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Tips on learning German - Thoughts from a German language teacher turned photographer

So you'd like to learn German, arguably Europe's most important language for science, culture and trade. Maybe you've been on holiday and would like to be able to use the language in everyday situations. Maybe you need it for your job, or perhaps you have friend - or maybe even a partner or spouse - who speaks German.

Neon signs Leipzig Germany


I started learning German at school on the advice of one of my teachers - Mr Lackey. Since then I've never looked back. I can honestly say that learning German has been a fascinating and gratifying experience that brings me enjoyment and satisfaction every day. But how did I do it? Is there any advice on how to develop real competency in the language in a reaonsable space of time. Read on, you may find the following tips useful!

Be realistic set clear goals
First of all you need to be realistic. You are not go from beginner to 'fluent' in a short space of time. But your goal is not to be fluent, at least not in the beginning. That would be an impossible goal. Your goal is to gain the lingustic knowledge and competency to cope with a number of common situations. To 'get by' in common situations, you may only need to acquire 500 words, or 100 phrases. Now that's much more realistic. Split it up into sections. If you learn 10 phrases a week consisting of 50 words - you will have achieved your goal in 10 weeks.

Don't expect it to be easy
Learning a language is difficult. If only we could acquire the language as we did as a child, absorbing it like a sponge and magically spouting the words, without even having to think. Unless you're pre-teen living in a German speaking environment, that's not going to happen. You will have to learn it the hard way - by learning, practicing, through sweat and brain power. But it needn't be an unsurmoutnable task, and it can be fun and satisfying. If you know how.

Develop strategies to aid learning
There are many strategies you can use to help optimise the process of language learning, for instance using memory aids to learn vocabulary, or maybe playing recordings in the car and repeating them. Repeating aloud is one of the best learning strategies there is. I'll be going into more language learning strategies in another article.

Listen or watch online
Today via the internet, there are unprecedented opportunities to gain exposure to German speaking media in audio and video. An unlimited amount of up to date material is available at the click of a mouse. There are also courses on DVD or online which combine all audio visual and written elements together to create a the best learning opportunity ever.

Visit the country! Get real experience
Though audio-visual media provide an excellent window on the language and culture, there is still no substitute to visiting the country and being a part of the language environment. It's there all around you - on the signs, in the streets, shops and restaurants. And though you may not understand much of it, you can be a part of it. Even as a beginning you can order a coffee, or go to the station and buy a ticket. Knowing a foreign language at any level is a fantastic experience that everyone should enjoy, though few native English speakers make the effort.

Mistakes are good - they are are all part of learning the language
Many language learners become disheartened when they make mistakes - I still do and I've been doing it for 30 years. But it's important to remember that mistakes are part of the process of learning - not just languages but any subject. It is impossible to progress without making mistakes. In fact you progress by making mistakes, then correcting them.

Be pleased with what you've achieved! Stick with it, don't drop out!
It's very important to maintain a positive attitude when learning a language. You may find at times it all becomes overwhelming, your initial enthusiasm falters and you quit. This is something I've seen time and time again. Language classes begin full but dwindle down to a dedicated handful.

Join a class - get peer support
You can get a lot of extra motivation by joining a class, either day or evening. A talented and enthusiastic teacher can have a very positive influence that can last a lifetime. You'll make new friends too. They'll support you and provide opportunities to practice through roleplay.

Get online training
It's also possible to follow a course online. You communicate with your tutor via e-mail or video conferencing. This state of the art form of training can be very effective, especially for those on tight schedules or who need to remain in their home.

Get one to one training
One of the most effective forms of training is one-to-one face-to-face training with a private tutor. A good tutor can tailor the work directly to your personal profile, the difficulties you need to overcome and the goals you want to achieve. The tutor can give you his or her undivided attention, and can really make a difference. There is in my opinion no substitute for face to face interaction when learning a language.

I offer one to one tuition in German in the Stockport and south Manchester area. To find out more please contact

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2008-12-29

You are looking at a page on the legacy site of Aidan O'Rourke Photographer, Videomaker, Coach in Languages and Photography. This is an archived page and is no longer updated. Some information may now be out of date / inaccurate. Please go to the home page www.aidan.co.uk for up to date information. Thank you, Aidan O'Rourke

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