Don’t ever let anyone call you Streber (nerd) like it’s a bad thing.
After all, there are those who merely take language courses, and those who crush them.
If you’re already enrolled in a German course, you may be looking for ways to get more out of the experience—good for you!
If you just want a more structured way to better your German, on the other hand, you may be interested to know how you could benefit from taking such a course.
Or maybe you’re struggling in your current German course and looking to improve your performance.
Whatever the case, the classroom can be an awesome tool for improving your fluency. But as with any tool, this depends entirely on how you use it.
In this post, we’ll look at how you can make the most of any of the above scenarios by embracing the classroom atmosphere and using it to greatly improve your current level of German.
Going in with the right attitude and willingness to squeeze every bit of benefit out of a class will help fast-track your progress and get you speaking like a native in no time at all.
But first, let’s take a look at reasons to check out a friendly German course near you.
Why Take an Actual German Course?
There are hundreds of teach-yourself-German books out there, most of them handy companions on the road of language learning.
Also, thanks to the Internet, we have boundless educational material that we can peruse in pajamas and with a cup of hot chocolate in one hand.
So when there are so many great options for learning German at home, why bother with the hassle and demands of an actual, live course that you have to attend in the flesh?
Because we’re human.
While being human does have its perks (eating ice cream, watching old episodes of “New Girl”), it also means that we’re prone to non-useful tendencies.
One of these is having the best of intentions regarding working on our German, but often letting life get in the way. We go through Chapter One of the book (or the first part of an online course) with unfettered enthusiasm, and by the end of the week it’s collecting dust on the coffee table.
Signing up for a real live course provides structure and obligation, if not guilt for the idea of not putting effort into something you paid money for. Guilt can be a very useful language learning tool.
How to Select the Right German Course for You
In-person German courses, both in German- and English-speaking countries, are offered by a variety of institutions.
Classes from universities may offer credit, but will likely be more expensive.
Community organizations and local institutes, on the other hand, often provide affordable language immersion courses, especially if you’re already living in a German-speaking country (or would like to plan on it).
Another advantage of these places, such as the Volkhochschule in Germany, is that they tend to offer classes at a variety of times, increasing the probability of finding one that fits in your schedule.
However, it still might be hard determining what level course you should sign up for. For example, you may not know if you’re ready for an advanced course yet, especially if you haven’t taken a formal intermediate course from somewhere.
In such instances, it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation with the program coordinator. You can also try out an online test meant to gauge your level, such as this one here from IH London.
Now that you’ve been convinced to sign up for a German course in your area or stick with the one you’re taking, here are some tips to get the most out of it. Keep in mind that some of these are good tips for improving your German in general, so you can use them well beyond the time school’s out.
German Study Tips: 7 Sharp Ways to Hone Your German in the Classroom and Beyond
1. Get Your Game Face On: Warm Up Beforehand
Going to a language class is just like playing basketball, singing a song or starting a car: It takes a while to get warmed up. Particularly if you haven’t been speaking German regularly in between classes, diving into a different tongue can feel a little awkward at first.
Shake off the verbal rust by listening to some German before each class. Enjoy a podcast on your walk there, crank some German radio or get pumped up with a favorite German artist.
Another convenient option for pre-class, post-class or anytime German study is FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You’ll get your ear tuned in to the beautiful sounds of the language, and you’ll be ready to get up and running by the time you take your seat. This will help you take better advantage of the precious speaking and listening time you get in class.
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2. Make Buds on the Battlefield
It can be hard finding someone to practice your German with, especially if you live outside of a German-speaking country.
A language class, however, is a beacon that draws people from all walks of life together in pursuit of a single goal: to learn German. Take advantage of these people.
Even if you’re not usually an outgoing person, this is a good time to go out of your way to make friends. Not only will it make the class a more enjoyable experience, but you’ll get study partners.
Sometimes it can be hard to put into practice the things learned inside the classroom, but arranging to meet with fellow students regularly outside of class can be a great way to speed progress.
Having study partners can be especially useful for role-playing scenarios, such as making a phone call in German or asking for directions.
3. Engage in Downtime Digressions with the Teacher
Getting the most out of a course means taking advantage of every second. In front of you stands a person who is trained at correcting mistakes in German. What better person to talk to?
There are times when the teacher is twiddling her thumbs with nothing to do, such as before the class starts or during breaks.
Instead of doodling in your notebook or flinging spit-wads at the chalkboard, challenge yourself to engage the teacher in conversation. Talk sports or politics, or ask about the meaning of life. Use the grammar you’ve just learned.
For example, if you’ve been covering a tricky subject like modal particles in German, try sprinkling a few into your speech so your teacher can tell you whether you’re using them correctly.
Any instructor would be somewhat obligated, if not enthusiastically inclined, to talk back.
Sound too much like a class pet? Hey, Type A people get A-type grades.
4. Come in with Questions
Speaking of using the teacher for all he/she is worth, don’t be afraid to come in with questions every week. Ever read something in German or hear something in conversation that you didn’t understand and wished you could just ask somebody?
Now that you’re in a German class, you can.
Get in the habit of writing down things you came across that you didn’t understand, and bring them in to ask the instructor: A grammar construction that isn’t making sense, a word order that’s confusing—don’t just shrug your shoulders and move on. Ask.
For example, maybe you’re having trouble with the different meanings of ihr in German. A teacher could walk you through relevant examples and help you sort out a point of confusion that otherwise might be bugging you for weeks.
An aggressive, proactive approach to language learning will have you sounding like a native speaker in no time at all.
At worse, someone calls you Streber.
5. Take Your Newfound Knowledge to the Streets
Maybe you can talk the talk inside the class, but can you walk the walk outside of it?
Putting in the extra effort to use the grammar, vocab and expressions you learned in the course in real life situations during the week means the difference between having a theoretical grasp on a concept, and having it mastered.
You lose what you don’t use, and rather quickly. Part of getting the most out of a German class is taking it to the streets.
For those living in a German-speaking country, this means commenting on the shoes of the person sitting next to you on the bus or finding someone who’s smiling and up for a chat.
Don’t live in such a place?
Luckily, that doesn’t mean that you have to give up finding someone to practice your wares on. Thanks to Skype, Facebook and Twitter, German speakers are only a click away.
Of course you also have your classmates (see above), but if that doesn’t work out for whatever reason, you can take advantage of this age of information by finding a German pen pal on sites such as Students of the World.
Keep track of vocab and other points you’ve learned in class during the week and look for ways to work them into any writing and conversations.
For example, if you’ve been focusing on how to order food in German, go out and actually do that, or else practice role-playing it with fellow students.
There is one warning, however, that goes with such practices: You may accidentally make a friend.
6. Invoke Some Friendly (or Unfriendly) Competition
Another benefit of taking an actual German course as opposed to self-study is that your classmates aren’t just there for support…they’re there to be beaten. Some people find it useful to have someone to measure themselves against: a rival, if you will.
Choose a good-natured, studious attendee and try to spur each other on with better test grades, homework marks and class participation.
Don’t have that type of relationship with anyone there? No problem. Just don’t tell people you’re trying to out-German them. You can always find someone you don’t like and secretly try to do better in the class than him/her. In the name of language learning, anything goes.
And trash talking is alright, as long as it’s in German.
7. Establish the End Game
Your progress in German will be expedited if you have something concrete you’re working towards.
Choose a functional goal for the end of the course—some way that you can use your German in a practical way.
Examples might include:
- Taking a university (non-language) course in German—online or offline.
- Writing an editorial for a German newspaper.
- Writing an email in German.
- For a more ambitious goal, landing an actual job that requires German.
Find a way that you can use your German skills that you’re in the process of gaining in the course. With something at stake, you’re much more likely to hold yourself accountable.
It always helps if you can witness yourself improving in the language—or better yet, get someone else to notice, too.
This is where regularly talking to people in German who already know you, such as classmates, teachers or online pals you meet, can be especially useful. When you receive congratulations on the noticeable progress you’re making, you’ll have real concrete proof of your progress.
We could all use a boost now and then. Such things can be motivating.
And so there you have it.
Why just take a course in German when you can take it to the max?
Finding ways to push yourself and get the most out of your comrades in the seats next to you will grease wheels on the fast track to language learning success.
It’s time to embrace your inner Streber.
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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