I moved to Berlin in April 2017, and I didn’t know any German except for how to say hello, please and thank you. I initially planned to do an intensive course for a month, three hours a day for four nights a week. But then I realised that I was moving to Berlin at the start of summer, and I didn’t want to spend four nights a week in a classroom (on top of working full-time), when I could be out enjoying everything that Berlin has to offer in the long summer evenings.
It’s okay to get by in Berlin speaking only English. I work in English, I live with an English-speaker, and all my friends are English. But of course I want to learn German. At the moment I don’t know enough German to do anything other to introduce myself, order food, etc. I don’t understand most of what is said to me, and really can’t get by in German. But I also don’t want to dedicate so much of my time over summer to language classes.
I’ve downloaded apps to help me learn in my free time. The first app I downloaded was Duolingo, as I think it’s the most widely-known and free language learning app. Duolingo is really nicely designed, with a cute interface and fun learning style. I’ve been able to learn quite a bit of basic vocabulary with Duo. But I’m personally not the kind of person that gets addicted to games (I never play games), and so the gamification of Duo doesn’t motivate me. Because Duolingo is actually more of a game than a study resource, it’s easy to think you’re learning a lot where actually you’re just good at playing a game. That’s not to say Duolingo isn’t a great fun and free app, but I think it’s more of a game than a useful tool to learn. However, on the desktop version of Duolingo there are very useful notes to go with each lesson, which are worth using to study.
I work at Babbel, so I was given a free subscription to Babbel as part of my job. Babbel is a subscription service, so you do have to pay to do anything more than the first lesson of each course. It’s on mobile and desktop, but I actually prefer using it on desktop rather than in the app because I like being able to type. In this way, it feels less like a game and more like a proper lesson. The lessons are structured in the same was as Duo lessons – you learn vocab, you test it, and then you use it in a sentence. But Babbel gives much more relevant vocabulary and lessons. You don’t learn about spiders, horses, and mice; you learn relevant vocabulary for visiting Germany and having conversations. I’ve felt more engaged in Babbel rather than Duolingo because I do actually feel like I’m learning when I do the lessons.
My work offers German lessons for one hour a week. Our classes are small (usually less than three students), so they are very personal. We go through a small amount of vocabulary with emphasis on the pronunciation, and then practice saying short sentence using the vocabulary we’ve learnt. It’s helpful having a teacher and a small class, but one hour a week is ultimately not so useful in learning German quickly.
As part of our German class we have a challenge to learn 1000 words in German by September. We’ll then be doing a test in front of our colleagues, with a random assortment of those words, to see if we can get them right. That includes the correct article and the pronunciation of each word. Our teacher, Jerome, has given us the list, so I’ve already started going through the words. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to learn 1000 – I’m the first to admit I’m not the most dedicated or motivated person – but it’s a tangible challenge to set for myself over summer, so I’ll try. Stay tuned!