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Learning German language

From Indians in Magdeburg - A Guide for Students

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Introductory note[edit]

Learning german is really important to feel at home in germany. Registering in a language school is a best way to see progress more quickly. Either you can register at university language center[1] or outside in a private school. You cans see the courses available, cost,registration requirements,deadline and link to registration at the language center in the link provided. I highly recommend to register at the university language center. Mostly the registration window will be opened during the first week of semester and you have to be really quick to reserve a place in a course. Other alternatives are learning online. Here is the link for Deutsche Welle web page [2], is Germany’s international broadcaster and also offers a lot in learning the language.

Learning German - Von A1 bis C1 - Meine Erfahrungen und Vorschläge (Reproduced in full from Edulix)[edit]

Also see: Learning German - List of resources

Background information about the author[edit]

I had been learning German for a little over 2 years before landing here in Germany. Germany was the only country on my list for my Masters. So I think I should be able to give you some good advice on learning the language. The first part of this post will be more of personal anecdotes (You can directly skip to the second part if it’s boring) while the second part will be more into the methods to be employed while learning German.

As mentioned before, I was only going to apply to Germany for my Master’s Degree mainly because of the fact that I had not so good GPAs t get into a good university in the US with a scholarship and also the fact that for Germany, I did not have to take a loan to study. So right after graduation, no actually during my final end semester exams, I started looking up the universities I could apply to in Germany. You know the feeling during exams where you try to do everything else other than study. So I started reading up on a lot of articles during my exams preparation time and started contacting a couple of college seniors who were actually pursuing their Master’s degree in Germany. The first thing that all of these seniors told me was to start learning German and that it would help in the long run. I actually didn’t believe them at that time but I am glad that I followed their advice.

Starting to learn German in India[edit]

I enrolled in a weekend course at the Goethe-Institut, Pune in June 2011. I was lucky enough to actually get a place in the course. They had actually started a second batch for the A1 level for the first time. These days it is getting more and more difficult to get a place in the A1 course due to the huge demand and supply gap. A friend of mine who was working in Chennai had to wait outside the gates of the Goethe-Institut, Chennai the night before the enrolment for the A1 course was to begin. I still don't know whether he was joking or not but I could totally believe it.

I had enrolled in the weekend course which as the name suggests happens only on Saturday and Sunday. On both days it starts from 8:30 AM to 1:15 PM with two breaks in the middle. It sounds a lot at this stage but believe me, you wouldn't be able imagine how quickly the time goes by when you are having fun in the class. First and the foremost things that you have to understand is that in the classrooms, no other language other than German is spoken by the teacher. It is unnerving at first when the teacher is telling you something in German and you are replying in English that you do not understand but you get used to it. Even the textbooks are completely in German. The course work is designed in such a way that all the participants are debating topics, enacting plays, playing games, singing songs or watching some movies throughout. Even the benches are hexagon shaped so that the participants are always interacting with each other (Even sometimes there are contests between the individual hexagonal shaped groups in the class). It is very much different from the normal classroom environment. Also one of the best aspects for me was the different types of people you get to meet during the course. Almost all of you who would be reading this post would be engineering graduates. So I am assuming that most of your friends would be somewhat related to your field. It was a big change for me when I started my course as a lot of my classmates were from non-tech backgrounds. Also a big change to have equal number of guys and girls in the class (I am a Mech graduate plus was working in a core company). But don't be so happy yet. This number goes for a toss as you progress each level. For my last level, there were only two guys in the class (Is there a male equivalent for lone petticoat?).

It will be definitely be a different kind of environment than what we are used to. Mainly due to the fact that very few of your classmates would be coming from engineering backgrounds. This is a big plus as you actually get to hear different points of view in class than the ones that we are used to. These classes used to also be kind of like a stress buster for me. After a tiring work week, I used to always look forward to my German classes. Even during the week, I used to hear German radio (check TuneIn below) or listen to German music on my earphones during work. My classmates were also really great. So even during the weeks, we would call each other and talk in German or start email threads.

Coming to examinations, all of them from A1 to C1 will be consisting of four main parts. Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Usually all of them have equal weightage. Unlike Bachelors, it is really important to study throughout the course as you miss a lot of teaching if you bunk a lot of classes and you are attending one of those super intensive or weekend courses. Definitely the one week before exam learning strategy wouldn't work here. If you study throughout the course and you are in touch with the language for some hours during weekdays, it is really easy to score a "gut" or a "sehr gut" in your examinations.

Continuing learning in Germany[edit]

One of the major things I would like to advice after you come to Germany is start talking with your native classmates in German. I didn't actually follow this in my first semester. Hence, I could not interact a lot with the Germans in my class. I used to think that they are not that friendly and would stick to their own groups. But from second sem onwards, I only started speaking to them in German, and practically all of them were really friendly to me. We got to realise that your native classmates would already have a social circle in place and hence the initiative from their side would be very less. And that's why you would have to make the first move. At then end, the rewards will be great. Your German will also improve a great deal and you would be able to make good friends too. Here are some tips I would like to give after you come to Germany:

  • Join a club like a sports club or one of the many organizations in your university.
  • Join a language class. Try improving your German even after landing here. The best friends you will make here will be from these language classes. Try joining a course in VHS. They offer good discount to university students too.
  • Try going to parties alone. Try to come out of your comfort zone and put yourself in difficult situations where you would have to interact with people alone. This will help you a lot in your professional career later too.
  • There will be a lot of events/parties happening throughout the semester. Do not miss them. It is one of the best ways to meet people.

Why learn German?[edit]

There are so many reasons to learn German. The reasons not to learn German would be shorter than this.

  • Coz you will be studying in Germany! Not all people are fluent in English and at one point or the other; you would have to start using German to get by.
  • Coz it greatly improves your social life. Once you know German, you have another 80 million people you can talk to! Because I could speak German decent enough, I was able to speak German to a lot of my native classmates. And believe me, a lot of people open up to you once you speak to them in their mother tongue. I think an analogy at this point would be good. I think a lot of South Indian folks (me included) are more comfortable in communicating with people in their native tongue rather than in Hindi. It works the same way everywhere.
  • Coz you would be able to take some interesting courses in German! In almost all the German universities, the majority of the courses being offered would be in German. So for example, you have automotive as your major and you are very much interested in Vehicle Dynamics but the Multi-Body dynamics course being offered in only in German, then there would be no barrier in you attending the lectures. It might be difficult for the initial couple of classes as you have to get used to the prof’s speed and his style of delivering lectures but after that it is no issue at all. Many of the examinations have the option to be written in both English and German. So if you are worried about not being able to write in the technical German, you can give the exam in English too.
  • Coz you would be able to attend seminars that discuss the latest developments in your field. Most of these seminars again would be in German and of course as you know German, you would be able to follow them. Not only seminars, but a lot of technical literature would also be in German only sometimes.
  • Coz you would able to apply to a lot of Intern and Master Thesis positions in companies if you are able to speak German decently. Not only these, but a lot of HiWi jobs too if you are planning on doing one.
  • Coz at many companies, it is a requirement if you want to apply to a open position there. This point cannot be emphasized more.
  • Coz it is fun learning a new language and be able to get good at one particular thing. Watch this video for more info.

Where to learn German?[edit]

The best place to learn German in the country are the local Goethe-Instituts (Also known as the Max Mueller Bhavans). I have done all my six levels from MMB Pune and believe me, nothing can beat it. But as I have already mentioned before, sometimes getting a place in their course is more difficult than getting admission in a German university. So the next best options are hiring a tutor or one of the plethora of the language institutes in your city. But at the end of the day, you would have to give your certification examinations at the local MMB centres as only the GI certificates are recognized by German universities. Hiring a tutor is also not a bad idea when you are working and would want to have flexible hours. But finding a good tutor is not that easy and how well you are able to learn will depend a lot on your tutor. Let me give you more info on the courses at MMB. There are three different types of courses you can enrol in. They are:

  • Super-intensive: This course runs for around 6 weeks. It is really intensive as the name suggests but the fastest way to learn German. You are attending classes from Monday to Friday. The timings are from 8:30 AM to 1:15 PM. If you have a lot of spare time or you still have some time before you are going to start your job, then this course is highly recommended.
  • Intensive: The duration of the course is for 4 months. It goes at a very chilled out pace and it is not that stressful as compared to the super-intensive course. The timings of the course can be either in the morning or in the evenings. So an ideal type of course if you are working and live close to the MMB centre.
  • Weekend Course: I have done all my 6 levels in the weekend course. I have already given the details about this above. This course also runs for around 4 months. One of the cons of attending the weekend or the super-intensive course is that you miss a lot of the lectures if you are not able to attend even one day of the course unlike the intensive courses.

How to learn German?[edit]

A full list of German-learning resources sorted by category and an accompanying description can be found here.

Here are some good learning mediums which you can use for improving your German:

Good Websites[edit]

  1. DuoLingo: I have used this website quite a lot and I think this is one of the best places to learn languages online. The entire learning is designed in such a way that you are unlocking difficulty levels as you progress. So for those of you who want some sort of motivation to learn a language, then this website might be a good option. You earn sort of these “levels” as you progress. Only problem is that you cannot skip levels if you have some sort of proficiency and after some time, it gets kind of boring to proceed. So at the end of the day, you need to have sufficient motivation to plough through the levels. Mobile app is also available for Duolingo.
  2. Memrise: Memrise is kind of like a crowd sourced flash card site. It has some really cool audio-video features too. I did not like the site very much. If you like learning with the help of flash cards (for those GRE crazy folks out there), you can check Anki out. To tell you the truth, I am not much of a flash card type of learner, so I didn’t explore this site a lot.
  3. Deutsche Welle: I like DW very much because you learn a lot about Germany too while learning the language. They have categorized the website into different levels – from A1 to C1. There are lots of videos and hence you get to hear the native tongue too. There are lots of exercises too with these videos. Also be sure to check out their Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten section where they read out the news in a slow and clear way. Great way to keep up with the latest happenings in Germany straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. They also have proper structured lessons for each level which is fun, has a lot of audio and video and you really feel that you are progressing.
  4. Busuu and LiveMocha: Both these sites are quite similar and hence I am combining them together. Not all features of this website is free unlike the 4 other websites above. But their free features are definitely worth a look. On these websites, you have the opportunity to directly learn language from experts or native speakers.
  5. Finding Pen-Pals online: The age of pen pals is not yet extinct. It has just shifted base to the virtual world. A couple of my classmates have tried such websites and they got in touch with native speakers (and are still in touch with them after two years). Great way to meet new people, learn the language and get more insight into the culture.

German Movies and Web Series[edit]

One of my favourite parts of learning German was that I could evaluate how much I was progressing with the language by watching German movies without subtitles. I used to see movies during the initial levels with German subtitles which also helped in learning a lot of new words which are used in everyday languages. Here are some of my most favorite movies:

  • Goodbye Lenin!
  • Nirgendwo in Afrika
  • Lola rennt
  • Solino
  • Soul Kitchen
  • Sophie Scholl
  • Das Leben der Anderen
  • Die Falscher
  • Die rote Zora
  • Europa Europa
  • Groupies bleiben nicht zum Fruehstueck
  • Das Wunder von Bern
  • Das weiße Band

I found one web series especially awesome. It is basically a story of the escapades of an American guy called Sam who comes to Germany to visit his pen pal Sascha who lives with her roommate Anna in Berlin and have a neighbour called Nick. Sam basically does not know a lot of German and is trying to learn the language by total immersion. Really fun and good for the basic levels. You can see the entire series on YouTube. Here is the link of the playlist:Extra Auf Deutsch

Another good web series I would recommend watching if you have just started to learn German is the Lernen to Talk Show. It is basically a video documentary of an American who came to Germany and who didn’t know a word of German. He started from the very basics and every week, he has posted of a video of him with a native speaker. He travels all around Germany and as the weeks progress, you can see the progress he makes. Something that a person can relate to.

At the same time, there are a lot of events at the local MMB centre throughout the year. For example at the Pune MMB, they used to have this so called “FilmAbend” where they used to show a recent film with German subtitles. Sometimes, they even used to have a Stammtisch right after the event where you could discuss about the movie with native speakers. Also, all the GIs have a lot of movies at their libraries which you can watch on the computers there.

Another great thing about living in Pune, is that there used to be a annual “Pune International Film Festival” where you can see a lot of international films. When I was studying German, there was a special German edition of the PIFF where an entire theatre was dedicated to German movies. I really enjoyed that week watching German movies from the morning till the evening. So, if you are living in Pune or are having relatives there, I would really recommend attending this festival. Take a leave if you are working. Spoil yourself.

German Music[edit]

Listening to songs is another great way to learn languages. I am not a connoisseur of music. So you might find my taste in music a bit yuck. Some of these songs below really make me happy when I listen to them and I hope they do the same to you too. Many a times I would put on my earphones and listen to German music during the boring rides to office or even put them on while I was working at office. I have listened to some of these songs so many times that I actually know the complete lyrics too. So here are my favourite ones:

These are few of the songs which I wanted to mention here. You can also follow the following playlists on Spotify which have been created by Goethe Institute:

In addition I would recommend that you download this really cool app called TuneWiki. If you play your music with this app, you would able to actually read all the lyrics of the song if they are available online. It is also available on Spotify. So if you like listening to music on your PC, you can even use the app on Spotify. Another app that I really like which can be used on PC or via your smart phone is TuneIn. On this website/app, you can listen to radio stations all over the world. So for example, you can search for radio stations of a city like Berlin and be updated with the latest local news while actually listening to good music. They would be in both English and German. Here are some of my favourite stations:

German books[edit]

Reading novels in German might sound crazy at this stage but I would recommend that you try it once. You can start with a translated one first. For example, as my handle suggests I am big fan of Harry Potter. So I started reading the The Philosopher’s Stone in German and believe me it helps a lot when you have already read the novel a couple of times in English. Or even some fairy tales from the Grimm brothers would be a good start. Project Gutenberg is a good website where you can download a lot of free books in German. Another thing that you can try if you are not much into reading books is that you can try Audio books. Germans are quite crazy about Audio books and hence you can find a lot of them online. It helps a lot too to understand spoken German. This is a good website where you can download a lot of audio books.

Additional resources[edit]

  1. YetAnotherLanguage
  2. YoungGermany German podcasts
  3. MeinDeutschKurs
  4. LSA Uni Michigan
  5. CrossingCulturesCarefully

The Do's and Don'ts[edit]

Don'ts[edit]

Many engineering graduates think that learning languages is only for Arts students and that we should be able to learn any language very quickly since we have cleared the most difficult engineering exams such as IITJEE/AIEEE/CET etc. Let me tell you that it is not easy and you need to put in a lot of effort and dedication (Even more than you have put in for your semester exams sometimes). Many students underestimate this and I have seen that a majority of engineering graduates failing their B1/B2 exams.

Do's[edit]

Study well. Dedicate some time every week to practise German. Put in all the effort you can because it going to pay off big time when you start your Masters in Germany. It will enhance your social life multi-fold and even help in Thesis and internship hunt as most companies/institutes require some basic German proficiency. Also a big help while you search for part-time jobs/Hiwis in Germany. And most importantly enjoy learning. The best way to learn is when you are completely immersed in it and enjoying it to the fullest.

Parting advice[edit]

Wenn du schon Deutsch kannst und Lust hast auf Deutsch zu reden und nette Leute kennenzulernen, schreib mir eine Nachricht. Ich versuche einmal pro Woche oder zwei Wochen, einen Stammtisch zu organisieren.

Viel Erfolg und viel Spaß weiterhin.

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