When was the last time you talked about a movie?
Heck, I could chat about “Star Wars” each and every day.
What about discussing the most recent book you’re reading?
I’m deep into the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” series right now.
Conversation comes easy in your native tongue, but even when delving into German books, podcasts, lessons and guides, you may find it a little tricky to transition that knowledge into everyday conversation—particularly as an adult with a busy schedule.
I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late to gain the expertise to chat with your best friend about the last episode of “Modern Family” in German. All it takes is a dedicated focus, and some of the best tools online—which we will cover in-depth right here.
Never Too Late: How to Learn Conversational German as an Adult
The Benefits of Learning German as an Adult Rather Than as a Child
Those darned kids are always getting the benefit of the doubt. Sure, children are sponges that take in just about every piece of information they hear, smell, touch, taste and see, but I’ve got news for you: Adults have quite a few advantages when it comes to learning German.
How is this possible, you ask? Take a look at some of the reasons why you may just have an advantage over kids.
- You have complex thoughts. Adults can jump directly into more advanced words, phrases, courses and stories. Yes, children learn fast, but they are limited to their current view of the world. This view consists of children’s books, rudimentary words and phrases, and simple conversations. You, as an adult, already know how to piece together complex thoughts and ideas in English, so you’re that much closer in German fluency.
- You already speak one language. Infants and babies have lots on their plates in terms of learning a language. Not only do they have to learn words, but they also need to master what those words mean. You already know what an apple is, and you already know how to distinguish between a female and male voice. Your ear for accents is already there, and your problem solving means that you technically aren’t starting a language from scratch.
- You have motivation. Classes and learning materials are often more interesting and entertaining for adults. It’s quite tricky to convince a kid to learn. Sure, some subjects are more intriguing, but do you remember the how stressful school used to seem? You may even have an incentive to learn a language, like better job opportunities or the ability to travel and meet new people.
Start by Filling Your Mind with German Words and Phrases
In order to learn German as an adult, you must understand common words and phrases, the accents and the pronunciations. After all, listening to a German song or hearing people talking in German will be like listening to gibberish. You need a basis to start recognizing sounds and words.
What are some concrete ways to do this?
- Use German learning apps to see what the words look like and to hear how they are pronounced. Dictionary apps also work well for scrolling through to select random words to absorb.
- Enjoy FluentU daily by watching real-world videos (in German) that come with the perfect amount of support personalized just for you—so you can understand and learn from the captivating clips.
- Focus on grammar lessons to understand German words and how they are pieced together.
- Even if you don’t go to a German class, study the best German textbooks to consume information like a student.
- Try out the 80-20 system for an efficient way to fill your mind with German vocabulary.
Learn Conversational German by Completing a Daily Routine
Once you understand a little about German and can recognize some of the more common words and phrases, it’s time to plan for a daily routine.
David Bailey explains that he learned French in 17 days by following a rigorous schedule. This schedule involved writing irregular verb tables by hand for two hours in the morning, listening to language learning audio clips during lunch hours and breaks, and listening to music while working out or while at work. Finally, he found a familiar French book in the afternoon and read it, wrote in his journal for an hour in French and even met with a speaking partner.
That’s quite the routine, and it proved successful for Bailey, since a native French-person thought he had been speaking for a year.
Well, it sounds great in theory (or maybe terrifying in theory), but the truth is, most adults have a full workweek and other responsibilities, making that load a bit intimidating if not impossible.
That’s why I put together a modified routine to help busy adults trying to speak German:
- Use FluentU for 10 minutes every day. This is a foolproof way to continuously increase your vocab and German comprehension, while staying engaged and motivated.
- Spend 20 minutes in the morning or after work writing irregular verb tables longhand.
- Write in a journal for another 20 minutes, trying to piece together German sentences.
- Read one chapter in a German book each week.
- Meet with a speaking partner once every weekend.
With this modification, you delve into a constant German routine, while only spending around an hour per day. Then, you get to practice with your speaking partner on the weekends.
Tips to Make the Routine Work:
- Write down your study plan in whatever system works best for you—paper or digital—until it becomes routine.
- Tell friends about your new routine, to help increase accountability.
- Make sure there’s a teacher on your audio clips who shows you how to properly use the language.
- Listen to German music while working out or even while at your job. This is great for training your cheek muscles for the pronunciation as you sing along.
- Find a book (one whose story you know in English) and read it in German. Children’s books work well for this.
- Consider Skype or a phone call when you or your speaking buddy are out of town.
Consider Traveling, or Moving to Germany for 30 Days to One Year
The best way to learn German fast as an adult is to move to Germany; but let’s be serious, that’s generally not an option.
However, even just a trip for around 30 to 90 days (preferably a year) should be enough to interact and completely immerse yourself in the language and culture.
Once again, as an adult, hurdles with finances and obligations come into play. So what are some resources and tips for making this trip a reality?
- Use MealSharing.com — Eating out during your travels gets expensive, and you don’t receive the company and home cooked meals that immerse you into the German culture. Try MealSharing.com while in Germany to keep costs low and meet people.
- CouchSurfing.com works wonders for various reasons — Use it for lodging, or to find events and people who want to meet up. It could also prove quite useful for befriending natives in Germany.
- HelpX or WWOOF — These services offer a list of affordable living and working opportunities for learning, immersing and cutting the costs of travel. In WWOOF, you work on an organic farm in exchange for food and accommodation. HelpX is the same idea—working a few hours a day in exchange for free accommodation and meals—but it’s not limited to organic farms. You could be working at a lodge or hostel, taking care of children, out on a boat, etc.
- Apply to Remote Year — As a new company, this program is seeing tons of publicity, because it allows you to travel around the world for one year. The idea is to allow working people the chance to coordinate with their current companies to travel and work at the same time. You’d potentially live in Germany for a month, then move on to other countries.
- Eat out every day or invite people over to your house for food and drinks. This way you aren’t locked in your home with no immersion.
- Find a part-time job that requires you to speak in German constantly. A tour guide is a nice idea.
- Don’t forget to trade contact information with roommates and people you meet.
Return to a Life Filled with German Routine
It’s essential to slide right back into your routine once you return back from Germany. Every book, movie and newspaper you consume should be in German. On your travels, make friends and connect with them when you come back—through Skype and email and phone calls.
I find that it’s nice to open a WhatsApp account and add a group of friends you met in Germany. This way, you can constantly have a conversation with people from different backgrounds, with varying perspectives.
Learning German words, phrases and pronunciation is only a fraction of what it takes to start conversing and speaking with people who also speak the language. I encourage you to build a strong daily training routine, and maybe, just maybe, consider taking the leap to live in German for awhile. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.