“Language is the tool of love and the weapon of hatred.”
That quote, which is totally on point, is from Viennese intellectual and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
He’s 100% right about language being a tool and a weapon.
The catch with these kinds of items? They can get rusty if they’re left laying around.
Or to quote any number of German teachers with wagging fingers: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Looking to brush up on German but don’t have a lot of time?
Are you a little turned off by the idea of sitting down with grammar books every night just to get a German refresher?
You don’t have to start from scratch.
Need a Refresh? 9 Ways to Brush Up on German Until It’s Brighter Than Before
1. Freaky Flicks
Easiest way to put in a solid 90 minutes of German language refresher?
Let’s face it: if you’re going to watch a movie in another language, why not make it a bizarre one? Or one that offers you some cool, unexpected insight into German culture?
New German Cinema, from the sixties to eighties, produced a wave of artistic indie movies—and some of them are rather strange.
“Die Blechtrommel” (“The Tin Drum,” 1979), the first German film to win an Academy Award, features a small boy in Nazi Germany who physically prevented himself from growing up (while eventually committing elicit adult acts in his adolescent form). Even the voice he speaks in is downright strange.
Looking for something classic? Check out “Metropolis” (1927), a pioneering film in science fiction directed by the incomparable Fritz Lang.
Still not convinced? Check out some more favorites here.
2. Become the Skype Type
Social media collapses the geography of the planet and folds it up neatly within the borders of your computer screen.
A solid internet connection allows you to converse with anyone around the world for free. Keep friendships alive and refresh German at the same time by talking with others who have studied the language—or better yet, native speakers themselves. There’s no need to buy a ticket to Stuttgart in order to speak German.
Don’t know anyone that speaks German? Not a problem. There are many “internet cafes,” forums or other types of online communities that offer strangers the ability to converse safely and anonymously in order to practice language. Who knows when language will become a tool to make a new friend?
3. Talking it Out
Although Germans may not have a reputation for being publicly gregarious, most of them will be polite enough to put up with a brief conversation when it’s been imposed on them.
For those not actually living in a German-speaking country, a little creativity is required to refresh German this way. You’ll have to find the Germans first.
German restaurants and delis often hire staff from the homeland to keep the place more authentic. German-themed bars are a good place to try, especially when there’s a big Fußball (soccer) or handball match for the national team airing on the television.
Some communities have organizations made by and for German expats, allowing you the perfect opportunity to go James Bond and infiltrate.
Once you’ve found some native German speakers, how can you get started with conversation practice?
Icebreaker tactics are the same as in English.
Since Germans are heavily committed to soccer, it’s often a safe bet to comment on the last match of the local Bundesliga (German federal football league) team. A compliment on an article of clothing is a classic way to get someone’s attention: Wo hast du die Schuhe her? (Where did you get your shoes?).
If you’re looking to test whether or not the German language can indeed be a tool of love, you can tell someone attractive that you’ve been searching for them forever: Ich habe dich ewig lang gesucht.
It’s always handy to have a few go-to lines in your back pocket when you’re out in the public.
4. Watch German Videos on FluentU
It’s all too common for learners to know plenty of German without knowing how to use it naturally in conversation.
Want to practice German conversational skills before interacting with native speakers? FluentU is a great resource for exposing yourself to authentic German.
The diversity of content ensures that there’s something to suit every German skill level, preferred learning style and personal interest. You’ll find yoga lessons, cooking shows, street interviews, cartoons, retro Volkswagen commercials and much, much more.
What would you like to brush up on? The process will be different depending on where you left off with German.
Were you close to total Germany mastery previously? Then try out an advanced or native level video for starters. Observe exactly where you’re missing out on dialogue. You’ll come to see which key vocabulary or grammar concepts you most need to revisit. From there, you can simply rewind the clock and watch some videos for beginners and intermediates, check out grammar explanations and study with mini-lessons (all on FluentU) to get brought up to speed.
Love the idea of watching fun, authentic videos, but worried about whether you’ll remember enough of your German to understand them? Don’t worry about getting in over your head. FluentU brings native videos within reach with its interactive subtitles.
Every video is carefully subtitled, and each subtitled word comes with an in-context definition, helpful illustration and multiple example sentences. You can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site.
If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can simply tap “add” to save it to your vocab list.
As you can see, FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a unique language learning program designed to get you to total German mastery, complete with active learning tools like vocabulary lists, multimedia flashcards and more.
Even the flashcards have something special to offer learners—they integrate video clips, imagery and audio to create rich, memorable learning experiences and help you brush up on German vocabulary and actually retain it better than ever.
Not to mention, everything’s personalized to your unique learning style and personal progress. The algorithm for further content recommendations is based on the content you’ve been learning and mastering. It’s perfect for figuring out which types of video resources work best for you!
5. Programmed to Learn
One of the best ways to brush up on the language is to do things you’ll be doing every day anyway, but do them in German.
The average modern day citizen of the world is on the computer a lot, using various types of programs to browse the internet, listen to music or play games. Why not put these programs into German?
Most types of software have a language selection. Since you’re probably already familiar with how most of them function anyway, it’s a quick and easy way to get exposed to more German and pick up new words without having to look them up. Why create a playlist for your music when you can Playlist erstellen (create a playlist) for your Musik (music).
From iTunes to Google Chrome, switching the default language to German only takes a few clicks.
Looking to go whole hog? Windows 8 users can change the language of their entire operating system (OS) by typing in “language” in the search bar and then selecting “settings.” All Mac users have to do is change the language of their OS in System Preferences.
6. The Prudent Student
It’s often theorized that what’s learned can never truly be forgotten.
Scientists who posit this often point out that the information is somewhere floating around in the brain, and must only be retrieved.
However, I’d like to point out that it’s also at the end of the chapter. What do I mean, you ask?
We’ve all had that uncomfortable experience of seeing our German study book on the shelf, realizing that we’d pretty much mastered it once, but since have become a bit hazy on some of the things inside it.
Luckily, thanks to standard educational methods, most of the grammar and vocabulary presented is typically summarized at the back of each chapter. Although it feels like proper studying and has nothing to do with asking people about their shoes, reviewing the lesson summaries is a time-effective way to retrieve all the hard-won vocabulary and syntax you thought were lost.
7. Clues in the News
Not only can you sharpen your language skills by reading the news in German, you can have things to talk about as well (great for the Skype sessions). Keep up-to-date on not only Germany, Austria and Europe, but see the rest of the world through a German perspective.
There are many options out there, and probably half the fun is finding your new go-to source for daily events. Many of Germany’s traditional and long-standing print papers now have online editions.
Der Spiegel is always a popular choice, boasting one of the highest print circulations. It also has an English version in case you’re not quite getting the grasp on a piece and need a quick cheat, as well as video news stories on Spiegel TV.
8. Lend Me your Ears, (Non) Countrymen
Our eyes may be busy driving, avoiding baby strollers while out jogging or spotting dirt when sweeping the kitchen floor, but our ears are always ready for German.
Although it may be an old-fashioned suggestion, headphones allow for multitasking glory and the ability to slip some language practice into common, mundane activities.
The possibilities are great, from phrase practice and vocabulary building, to sharpening your aural skills with podcasts or a good old fashion Hörspiel (radio drama). Thanks to the modern convenience of the internet, you can also stream German radio stations to hone your comprehension skills while tapping your foot to a good beat.
Finding most listening material too difficult or too fast to follow? There are a variety of sites geared towards the German learner, such as Slow German, which offers podcasts specially made for beginners. Die Sendung mit der Maus Video Podcast is a kid’s show with lots of simple explanations useful for non-native speakers.
9. Silly and Studious
It’s often noted that German humor doesn’t translate well into other languages. Yet another great reason to brush up on the language, right?
Laughter can be the best medicine, and perhaps just the tonic the doctor ordered to motivate you to practice your German.
Browse the hundreds of online joke databases to keep a handful in your pocket the next time you’re talking to a German speaker. Not only is a joke a fun way to remember vocabulary, but it’s also a means to impress the people you’re talking to.
If satire is your thing, consider visiting Titanic or any of the other online spoof sites in German. Also check out all the native content on YouTube.de—we particularly recommend the comedy web-show Walulis sieht fern. Who said your German refresher can’t be entertaining?
With these steps to brush up on German, you polish off that rust and feel confident wielding the language.
Ryan Dennis was a Fulbright Scholar and previously taught at Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch Gmünd. In addition to hating ketchup, British spelling and violence, he writes The Milk House—the only literary column about dairy farming.
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