… read more books! You can get in touch through her LinkedIn page.

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