Top of the class for speaking?
Think you’ve nailed your listening skills?
Your German might be good in the classroom, but it could be a completely different story once you actually try it out with the natives.
If you’re traveling around Germany or even find yourself mixing with a group of Germans at home, it can be quite nerve-wracking trying to pluck up the courage to contribute to the conversation.
However, you can use these awkward situations to your benefit! Native German speakers are a useful resource to have. Sure, your language won’t be free from mistakes—not yet, anyway—but Germans will appreciate your effort.
(And if you ask nicely, they may even help you learn genders!)
How Mixing with the Locals Will Help Your German
Well, first off, it’s fantastic speaking practice. You won’t improve your speaking if you never use your language. It’s an uphill struggle, but it’ll all be worth it in the end. Continually speaking will improve your fluency as well as your confidence.
Speaking with natives will allow their quirks to rub off on you. You might be lucky enough to pick up a slight regional accent, but you’re more likely to start using the idioms and slang terms that you frequently hear. If you know the meanings of slang phrases and can use them confidently, your German will sound a lot more natural. Unfortunately, these nuances in language are rarely taught in class; they are something you’ll have to acquire on your own.
Finally, one great aspect of socializing with native Germans is that you’ll absorb their culture. If everyone is chatting about the hottest German TV shows, German musicians or movies, you won’t be able to ignore it! And all of these topics can then be used in your German studies to help broaden your language.
All right, so where can you start picking up this casual German? Here are five common places:
5 Everyday Situations Where You Can Learn Casual German from Natives
1. Surfing the Internet
So, this isn’t necessarily something that involves mixing with Germans, but it’s a top tip that’ll give you something to talk about during all the scenarios to follow! There’s so much material for German learning on the world wide web. You probably already know that you can stream German TV shows, download e-books and even use social media to your advantage.
But what’s really super about using the internet is you’ll be viewing all the latest content. It’s important to keep abreast of what’s hot in Germany to keep on top of the culture. The more you immerse yourself in it, the more you’ll understand the German language. It’ll also keep you interested in learning the language!
But don’t just use this as an easy ride. Yes, you could sit back and passively watch a music video or read a newspaper article, but it’s even better if you get interactive. How about commenting at the end of a blog post or article? Not only will this help with your writing practice, but it’ll really show that you’ve been able to understand a piece of writing on the latest hot topic in Germany!
These phrases can kick your writing off:
Meiner Meinung nach… (In my opinion…)
Einerseits… (On the one hand…)
Zum Schluss… (In conclusion…)
2. Out in a Bar
It might not seem like an obvious situation for learning German, but where there are chatting Germans, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with conversations.
It’s also a great situation for you to take some important notes on German culture. While you’re enjoying all the traditional German beers, you’ll no doubt learn about the Rheinheitsgebot or the “German Beer Purity Law.” Hopefully your drinking buddies will also explain about the Stammtisch. It’s a table that’s always reserved for the bar’s regulars. It’s useful if you learn about this sooner rather than later, otherwise it could lead to embarrassment if you’re asked to move!
Another important learning curve is tipping. As most bars in Germany are table service, you’re required to tip the bartender—but not after every drink, just when you pay up and leave. It is common to add on 10% and round up to a full euro amount. Another difference from tipping in the United States is that you don’t leave the cash on the table in Germany! The bartender will usually bring the bill and expect to be paid there and then. So simply let them know how much—including tip—you want him to take.
How can you be super proactive when drinking with German friends? Get talking as much as possible!
These phrases will come in handy when you’re at a bar:
Ein Bier bitte. (A beer, please.)
Wann schließen Sie? (When is closing time?)
Noch eine Runde, bitte. (Another round, please.)
3. Seeing a German Movie
Watching a movie auf Deutsch is amazing listening practice. And as it’s not made for German learners, you’ll be listening to everyday German aimed at native speakers. If you can understand everything, very well done! If not, it’s not a problem; the more you listen, the more your brain will tune in to all the German it’s being bombarded with! Over time it will become much easier.
Once you think you’ve become a bit of a Profi at listening to the actors, I’ve got a bit of a challenge for you. Think you can pick out any regional accents or dialects? If you can, then congratulations! German listening doesn’t get much harder than pinpointing—and understanding—accents.
Want to really use the German movie industry to your benefit? Check out different genres to really broaden your vocabulary range. It’s also a good idea to have a quick chat with friends about the movie afterwards. This’ll help you to fully understand the plot and make sure you didn’t miss anything major.
Here are some handy phrases for when you’re off to the movies:
Wie hast du den Film gefunden? (What did you think of the film?)
Was ist die Altersfreigabe des Films? (What is the film’s age rating?)
Wer war deinen Liegblingscharakter? (Who was your favorite character?)
4. At a Shopping Mall
If you’re out and about in Germany, you’ll no doubt end up in the mall at some point. This scenario is slightly different from the two previously mentioned set ups. You may still be with friends, but you’re more likely to be communicating with store assistants. For this, you’ll need to use your formal German. Remember the difference between Sie and Du? If you’re still a little hazy, no worries. Going out shopping will help you to brush up on the different ways to say “you.” If you listen out for any conversations happening around you, you’ll also be able to hear this difference in action.
It’s also a great method of picking up new vocabulary. But for this to work, you can’t just stick to one type of store. Pop into different types—think clothes, books, food, etc.—to really increase your knowledge of German words.
One way to get proactive while shopping is to ask store assistants questions about what they’re selling. It’s a good method to practice question words and formulating questions. For starters, why not try out the three below:
Was kostet den Rock? (How much does the skirt cost?)
Wo ist die Kasse? (Where are the tills?)
Wer hat das Buch geschrieben? (Who wrote the book?)
5. Attending a Musical Gig
Again, here’s another casual situation which will involve lots of conversation opportunities. But this also provides a chance to hone your reading skills. While you’re waiting for the band to come on, why not grab a few band flyers to take a look at? There are always loads of them lying around at most venues, so they won’t be hard to come by.
The type of German on them will be informal and quite easy to understand. Reading band bios on the flyers will expose you to a lot of past tense and description, which are both important to learn if you want to really develop your German. For all this reading to sink in, be sure to look up any tricky words once you’re back home. A vocabulary list is a handy tool in language learning.
Get among the cool crowd with these phrases:
Hast du die Band schon gesehen? (Have you seen the band before?)
Was ist dein Lieblingslied? (What’s your favorite song?)
Hast du das neue Album schon gehört? (Have you already heard the new album?
With all of these useful suggestions, you now know how to use casual social situations in German to your advantage!
And even if you aren’t in Germany, you’ll still be able to use these tips while at home. All you need to do is grab a couple of native speakers and hit the town!
After studying German and Philosophy at The University of Nottingham, Laura Harker relocated to Berlin in 2012. She now works as a freelance writer and is also assistant editor at Slow Travel Berlin.
And One More Option…
If you’re not in a German-speaking country, or even if you are, you don’t have to go out to get in some casual German practice.
For instant access to authentic German speech in an everyday, real-life context, all you have to do is check out FluentU.
FluentU takes great videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences so that you can learn real German as people really speak it.
A quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content you can find on FluentU:
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.