Take German with humour

The other day a student of my B2 class came to the lesson and made me and the other students in the group a gift: Dice. On the sides of the dice were written the German articles der, die and das.

Well, I admit that I had been torturing them previously with always asking if nouns were der, die or das, i.e. of masculine, feminine or neutral gender. Unfortunately, not using the correct article is the source of many mistakes in German. So yes, I might have insisted quite annoyingly on my students to memorize the article of nouns. And these funny dice were the bill for it 🙂

After thinking a moment about this seemingly vicious gift from my student, I realized that he was so right! We have to take it with humour. All German learners have to face this annoying three gender system with no precise rules for which noun belongs to which gender. For many German learners to answer the question if a noun has the article der, die or das feels like gambling.

We use the dice in almost every lesson now, just to have a laugh, it has become a kind of ritual. And it actually turned out not to be harmful to the learning process (because obviously the dice are very unlikely to give you the correct article, but sometimes they even do!) On the contrary: The little toy allows the students to turn their attention to the question about the article in a playful and fun way.

But always remember: This toy is only to be used under your teacher’s supervision 🙂

The Corpus Delicti

What can help you to memorize new words?

When it comes to memorizing new words in a foreign language each learner has their own methods. The most effective way for me personally is speaking the language. No elaborate tool, memo technique or system can replace the active use and communication in a language.

However, there are certain tools that are very helpful. I myself am more one of the old school types. For me it is very basic. A coffee stained paper vocabulary book that I carry around and fill with new words whenever I come across an interesting one, with no particular order of the words. Just writing down a word helps me already to memorize, and I like casually flicking through my book whenever I have a moment. Sometimes, when I don’t have my booklet at hand and try to find a word in my memory, I literally see the word in the mind’s eye written in the upper left corner of the page scribbled down in my handwriting. I am a very visual learner type, I guess.

Some of my students like it the same old school way as me – words written on paper. Some have paper flashcards with different colors, green for verbs, red for nouns, yellow for adjectives and so on. Others take pleasure in creating their own personalized sophisticated mindmaps or memory systems.

And of course there are different language learning and flashcard apps. Especially for beginners it is recommendable to have one or several apps on their computer or smart phone that they can use whenever they have some spare time, e.g. time in the train, bus, plane, airport, train station, queues etc.

Here I would just like to introduce three useful apps that provide free basic versions:

Memrise is an online platform and app. You can create your own vocabulary lists, and test yourself with the help of a spaced repetition program until all the words are in your long term memory. You can share your lists with others, and you have access to loads of already existing vocabulary lists provided by the community.

Anki is an open-source, multi-platform spaced repetition system (SRS) flashcard program. You can create your own vocabulary lists, share them with others, and you have access to many already existing lists provided by the community. It is free for Windows, Android, OS X and Linux. There is a paid version for the use on Apple devices.

Busuu is an actual language course. In consecutive lessons you learn the basic vocabulary for everyday situations, simple sentences and the grammar basics. Positive: Useful background information on grammar topics is provided in your native language.

Do you have any other recommendations for apps or tools for learning German? Feel free to share them in the comment section!

Good read for grey winter days: Momo by Michael Ende

It is January, the winter in Berlin is dragging on, it is the time of the year when we feel like we haven’t seen the sun in months. Grey sky and rain, day by day. It might be these uncomfortable circumstances that make me want to turn to something consoling and uplifting and to read extracts from the children’s book Momo with my students.

As many other Germans of my generation I read this book as child, but I also loved to read it again as an adult, since it contains a lot of true and inspiring insights on society. Even though the novel was published in 1973, it seems to accurately describe today’s world. At first sight it is just a beautiful and touching story about a little girl and her friends, but when you look behind the facade it contains a deep criticism of the consumerist, superficial and fast moving society we live in.

I warmly recommend Momo by Michael Ende (who is also the author of the more famous „Die unendliche Geschichte – The Neverending Story“), as an inspiring read for grey winter days (or any other day). There is also a well made film version. Watch it with subtitles, ideally German subtitles 🙂

Below is a small synopsis, first in simple German, followed by the English translation:

A cup of tea and the novel Momo, perfect companions on a grey winter day.

Momo ist ein kleines Mädchen. Sie lebt allein in der Ruine eines Amphitheaters am Rande einer Großstadt. Sie hat keine Eltern, doch die Bewohner der Stadt kümmern sich um sie und sie hat viele Freunde. Die Kinder der Stadt kommen gern zum Amphitheater, um zu spielen. Momo hat ein großes Talent. Sie kann sehr gut zuhören. Viele Menschen kommen zu ihr und erzählen ihr ihre Probleme. Wenn Momo ihnen zuhört, werden Schüchterne plötzlich mutig, Unentschlossene entschlossen und die Menschen haben plötzlich Gedanken, von denen sie vorher nichts gewusst haben.

Eines Tages tauchen die grauen Herren in der Stadt auf. Diese Männer sind Zeitdiebe. Sie kommen im Auftrag einer Zeitsparkasse und wollen die Menschen dazu überreden, ihre Lebenszeit zu sparen. Die Menschen haben immer weniger Zeit und immer weniger Freude am Leben. Momo ist die Einzige, die den Menschen helfen kann, ihre Zeit von den grauen Herren zurückzuholen…

English translation:

Momo is a little girl. She lives by herself in the ruins of an old amphitheatre in the outskirts of a big city. She doesn’t have parents, but the inhabitants of the city take care of her and she has many friends. The children from the city love to come to the amphitheatre to play. Momo has a very special talent. She is a great listener. Many people come to her and tell her their problems. When Momo listens to them, shy people become brave and undetermined people become determined and people suddenly have thoughts that they didn’t know existed.

One day, the men in grey appear in the city. These men are time thiefs. They come on behalf of a time savings bank and want to convince people to make savings of their lifetime. The people have less and less time and less and less joy in life. Momo is the only one who can help the people to get back their time from the men in grey…

Discussing election poster slogans in German class

In the run-up to the general elections on 24 September 2017 German parties have started putting up advertising posters to the lamp posts everywhere in the streets. While moving through the city you get to read a lot of more or less inspiring slogans. They are supposed to inform voters about the parties‘ respective topics and goals.

Well, in terms of information they are actually widely disappointing. Instead you get the impression that they are not even trying to inform, but that the professional advertising agencies which designed and texted these posters for the parties have only one goal: to attract the attention. Information is secondary.

It’s fascinating. They seem to have become a new literary genre, coming up with the most creative plays with words, provocative pictures and sometimes so difficult to understand that you wonder, even being a native speaker, if they are meant to be serious or ironic. Some slogans are so empty that it’s hard to tell which party it’s coming from.

But while the slogans in terms of information are mostly empty, sometimes also shocking or amusing, they actually do provide a lot to talk about in German class. Analysing the plays with words and figuring out what a particular slogan is trying to say can be interesting and fun. Also, it’s a good opportunity to talk about the different political parties in Germany, their history, their policies and to exchange opinions. So if they don’t provide information, they at least provide stuff to talk about in German class.

Digital First

One of the many bland election poster slogans to discuss in German class.

In this blog I will sometimes publish simple texts in German language with vocabulary help for German learners from level A2. The texts are about Berlin-related, cultural, social or political topics.

In my first German language post I will tell you about an initiative of tenants in Berlin Kreuzberg that fights against their landlord who plans to sell their building in order to build luxury flats.

Vocabulary help:

sich wehren gegen – to defend yourself against

verdrängen – to crowd out

durchschnittlich – on average

gründen – to found

die Entwicklung – development

kämpfen – to fight

sich etwas leisten können – to be able to afford something

der Eigentümer – owner

umwandeln – to convert

die Öffentlichkeit – the public

es hat sich gelohnt – it was worth it

Lause bleibt – Kreuzberger Mieter wehren sich gegen einen Immobilieninvestor

Gentrifizierung ist in Berlin ein viel diskutiertes Thema. Gentrifizierung bedeutet, dass Menschen, die wenig Geld haben, aus einem Stadtteil wegziehen müssen und reichere Menschen dort hinziehen. Der Grund dafür ist meist, dass die Häuser der ärmeren Menschen verkauft und saniert werden, die Miete danach steigt oder dass ihre Wohnungen in Eigentumswohnungen umgewandelt werden. Man sagt auch oft, dass die Menschen durch diese Entwicklung aus ihrem Stadtteil verdrängt werden.

In den vergangenen sechs Jahren sind die Mieten in Berlin durchschnittlich um fast 50 Prozent gestiegen.

Berlin ist ein populärer Ort für Immobilienspekulation geworden. Oft kaufen Investoren Häuser, kündigen die Mietverträge, führen Luxussanierungen durch und verkaufen die Wohnungen teuer.

In den letzten Jahren haben sich in Berlin viele Initiativen gegründet, die gegen diese Entwicklung kämpfen, darunter auch die Initiative „Lause bleibt“.

In der Lausitzer Straße 10 und 11 in Kreuzberg gibt es Wohnungen, Werkstätten, Bildungseinrichtungen, NGOs, Bürogemeinschaften und viele Vereine. Viele leben dort seit vielen Jahren oder haben dort schon lange ihre Büros. Viele soziale, linke, alternative und politische Projekte, die sich keine hohen Mieten leisten können, haben ihre Büros in den Häusern.

Der Eigentümer der Häuser ist die dänische Immobilienfirma Taekker, die in Berlin auch schon viele andere Immobilien gekauft hat. Taekker hat geplant, die Häuser zu verkaufen und sie in Luxuswohnungen umzuwandeln.

Die Bewohner und Mieter der Lausitzer Straße 10 und 11 haben entschieden, dass sie das nicht akzeptieren wollen. Sie wollen nicht aus ihren Wohnungen und Büros weggehen. Also haben sie eine Bürgerinitiative gegründet, die sich „Lause bleibt“ nennt.

Sie haben verschiedene Aktionen gemacht, um die Öffentlichkeit über den geplanten Verkauf der Häuser zu informieren. Sie haben auch Kontakt zum Hauseigentümer Taekker aufgenommen, ihm einen offenen Brief geschrieben und sind als große Gruppe mit Blumen in sein Büro in Kreuzberg gegangen, um friedlich zu protestieren.

Die Aktionen haben dazu geführt, dass Taekker die Häuser im Moment nicht verkauft. Der Protest hat sich also gelohnt. Die Aktivisten wollen aber weiterkämpfen, bis sie eine langfristige Garantie dafür haben, dass sie in ihren Wohnungen und Büros bleiben können.

Hier gibt es mehr Informationen über die Initiative:

Hier ein paar andere Initiativen in Berlin, die gegen Gentrifizierung kämpfen:

Und hier eine Radiosendung für Deutschlerner über Gentrifizierung in Kreuzberg bei Deutsche Welle:

Making German enjoyable – this is my way of teaching

The goal of a teacher’s work is to make their students learn. Sometimes the concrete goals of a class are very clear: A certain level has to be reached within a certain time frame, a certain exam has to be passed. In this case the learning schedule is focused on preparing to reach that goal.

But if you ask me what my teaching is like as long as there is no such constraint or deadline, here is what my approach is:

It’s still the goal that students learn, of course. They should see some progress in expressing themselves in the German language. But what is my approach to reach this goal? How do people most naturally get in the state of learning and making progress? Here is where my main principle comes into play: You only learn when you enjoy what you are doing.

At first sight learning German might not seem like an enjoyable activity, some even would consider it as hard work. Unmemorable words and a complex grammatical system. I do admit that I am quite glad to have learned this language from scratch when I was a baby and wasn’t aware what difficult language system I was learning. I can really feel for my students, and I try to take this into account in my lessons. It is not obvious that learning German is enjoyable when you are an adult and fully aware of the difficulties, if you have a full time job and actually no time to learn German. But I always try to get the most enjoyable side out of it. I try to create a social and relaxed atmosphere where different people with the same goal – which is learning German – get to try out their German skills in a supportive und fun environment. And it’s about trying, there is no pressure and mistakes are of course allowed and even welcomed, because we all know that we can only learn from our mistakes.

The students are always in the centre. In our conversations it’s all about their interests and their lives, so they get to talk about the topics that are most relevant to them.

I see my role as a teacher to make suggestions that correspond to my students‘ interests. Speaking and exchange of experiences and opinions is in the focus of my lessons.

Grammar is something that of course has to be talked about from time to time. I always introduce grammar in a way that students get to use the grammatical structures immediately in practice and in conversation. The introduction of the German conditional tense for example, called Konjunktiv II, gives an opportunity to discuss life dreams or unrealistic and fantastic scenarios. That can be lots of fun!

So all in all it’s all about communicating, focusing on the students‘ interests and of course about having fun. That’s my personal way to make learning German enjoyable.