Me Talk Pretty German One Day
February 11, 2008 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting to learn German, and I love it- I find everything about the language fascinating, and making my flashcards and doing my speech exercises about how Jan liebt Sara and how das Madchen ist glucklach is the funnest part of my day. I'd like to get good at it. Really, really good. Can you help me?

I'd love to hear any and all ideas- ranging from simple and low-tech, like how to make well-organized flashcards and memorization tricks for those gendered nouns and tricky cases, to recommendations for instructional podcasts and websites, to suggestions for contemporary German music (my preferences run toward indie and techno) and movies for a little bit of cultural immersion (please no more Fassbinder or Herzog- I've made my way through everything on Netflix and now want to do what Ian Curtis did after watching "Stroszek").

I've looked through older questions and answers on learning new languages, but I'd love specific hints and tips and tricks for Deutsch. Languagehat, are you out there?

posted by foxy_hedgehog to Education (31 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I was in high school I studied German and I put everything on a big poster and put it on the toilet door. You're in there for a reasonable length of time every day with not much else to do except read. I also recorded some tricky things and listened to them when I was falling asleep (and would wake in the night with a headphone in my mouth) -- I figured at 17 that I was learning through osmosis. It did help with exams though.
posted by tracicle at 9:41 AM on February 11, 2008

Immersion is the best way to learn any language, once you have some basics. Are there any German cultural groups/etc in you area?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:43 AM on February 11, 2008

Find an opportunity to work with native Germans in Germany for more than a month. F.i. an exchange student program, working, volunteering. Stuff like that.
Listening to German hörbücher on subjects or fictiongenres that interest you.
posted by jouke at 9:44 AM on February 11, 2008

Response by poster: In re: immersion programs- I live in New York City and am taking classes at the Goethe Institut/Deutsches Haus. I'm not sure where to go for immersion except for maybe trying to talk to the bartenders at Zum Schneider.

Jouke- how can I find "horbucher"? (Sorry, haven't learned now to insert an umlat in MS Word yet!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2008

I know this answer is cliche, but actually going to Germany was probably the one thing that helped my German the most. If this is not a possibility, you could always try to organize a "German corner" or a meetup of German speakers. Even just practicing with other learners can be a big help. I know of some full-immersion programs at universities where you have to speak German all the time and live in a dorm with other German speakers.
posted by pravit at 9:49 AM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Do you get Scola TV or any station that has the Deutsche Welle programming auf Deutsch? I was an exchange student in high school, and that's one of my remaining connections to the language.

Also, I would recommend finding a German-speaking Stammtisch, either through MeetUp or a local college. You sit around and speak German with people of all levels. It's really the best way to keep fresh, get better, and make German a regular part of your life.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:50 AM on February 11, 2008

Haha, as far as the umlauts go, this took me a while and almost made me feel completely geek:

ä = hold down the alt key and hit 132 on your num pad. (in sequence, not all together)
ü = alt + 129
ö = alt + 0246

For us laptop dwellers, it's just a matter of holding down the Function (fn) key to access the num pad, on top of the above process.
posted by Phire at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

*and always made me feel completely geeky.
posted by Phire at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2008

foxy et al.: Try the Language Immersion Institute in New Paltz, New York, not far from NYC.

phire, tracicle et al.: Google for an "extended ASCII" table or chart for a full-size version of all the accented characters, and more, suitable for posting in your bathroom.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:11 AM on February 11, 2008

Deutsche-Welle has a podcast of German news reports that are designed for people who are learning German (spoken slowly and clearly articulated). In addition to helping you learn German, they'll give you a different perspective on the news.
posted by nixxon at 10:14 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I borked my link. The link was just a google for the word hörbücher. obviously comes up.

You could also do a language trade: I wanted to have my English language thesis revised by a native speaker and somebody on mefi wanted to practice Dutch (my native tongue). So we talked over Skype.
posted by jouke at 10:32 AM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Learning German is my hobby (I started learning German 40 years ago in High School). There is a really great contemporary pop/rock group called Wir Sind Helden, whose lead singer Judith Holofernes is an outstanding lyricist. She's an enormous talent and her lyrics are, I think, reason enough to learn German. You can find many of her stuff on youtube, including about 50 different covers of some of their biggest hits including Nur Ein Wort and Denkmal. There is also web page with many of their lyrics translated into English here. You can buy their albums on itunes. Songs I would particularly recommend for people trying to learn German include "Ein Elefant fuer Dich" and "Die Zeit heilt alle Wunder".
posted by thomas144 at 10:35 AM on February 11, 2008

hi, my old question may be helpful
posted by barrakuda at 10:38 AM on February 11, 2008

To build on what Phire said, it's a commonly-accepted convention in German orthography to write the diacritic characters in the following way should the keyboard you're working with not support extended Latin.

ü -> ue
ö -> oe
ä -> ae
ß -> ss
posted by Electrius at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2008

Another good podcast is Slow German, which is produced by the same woman who does Schlaflos in München and aimed at people learning German as a second language. Slow German comes out maybe once every other week, whereas as SiM is nearly daily. is a good roundup of German-language podcasts.
posted by jedicus at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: When I'm learning a new language I try to name as many things in every room I enter in the new language. You can also do this for actions. If you're walking to your car, tell yourself, "ich gehe zum Auto" "ich fahre im Auto" "Sheisse. Das Auto ist kaput" etc. (or, using this method, und so weiter)

You can also do fake "man in the street" interviews. Y'know those interviews where they talk to the neighbor (who invariably says of the axe murderer, "he was such a nice quiet guy.") Well, anytime they do this on the news, pretend you're the interviewee and try to answer the question (or translate the answer that you hear) in your new language. This is lots of fun. I'm not kidding.

And yeah, signs and workbooks in the bathroom are great.
posted by nax at 10:50 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like a lot of Dutch kids I learned German in school and wasn't particularly fond of it. The thing that changed it almost overnight was developing a crush on this girl named Katja who I'd met on a student exchange program. In the end, things didn't work out but my German is pretty damn near fluent. Fall in love!
posted by monospace at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Actually, what thomas144 said reminded me of something else: Otto Waalkes is an absolutely charming German comedian. You'd have to be fairly advanced to understand his jokes since he plays on puns and cultural references a fair bit, but for most of them you get the gist and the overall tone even if you don't understand every single bit. I first heard him when I was around 9? and I had been living in Germany for a bit more than two years, and even I found him ridiculously awesome. Rediscovering him after ten years was one of the biggest benefits of spending all that time on weekends trying to make sure I didn't lose the language.

His website is here, MeMail me for more info?
posted by Phire at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Post-It notes. Stick them to everything in your house with the German word for the thing on them.

(That sentence wasn't very clear. I mean: stick a Post-It to your bed saying "das Bett," stick one to the kitchen door saying "der Küchen," stick one to the dryer saying "der Wäschetrockner," etc etc etc-- down to your plants, even.)

Also, is the most useful website ever.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:36 AM on February 11, 2008

I don't know much about the language in them, but these are great movies:
The Lives of Others
Run Lola Run
The Counterfeiters
Sophie Scholl - The Final Days
Good Bye Lenin!
posted by easy_being_green at 11:37 AM on February 11, 2008

Entering umlauts and ß is easier by setting the input locale in your operating system to German.
Under Windows using Dutch as an input locale I could type the following combinations
"e -> ë
shft ctrl s -> ß
'e -> é
`e -> è
I haven't tried German but I guess it will be similar.

Mac OS X has something similar using the alt/option key.
It's much easier than the codes and you can switch between input locales.

These are internationalisation options in your operating system, not in Windows.
posted by jouke at 12:10 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Get a tutor once a week for an hour. Huge, huge difference in learning.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:12 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Carry a book around - perhaps a book you've already read in English. Not something challenging (don't feel bad you're not reading Goethe and Kant). I've found the German translations of Haruki Murakami's stuff, for example, to be very good, and they're comparatively not-too-hard when it comes to sentence structure, vocabulary, etc. Don't feel like you have to get every last word. It's worth it to sometimes look everything up, yes, but you don't need a flawless vocabulary to get the gist of a story. You could check out Hörbücher too, but I suspect they'll be harder to follow at first without constantly rewinding. Get a good German/English dictionary you can carry around, though will help you more if you run into slang, modern technical expressions, etc.

Read German newspapers online. I usually go for the Süddeutsche Zeitung; Die Zeit is easier, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is hardest - think the NYTimes in German. Similarly, there are lots of sources of podcasts, videos, etc. in German these days. We watched stuff on tagesschau in the last German class I took as a way of getting to hear German.

Speak to yourself in German. Make your banal inner monologue run auf Deutsch, to the best of its abilities. If you find yourself lacking a given word frequently, make a note of it and look it up later. Vocals in music are often hard to catch, which can make listening to music in another language frustrating, but... Einstürzende Neubauten is quite good, and Blixa Bargeld's voice is pretty clear. Ougenweide's a '60s group that made folk music heavily influenced by medieval German traditions. A fair amount of the German stuff I know is psych-rock or Krautrock and therefor pretty light on the vocals, unfortunately, and I'm still getting into the current scene.

Above all: find people to talk to. A local Stammtisch, a group at a nearby university, someone over Skype... doesn't matter. For me, at least, translating all of my book-knowledge of German into an actual conversation was, and is, the biggest challenge. And man, if any opportunity to go to a German-speaking country appears, take it! I'm currently in München because an opportunity appeared, and it's true: immersion makes a huge difference, and living in another country is an engrossing challenge.

Viel Glück!
posted by ubersturm at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

..not in Windows.
That should read: ...not in Word.
posted by jouke at 12:53 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: I spent one month with intensive Rosetta Stone and some internet resources on German grammar before I moved to Berlin. Once there, I had a pocket dictionary and just used immersion. That helped a ton. I also got some two language books initially (short but involved things like "The Canterville Ghost") to learn some vocab and sentence structure, and then eventually just started reading German books and the newspaper.

Now that I've moved back to the US, I try to listen to German podcasts (particularly Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten), watch a few German movies when I get the chance and read Der Spiegel online.

I just went back to Berlin for three weeks and my German was actually just as good if not better than when I moved away a year ago, which was a relief.
posted by atomly at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2008

In re: immersion programs- I live in New York City and am taking classes at the Goethe Institut/Deutsches Haus. I'm not sure where to go for immersion except for maybe trying to talk to the bartenders at Zum Schneider.

Ich bin Deutsche, schick mir einfach eine Nachricht, wenn du Lust hast.
posted by snownoid at 2:47 PM on February 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for these wonderful suggestions. If any of you are in NY I'd love to have a Deutsche meetup!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:37 PM on February 11, 2008

To improve your skills, retain them, and keep yourself interested, it's really important to find people to speak German with on a regular basis. It could be a German-speaking lunch group once a month or a book club that reads books and talks about them in German. You will learn best and improve fastest if you include conversation with other people, because it will challenge you to not only retain content but also use it to express yourself and comprehend others.
posted by Tehanu at 8:33 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also I suggest you read "Ein Tisch ist ein Tisch" if you haven't already, and maybe the original German versions of any books you might have already read as English translations, such as Die Verwandlung.
posted by Tehanu at 8:49 PM on February 11, 2008

This may sound trite... but check out Craigslist. I always see listings under the Community heading for language meet-up groups. (In other words, people who, like you, are learning a new language and a re looking for someone to practice with.) You'd especially luck out if you could find someone who's native language was German and was looking for someone to practice English with, kind of a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch dein," thing.

Sing. I don't mean just listen to German music and sing along, although that will help. I mean sing stupid things, in German, all the time. Instead of standing in front of the sink saying "Wasser" "Seifenlauge" etc., try singing, "I'm doing the dishes," "Dried ketchup sucks," "How the HELL do you clean a cheese grater?!" etc., auf Deutsch. Bonus points if you can get things to rhyme. It sounds stupid, but you'll be amazed how fast your vocab will expand and how quickly you'll get used to the grammar. I did it for French and German through high school and college. It makes studying fun, you retain more, and it gets you out of the "thinking about what you're saying" thing a lot faster.

Bon chance... er, Alles Gute!
posted by Vavuzi at 12:36 AM on February 12, 2008

One study habit that works for both middle school pupils and adults is to study a very small, thematically-linked vocab. list each day. Limit it to 5-10 words, such as "die Küche: der Ofen, das Waschbecken, der Kühlschrank, das Essen, das Rezept."

I find that this helps retention of new vocab.
posted by vkxmai at 7:03 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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