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Old 29.10.2020, 12:03
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Learning German after only knowing English

Hi all, I recently moved near Basel and have been learning German for around 6 months now. I understand some of the basics like greetings, 'where do you come from' etc...and a little with infinitive verbs in the present tense, however, I'm struggling to progress from this.

My aim is to get to a very good standard and to be able to have longer conversations with others using German. Particularly for career purposes, as it always helps to know an extra language other than English and it is of course respectable to learn German whilst living here.

I was wondering if there is anyone on the forum who only started out knowing English and managed to reach a good level of German? How long did it take for you to learn the language? Did you find difficulties like I am at the moment? And finally, did you have any advice or hints/tips that worked for you?

Thank you so much
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Old 29.10.2020, 12:48
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

Same background here (UK school French doesn't count!), currently learning B2 and found there were some points in the language that were more difficult to overcome than others.

Swiss German doesn't help, I find it quite depressing to have a decent level of German but still quite literally have no idea what some Swiss people are saying if the dialect/accent is strong.

For me a combination of class-based learning and 1:1 lessons on Skype work well.
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Old 29.10.2020, 13:36
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

There's no advantage when learning German to have first learnt another language unless that is also Germanic, e.g. Dutch Swedish, etc. Even then, I don't think those have the same complex set of case/gender endings and word order rules of German. Vocabulary, yes, perhaps slightly more commonality than with English, but learning the words is the easy part

For some people who learnt French and/or other romance languages before German, it can positively disadvantageous, because the brain is going to try to make connections or comparisons between them, which do not in fact exist. And it's difficult to just accept the stupid bits of German when you already know that most other languages don't need or use such a complex grammar.

So in my view, you're better equipped to learn German if you come across it as your first foreign language, with no expectations about how different it will be.
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Old 29.10.2020, 14:02
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

I've been told that the more you hear German spoken, the easier it is to learn it because you tend to memorize the way things are said (the conjugations, etc.), and that is how many of us learn our own mother-tongues as children.

One thing I suggest is to watch a lot of television and films in German (even with the subtitles in English). Also reading books in German and looking up the words that you do not know, etc. and writing down the definitions / translations. (When we write something down, I guess it helps lock it into our memory better).

Good luck... To be honest, I have found learning German to be quite difficult. But I also know that I haven't put as much effort into trying to learn it as I could have.
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Old 29.10.2020, 14:31
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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Hi all, I recently moved near Basel and have been learning German for around 6 months now. I understand some of the basics like greetings, 'where do you come from' etc...and a little with infinitive verbs in the present tense, however, I'm struggling to progress from this.
As a guide, if you were able to attend an intensive German course (which is obviously difficult at the moment), that would require about 2.5 - 3hrs in class, 5 days a week plus 1hr plus home study & homework per day. The level you appear to be at is A1 which would normally take 3 months (A1.1, 1.2, 1.3). The level you hope to get to is B2, so in a fomal class setting, that's 12 months work.

Think of B1 as a good standard of German for a reasonable conversation, B2 for being able to work in German, then C1 for advanced understanding and C2 for being able to work at a professional level in German, e.g. doctor, vet, lawyer, etc.

Everyone who learns German will have stumbling blocks and particular aspects that they get frustrated with. Personally, I got very frustrated with Präteritum, but it has to be mastered.

If you can get hold of a Hueber A1 book and work your way through that, you'll be able to find support material online from various sources just by searching youtube. The 'German with Jenny' channel has some really good videos that have cracked a couple of stumbling blocks for me along the way.
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Old 29.10.2020, 14:59
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

And listen to the radio in German, I get positively surprised how much I'm picking up from SRF4 without realising.
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Old 29.10.2020, 15:04
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

How is your learning ability in general? Some people will never be able to do it.


I learnt lazily over years by just listening, trying to strike up conversations and out of necessity when I needed something. I'd find I'd reach a certain level then plateau then I'd take the trouble to look up and learn the rules (dative genitive etc) Learn how to say "I didn't quite understand, I'm learning German, could you say that again?".
When I speak with educated Germans I have almost no problem understanding them. With the Swiss there's usually an extra exhausting layer of processing that's required and it's a bit embarrassing for all involved to say "just give me a minute" and then "ahhhh! I get it now!"


The Swiss and many Germans this way speak a relatively simple form of the language. There's no fancy linguistics going on. If you learn German too well people will think you're up yourself. In fact in Switzerland it's often better to sound like you don't really know German.
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Old 29.10.2020, 16:32
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

When I used to teach German in UK schools, I started with basic conversation, questions and answers with ich/du. But then, before autumn half-term- we always spent the last week going back to English- and understanding basic grammar- as English kids have no concept of subject/direct object and indirect object. Once they'd understood this, in English, and it was explained why it is essential to learn German-we used to start again after half-term speaking German only. It really worked.
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Old 29.10.2020, 23:48
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

I tried an intensive German course in Basel about 4 years ago and it didn't work for me at all. There was no time to absorb what I had learned before going on to the next thing; the class also had 2 tutors, one was Mon/Weds/Fri and excellent, the other was Tues/Thurs and was a total scatterbrain none of us could follow.

I then tried evening classes twice a week where I fared much better, was doing well until the second half of A2, but during that term the class became too big and I ended up getting lost (there were also students who really should have been on the next level as they were far more advanced). Even the teacher said he didn't want to teach a class of that size again.

At the end of last year I decided to take the first half of 2020 off with a plan to start evening classed again in August. With the current situation I decided to sit the rest of the year out. I hope to return to class in January if that's possible.

In the meantime I've done a few free Open University Futurelearn courses in German, plus I use a subscription to Babbel and the free version of Duolingo (the latter isn't great as it throws up some weird English translations).

I think my spoken German is terrible as I struggle with word order the entire time, yet I manage to have a German conversation with my (Italian) hairdresser and he understands everything. I think it's because he speaks German fairly slowly. However, I do sometimes feel a failure in all this and have often wished my OH had a job in a French speaking Canton as I spent years learning French at high school. I'm not ready to give up though lol
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Old 29.10.2020, 23:58
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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I tried an intensive German course in Basel about 4 years ago and it didn't work for me at all. There was no time to absorb what I had learned before going on to the next thing; the class also had 2 tutors, one was Mon/Weds/Fri and excellent, the other was Tues/Thurs and was a total scatterbrain none of us could follow.

I then tried evening classes twice a week where I fared much better, was doing well until the second half of A2, but during that term the class became too big and I ended up getting lost (there were also students who really should have been on the next level as they were far more advanced). Even the teacher said he didn't want to teach a class of that size again.

At the end of last year I decided to take the first half of 2020 off with a plan to start evening classed again in August. With the current situation I decided to sit the rest of the year out. I hope to return to class in January if that's possible.

In the meantime I've done a few free Open University Futurelearn courses in German, plus I use a subscription to Babbel and the free version of Duolingo (the latter isn't great as it throws up some weird English translations).

I think my spoken German is terrible as I struggle with word order the entire time, yet I manage to have a German conversation with my (Italian) hairdresser and he understands everything. I think it's because he speaks German fairly slowly. However, I do sometimes feel a failure in all this and have often wished my OH had a job in a French speaking Canton as I spent years learning French at high school. I'm not ready to give up though lol
I've been doing A2 courses in Basel. Perhaps we will end up on the same B1 course! Sounds like you are about my level
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Old 30.10.2020, 00:28
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

"Sounds like you are about my level"

Do you want a bet on that lol. I speak some weird muddled form of German but have no idea really
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Old 30.10.2020, 11:11
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

I moved here in Feb 2019 after having lived in Sweden for five years, and according to an online test, I'm now at level B2. I did a semi intensive course at the Migros Klubschule, and found it helpful at the start, but by the time I got to the end of A1, I felt like it was a bit of a waste of time as it was a group of 15, and not everyone was at the same level, so now I'm mostly just learning by doing.
In work, they only speak German with me (mostly high German), and I try as much as possible to watch German videos on youtube, listen to the radio in German etc; I'm not brilliant at classroom learning, so I find it easier to do it this way. And I do think that having learnt Swedish helped me hugely, as I find it easier to relate Swedish to German, plus I can often use Swedish words if I don't know the German word, and it often works.
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Old 30.10.2020, 13:20
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

I just did weekly courses. That was sufficient so that after about 15 years I could get my B1 certificate (almost B2, just a few marks off). I annoy my wife who works massively hard on these things, whereas I just pick things up by ear. I also speak French and it doesn't help with German at all - except perhaps that the concept of nouns having gender isn't totally alien.

My biggest issue is vocabulary. I just don't know too many words. To address this, I'm now reading Ronja by Astrid Lindgren. I read a chapter, then go back through it, recording all the words and phrases I don't know into a private Memrise course (you have to do this on a computer). I then use the app to self test and learn the words.

Next I'm to read (my daughters make me) Mio, mein Mio. Then Jim Knopf (Ende).
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Old 16.11.2020, 15:02
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

I learnt French at school and was shockingly awful, just about getting a III at CSE (who remembers that?!!). Coming from the UK, I had no concept of other languages being used. Seriously.

I came to Switzerland when I was almost 50 and started to learn German. It's a very slow process and I'm now working my way through B2 although at a snail's pace. I have tried so many different methods of learning:

- intensive Geothe Institut course in Freiburg
- intensive course with ZHAW
- weekly evening classes with Klubschule; ECAP; etc
- Herr Professor daily emails
- duolingo
etc

The intensive courses do not suit me as I am always at the bottom of the class, they are exhausting and the exercises are so damned silly sometimes.

I now have a weekly one hour online session and a couple of books I work through, at my own pace. It works for me. Some weeks I never pick up a book; others I make tiny steps forward.

I will never be C2 fluent and I will always speak with a dreadful accent (think Prince Charles at the Bundestag yesterday!) but I get by and make fewer and fewer mistakes with time. I have also overcome the post-school belief that I am shit at languages.
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Old 17.11.2020, 13:42
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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Hi all, I recently moved near Basel and have been learning German for around 6 months now. I understand some of the basics like greetings, 'where do you come from' etc...and a little with infinitive verbs in the present tense, however, I'm struggling to progress from this.

My aim is to get to a very good standard and to be able to have longer conversations with others using German. Particularly for career purposes, as it always helps to know an extra language other than English and it is of course respectable to learn German whilst living here.

I was wondering if there is anyone on the forum who only started out knowing English and managed to reach a good level of German? How long did it take for you to learn the language? Did you find difficulties like I am at the moment? And finally, did you have any advice or hints/tips that worked for you?

Thank you so much
German is not hard to learn, at least not harder than any other language.

However, I would suggest not to over focus on Swiss German. Generally, Swiss people will switch to High German as an automatic response to you.

Good luck!
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Old 17.11.2020, 14:19
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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I learnt French at school and was shockingly awful, just about getting a III at CSE (who remembers that?!!).
etc

I have also overcome the post-school belief that I am shit at languages.

Yes I remember O'Levels- as I started teaching in the UK when they were still going. Great news for you, you were not 'shit at languages' - but probably not very interested or excited about the way you were taught, and 'shit' at the sort of silly grammar for the sake or grammar exercises required for O'Level, and didn't relate to the silly lists of irrelevant vocab you had to learn. That book with the monkey lol.



Thank goodness we have moved on from there- mind you, it is still often the way it is taught in France, where the oral exam has little value, and to some extent in Switzerland.


Glad you have managed to get over it, and bravo for what you have achieved.
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Old 17.11.2020, 14:36
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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When I used to teach German in UK schools, I started with basic conversation, questions and answers with ich/du. But then, before autumn half-term- we always spent the last week going back to English- and understanding basic grammar- as English kids have no concept of subject/direct object and indirect object. Once they'd understood this, in English, and it was explained why it is essential to learn German-we used to start again after half-term speaking German only. It really worked.
<Applause>

One of the things that has always annoyed me most about German teaching here is the absolute refusal to explain rules properly.

I find the 'do it as I tell you enough and eventually it'll become second nature' approach both inefficient and lazy. If someone can't explain to me _why_ a particular rule is there then they shouldn't be able to call themselves a teacher.

And most important,
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Old 17.11.2020, 22:41
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

my 2 cents as someone who's been bad at languages in school, but now has no issues with them: getting a job where people tell you to bugger off if you try to speak English does the trick.
Friends that overwhelmingly prefer to speak their language or are hard to understand in other ones also help.

Basically you have to build your knowledge on other people's ignorance and lazyness.
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Old 17.11.2020, 23:00
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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my 2 cents as someone who's been bad at languages in school, but now has no issues with them: getting a job where people tell you to bugger off if you try to speak English does the trick.
Friends that overwhelmingly prefer to speak their language or are hard to understand in other ones also help.

Basically you have to build your knowledge on other people's ignorance and lazyness.
Moving from Basel to Frick is definitely helping.

Apart from the old lady next door who doesn't speak high German. The Dialekt is incomprehensible.
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Old 17.11.2020, 23:03
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Re: Learning German after only knowing English

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"Sounds like you are about my level"

Do you want a bet on that lol. I speak some weird muddled form of German but have no idea really
Sounds about right lol.

I know everyone says this but my speaking is much worse than my reading. The latter is at a B1 level but speaking is more like A1 plus , A2 on a Good day.
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