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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.

Digital immigrant August 4, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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This post is going to stray a little from my usual theme of learning German, although it is related to that activity.

I have been chatting online with a young, friendly German man Timo Heuer. He is a self-described digital native and he has called me a “digital immigrant”. I had not heard the term digital immigrant before, however it does appear to have some currency.

While chatting to Timo I started to consider what it would be like to have grown up in a time where personal computers and the Internet had always existed. I then recalled my father telling me as a child about the days before television. This was unimaginable to me. Television was such an important and integral part of my childhood. I thought that living in time without it must have been an unbearable hardship.

Then I started to think about how my life had changed for the better since I have acquired technology. Today, for example, I can take a picture with my iPhone and within seconds it is on the Internet available for anyone in the world to view and comment on. Before technology I would have had to wait, sometimes days, for that photo to be processed at the lab. If I wanted to share it with anyone I would have needed to go back to the lab and have the photo reprinted. Then I would need to write a letter, include the photo and post it. When the letter was received the recipient would then need to write a letter and post it to comment on my photo. If the recipient was overseas, this process would have taken about a month from the day the photo was taken until I received the comment.

Imagine what the time consuming and labour intensive process I have described above must seem like to a digital native (digital natives feel free to comment).

Technology has also removed the sense of isolation I used to feel from the rest of the world (remember Australia is about a 24+ hour flight from Europe). I recall as a teenager and young adult reading magazines from the UK. It all seems so far away and remote. What was happening in the UK was certainly something that I could watch from afar, but never actually participate in. In the old days even the cost of international phone calls was prohibitive.

Today I feel quite connected. Obviously there is the instantaneous flow of information via the web, but for me it is more personal than that. Now I can communicate one-on-one quickly and cheaply with individual people anywhere.

For me, technology has enhanced the experience of learning German. I now have access to all manner of learning materials. More importantly I now can meet German native speakers online. This enables me to practice with a wide variety of people. It also has the unexpected bonus of the opportunity to make real, quality friendships with those people. Through friendships I have learned more about the German culture than I had anticipated.

So yes, I guess I am a digital immigrant… and I am not going back to the old country.

No more classes for 2008 : conversation only July 26, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.

A fellow student of German asked me in an e-mail if I was going to continue with my German class when the current term ends in two weeks. Here, a little edited, is my reply.

I have decided not to do the next term of the class this year. I am definitely not giving up learning German, however I have decided for the remainder of the year to focus on conversation practice and vocabulary expansion.

Of course I have the trip to Germany in September, but I have reached a point in my everyday life where I now have a growing number of German friends, locally and online as well as the meet-up group to practice with. It is not unrealistic for me to say that if I applied myself I could have conversation practice 3 to 5 times per week. Towards the end of the year I plan to do a couple of refresher sessions with a tutor on the grammar. Then come 2009 I will enrol to continue with classroom learning.

I came to this decision because it is clear to me that the class is not a useful vehicle for me to learn to converse. In saying that I am not laying the blame for that failure on anyone other than myself and my style of learning. Interestingly, some of my German friends have encouraged me to take a rest from the class and concentrate on conversations. For me the class has become an intellectual exercise, something like learning to break a code. I do that in English and never really get the feeling for the language necessary to speak it. Nevertheless the grammar is important and I will definitely return to it next year.

Exposure July 20, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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I regularly scan Twitter using http://search.twitter.com/ for tweets about “learning German”.

I discovered a tweet by Josh, a self described “language geek”, and through that his interesting blog Language Geek. In particular I found his post More Exposure, Less Study relevant to me. I was prompted to write a comment on my feelings about this dilema. For the record, I am posting that comment here.

I am starting to think that exposure really is the key. I’ve been learning German since April 2007 and I have put a lot of time into studying it and listening to it.

However after all that effort I can’t actually say very much in German. I am happy with my level of comprehension relative to the amount of time I have been learning.

My problem is that my head has gotten so caught up in the complex grammar that speaking now seems to be close to impossible. I mean, when trying to speak, by the time my head has processed the grammar, the moment is lost.

I am travelling to Germany in September (for a big exposure) and I am seriously considering taking a break from active and formal studying after that trip. This is not giving up, rather an attempt to clear my head and actually learn how to speak. During this break, I would focus on conversing with my German online and offline friends, and attending German speaking social functions.

Children learn to speak by exposure. As an adult learning by exposure is a much slower process, complicated by a brain that is now wired in English. Time to accept this and re-wire :)

Berlin drawings by Paul Salamone July 1, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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Well I now have two months until I depart for Berlin. I am so looking forward to the trip. Therefore I was very pleased today to find these excellent drawings by Paul Salamone. Apparently Paul is an American graphic artist living in Berlin and these drawings are his observation of the city. Based on what I have seen of Berlin, I would have to agree with many of his observations. Check the drawings out here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/psalamone/sets/72157605859449254/

Online German language learning resources June 25, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.


My collection of relevant bookmarks is available here http://del.icio.us/madam3181/German or you can subscribe to an RSS feed of them here http://is.gd/13lT. This document is a summary of those bookmarks with some commentary.

Dictionaries – Translations

Online German courses
  • http://german.about.com/ There is a lot of lessons, articles, activities, discussions and more here. Best to leave it to you to explore for yourself. I think the site layout and structure is not so good, but it’s worth struggling with that to find the valuable content. This site appears to have now moved here http://forums.delphiforums.com/aboutgerman/, but I am not sure what is going on.
  • BBC Languages – Learn German Fairly straight forward basic online German Language course. Has some useful reference information eg days of the week, numbers.
  • German Level I A very basic introduction to German.
  • Deutsch – Warum nicht? Online course includes MP3 and PDF’s downloads for each lesson. Presented by DW-WORLD.DE.
Podcasts (no, you don’t need an iPod)
  • german-podcast.de This is quite crazy. The presenter, Stephan Wiesner, is a German man living in Switzerland. Stephan sounds like he is a really nice guy and he puts a lot of effort into producing these podcasts. However they are all over the place, ie beginners one week more advanced the next. Also the subject matter covered is the world around him and his interests. This is great as it is very personal but you will learn words about subjects, eg mountain climbing, in which you have no interest. Recommended on the whole because of Stephan’s warmth, passion and sense of fun. Stephan appears to have given up on this project and it is no longer updated.
  • Slowly spoken daily news reports in German from DW-WORLD.DE http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1833641,00.html. RSS version seems to work best http://rss.dw-world.de/xml/podcast_langsam_gesprochene_nachrichten.
  • SBS Radio Australia Try the Children’s program because the language is simple.
Online language exchange with German speaking people
  • A Guide to German Pronunciation This is a very handy reference, although quite brief. For example do you know how to pronounce a “g” when it appears at the end of a word or “ü”? This will help you. It also provides audio examples. This site is part of a larger Exeter University Beginners German which unfortunately has some broken links and incomplete sections.
Online broadcasts in German
Australian radio broadcasts in German

If you don’t know what RSS is see this link http://www.whatisrss.com/. You need a RSS feed reader. I recommend FeedReader or Google Reader. FeedReader is for Windows and is free.


My latest craze is Twitter . I am still learning how to learn Twitter myself, but I think that it has the potential to put me in contact with other people with similar interests. Therefore I am hoping that I can use it to expand my German skills. Go to http://twitter.com and register. If you are like most people you won’t get it first off; you will probably think it is stupid. To help you get started try The Big Juicy Twitter Guide by Caroline Middlebrook and this Video: Twitter in Plain English | Common Craft – Explanations In Plain English from Common Craft.

One good tool for finding people on Twitter with similar interests is Tweet Scan. Using several Tweet Scan RSS feeds combined with RSS mix, I came up with a way to find people on Twitter who might be learning, or prepared to help with learning, see here http://www.rssmix.com/u/33031/ or subscribe to this feed http://www.rssmix.com/u/33031/rss.xml.

“Friends” on Twitter are referred to as “followers” or “following” so once you have joined go here http://twitter.com/madam3181 and follow me by clicking on the follow button under my photo. Make sure you read Twitter help http://help.twitter.com/index.php it will get you started.

Newspapers and magazines

For people in Melbourne Australia

And finally to type those extra German letters of the alphabet without getting a German keyboard and/or resetting your system settings to German, here are the keystrokes:
ä Alt + 132 Ä Alt + 142
ö Alt + 148 Ö Alt + 153
ü Alt + 129 Ü Alt + 154

ß Alt + 225 € Alt + 0128
This means to get the letter you want, press and hold down the Alt key and type the code number, release the Alt key. Your letter will appear on the screen.

Friendfeed – Learn German June 3, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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I have been checking out Friendfeed trying to understand how it works and how it might be useful for people learning German.

To learn more about Friendfeed see this listing of bookmarks by Louis Gray http://del.icio.us/louismg/friendfeed.

To join the German learning Friendfeed room I have created go here http://friendfeed.com/rooms/deutschlernen.

Breakthrough? June 1, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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I feel that I am about to have a breakthrough with my spoken German.

Readers of this blog will know that this is something that I have struggled with, and still continue to struggle with more than one year into my learning.

This week has been a fairly intensive week of learning. Every day there has been some spoken German activity. There has also been some attempts at writing.

Today I find my head full of German words. I am translating my thoughts, where possible, into German. I think I am becoming obsessed.

Rather than obsessed, a more positive way to look at it is that some kind of breakthrough is imminent. I hope so.