Learning Advanced German
In summer 2017 I’ll be visiting family in Germany, so I wanted to brush up my language skills. My German abilities were in kind of a weird place. Since both my parents are German I grew up speaking it at home here in the US, but now that I live far from family I have few opportunities to practice. Also, I never had a formal grammar education and intended to fill that gap. Additionally, I wanted to pick up more current German slang.
Here are the advanced German learning resources I found most useful:
Advanced German Grammar
I was in the unusual position of being a fluent speaker but with virtually no formal knowledge of the grammar. I had a vague idea that different cases existed, but diving into German grammar made me appreciate its complexity. Hats off to the non-native speakers who manage to master it as an adult!
After reading Amazon reviews, I purchased Schaum’s Outline of German Grammar, 5th Edition, an excellent, thorough text. I spent half an hour a day working through the exercises. There were lots of light bulb moments for me since I had never formally studied the grammar previously. Working through the exercises, I realized that despite being a fluent speaker, there were times I was using the wrong case.
Jojo sucht das Glück is a German telenovela produced by Deutsche Welle for learners with a minimum level of B1. (Thanks to the Fluent Language blog for the recommendation!) The show follows the adventures of Jojo, a Brazilian student in Cologne. Episodes are only a few minutes long and the storyline is entertaining. For a C1/C2 speaker like me it was an excellent vocabulary review. There are three seasons, with the first two being the best in my opinion. I watched the episodes on YouTube, which made it easier to skip the intro and credits.
Deutsche Welle also has a great collection of short videos on current topics for advanced speakers. The most recent videos include German subtitles.
Netflix is one of my favorite ways to practice languages. These were a couple of German-language movies I really enjoyed by renowned Turkish-German director Fatih Akin.
Gegen die Wand (Head-On) – DVD only
A strange and touching romance blossoms between two Turkish immigrants in Hamburg who enter a marriage of convenience. Powerful examination of the search for identity by second-generation Turkish immigrants in Germany by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin.
Auf der Anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven) – DVD only
Another tragic and compelling drama by Fatih Akin that follows the complex interconnected stories of six people, four Turks and two Germans.
Great podcast for practicing German if you are a travel junkie like me. Episodes consist of thoughtful interviews that dive into the traveler’s psyche as well as plenty of practical tips and tricks. Lots of contemporary slang, and the interviews provide exposure to a variety of regional accents.
Fascinating Bayerischer Rundfunk radio program that tackles one controversial topic in depth per show. Sample episode titles include: “War Opa ein Nazi?”, “Warum haten wir so viel im Netz?”, and “Wie porno sind wir?” The fast-paced discussions by the youthful reporters are witty and entertaining and a good opportunity to brush up on colloquial German and slang.
Tagesschau – ARD App
The Tagesschau app by public broadcaster ARD for Apple iOS or Android is an excellent way to watch the news in German. When short on time the “Tagesschau in 100 Sekunden” news summaries are a convenient option.
German Conversation Practice
In order to practice German conversation with native speakers, I set up regular sessions with tutors on iTalki.
iTalki is a convenient, affordable way to connect online with teachers all over the world. iTalki’s lessons offer the choice of community tutors or professional teachers. Professional teachers have an official certification and classroom experience, while community tutors are advanced or native speakers who provide informal tutoring or speaking practice.
I decided to work with community tutors rather than professional teachers since I planned to review grammar on my own; it was conversational practice I needed most. Community tutor hourly rates are also much more affordable.
I met with three German iTalki tutors before finding one that really clicked for me. For me, the most important thing in my classes is the chance to speak, since I have plenty of opportunities outside of class to practice my listening skills with podcasts, movies, etc. Unfortunately, in my experience many tutors tend to dominate the session, turning it into more of a traditional lecture. What works for me personally is an engaged conversation where I get to speak at least 50 percent of the time, so I found a fantastic tutor with a collaborative teaching style who kept the focus of the class on my conversation practice.
I got some excellent reading suggestions from my iTalki tutors.
Thoughtful and humorous travel memoir by German TV comedian Hape Kerkeling that details his adventures and insights walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. This popular German bestseller is available inexpensively used on Amazon.
Imaginative and chilling psychological thriller by bestselling author Sebastian Fitzek. A compulsive read with many twists and turns that makes practicing German fun. I was impressed that my local library in the US had several of Fitzek’s books in the original German.
Anki is my go-to flashcard program for spaced repetition vocabulary study. The interface for the PC software is fairly dated but it works well. I have a deck for each language I’m learning (currently Spanish and German). Any time I come across an interesting new word or phrase, I enter it in Anki.
I create my own vocabulary decks because random lists compiled by others don’t work for me; I’ve found I need to be able to associate the vocabulary mentally with the context I learned it, whether in a conversation I had with someone or in a movie scene. That emotional connection really helps me remember. I review the decks daily.
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