The (in)famous British “crisp sandwich,” which, yes, is essentially potatoes between bread.
The idea of learning French and German together might incite reactions similar to those provoked by the above food combinations.
For example, “Why would you do that to yourself?!”
Or maybe, “I can understand them separately, but at the same time?”
Let’s be clear: French and German aren’t easy languages.
But they’re still relatively easy for an English speaker to learn, and the experience of learning each can enhance the experience of learning the other.
If you’re thinking of studying two languages at the same time, you could do a lot worse than French and German.
In this post, we’ll look at the advantages of learning them together, some resources for doing so and how to best go about it.
We’ll even check out some university-level programs for combining the two if you want to get serious.
How to Learn French and German at the Same Time: Tips, Resources and More!
First, let’s look at why learning French and German together isn’t just not a bad idea, but arguably a good one.
Why Learning French and German Together Is a Solid Idea
French and German are both modern, international languages that’ll give you footing in a lot of places.
We happen to be at a moment in time where French and German represent two of the most useful languages for international travel, for studying and living abroad and even for immigration.
France and Germany regularly make appearances on lists of the best countries for studying abroad, and much of this has to do with the extremely low cost involved.
Studying at public universities in Germany is essentially free, and doing so in France can be close to no-cost as well.
Lists of the best countries for immigrants and for expats to settle also often feature countries where French and German are spoken. Aside from France and Germany, Canada, Switzerland and occasionally Luxembourg and Belgium often get high marks for tolerance, which include factors like human rights and equality.
While French and German are often primarily associated with Europe, French sprawls much further across the globe. Even though this is largely due to French colonialism, the French language no longer belongs solely or, arguably, even primarily to France. Today, it serves to facilitate social and artistic connections between Europe and Africa, as well as between African countries.
Senegal, where the majority language is Wolof and the official language is French, is home to a thriving arts scene and was the shooting location for the most recent film to be awarded the Cannes Grand Prix, Mati Diop’s “Atlantics.” Rwanda, another country where French is an official language—this time alongside English, Swahili and Kinyarwanda—has been the site of a complicated yet groundbreaking shift in gender politics in recent years that could have international significance.
All of this means that French and German together are especially useful for their significant cultural and political connections in Europe, Africa and North America combined.
French and German are different enough that you won’t get them confused, but not so different that you can’t apply your learning back and forth.
French is a Romance language that derives from Latin, whereas German is a Germanic language like English. This means that learning them isn’t too similar. It’s not like, say, learning Spanish and Italian at the same time. With French and German, there’s little risk of confusing vocabulary between the two.
At the same time, there are some similar grammar concepts, such as grammatical gender, that make the two languages not entirely foreign to one another.
This allows you to focus fully on French and German at the same time without the risk of mixing them up, and with possible advantages.
An added bonus is that by learning both French and German, as opposed to two languages in the same language group, you’ll probably have an easier time learning other languages in either language group. Aspiring polyglots, take note!
Learning both languages will give you new insights into the English language.
As mentioned above, German is a Germanic language, and so is English. This means that the two languages share strong lexical similarities.
At the same time, due to the Norman takeover of England in 1066 and the subsequent establishment of French as the language of the ruling class, English also gets a lot of its vocabulary from French.
The end result of all this is that much of modern English has close linguistic relationships to both German and French. This can be helpful to you in studying the languages themselves. For instance, you can learn a lot of vocabulary through cognates. But cognates work the other way around, too. I’m a native English speaker, but some of my more advanced English vocabulary comes from words whose cognates I first learned in French.
For example, I learned the word facile early on in my junior high school French class because it’s a common word in French meaning “easy.” But the word “facile” in English, which has a related but different meaning veering more towards “simplistic” or “superficial,” wasn’t something that I had encountered as a 12-year-old. When I did encounter it later, I still had to work out its meaning, but this was facile (according to the French meaning) because the word was already familiar to me.
Killer Resources for Learning French and German Together
Okay, so since you’re likely already totally into the idea of learning these languages at the same time, let’s explore the next steps. While we’ll still be getting to some formal study options, we’ll first check out some more accessible and versatile tools.
Deutsche Welle (German Wave), or DW, is a top German-owned international news source, and if you’re learning German and French at the same time, you should absolutely have it bookmarked. Not only can you use the site to read international news in French (at the link above), but you can also read in German, along with 29 other languages. To change languages, just look for the option at the top right of the screen.
But DW is more than a friendly, multi-language current events resource. It also provides you with quality German learning materials that you can access in French, in German or in English. You can sort available courses, which include video and audio offerings, according to your level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, from Level A1 to Level C. For example, learners at levels A1 through B1 can enjoy “Harry,” a 100-episode, bilingual (English-German) animated course that includes a bizarre science-fiction story about getting caught in a time warp.
FluentU is an awesome resource to learn German and French at any level.
This means you can learn languages from the same media native speakers enjoy, right from the very beginning of your studies. You’ll be studying language alongside pop culture, politics and authentic speech.
Even better, FluentU has platforms for learning both French and German, and one subscription is all you need to switch seamlessly between however many languages you want. The program saves your progress separately for each language, making multilingual studying aligned with your interests a breeze.
Use FluentU’s interactive subtitles to learn more about any word or phrase and see it used in example sentences and additional videos.
You can also keep practicing what you’ve learned with customized vocabulary sets, dynamic flashcards and fun quizzes!
You’ve likely already heard of the fabulously popular quiz-based language learning app Duolingo. You may even already be using it to learn French, German or both. While Duolingo has limited capacities as a language course, it’s useful for helping you hit the ground running. But did you know that you can use Duolingo to learn French from German and German from French?
Yep, Duolingo offers both a French-German and a German-French option. This means that you can theoretically use each language as the “teaching” language for learning the other. Of course, learning both languages simultaneously this way probably won’t work that well, as you need to know one language fairly well in order to translate between it and the language you’re learning, which is what Duolingo has you do.
So for example, you may want to start off with the Duolingo English-German course and another resource with more advanced potential, like FluentU, but keep your French studies low-key. Then, when you have enough German under your belt, start the German-French Duolingo course, and learn French while keeping up your German.
This is a cool site that you can use to effectively build your own bilingual e-books. To view a book in French and German, scroll down to “List of Available Books” and search the “View in browser” column for the languages you need—in this case, “fr” and “de.”
Let’s say you select the Oscar Wilde classic “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which might be especially useful for practicing your French and German reading if you’ve already read the book in English. Hit the “Hide” option for all of the languages except for French and German, and you’ll be left with a customized French-German parallel text. Of course, if it’s preferable for your level and learning needs, you can also make it a tri-lingual text with English included. You can view these texts right in your browser or download them in a .zip file.
How to Learn French and German Together
So, how do you work these resources into an actual learning routine? Here are a few tips.
In your daily learning, work on whichever is your weaker language first.
If your goal is to learn French and German simultaneously, you’ll ideally want to study both every day, even if you only get a little bit of studying done. Realistically, though, there will probably be some days where you just can’t manage this or where you’re cut short by something more urgent. For that reason, it can be helpful to always prioritize your weaker language over your stronger one.
Working on whichever language you’re finding more difficult first will ensure that if you do miss out on one language sometimes, it’ll be the one you already feel more confident about. Additionally, and maybe even more practically, doing things in this order will create a sense of momentum. Once your “hard” language is out of the way, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel tired and want to stop studying because moving into your “easy” language after that will probably make it seem even easier and give you a mental rush.
When possible, use French language materials to learn German and vice versa.
This is how resources like the Deutsche Welle site can be so useful. Passively reinforcing a language that you already know to an extent while learning a different language at the same time is an efficient way to grow and maintain your skills. So, try not to pass up any opportunity to do this.
Besides using dedicated resources like those above, you can also take the opportunity to search for information on questions you have about one language in the other. Searching for Französisch lernen (learn French) or apprendre l’allemand (learn German) can also help you find helpful materials.
Make parallel reading a regular part of your study routine.
We looked at the parallel reading potential of FarkasTranslations.com above but didn’t talk about how to actually use parallel texts as a resource for learning. Here are a couple of ideas:
- If your French and German are at about equal levels, try reading a short portion of an e-book that’s at an appropriate level (meaning a little bit above your current reading level) in one language first. If you get stuck, try to use the other text for help. The great thing about doing this is that since both languages are target languages, “cheating” is never going to be detrimental to your reading. Once you’ve finished reading the full portion of the book in the first language, switch to the other. After reading both the German and French versions, check your understanding against a text in English or your native language if one is available.
- If your French and German are at unequal levels, try the same exercise, but make sure to read the text in your less advanced language first. This will ensure that you challenge yourself to piece together the sentences from context before you resort to help from your more advanced language, but you’ll be benefiting from working with both languages regardless.
Working with parallel texts on a regular basis is one of the best ways to learn two languages simultaneously because it makes learning both easier and more efficient.
Now, let’s look at those college-level options.
College-level Options for Studying French and German
There are many options for working both French and German into your college studies. For example, you can major in one language and minor in another. Many universities also offer a modern languages major that allows you to specialize within that more general category. But, it can actually be pretty tricky to find programs that give you full and equal credit for studying both French and German. They definitely exist, though!
French and German Language BA (with a year abroad) at the University of York
If you’re in the U.K. or would like to be, you may want to consider the University of York’s French and German BA option. This is a four-year program that includes one year abroad in a French-speaking country, a German-speaking country or a combination of the two. The program includes practical language use, linguistics and culture. The University of York is a relatively high ranking college that also has a relatively high acceptance rate, potentially making it an accessible and worthwhile option for many students.
Franco-Germanic Studies Major at the University of Indianapolis
Combined French and German undergrad programs are much less popular at public universities in the U.S. than in the U.K., but the University of Indianapolis, a private school, offers a Franco-Germanic studies major. This program puts a broad focus on both language and culture and includes study abroad opportunities. Like the University of York, the University of Indianapolis has a fairly high acceptance rate and is a respected educational institution.
Franco-German Bachelor of Arts from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in cooperation with the Université de Bourgogne (The University of Bourgogne)
This is a bi-national program that includes an exchange between a French university and a German university that’s also open to students of other countries. There are some language prerequisites—in short, you need to provide proof of your language skills with the equivalent of a DSH-1 for German and a DELF for French. But the good news is that you get to take advantage of that free European tuition.
Of course, you can also be a little more creative when it comes to mixing and matching a German and French education in a way that allows you to cater more specifically to your own needs. For example, if your German skills are already very good and you want to establish a record of your experience with that language while also building your French skills, you could check out a French program at a tuition-free German college, like the one at Freie Universität Berlin (The Free University of Berlin).
French and German may seem like a weird combination.
But remember, as is the case with currywurst, it often just so happens that weird + time = classic.
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer currently running experiments in service of discovering how to create the most acceptable vegetarian currywurst. You can find her on Twitter (@CooksChicken).
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