Germans aren’t known for being particularly gregarious with strangers.
It’s natural to feel trepidation when practicing conversational German.
But still—the whole point of learning German is to be able to banter with native speakers in their own tongue.
Nonetheless, trying to talk to a real, live German at the beginning of the learning process (or at any point in the process, really) can feel like taking laps in the Bodensee when you’ve only been in the kiddie’s pool.
Native speakers talk faster and less clearer than the CD in the back of the textbook, often littering their sentences with slang.
Sometimes the accent itself is enough to bedevil the most sincere language learner. The solution?
There are some specific advantages to trying your wares on fellow German learners.
Not only is there a natural empathy for a brother-in-arms, but they’ll be using a similar vocabulary. Their sentences will come out their mouths slower, more comprehensibly and void of exasperating dialect.
And if there are no L2 peeps in your circle of associates? Don’t worry, we have you covered. Here’s some more often-overlooked ways to practice your intermediate German in fun, low-pressure situations where, like in “Cheers,” everyone is glad you came.
8 Out-of-the-box Ways to Practice Intermediate German Conversation
1. Going Old School
Aging is a fact of life, and many people are doing it in nursing homes and retirement villages all over the world.
Three shared tendencies among old people: (1) They speak loud, (2) they speak slowly and (3) they love visitors. In light of this, places where the elderly live can provide great opportunities to practice intermediate German.
Don’t be shy about contacting your local home for the aging. Ask the people there if they know of any residents who speak German. Many times employees will have a good idea about the histories of the people they care for and can direct you accordingly.
Usually, minus a few grumps, patrons will be delighted to see you come. You can participate in community service, make new friendships and practice your German all at the same time. Whether they’re native speakers or not, it can be a very positive language learning experience.
2. Rallying the Townsmen
There are few things more historically German than the Stammtisch.
Translated as “regular’s table,” this tradition started out with frequent sociable meetings between people of a common interest. While such informal events still occur, foreigners have taken it upon themselves to add their own take on the tradition: practicing German.
Many cities have a regular Stammtisch for German learners and enthusiasts. Often there are people from all different speaking and experience levels, allowing you to find the right people to converse with while making friends that can ultimately be beneficial to your progress.
Some sites, such as Meetup, give you the opportunity to search online for a local Stammtisch, while area American-German associations can also be useful places to inquire.
3. Make a Day of It
Many universities host a “language day” in which learners can practice their new obsession.
Although the format can differ, generally most languages will be represented by a table of fluent speakers and participants will have name tags listing the languages they can speak, as well as those they want to practice.
Here’s the thing most people don’t realize: you don’t have to be a student at these universities to take advantage of their language events.
Even if advertisements explicitly state the occasion is only for enrolled students, seldom will anyone be put to the task of checking credentials. No one can deny a sincere German learner with a puppy face. And your reward for your boldness? Getting to take advantage of a positive atmosphere with other people doing the same.
4. Having E-ceptional Conversations
For those stuck in remote, non-German areas void of old people, universities and organized community events: do not despair. Not all is lost, thanks to the little box you’re reading this article on now.
There are a variety of online German language communities where you can not only receive instruction, but also connect with real-life fellow L2s just as enthusiastic as you. From sites like MyLanguageExchange.com, you can text or voice chat with intermediate learners all over the world.
At this point we would also be remiss not to mention FluentU, which offers comprehensive support—everything from authentic German videos with interactive subtitles to multimedia flashcards and vocab lists—to take your German to the next level.
Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you more about learning German with FluentU later!
5. Getting “Couched” in the Language
The ultimate trick to learning a language as fast and effectively as possible is coming up with creative ways to surround yourself with opportunities to practice.
Sometimes the rewards go to the devilishly clever.
Couchsurfing has been one of the biggest innovations in the art of travel. Instead of spending money on hostels or stuffy hotels, you can stay with locals, get an insider’s perspective of the city and make new friends.
And, sometimes, you can also practice your German.
The site allows both hosts and travelers to list the languages they know and how well they know them. Why not mix business with pleasure on your adventures by staying with people who know German? It can be a fun, friendly way to use your language skills while exploring a city and getting to know a new person. The concept of couchsurfing already embodies a spirit of community and goodwill, which often translates into people willingly sharing their cultures and languages.
6. German on the Go
As long as you’re travelling anyway, let’s set you up with some good travel partners.
Here’s another fact about Germans: They’re everywhere.
Something about 80 million people living in the space of Montana makes them want to go out into the world and get away. It would be pretty rare, even outside of Europe, for a hostel to not be housing any Germans at a given time.
Hostels are a great place to meet new people, and you often find out that those around you are planning on seeing the same things you are. Impromptu travel groups often form. Traveling with German speakers is a great way to get immersed in the language while having fun, especially if they’re not very good in your language. Even if it’s difficult to communicate at first, it’s amazing the level of understanding that begins to form as the day progresses.
7. Game on, German Speaker
If you’re still struggling to find German speakers to regale with your intermediate German, it might be helpful to drop by places that have a tendency to attract them. Yet another fact about Germans: They love soccer. Whether it’s the World Cup, the Bundesliga or Bayern Munich in the Champions League, they’re following it.
Find out what bars show matches of interest and when those games will be on. This can be a worthwhile tool for hunting out Germans in your local area. Sports commentating often uses repeated lingo (there’s only so many ways you can say “he kicked the ball”), allowing an intermediate learner to quickly pick up the phrases he needs to talk about it. If you want to do your homework beforehand, check out some useful soccer vocab here.
And who knows? A timely victory may just put the Germans in a talkative mood.
8. The Write Way
Remember the days when you used to attach your address to a balloon and let it go, hoping that someone finds it and writes back?
Perhaps the digital age stole our innocence, but it did make it easier to connect with people. Whether you prefer email or old-fashioned letters, finding another German learner to write to (or even a native speaker) is another way to practice the language in a real-world context. Instead of exercises in a dusty book, you’ll be making a friend sight unseen.
If you’re having trouble locating a stranger to tell your darkest secrets to in German, you can take advantage of a variety of sites that help potential pen pals find each other, such as Interpenpals and Students of the World.
Writing to a pen pal offers a pressure-free, low commitment and convenient way to put what you’ve learned into practice on your path to fluency.
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.
And One More Thing...
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