Learning German

#offtopic, #language

This is pretty off-topic for DEV, but I think some of y’all might have something to say anyway.

As I posted last week, I’m busily preparing for a new role as a Rails engineer (hopefully) beginning in a few months. The other curveball about this job is that it’s in Germany. I’ve never lived outside of the United States, and in true American fashion I can really only speak English. Should the need arise, I could probably accidentally insult somebody in Spanish in a pinch.

As a result, in addition to hopping aboard the Ruby/Rails train, I’ve also been taking my first steps into the German language. I won’t need it for the job itself, but there’s this whole “living in Germany” aspect to this shindig. It’d be a good idea to at least learn a little bit before I go. This is how I’ve been going about it.

  1. Convinced my fiancée to also learn German. This has been instrumental, mostly because she’s not annoyed that I’m constantly declaring that “the sun is round” and “the coffee is delicious” - she just agrees and says it back. Much better. So far, we’ve only hit one snag: we’ve been texting each other to practice phrases we learn throughout the day, and she accidentally texted her boss “Ich will nach Haus gehen” instead of me. This means “I want to go home”. We don’t think her boss knows what it meant or cares, but still - awkward.

  2. I’ve been voraciously consuming both the Duolingo and Memrise learning tracks. We spent a day hopping around trying a variety of different options and these two quickly became our favourites. These tools are somewhat different, I find they complement each other. Duolingo goes much wider in terms of vocabulary and has a lot more grammar information and drilling. Memrise is much more about memorizing a set of practical words and phrases, and sprinkles in grammar after you’ve already internalized the sounds. It has a lot of recordings of (attractive) native speakers with different accents to practice listening to. Memrise also has this awesome camera feature where you can point it at any object and it tells you the translation - black magic as far as I’m concerned. It works too well for comfort. I purchased the year-long subscription to Memrise, and am considering paying for Duolingo as well even though the core product is totally free. In just one week, I feel I have already made leaps and bounds in my command of the very basics just by spending a ton of time in these two apps. There is a lot of overlap for the beginning levels, so it’s hard to get an exact count, but I think I’ve learned somewhere around 400-450 words in a week, and enough grammar to string together some present-tense sentences with prepositions, conjunctions, adjectives and everything. While both have a mobile version, I prefer the desktop webapp of both. Typing the words is the only way I’ve been able to learn all the spellings, it’s kinda easy to cheat yourself out of it otherwise.

  3. As recommended by @rogerzanoni, I’ve signed up for Italki and had my first tutoring session last Sunday. I plan to continue with this. My tutor, Nico Jacob, was excellent. He got a reading on my level within the first ten minutes and knew just where to start with learning material. I was both surprised to find I could mostly conduct our entire session in German, albeit with a lot of “I don’t know that word” and “Repeat that, please”, but also happy to find all the holes in my knowledge. One thing neither Duolingo or Memrise is great at is production of the target language, it’s mostly about comprehension and translation. These tutoring sessions are a great way to build confidence in a safe, directed setting. I will probably do one session every two weeks.

  4. I’m planning to do to a Duolingo German learner’s meetup later this month. It’s at a Cheesecake Factory in the Natick mall, so you know it’s gonna be good. Any opportunity to use German seems like a good thing, and I don’t know anybody personally that speaks it here - or at least, if I do, they haven’t told me.

  5. I turned on the persistent notification for Google Translate. This is handy because it’s easy to quickly look up anything, but my favourite feature is that it will translate whatever text is in your clipboard. You can highlight anything in any app, and Android includes a “translate” option. I’m finding myself using this constantly throughout the day.

  6. I’ve installed the Language Learning with Netflix Chrome extension. This shows you subtitles in both your target language and native language as you watch media. The benefits here go without saying. I’m primarily a Firefox user but like any good web programmer I have Chrome installed, and this is a good enough reason to prefer Chrome for watching Netflix.

  7. I also installed Kypsis for Chrome, which will translate some of whatever webpage you’re reading to the target language. You can hover to see the translation. This is a great way to pick up random extra vocabulary that isn’t part of the language courses I’m already taking. If anyone knows of an equivalent for Firefox I’m all ears, I couldn’t find one.

  8. I installed the Anki flashcard app. I learned how to read and write hiragana and katakana using this app a long time ago, and it worked - I still can mostly read both, though writing would be difficult. However, I haven’t really found it to be all that helpful here, I think this need is pretty covered by the other apps I’m using. I think it will be more helpful once I already have a solid command of the language for building out vocabulary.

  9. Und sonst so? I think this is a pretty good plan so far, but I would love to hear about what’s worked for you to learn German or any other language.

All in all, I have had a total blast diving into the German language. It’s a cool language just in and of itself, and it’s been fun starting to peel back how it all works, but it’s also been incredibly fun to noticeably know more every single day. The applications I’m using both use algorithmic spaced repetition, and the feeling when I can instantly pull up a correctly spelled word I remember struggling with previously is unbeatable. I am confident that not only have I “passed the test” for the words I’m learning, I’ve actually stored them to long-term memory and will have opportunities to reinforce it all even as I go further. This sort of thing has to be good for your brain to do, and I can already start to express some of my own thoughts in German.

There is still a chance this job opportunity will not pan out - it is not a guarantee that I will be approved for a work permit, and there’s nothing I can do for now but wait and hope. However, even if I can’t go, I’ve already decided that German fluency is a life goal. German is a widely used second language throughout the world, and being able to connect with people in German and read German texts makes my world just that much bigger.

Bis später!

Photo by AC Almelor on Unsplash