I wanted to share a quick post today with two exercises for improving your German vocabulary. You can use the exercises for any of your target languages, but since I have a B.A. in German, attended all sorts of classes to learn German, tried (nearly) every method to improve my skills, and lived in Germany for a year, I wanted to do a language-learning post for German 😀
My specialty in life would have to be German grammar 😉 Most people are indifferent when it comes to grammar, but I love it! It’s interesting for me to learn about the structure of different languages, so it’s no surprise that I have predisposition for liking (German, Russian, French) grammar. German grammar seems difficult in the beginning for most learners and that’s the popular opinion around the world, but, in my opinion, it’s much more reliable and logical than French or English grammar.
I’m not sure if many German learners read my blog, but if you are learning German and have questions, or want recommendations for German learning resources, please feel free to ask in the comments.
With the little introduction aside, let’s move on to the two exercises:
Write a text in German. For example: a diary entry, a letter to a loved one (imagined or real), a report about something, or an essay on a particular topic.
Try to think and write in German only. There may be some words that you still need to translate, so make a list of the words you need to know.*
Group words from the list together. You can group verbs/adjectives/prepositions together, or words that belong to a particular topic such as “university life.”
Study these words and re-write the text. Here is an essay checklist for writing correctly in German: Essay Writing Checklist. Here is a list of transition words to help with the structure of your essay: Aufsatz Phrases (pdf). Finally, here is another resource that discusses common mistakes students of German make in their writing: Grammar and Usage Advice.
*why should you start with German instead of translating? 1) If your goal is to speak German, you have to use German before you get really good at it. Actively using a language is the only way to become “fluent,” so it helps to start thinking, speaking and writing even the most basic phrases and sentences when self-studying. 2) You want to avoid awkward translations. By using German only, you are helping to develop a feeling for correct, natural German. Also, if you are just translating a text instead of trying to see what you know first, your progress will be very slow. 3) If you are an upper intermediate or advanced student, I would suggest translating an essay you have written in your native language into German. You have already developed a feeling for the language, so your main concern is no longer major translation mistakes, but rather limited vocabulary. You may have good grammar and know many words, but are you always repeating them over and over? Translating a text you have written in your native language will give you plenty of opportunities to learn new words and to compare your writing ability in your native and target languages.
Select a topic (for example: animals, nationalities, professions.)
So, how else can you improve your vocabulary in a foreign language? a) Listen daily to native speakers by watching TV shows, the news, films, or YouTube videos. b) Read daily— you can actively look for new words, or just enjoy the story. Exposure and practice are key.
More blog posts I’ve written about learning foreign languages:
Here are three inspiring quotes for hacking your language learning approach.
German is known as the language of poets (Dichter) and thinkers (Denker). Test your German reading with these insightful quotes in German language!
Das Problem zu erkennen (recognize) ist wichtiger als die Lösung (solution) zu erkennen, denn die genaue Darstellung (exact depiction) des Problems führt zur (leads to) Lösung. ~Albert Einstein, Physiker
Instead of saying “my German is bad,” find your weaker areas.. “I make mistakes conjugating verbs” or “I need to improve my listening.”
Es ist nicht genug (enough) zu wissen, man muss es auch anwenden (use it). Es ist nicht genug zu wollen (to want), man muss es auch tun (do it). ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, deutscher Dichter
Put what you know into practice. If you really want something, you also have to do it.
Das Geheimnis (secret) des Erfolges (of success) ist die Beständigkeit des Ziels (endurance of the goal.) ~Benjamin Disraeli, britischer Politiker.
Stick with the goals you set!
Why are you learning German or any other foreign language? How do you stay inspired? What approaches or methods have been most useful for you?
Im Januar 2015 habe ich angefangen, Deutsch zu lernen. Bevor ich “German 1001” an der Georgia State University hatte, wusste ich nicht, wie man eine Fremdsprache effektiv lernt. In der Schule habe ich Französisch gelernt. Meine Französischlehrerinnen waren toll, aber damals dachte ich nicht, dass ich eines Tages eine Fremdsprache wirklich sprechen werde. Als ich mein Studium begann, entdeckte ich Linguistik. Nach meinem ersten Linguistikkurs bemerkte ich, dass ich mich für die Grammatik und Struktur von Sprachen interessierte. Ich musste eine Fremdsprache für mein Studium sowieso lernen, und ich habe mich für Deutsch entschieden, weil meine Großmutter (väterlicherseits) aus Deutschland kommt. Von zweisprachigen Menschen war ich immer beeindruckt, und ich wollte endlich eine zweite Sprache sprechen.
In January 2015, I started learning German. Before I had “German 1001” at Georgia State University, I wasn’t sure how one learns a foreign language effectively. During (secondary) school, I learned French. My French teachers were awesome, but I didn’t think back then that I would one day actually speak a foreign language. When I started my university studies, I discovered linguistics. After my first linguistics course, I noticed that I was interested in the grammar and structure of languages. I needed to learn a foreign language for my major anyway and I decided to learn German because my (paternal) Grandmother is from Germany. Bilingual people had always impressed me and I wanted to finally speak a second language.
Am Anfang hatte ich einen schrecklichen Akzent, und ich war manchmal verwirrt mit der Grammatik. Es gibt 16 Arten von the im Deutschen! Ich habe natürlich Fehler gemacht, aber ich wollte immer mehr lernen und meine Kenntnisse verbessern. Im Kurs habe ich viele Fragen gestellt, und meine Notizen wiederholt. Anscheinend hat es mir auch geholfen, auf Deutsch zu denken. Als ich zu Fuß gegangen bin, formulierte ich Sätze und versuchte meine Umgebung auf Deutsch zu beschreiben.
In the beginning, I had a horrible accent and I was sometimes confused with the grammar. There are 16 words for the in German! I naturally made mistakes, but I wanted to always learn more and improve my skills. During class, I asked many questions and I repeated my notes. Apparently, it helped me to think in German. When I walked around, I created sentences and tried to describe my surroundings in German.
Dann bin ich zum ersten Mal ins Ausland gereist. Ich hatte einen vierwöchigen Deutschkurs beim Goethe- Institut in Schwäbisch Hall. Obwohl ich viel Englisch gesprochen habe, war viel Deutsch in meinem Umfeld. Ich wurde inspiriert, Deutsch zu lernen, weil viele Europäer mehrsprachig waren und gute Tipps hatten. Als ich zurück in die USA gekommen bin, wechselte ich mein Hauptfach zu Deutsch. Ich lernte Deutsch gleichzeitig an GSU und beim Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta. Einzelunterricht dort war ein Schlüsselerlebnis. Ich verwendete Grammatikbücher, und suchte nach allen möglichen Quellen zum Deutschlernen
Then I went abroad for the first time. I had a four-week German language course at Goethe-Institute in Schwaebisch Hall. Although I spoke a lot of English, there was a lot of German in my environment. I became inspired to learn German because many Europeans were multilingual and had good tips. When I got back to USA, I changed my major to German. I learned German simultaneously at GSU and at Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta. Individual lessons there were a key experience. I used grammar books and searched for all possible resources to learn German.
Im April 2016 habe ich die B1 Prüfung abgelegt und bestanden*. Ich war bereit, wieder nach Deutschland zu reisen. Im Mai hatte ich einen B2 Kurs in Mannheim, und es war erwartet, dass man nur Deutsch im Kurs sprach. Es war eine Herausforderung, Deutsch im Alltag zu benutzen. Manchmal war ich sehr schüchtern und leise, aber ich habe genug gesagt, um klar zu kommen. Danach schrieb ich oft auf Deutsch und drehte Vlogs, um mein Sprechen zu üben.
In April 2016, I took and passed the B1 Exam*. And I was ready to travel to Germany again. In May, I had a B2 level German course in Mannheim and it was expected that we only spoke German in class. It was a challenge to use German in every day life. Sometimes I was very shy and quiet, but I said enough to get by. After that, I wrote in German often and made videos to practice my speaking.
Jetzt höre ich die Nachrichten auf Deutsch. Und ich lese sehr gerne auf Deutsch. Außerdem beschäftige ich mich mit dem Vokabelnlernen. Wenn ich ein neues Wort höre, schreibe ich es mit einer Definition und einem Beispiel auf. Und ich benutze Vokabelnlisten von Deutsch Perfekt und Deutsche Welle, um meinen Wortzschatz zu erweitern. Ich versuche Lücken in meinen Kenntnissen herauszufinden, und die deutsche Grammatik Schritt für Schritt, auswendig zu lernen. Das war’s!
Now, I listen to the news in German. And I enjoy reading in German. Apart from that, I keep myself busy learning vocabulary. When I hear a new word, I always write it down with a definition and an example. And I use vocabulary lists from Deutsch Perfekt and Deutsche Welle to widen my vocabulary. I try to find gaps in my skills and learn German grammar (by heart) step by step. That’s it.
Thanks for reading! As you see from my story, learning a language is a long process that requires motivation, regularity and some kind of system. Some days you love it and other days you’re just frustrated. Start small, get practicing, find some good resources and actually use the language somehow (like with a language partner). It’s good to have a teacher, but you also have to teach yourself the language. It’s also important to know why you are learning the language in order to keep yourself focused and to concentrate on what’s most important/useful for you personally. No one studies an entire language in three months. A language is learned step by step–word by word–level by level.
All the best and good luck with your language-learning! If you are interested in more tips on how to effectively learn foreign languages go here 🙂 –> Language Learners‘ Toolbox
*My current German level is C1/C2. I hope to take the C1 exam before I leave Germany and pass the C2 exam within the next year or two.
Heute versuchen wir die Frage “Was ist Deutsch?” zu beantworten. (Today we will try to answer the question “What is German?”). We will cover historical information as well as modern thoughts from several people–including myself. The magazine “Deutsch perfekt” put together an interesting article on the topic (September 2017) that I really wanted to discuss since many points are connected with the introductory points in my course, German Civilization. I will begin by discussing the article then I will share my thoughts and experiences on German culture compared to American culture.
Wir wissen schon woher der Name “Germanen” kommt (Julius Cäsar). (We already know where the name “Germans” is from.) Aber was steckt hinter dem Namen “deutsch”? (But what is behind the name “deutsch”?) Laut Deutsch perfekt “deutsch” bedeutet (according to Deutsch perfekt “deutsch” means):
“Deutsch ist die Sprache, die zum Volk gehört.” (Deutsch is the language that belong to the Volk.)
“Historisch gesehen, bedeutet “deutsch” nicht viel mehr als” ungefähr die gleiche Sprache zu sprechen.” (Historically, deutsch does not mean much more than speaking roughly the same language)
[At the time there wasn’t just one Germany–instead, there were hundreds of smaller lands. In 1800 the situation changed due to hate for Napoleon (and his occupation) and the many Germans united under national pride. ]
Hat Deutsch perfekt Recht? Was steht unter “deutsch” im Duden? The Germany dictionary, Duden, confirms that “deutsch” carries the meaning of Volk.
Short grammatical note: deutsch (adjective- “German”); (das) Deutsch (German language); Deutscher (German man); Deutsche (German woman); Deutsche (also plural- “Germans”); die Deutschen (the Germans). Unlike most other nationalities in German [der Amerikaner, die Amerikanerin “the American (man)”, “the American (woman)”], the words for German (female, male, plural) behave like adjectives, therefore their declination depends on the gender (or if it is plural) as well as whether they stand alone, with ein (a), or der (the).
By the way, Deutsch Perfekt is a great resource for language learners. Articles are written in a simpler fashion, vocabulary is listed in side notes and grammar is explained in a refreshing manner focusing on what’s most important with plenty of examples. You can subscribe to the monthly magazine digitally or in print and there is also an accompanying website. Check it out if you want to know more about German culture and language!
Back to our topic.. How does “Deutsch perfekt” define Germanness? First, I will include some of the main answers given in the article (many of which were repeated throughout). Then, I will share my summary and conclusion to the article. After we finish with the article, I will move on to my comparison of German and American culture. Title page of the article see below.
“The question is easy. The answer too: German is, that there is no easy way to answer. Why then is identity such an important topic for the Germans?”
The article continues with several photos see below:
Featured Answers to the Question “Was ist Deutsch?”:
“Deutschland ist bunt.” (Germany is colorful.)
“Dichter und Denker.” (Poets and thinkers.)
“Ruhig und geordnet.” (quiet and orderly)- quiet streets; bold emotions aren’t shown in public; concentration within “in sich”
“Nirgends gibt es so viele Vereine.” (Nowhere else are there so many clubs.)
To think about the question (what is German?), but nothing really so strange that doesn’t exist somewhere else
“Einwanderungsland” (Germany is a land of immigration.)- Every fifth person in Germany is an immigrant or the child of immigrant parents.
Summary and Discussion of the Article:
The article begins by stating that even German researchers and philosophers, who have analyzed what it means to be German, think that there is no definite answer, but that the question is nonetheless very important to Germans and they will always be curious as to how they are perceived for being German. Nietzsche wrote in 1886 the following: “Es kennzeichnet die Deutschen, dass bei ihnen die Frage “was ist deutsch?” niemals ausstribt.” (My rough translation: “Germans are marked German because the question “was ist deutsch?” will never die out among them.”) Another point that was stressed in the beginning of the article is that Germany is diverse.
Several people share their opinion about German culture–including foreigners and native Germans. Alida Bremer, a German-Croatian writer, states that punctuality and reliability are very clearly important. She also shares that Germans don’t have problems correcting others and that they love to follow the rules. Bremer has been living in Germany for more than 30 years, does translation as well as writing in German. Another point she mentions is that Germans sometimes seem unsure who they are. A psychologist and native German, Stephan Grünewald, does marketing research and believes that this uneasiness leads to productivity–i.e. that Germans want to be do something with purpose.
The article from Deutsch perfekt is a collection of opinions from writers, researchers and business people. Native Germans as well as foreigners, who have lived in Germany for many years, are included. History and modern culture is broken down in order to provide readers with a better glimpse into the meaning of “deutsch.” A variety of images are also used to make the article more vibrant. If I could sum up the article with just one or two of the points mentioned, I would say: “Deutsch” means many things, but what is very “deutsch” is the desire to know what it means.
I am an American exchange student living in Germany so what do I think are some of the potential meanings of “deutsch” in relation to American culture? Let’s explore some of the main points that come to mind below. Please do not think I am trying to offend you or anyone else. Obviously, these points will be relatively subjective. There are always positive and negative sides. I like both my native language and country as well as the German language and Germany. I hope that you will see that I am actually not trying to be so negative anyway. I have not had any special intercultural training other than the short discussions of German culture compared to other cultures in my orientation week here. Not to mention, I have taken several German language courses in the United States as well as in Germany. Therefore, I have picked up on most of these things through experience.
Some points that stood out from me from the discussion of German culture in my orientation course are as following: 1) Germans loving talking about German stereotypes and explaining how “true” or “not true” they are. 2) Some stereotypes mentioned include: having a clean, nice car; love of rules and insurances; hard shell- warm on inside; punctuality (but that’s true because time is valuable); Germans are direct and honest (say what you mean when around Germans)
Speaking English- Speaking German:
In the USA, it is pretty much expected that everyone can speak English. Since foreign languages are not stressed at most schools and American culture is so dominant around the world (not to mention English is the lingua franca and one-third of the world speaks English), very few Americans speak more than one language. If a foreigner speaks English to an American, the American will speak English back to them.
In Germany, it is a totally different situation. Elementary school students must take many school subjects including foreign languages. Not to mention, English is everywhere–music, cosmetic industry, general advertising, business industry, tourism industry, science and so on. In everyday conversation, Germans use English words (even if there may be German equivalents) in their speech. For foreigners who have just learned a few words in German, they should pretty much expect that they won’t hear much German spoken to them. Workers in almost all fields will quickly respond with English. Even when you are decently fluent in German and ask touristy questions (where is the bathroom?), some Germans will still respond in English–I guess they just want to practice their foreign language skills. Because they get used to many tourists/foreigners who aren’t very interested in learning German, advanced students of German may get frustrated. If you are in an official situation where you have to share that you are American (for example, opening a bank account) and speak great German with them, sometimes they may start speaking English (out of habit) and ask whether they should speak German or English. I have personally experienced the last situation and I respond in German, but I am never rude if someone is so eager to speak English to me because I trust my language skills and don’t let little interactions cause me to lose my confidence. But, I also want to add that once you have a good foundation in German and a decent accent, Germans will converse with you and go on with things like normal. Not all Germans speak English and they speak English on many different levels, but do expect to read & hear the English language in everyday German life and meet many Germans very eager to practice English.
Americans may not realize how often they smile in comparison to other nationalities until they go abroad. Many other nationalities (Germans, Russians, etc.) often interpret the frequent smiling as superficial/dishonest or weird/crazy. To Russians, a person walking down the street just smiling is not all right in the head. And an approaching person, who is smiling, wants something. Even smiling is not 100% viewed the same in all parts of the USA. Take for example, a small southern town in comparison to a big city. A smile is usually (or so I think) a polite/friendly greeting once you make eye contact with somebody or it is an indication that everything is alright. But in a fast-paced city, where you may not be able to trust everyone around you, a smile may be too personal. In Germany, I have experienced a lot of staring when walking down the street or quick, awkward glances when passing someone. So, yes it seems fair to say that Germans stare more and smile less. Overall, they do not have as dramatic and open emotions as Americans and can appear more business-like even in casual situations. But, they do smile in Germany–especially once they have got to know you. No need to feel intimidated if you don’t see a lot of smiles and give Germans some time to open up. Eye contact and smiling may also be interpreted as flirting in Germany so keep that in mind too! To sum it up: if not waving and not smiling isn’t considered unfriendly in Germany, then that also means when an American waves or smiles to a stranger they aren’t necessarily being unaufrichtig/oberflächlich (insincere/superficial), it is a habit of their culture and considered polite and friendly even if they may not be overflowing with joy to meet a stranger.
Greetings & small talk
When you enter a room (a shared kitchen for example) or any shop, you will always be greeted–but just with “hello” and not “hello, how are you?” In comparison, in American stores you may often be greeted with “hey. how are you? how’s it going?” Also when you exit a place in Germany, you say bye. Often Americans leave without saying goodbye. There is some small talk (especially among students), but Germans seem to be more comfortable with the silence when among strangers. Although, I have noticed that older Germans love to talk with each other on the bus and train. And just like anywhere, people usually talk to the most with people they already know. So I am not implying here that Germans don’t like to converse with each other–just that it depends on the situation and small talk in the line at the grocery store or other similar situations is less common than what I experienced growing up in Georgia, USA. There are many clubs in Germany and they also have parties and other events so there is a lot of social life and conversation here too. I have encountered many outgoing Germans who always introduce themselves, but also less talkative, shy Germans too. Overall, greetings (hello-bye) are a daily standard everywhere but open conversation among strangers seems to be much more common in the USA. In formal, impersonal situations, what is necessary is said, but “personal” topics are only discussed in informal, more casual situations (in Germany).
Being polite vs. being straightforward
That brings me to my next point–namely, about being polite vs. being straightforward. Well, let’s just start by saying that Germans complain more. When they don’t like how something is being done, they will say something. I don’t think that makes them rude–they are just trying to improve things. Americans also tend to soften the truth instead of being straight forward. Yeah, they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but what can be accomplished when everyone avoids the truth? In Germany, you get what you ask for. Constructive criticism gives Germans the chance for self-improvement. German language tends to be more literal whereas English can do roundabouts. Opinions and discussions are gladly heard in Germany.
Eating at the table
Although there is a proper way to eat at the table in English-speaking countries, fast-food has made this less relevant in America. We eat with our hands, talk loudly at the table and sometimes cut our food and then put the knife back down and just eat with the fork. One thing I’ve observed in Germany is that Germans usually keep their hands and arms visible–above the table. They often rest their elbows on the table, which I guess is not considered rude here. Yes at the Biergarten, Germans are going to be talking with each other but somehow Americans are always louder. Finally, Germans eat with a fork and knife and do not set the knife down until they are finished eating (or need to reach for a drink, etc.) There are some foods that you eat just with the hands (pretzels or bread rolls), but fries and burgers are eaten here with a knife and fork.
To conclude this article on “Was ist deutsch?”, I want to return to Deutsch perfekt’s article, which ends with “Deutsch at a glance.” This part of the article is labeled “schwer”- meaning it is written for advanced students, but check it out and see what you can understand. If it isn’t clear, I recommend dict.cc for translation. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this presentation and were able to understand the question and answers to “Was ist deutsch?” a bit better. My question for you is: how did you interpret the photos that were included in the Deutsch perfekt article? Abstract? Meaningful?