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Learning German

deciduously profile image Ben Lovy ・6 min read

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 also probably accidentally insult somebody in Spanish.

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

Discussion (31)

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴

I learnt English, German, Spanish, Italian, esperanto and Japanese and I think that you pretty much nailed it. I don't have any tips for now, just keep going with what you have.

if you have problem getting a Visa in Germany or want tips to find a job in Berlin, feel free to ping me, I know those topics quite well

jmfayard.dev/contact

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Thank you very much! I've been following your work here for quite some time, I will absolutely keep your offer in mind as I move through this process.

I'd completely forgotten about Esperanto - I did the 10-week course as a teenager but had no pressing use for it and lost it all. Is there an active community in Berlin?

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴

Oh yes and they are quite active!
esperanto.berlin/

I'm not personally active there, just life already full of things

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Jean-Christophe Helary

That's really nice !

After I read your first post I went back to Duolingo and started again.

I don't have a strong focus on one language as you do and it's more for fun and stimulation before going to bed so I'm doing Chinese/German/Arabic/Russian/Spanish/Italian in parallel.

Chinese is easy because I have all the kanji from Japanese, German is not too hard because it was my first foreign language in JHS/HS a loooong time ago, Arabic is just characters right now so it's pretty trivial, and the sounds are really nice, Russian is very different from what I expected. From the alphabet to the prononciation and the grammar, it is very very challenging. I expected Italian and Spanish to be much easier since I'm French but that's not at all the case, and the fact that I do them in // adds to the confusion because they're pretty similar at the very basic level.

My experience from 20+ years in Japan is that as soon as you're there and if you manage to make time for immersion without English, the language will come in no time. Good luck, and waiting for your first post in German here ! (I'm also @brandelune on Duolingo).

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Ben Lovy Author • Edited

That's awesome! Do you find the wires end up crossing? I'm not even actively studying Spanish but I find when I'm searching for a word in German, the Spanish word I know really wants to pop out. I think I would struggle with multiple concurrently. Do you have specific strategies for keeping them separate?

I've also been thinking about the Assimil series you recommended last week, of all the more traditional books I've looked at this is at the top of my list. However, I feel I've got more than enough material for right now, at least - would you recommend it over what I've already got going on?

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brandelune profile image
Jean-Christophe Helary • Edited

The only issue I have is between Spanish and Italian. I'll need to seriously focus on each separately at one point in time. Japanese popping up when I first started to resume German a few years back, yes. But I am starting to feel that the music of the language is what keeps you from mixing everything together. So it is very important to repeat what you hear and to try to be as close to the original as possible including the tone and accents, etc. Think of it as a song. And check "A fish called Wanda" if you're not sure what I mean ;-)

Children growing in multilingual environments do that. And they don't mix languages.

Regarding the Assimil method, I'd check it is a bookstore before moving forward. I'd say they have 2 separate volumes for German, a basic one an an advanced one. It is very good because it is full of jokes and it comes with self contained dialogues, on paper, so you can carry it everywhere you want.

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jeikabu

Awesome news, Ben. Which city is it in? I spent a fair amount of time in Frankfurt and traveled around a bit when I worked for a German company and really enjoyed my time there.

Never studied German, but I've used most of those resources for other languages and generally recommend them all. Any chance the company will either provide or reimburse f2f lessons?

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jeikabu

And... from the previous post it's Berlin. That should teach me to not click links!

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author • Edited

Ja, ich werde nach Berlin gehen. Yes, they do provide a personal development budget as a perk which would include language instruction, but it (naturally) wouldn't apply to any expenses incurred before my employment begins. I do plan to take advantage after that point, provided I get there.

Everyone I've spoken to about this move who has spent any time in Germany has had a similarly positive report. I'm excited to experience it first-hand.

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sroehrl profile image
neoan

Hey Ben,
As a fellow dev who also happens to speak English, German and Japanese we seem to have a lot in common.
And I shall not be caught missing the opportunity of mentioning that I tutor those subjects on wyzant.

You will find some curious little oddities when working in Germany regarding the pronunciation of certain coding terms (like SQL being pronounced as an abbreviation S.Q.L. rather than "Sequel") and some other jargon vocabulary you might find interesting. Over all, I applaud your efforts and wish you the best.
Should you not make it to Stuttgart but Munich instead, feel free to reach out.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Vielen Dank für die Tipps und den Hyperlink!

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sophiabrandt profile image
Sophia Brandt

Das ist toll, Ben.
Ich wünsche dir viel Erfolg beim Lernen. Berlin ist eine interessante Stadt, und recht international.
Ich glaube, du kannst dich da gut einleben.
Viel Glück auch bei deinem neuen Job.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Viele Dank, Sophia!

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oliverjumpertz profile image
Oliver Jumpertz

Hey Ben, congratulations on that step forward in your career and hopefully welcome to Germany.
Great effort you put into learning the language!
I'm a native speaker, so if there's anything you need help with, drop me a message. :-)

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deciduously profile image
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Roger Zanoni

Nice that you started italki :) When you get to Germany, let me now if you drop by somewhere near Stuttgart so we can have a beer or two

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ackzell profile image
Axel Uriel Martínez Castillo

Das ist ganz fantastisch!

Gonna steal a couple of your tactics here.

I'm trying to learn German too!

I don't really have the time or the money to pay for my resources, but I also am on Duolingo free tier.

I listen to a course from Kieran Ball on Spotify and speaking of which, a ton of music in German too.

Favorite band (besides Rammstein) is AnnenMayKantereit.

I've been watching We Bear Bears on Netflix with German audio and it is pretty fun.

I hope you are able to make the move!

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vladimir profile image
Vladimir Simović 🧙

I can recommend you this tool, it translates between English, German and French better than the tools from Google and Microsoft:

deepl.com

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yujiri8 profile image
Ryan Westlund

ベンも日本語で話せますね? 思ったよりかっこいいです!

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Ben Lovy Author

番号! とてもゆっくり読むことができます。 漢字がわかりません。 このメッセージにグーグルを使用しました :)

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yujiri8 profile image
Ryan Westlund

いいね!僕もゆっくりだけ読めます。通常は、グーグルトランスレートに向かうことが必要ですが、ベンのメッセージは僕に自信を与えました、ほとんど全部をグーグルトランスレート無しで分かれたから。

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

日本語の勉強が突然恋しい

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leob profile image
leob

Brilliant! Yes learning a foreign language is definitely fun ... now I sincerely hope this coronavirus thing isn't going to throw a wrench and mess up your plans.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes

I learned some German while studying philosophy at university.

Means I can discuss Kant and Nietzsche but have some trouble ordering a beer.

Have you watched Das Boot yet?

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Ben Lovy Author • Edited

Heh - my sister has spent a lot more time in Europe than I have, and when I said I planned to get by on "ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch" her response was: "how's your Proust?"

Bier ist überbewertet. Biergärten...das ist nicht so mein Ding. Ich trinke selten.

I watched that years ago with the subtitles - thanks for the reminder. The constant Nena headloop is wearing thin, media-wise.

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talentlessguy profile image
v 1 r t l

I also learn German, but with a teacher

it's my third language btw

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pozitivity profile image
Tatiana Gorbunova

Good and useful tips!
I continue to learn German and I also live in Stuttgart :)
Und viel spaß!

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Ben Lovy Author

Danke! Ich muss anscheinend nach Stuttgart :)

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Ben Lovy Author

Update: it turns out two of our close friends also speak German to varying degrees. Just gotta ask, apparently.