At Lingoda, we are always interested in why our students decide to learn a language in the first place. Is it for work, travel, love? We spoke to Kate, a Lingoda German student, about her experiences of learning the language, Germany and the challenges she has encountered along the way.
Why learn German?
It’s about 9pm on a Sunday night. My windows are kipped (propped open at the top), letting cool evening air into my flat. I can smell some sort of tamed fire – most likely the remnants of the neighbours’ seemingly-constant grill-party – and hear laughter on the street and the occasional “Ach, Mensch!” or “Was denn?!” coming from the small group gathered on the corner (“cornern,” as one might call it) with their Späti beer and hand-rolled cigarettes. Somewhere in the distance, someone is playing the guitar, and every so often, the tram comes by, drowning out most other sounds for just a few seconds.
In moments like these, sometimes I fear I will wake up and it will all have been a wonderful dream. I pinch myself; nope, still awake. I live in one of my favourite cities in the world (Leipzig), my flat somehow receives both morning and afternoon sun, I have a job that I love, and the best friends I could hope for. Perhaps much of this would still be possible if I could still only speak my native language… but without a doubt, my life feels like a dream sometimes, and I owe a big part of its success to the fact that I speak German.
Getting fluent in German
I didn’t grow up speaking German; no one else in my family knows the language. I started learning three years ago, just before embarking on a semester abroad that turned into a year abroad and that is continuing to evolve into a lifetime. What I have learned in that time and what I have been able to experience because I can now speak German fairly fluently blows my mind on pretty much a daily basis.
Getting to this level of language fluency certainly hasn’t been easy, and I am regularly reminded how much I still have left to learn. Everyone learns languages differently – and for different levels of my language learning, some methods worked better than others. Believe me, I’ve tried them all:
Ways to learn German
- A German course at my university, which was great for picking up a basics before I moved here, when grammar was still explained in English (A1/2)
- A month-long crash course, which helped me get to know words and phrases I’d need in everyday life (“Ich hätte gern einmal Käsebrötchen bitte”) – starting here, there was very little English involved (A1/2)
- A test-prep course, with a lot of focus on learning and utilising grammar in academic contexts, which was very helpful for my master’s thesis research (B1)
- A language and culture course, in which my fellow students and I spent a significant amount of time going to museums and cultural events then discussing them or writing about them (B2)
- An exclusively-online “Language Sprint,” which gave me the flexibility to study from the comfort of my flat or during my lunch break at work (C1)
A variety of impromptu language tandems, with my patient friends and coworkers, have been scattered throughout this experience; with some friends, I exclusively speak “Denglisch” (Deutsch-Englisch) because certain words or phrases are just better in one language… or certain words are still missing from my vocabulary.
Learning German online – My experience
I recently restarted my online language courses with Lingoda, after a few months hiatus from formal German instruction. This time, the pressure is off: I’m simply taking courses to review grammar that I want to revisit, to participate in conversations about topics that interest me, and to converse with teachers who will correct what I say. It really makes a difference, not only in my speaking but also in my confidence with the language. As much as my colleagues and friends correct me and are patient as I repeatedly ask “okay but why is that dativ?,” it makes a world of difference to have a trained ear there to catch the little mistakes and explain the why. I have also learned more about the English language in the last three years than in all my years of schooling: for every few questions I ask about the intricacies of German grammar, I get a question back about English grammar.
Like anyone, I have good days and bad days when it comes to language. I’m forever grateful that, if needed, I can just switch into English with the majority of people I know. This happens less and less frequently as time passes, but there are still some days in which I just need the ease and comfort of my mother tongue. But the quality of my life and the innumerable opportunities I have because I speak German are much higher than before. I rarely think about what my life would have been like had I returned home after my semester abroad, because I can’t imagine it being better than this. I’ll continue learning for the rest of my life, but speaking English is now optional.