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German in Germany October 9, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in Berlin, german.

It has been over two months since I have written here. Since the last posting I travelled to Germany for most of September. I was mainly in Berlin, although I did have a day trip to Hannover and looked around Frankfurt just prior to my departure for Australia.

So how did my German go? I have already been asked this question many times. There are two answers.

Understanding, ie passive skills, were good. I was surprised and impressed with just how much I could understand. For example at one of the hotels the staff there spoke to me in German and I could understand just about everything and at the Qantas check-in a Frankfurt I could also handle the process in German. I spent a lot of time with my friend Stefan and he spoke to me in German most of the time. I have to admit that I couldn’t understand everything, but I always got the general idea. I even found a couple of times the words registered without having to translate them into English. I guess that’s what it’s like when you can actually speak the language. I came to the conclusion that for someone who has been learning part-time in an English speaking country for less than two years I am doing quite well with understanding.

Speaking, ie active skills, are still poor. I simply don’t have the confidence to speak German. The words necessary for simple conversation are there in my head, but I can’t sort through the grammar points and word order fast enough to actually say anything. I did have a couple of situations where I had to speak German, once asking for directions and once with a taxi driver who couldn’t speak English. To my surprise I was understood and could understand. So although those conversations were difficult, they did actually work.

The most frustrating thing in Berlin is that most people speak at least reasonable English. I found that even if I tried to speak German, when people realised that I spoke English they would speak to me in English. I had expected this to happen. I did find however that if I addressed someone with, for example, a convincing “Guten Tag”, I would get a response in German. I was particularly pleased a Frankfurt Airport security when I noticed the security guy speaking to the English speakers in English, and the German speakers in German. When it came to my turn I greeted him with “Guten Arbend” and he proceeded to give me instructions in German (fortunately I could understand the instructions). So I figured I must have passed for a German speaker.

I won’t go on here about what I did on my holidays. I’ll just mention that through Twitter I met up with some nice people. Timo Heuer in Hannover, Chuck Smith and his girlfriend Judith, and Jesse Skinner in Berlin, and Peter Jakobs in Frankfurt. I have also posted some of my photos to Flickr, there are photos from Berlin and a few from Hannover.



1. Chuck Smith - October 9, 2008

As for starting to speak, I have one rule: “Forget all rules.” Most of the time if you can say the words, even in the wrong order, and completely wrong grammatically, you’ll still be understood. Maybe you’ll have to repeat yourself once. No need to be afraid, just speak it! :) Of course, listening to some more GermanPod101 can’t hurt, but I think you just need practice. Perhaps you could find some Germans in Australia to hang out with who miss speaking German?

2. madam - October 9, 2008

Hi Chuck. Yes I have found some local Germans to hang out with… but of course they want to talk English.

3. Paul Schellin - October 10, 2008

I know exactly what you mean with the speaking German and being answered in English. I’ve been here now for a little more that an month, and the first time I experienced this frustration was in Frankfurts bahnhof… it happens often in my school as well, which I just started this Wednesday. People in my school (gymnasium) are well educated and have learned English since they were in 5th grade, so naturally they are good at it. Also, they seem to be itching to speak it and be spoken to in English, but only by native speakers for some reason. This is helpful when they can explain some word to me, but not so much when they insist on speaking English, then those around you notice that you don’t understand German (which I feel right now I can understand much of what I’m told, and bits and pieces of class). It is truly frustrating for me.

Ich will diesen Brief auf Deutsch schreiben, leider weiß ich nicht ob es leuchten oder nicht…

Viel Spaß in Österreich!

4. Ant - November 4, 2008

There’s a fantastic school where they get people speaking german farily well in just a couple of days. My brother went there before his high school exams and it saved him. I don’t know how it worked. If I could think of the name I’d post it here.

But it always amazes me just how much language teaching can vary. He did 4 years at school and learnt almost nothing. 3 days somehwere decent and came home chatting away.

Maybe I can dig that now out later. Maybe.

5. Ralph - December 27, 2008

Hello, Paul,
learning languages is always a difficult thing to do, especially speaking them to native speakers. In Germany, the idea is gaining ground that knowing at least a foreign language is an advantage. Still, I notice with my students, esp. in East Germany, that they are afraid speaking. There is a psychological barrier to be lost if you can´t make yourself understood.

@ Ant: the best way learning to speak a language is trying to communicate in its native country. I learned English when I was lost in London without a roof over my head, and when working for a year at a comprehensive school. The Internet actually does a good job in that, as well.

6. madam - December 27, 2008

I am currently working on a plan whereby I will spend the (European) summer in Berlin and attend German school every day. I think this is the only way I am going to learn to speak the language a little in a reasonable timeframe. Trying to do it here, without a real focus on learning, is too slow.

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