Lessons from Other Learners

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a language exchange event or meet up, you might find yourself spending little or no time talking to native speakers. This can feel like a bit of a shame, but it’s an experience shared by anyone in a language course, when the teacher is the only native speaker in the room. What can you gain from practising with other learners?

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  • Teaching is a great way to learn. If you discover gaps between your knowledge and theirs, explaining a small grammar point or new piece of vocabulary helps cement your own knowledge.
  • Listening will often be easier by virtue of them speaking more slowly… and if they sound more British than Valencian you might be able to follow them better (even if you’re not honing your accent).
  • Sympathy is a good thing to find with a fellow learner – with Spanish, I think people have trouble with the speed, and almost everyone rolls their eyes at German grammar. (See also the perfect German word for sympathy: Mitleid, literally with-suffering).
  • Tips and Resources! Everyone can suggest a film, app, podcast, musician or travel destination to help your language journey and cultural experience.

I just returned from one of these experiences, where I ended up chatting in Spanish with a Danish person (like you do), and came back thinking about the benefits of non-fluent chat. You can still make the most of it!

Delving into Denglisch

English can be found everywhere in modern German. It varies depending on location, environment and person, but you regularly hear things like “sorry”, “happy”, and “das Meeting”. This is perfect, right – the more English that gets absorbed into German, the less vocabulary you need to be understood.

The catch, though, to this linguistic invasion, is the homegrown Denglisch which has to be reinterpreted. Here’s some more obscure examples…

Homestory
I could not work this one out from context. A Homestory is when a tabloid newspaper pays to have an exclusive photo session and home-visit with a celebrity and their family. They tell their story… from home. I guess it works?

Sprayer
If you want the English interpretation of this slang word, urban dictionary has some graphic examples. For some Germans, it refers to graffiti artists.

Youngtimer
I should have better things to do than to let this word infuriate me, but it’s such a bad name in such an elaborate way. Youngtimer is actually a descendent of the famous misappropriation OldtimerOldtimer has long meant a vintage car in Germany. Youngtimer means a less-vintage car, i.e. vehicles from the 80s rather than the 40s.

Fake rage aside, it is inevitable that languages evolve over time – who’s to say that it’s only native speakers who are allowed to influence the evolution? English is not a language that needs “protecting”.

I’ll continue to highlight great or baffling Denglisch when I see it!

Listening: A How-To

Of the four language-learning pillars, listening is most likely to induce panic. Speaking, reading and writing can all be done at your own pace, but you can’t pause native speakers or hit “x0.5 speed”. Classic example – Tina Fey’s 30 Rock character trying out her high school German #hubcap?

The Listening
Problem

Hearing the real language has to happen, but you have to manage it carefully. I had to study French and German between the ages of 11-14, and I remember the feeling of confusion and despair – and a little bit of betrayal – when I went to those countries with my family. You know, you’re suddenly surrounded by native speakers talking Martian(?) and you realise: “oh no. Oh right. I know nothing.” How can you tackle this shock?

Every morning, I listen to two news podcasts. First, I get a five minute German-language version, which helps wake up my brain, and gives me the headlines. Second, I click on the El País podcast, which is a three minute deluge of Spanish I barely understand. I would never recommend it to intermediate learners – it’s too depressing – unless you play it at x0.5 speed and want to hear a drunk newscaster.

It is easy to find the real, slightly bewildering spoken language – you can choose Netflix shows, the evening news, some YouTubers. It is important to expose yourself to the real thing, because this never happened when I was in school, and the learning materials alone cannot reflect how people actually talk. That said, beginner or intermediate listening practice will help you improve in a way that standard resources won’t.

Spanish Listening Tools

Also consider finding a tandem partner, Conversation Exchange is a popular site allowing you to find a language partner to swap languages via messaging, skyping or meeting up in your city. It has a ‘classic’ design (ca. 2004?) but there are active users!

If you are in a face to face conversation, you probably won’t understand everything they say. My last piece of advice is to look up – or remind yourself – how to ask the person to slow down, or repeat something, or to rephrase it. Sé valiente y probarlo!

2 Years of Spanish: What Does That Mean?

Zero is an interesting place from which to start a Duolingo course, as it was when I began Spanish about two years ago. I recognised a few words, but to give you an idea, when I saw the word mujer I thought “what the hell is that”. The private disappointment that I knew hombre but not the word for women made me more determined to gain some Spanish. Two years later, I’m at an intermediate, B1-B2 level (see the Central European Framework of Reference). How does that happen, and what does it mean?

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Merchandise from classic Hollywood in Madrid

It’s possible to finish a Duolingo course in a few weeks, but as fast as you accumulate lesson badges, the faster they ‘fade’. I was interested in Spanish but not in a hurry, so I set my daily goal to the basic level and concentrated on revision as much as progression. That approach took me a year – quite a while, but it felt more valuable than finishing and dropping the course in five months.

The advantage of Duolingo has always been that it gives you a taste for the language as well as some familiarity – in more concrete terms, when I began evening classes a year ago, I was on the cusp of A2, or upper beginner.

How did I get from beginner to intermediate? In the past year I’ve had 40 hours of super good group classes, regular conversation with a tandem partner, active learning time with apps, and passive time spent listening to podcasts, watching Easy Spanish, etc. etc. What does B1 mean?

  • I have a good understanding of Spanish but I rely on clear communication and I have to be in familiar situations. If I overhear some Spanish teenagers on the train, it’s like snatching words of a whirlwind.
  • I can write simple texts (with errors) – for example at work I sometimes trade emails in Spanish with a colleague (who sympathises, because he’s always trying to improve his English).
  • I can discuss opinions and plans with native speakers.

What’s next? B2, upper intermediate, means you can talk to native speakers without either of you making a lot of effort. At the moment, there is a ton of pausing, and questioning, and switching between English and Spanish. So – next stop, effortless Spanish! Easy!

German Verb of the Week (No.3)

bummeln

Bummeln describes strolling or sauntering (as well as dawdling) and it is excellent for three reasons:

  1. It describes a pleasant and serene activity
  2. It confirms the stereotype that German sounds ridiculous
  3. It contains a childish British word which relates to the point above

Try and use it in a sentence! Bis zum nächsten Mal!