In my post at the beginning of the year, I wrote about my plans for a trip to Europe this year. I’ve been planning and getting really excited about it for a while now. I have guidebooks, packing lists, and I’ve watched a ton of travel videos. It can’t come soon enough!
Ever since I decided to go on a trip to Europe (my second ever trip to Europe – my first being to Ireland with my dad in high school) I knew I wanted to visit Germany – the birthplace of my grandmother. I didn’t know much about my German side, but I grew up hearing stories about Germany and my German relatives from my parents.
They lived in Germany for three years when my dad was in the army before I was born. My mom actually learned German since she worked with other Germans and wanted to feel more comfortable living in a foreign country. They lived there during the split of East and West, which I always thought was really cool and historical.
Since I’m a polyglot and a passionate language learner, I decided I’d give German a try. I learned Spanish in high school (I took 5 years of classes but was never fluent by any means) and I took a semester of French, too. I liked both of them okay, but I snuck in my Japanese worksheets to class; ones that I’d printed off the internet to aid in my self-study.
I spent most of my college years studying Japanese and Korean, and I got back into Korean before I moved here to Korea, so I’m fluent in three languages. However, knowing that I’d be traveling to a lot of new places, I really wanted to be able to get around using the local languages. I’ve never been to a country where I completely didn’t know how to say anything (except maybe Hong Kong, but most people there speak English and I picked up some Cantonese phrases there) so I have no idea what it’s like to go somewhere without any language skills.
Before the first time I went to Japan, I’d already been self-studying Japanese for about a year or so. I was able to ask for things, tell people what I liked and disliked, etc. I was never completely lost on my own. I helped a lot of the other students get around whenever they needed help. Then, by the time I moved to Korea for the first time, I already knew basic Korean. Speaking was a lot harder to get used to, but once I did, I was fine. (Although, the first time I visited, I didn’t know THAT much Korean and had to get around on my own a few times, which was terrifying.)
German is the language that my dad wasn’t able to learn through his German mom, but one I’ve always set my sights on. I grew up hearing small phrases, remnants of my parents’ time in Germany, but I never had real exposure to the language. Thanks to the internet, I thought of German as a hard and scary language.
I started learning through Duolingo, the free language learning app that uses mostly translation to teach you a language. I’ve been using it for over 6 months now, and I love it! If you complete your study goal for the day every day, it gives you a streak and it is really motivating to practice every day. If you forget one day, your streak will be lost and you can pay to get it back (or you can prevent the loss by “buying” a streak freeze with the gems you earn through studying).
I love the streak feature, and the sentences are often weird and funny enough to make learning enjoyable. They also have a timed practice mode, which is sometimes stressful but it really motivates you to memorize the words and grammar rather than look them up.
I also love the new Stories feature, where you can simultaneously listen to and read a short story in German. During the story, they quiz you on words or grammar and ask you comprehension questions. They are so funny and it really feels like I’ve learned enough to understand meaningful content. I even sat down with one of my friends one day and showed it to her – she doesn’t speak German but I translated for her and she and I laughed at the hilarious story and I was really proud whenever I got a question right.
Duolingo is a great tool, but I like to supplement it with other things. Recently, I’ve been watching Easy German videos on YouTube, where they interview Germans about topics and all of it is subtitled in German and English. I also use YouTube for grammar videos and pronunciation help. Another great resource is Learn German with DW.com. They have videos and quizzes and the topics are always real life situations.
German.net is great for grammar and reading practice, and recently I’ve discovered an amazing online translator that FAR surpasses the likes of Google Translate, called DeepL. You can actually use it for French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Polish, too. If you don’t know a word, you can insert it into the translator and click on it for examples, and they will tell you its part of speech and other meanings. Along with that, I like Pons.eu which is similar – they have an app which I’ve yet to use but I might download it soon.
Podcasts are also a cool way to learn. I have listened to Coffee Break German a few times and I like it a lot. I’ve only listened to the earlier episodes, so the level is too low for me, but I’ll check out the newer ones soon and see how much I can understand.
For Christmas, I also asked for a German reader called Dino lernt Deutsch. It’s a book of short stories written in simple, learner’s style German. All the bolded words in the stories are defined at the end of each story, and I was able to read one of the short stories really quickly and was surprised how much I knew. I’ll definitely read the whole thing, maybe once I’m done with my Duolingo tree. I’m almost there!
To me, German is a beautiful language and it’s so easy to learn for native English speakers because the two languages are in the same family (Germanic). Everyone talks about how learning a Romance language like Spanish, French, or Italian is so easy, but I’ve studied two of those and German has been WAY easier so far. Many vocabulary words are extremely similar, if not the same, as English words, and the grammar is actually much more rule-oriented than our irregular-loving English grammar.
Sure, learning three different genders for each noun, learning prefixes and suffixes for verbs, and remembering all the different noun cases are a pain, but I feel like they are already getting easier. German grammar is only tricky if you don’t learn the rules and you tell yourself it’s going to be hard. Learning any language takes repetition, practice, and determination.
So far, learning German has been amazing! Ich lerne sehr gern Deutsch! Sie können es auch lernen! Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut, aber ich habe Spaß daran, jeden Tag zu üben. Maybe later, I’ll do a German diary like I did with Korean when I was first starting out.
I’ll put all the resources for learning German here into a new German section on my Language Resources page. Let me know what languages you’re learning and how you’re doing so!