German was the second foreign language that I learned in high school and the first foreign language I ever learned to converse in! So I've got a long history with learning German.
I learned German for three years in high school in the traditional classroom way. Although I did very well in the class and could have basic conversations, despite the class being mostly run in German, we had grammar tables to memorize and vocabulary lists to recite for our teacher. Though I loved learning the grammar while some of the other students were clearly displeased with it, I was really good with learning the verb conjugations, but I could never master the noun cases and found them confusing. I couldn't tell when to use "der", "die", "das", "den", "dem", and "des" except for the Nominative case (more on explaining what noun cases and verb conjugations are in future posts). It was hard for me to pronounce the umlaut vowels, the "ch" sound, and the "r" sound. Then I hosted an exchange student named Sophia from Bavaria for six months and we helped each other with each other's languages, and I could actually pronounce German correctly and converse more in German by the time she left after she helped me with conversation, pronunciation, and grammar. I ended up visiting her a year later for a three-week German language exchange in Germany, traveling through Germany and the Czech Republic and staying at Sophia's house for half of the trip. Visiting her Waldorf school gave me an insight into how foreign languages could be taught through immersion and through not worrying about grammar errors. Though I later applied this method to Spanish in university, after my visit and one more year of German classes my German stagnated for several years and I learned it off and on and not with consistency.
I finally decided last year, in 2014, to return officially to learning German as I was ashamed of not being able to speak it fluently and I wanted to learn German how I previously learned Spanish and Portuguese, through immersion, comprehensible input (to talk about in a later post), and practicing reading, listening, and conversational skills rather than relying on textbooks. In September 2014 I went back to the textbooks at first and worked on those for a few weeks, and I was amazed at how much German immediately rushed back into my head after four years of not actively learning German, which gave me a tremendous amount of motivation and confidence to return. I didn't have a strategy or plan, but I decided to do something that I would have previously thought crazy: read lots of books and find some interesting content to listen to in German. I didn't know how I would do it at first, but I went for it and listened at first to some slow German news podcasts, which quickly got boring, then jumped into reading "The Little Prince" (Der Kleine Prinz) and "The Alchemist" (Der Alchimist) in German. After meeting Ramona Fellermeier, a German life coach and now good friend of mine, and Skypeing once again with Sophia, as well as getting in contact with a few German learners and a German polyglot named David, I summoned up even more motivation to learn German and I use Ramona's blog posts in German on her website Always Happy Travels and on the online magazine Tongues (tongues.com.au). I've been re-learning German now for about a year and my German is making wonderful progress. However, I'm not yet fluent, so below are my list of goals for my German fluency.
I've established a timeline to get to be a conversationally fluent German speaker by June 2016, specifically at the B2 level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and then a C1 level (advanced) by next December.
My goals are:
- to be able to read and enjoy nonfiction books about personal development, travel, history, and entrepreneurship as well as fantasy novels by next June
- to be able to listen to audiobooks on the following topics above and to listen to and enjoy podcasts about language learning, entrepreneurship, travel, and history by next June. To be able to understand and follow Deutsche Welle.
- to be able to speak three times a week with conversation partners from Germany and Austria and with fluent second language speakers to get regular conversation practice
- to be able to speak fluently and comfortably on all the topics I am interested in during 15 minute and 30 minute conversations
- to be able to have a good understanding of German and Austrian history and cultural references in German
So have you learned German before? What are your goals for learning German? How fluent do you want to be in German? What motivates you to learn German? What are your struggles and triumphs in learning German? Feel free to let me know in the comment box below! Thanks!
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