Author Archive Carsten

ByCarsten

Language Partner – How to find one …

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a language partner? A native speaker who would answer your questions and correct you when necessary? Well, yes, that’s actually called a language trainer, unless, you do the same thing for him that he does for you.

Dating your language teacher

The best language partner program I can think of is dating. Whether you find a partner and then learn his or her language or you find a language teacher and fall in love with him or her – either version works well. However, this is not a language learning strategy I would recommend. It might happen, and if it does it should be motivated from the heart and not because one wants to learn the language.

A downside to this approach is also that usually partners speak only in language to each other. Again, a romantic relationship is not a language learning partnership but a real one.

Finding a language partner on social media

The more people you tell about your goal to find a language partner, the more likely it is that you will find one. There are a good many people on social media. Just tell them about it, you might be very lucky, or somebody will point you to somebody else who has the same language learning goals regarding your language.

Language Partner sites

There are so many sites. And, of course, most of them let you find a partner, that is a language partner, and then they are trying to sell you language lessons. Anyway, I have tried three of them, namely hellotalk.comitalki.com and conversationexchange.com. And yes, it was pretty easy to find somebody.

One of the reasons is the imbalance between your language and the other person’s language. So, if your native language is a language that a lot of people want to learn, and you are trying to find somebody who speaks a not so popular language, bingo, you win. In my case, I was trying to find somebody whose mother tongue is Persian and who wants to learn German. Well, that was easy because a lot of Iranis want to learn German as opposed to Germans who want to learn Persian.

Criteria to select a language partner

This is rather subjective meaning that different people have different preferences and therefore different criteria when it comes to selecting a language partner. Actually, the same is true when choosing a partner for a romantic relationship, however, I think we have discussed that before, right?

Here are my criteria:

Sex (meaning man or woman)

In the western world we tend to keep business and private things apart from each other. So I really wouldn’t care if my language partner is a man or a woman. After all, it is about language and that’s it. However, when it comes to languages spoken in countries where men and women have more clearly defined roles, I would suggest that you choose a language partner of the same sex. And again, this is just what I would do.

Level of education and interests

You might want to find language partner who either has your level of education or a sightly higher level, if possible. The same is true for interest. This is like in real life: Look at your friends. It is very likely that they have similar interests, a similar level of education, and even a similar sized bank account.

Country of origin

This is like German German or Austrian German or Swiss German. Or for us Germans: You better decide if you prefer British English or American English. Most of us prefer the American version, however, does it really matter? I would say no – on a linguistic level. It has more to do with your cultural preference. So, if you like Austria and you don’t care so much about Germany, find a language partner in Austria.

Paid or free service?

Well, the idea is about exchange, right? So why would you want to pay for it? The paid version is language trainer and not a language partner. In any case, if you don’t find a language partner you may want to consider getting a language trainer instead. You can apply the same criteria.

Liability

Engagement and liability. That’s what you want. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to find a language partner. Make appointments either online or offline and don’t try to find excuses. If you want it, go for it. It’s either yes or no.

This is probably the most important piece of advice. Go for it a 100% or you better find a language trainer.

ByCarsten

10 Language Training Myths

Actually 10 Language Training Myths is not the right title

I have to admit that I have stolen the idea to this episode. Language training and strength training – or sports activities in general – are very similar. You just have to think of building brain muscles. So, my inspiration has come from a blog post on prevention.com called “10 Strength-Training Myths You Need To Stop Believing”. And here are the 10 myths as seen from a language learner’s perspective:

1. It’s a guy thing

With regard to strength training this has changed a lot. So women do this as well as men. What about language learning though? Well, I do not have exact numbers about how many men versus women learn languages. I only know that women, in general, are better language learners. This is similar to muscle building. Men have more testosterone than women, hence their muscles growth faster and stronger.

There is not testosterone in the brain responsible for language learning, however, women seem to have an advantage over men. Anyway, I wouldn’t give it too much thought. Anybody can learn a language – whatever language.

2. It’ll turn you into a hulk.

Okay, there are some people who think that when they do strength training that they will look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not true, definitely. So, what does language learning do to your brain? Will it become bulky? No, the opposite is true. Language learners are better problem solvers. They rewire their brains while learning a new language. This is a wonderful side effect.

3. It burns fewer calories than cardio.

Okay, this is tech talk. How efficient is lifting weights as opposed to going for a jog? Both activities burn calories. Actually, with language learning there two different learning modes to be distinguished. It is a little far fetched to compare it to strength training. Anyway, let’s try.

Repetitive tasks such as vocabulary training or working with some language learning software products can be compared to cardio. You are basically getting in shape. Your overall condition is better. You are better prepared in general. However, that does not mean that you will survive in any situation. For that you will need some additional specific training on certain issues such as technical vocabulary, grammar or structure. The latter could than be compared to strength training where you work with specific muscles at a time.

4. It’s hard to regain muscle once it’s gone.

In the above mentioned article it says “…it’s never too late to undo the damage.” Yes, that also true for language learning. You can forget a lot of things. And, you can regain everything there used to be.

5. Light weights are all you need.

Light weights are fine in the beginning. The same is true for language learning: When starting out with learning a new language just do some fun stuff. It is great way to get started. Maybe you just want to see if you like it, if the language suits you. But once you know that you want to go all the way, just go all the way. Embrace everything it takes.

6. You’ll never have time to fit it in.

Oh, yes. This is the biggest of the training myths of all times. And it is true for everything including strength training, language learning and whatever you want, you name it. Go for it, and you will find the time. Believe me.

7. You need a gym.

All you need for a workout is your own body. That’s it. Actually, you will need a little more when it comes to language learning. The reason for that is that muscles and strength can be build from within your body. You already have all it takes.

A foreign language does not reside inside of you. It has to come from the outside. But you don’t need a gym, meaning, you don’t need a language course, a trainer, a software or something like it. Just find somebody who speaks the language or use the Internet.

8. It’s all about muscle.

The article says “…just 10 weeks of progressive strength training can reduce anxiety, fatigue, and depression and boost a sense of tranquility and revitalization in older adults.” Wow! And yes. Language learning does the same if not more. Just try it!

9. Body-weight exercises are just as good.

Well, I can imagine that using specific gear will help you build more muscles than doing it with just your own body. And, yes, you can learn a language by just listening to native speakers. However, if you use the specific tools, and a language coach introduces you to the most appropriate learning methods for the language and for the specific problem to learn, you are much better off.

10. You’ll see results instantly.

Of course not. Not for strength training. But this is not a myth for language learning. You can learn your first sentences in minutes and use them right away.

Okay, and don’t forget: trainings myths are not your friend. Get rid of them as soon as possible.

ByCarsten

Do NOT Learn German, Please!

Do not learn German. Stop it! Yes, you have heard me: Do not learn German. And I mean it. So, you are saying that this is a very strange piece of advice from somebody who is offering his German language coaching and teaching services, hmm? No, it is not. Please, rest assured that I am aware of what I am doing and I did it on purpose.

So, why by no means shouldn’t you learn German?

As always, you will get the short answer right away: Because I don’t want you to lose time and money and energy. There are so many languages that I have started to learn and then – for whatever reason – I gave up. Shouldn’t I have stopped it in the very beginning before spending time and money and energy?

And yes, there are so many other languages that I started out to learn, and I kept learning, I am still learning, I have never stopped using them, and, in the end I have reached a nice comfortable skill level that I am happy with. In other words: I became fluent in those languages.

Let’s compare this issue to other things in your life. Say, you want to build a house or buy an apartment. For most people that would be a major investment. It is not an easy decision because so many things depend on it. After all the decision has a major impact on your wallet and your time, and your energy. Once you have built that house or bought that apartment you want to live in it. And if the house is not finished, if you haven’t got furniture or even a roof and windows, you just can’t move in. Meaning that it is finished when it is usable.

Let’s assume you build a house and your running out of time, money and energy. Wouldn’t it be better not to have made that decision in the first place?

How to know if learning German is worthwhile?

First of all you should imagine your life after having mastered the language. What is different from now (I don’t speak German) to then (I speak German fluently)? Now, your answers could be something like: ‘I will have a wonderful time in Germany speaking to a lot of friends.’ or ‘I will understand everything in German business meetings even when they don’t speak English.’ or ‘My sales will go up by at least 25% once I am able to speak German fluently.’. Okay, good answers. All of them.

Another possible answer to the question ‘What will be different then’ could be: ‘Nothing will change. I will be able to speak German, however, that doesn’t change my life.’ That’s not a good answer.

To be honest, there are no good or bad answers. You should be able to make a better decision based on that answer. Learning German or any other language is not something you do along the way. It is a major project that requires time and money and energy. So, use your resources wisely.

ByCarsten

Business German

Since a lot of people speak English in both Germany and Austria, do you actually need to learn Business German? The short answer is no, you don’t have to. If you are visiting Germany every now and then English would probably do in most cases.

Does something like Business German even exist?

Unfortunately, it does. Actually in any language and in any given context a specify language is used. In a normal context that would be the very language itself plus some technical terms which are not used outside that context. Business German however consists of German grammar and a lot of English terms mixed into the German language. Some of these words aren’t English at all such as beamer, which is the projector that you can connect to a computer or a handy, which is a cellphone.

Other English words are subdued to conjugation and declension. So, ‘gedownloadet’ would be the participle ‘downloaded’ or ‘des Managements’ is not the plural of management but the genitive meaning ‘of the management’.

Most of the words borrowed from English are neuter thus having the article ‘das’. Sometimes, however, the article of the English word is derived from the German word. Two examples for that would be ‘der Style’ where ‘der Stil’ is the German word, or ‘der Computer’ which is a synonym for ‘der Rechner’.

And there are some English words used in Business German where nobody knows why the respective gender is used. ‘der Look’ is such a word, the German translation is not ‘der’ but ‘das Aussehen’.

The funniest thing about Business German, however, is the pronunciation of the English words. Well, yes, we do pronounce them “the English way” but we add our own accent to it. That is really not a big deal. Even when spoken with a German accent these words are easily understood by any native (and non-native) speaker. The funny aspect about it is that one should not try to use a British or an American accent. It just doesn’t sound well. For our German ears it is like an interference in the German flow of the sentence.

German speakers who have lived an English speaking country and therefore know how to speak with a native English accent, should really avoid to pronounce the words properly. It sounds a little posh or snobbish. Well, that’s not your problem, it is definitely ours. With this in mind, it sounds even worse to us when English speaker are unable to adopt the German accent. Believe me, ‘America’ sounds a lot different from ‘Amerika’.

If this is not enough for you, here are 21 phrases to help you get on in a German office from the local.de

ByCarsten

Speaking English in Germany

So, your mother tongue is English? Well, you have a big advantage because English is spoken by many many people. And the Germans may not be as good as the Dutch or Scandinavians, however, you can do whatever you want to do in Germany using English in Germany.

This big advantage is also your biggest enemy. And I would like to invite you to read this blog post from the non-profit organisation Historic Highlights of Germany e.V. Wow! We German really do speak English very well. Although, in that article it says “the younger generation, which I would qualify as anyone 40 years old or younger” speaks very well. Hmm, that excludes me. What a pity!

When paying close intention to writer of this post you will discover that he does not speak German (or very little, that is). And he claims that one can speak English in Germany wherever one wants to. So, my conclusion would be:

Why bother to learn German at all?

No. You shouldn’t do that. And I am saying this for two reasons. First, I would like the occasional business or leisure traveller to refrain from learning German and hence save a lot of time. (I will share a secret here: I was just struggling with a word. I didn’t know whether to choose hence, therefore or thus. Anyway, hence seems the best choice. What do you think?) Well, some simple words such as ‘danke’ (thanks) or ‘Guten Morgen’ (good morning), ‘Guten Tag’ (good day or good afternoon) and ‘Guten Abend’ (good evening) are not really helpful but rather polite. One sentence that I would definitely learn in any language is ‘Excuse me. I don’t speak … Do you speak English?’. That sentence will break the ice. Believe me.

What’s the biggest mistake when using English in Germany?

Yes. That’s the biggest mistake. Which mistake, you are asking? Well, I have just described it. You have forgotten to say the most important sentence: ‘Excuse me. I don’t speak German. Do you speak English?’ Always, always ask that question.

You are a foreigner, remember? And we German are not as hospitable as …, well as …, say, Americans. So, we don’t like people who visit our country and feel at home. Just like that. No. But if you break the ice but just saying one single sentence in German. Wow. That’s it. I mean, it is breaking the ice. Just remember that one … for the rest of the countries you are going to visit, and not only Germany.

So, what’s the second biggest mistake?

This one is not so obvious. And most people would not be able to frame it as a mistake. English native speakers assume that everybody speaks English in Germany. So, they start out in English. Yes, that was the biggest mistake number one. Here is a variation of mistake number one: Once you speak German, do NOT use English words.

Yes, that is weird. Let’s say, I am a native English speaker and I am in Germany. And I want to say: May I see the room, please? Unfortunately I don’t know the word for ‘room’. So, I say: Kann ich das ‘room’ sehen, bitte. Wow! That sentence is wrong. And I even applied the English word order in the German sentence. And that is not such a big problem. The big mistake is using the English word ‘room’ instead of the German word ‘Zimmer’.

Just learn this simple rule: When speaking German, speak German. Okay, so what are you going to do in this situation when you have to admit that you don’t know the German word for ‘room’?

ByCarsten

The Truth About German Articles

That’s it. Here you will get first hand information about something you always wanted to know: What is the meaning behind the articles. I mean, come on, there are articles in English. There is one definite article and one or maybe two indefinite ones. They really don’t mean a thing. It is just about saying if something is specific or unspecific. So instead of saying ‘the house’ and ‘a house’ one might also say ‘specific house’ and ‘unspecific house’.

And here is the good news: German is no different – at least not on this behalf. Yes, we distinguish between specific and unspecific just as speakers of the English language do.  However, (now comes the whole truth), …

The hidden information inside the article

… we put information into the article. We use the article as a carrier that is piggy-backing information. Wow! You would never have guessed that. There is even a Wikipedia on German on German articles alone. Hmm, my curiosity led me to the Wikipedia page about English articles, and guess what, it is a lot longer!!! So, there must be something simple about German articles that we haven’t noticed yet.

Let me give you a simple example. So, there are basically three articles in the German language, meaning there are three German translations for the English word ‘the’ which are ‘der’, ‘die’ and ‘das’. The funny thing about German nouns is that you (almost) never know which of the three to choose. In the following example sentences we will talk about ‘die Straße’ (‘the street’ or ‘the road’). It is “die Straße”, hence ‘der’ or ‘das’ would be the wrong article to choose. Let’s not call it feminine even though grammatically speaking ‘die’ is the feminine article, however, there are very few feminine aspects about a street if you think about it. Well, you might argue that both a street and a woman can be curved or straight, but that has nothing to do with what I am trying to explain here.

The following two German sentences are both correct. Believe me. It’s my mother tongue.

'Ich gehe auf die Straße.' 'Ich gehe auf der Straße.'

A word-by-word translation would be something like ‘I go on the street.’ At a first glance you might consider the first sentence correct and the latter incorrect because of the article ‘der’ instead of ‘die’. But let me reassure you that it is just a first glance for a non-native speaker who hasn’t gotten very far yet in his approach to learn the German language. ‘der’ in the second sentence is not wrong but a modified version of ‘die’. Now you know why I was refraining from calling it feminine because now we would be talking about sex transformation instead of German grammar.

With this, two questions come up: How do you know that ‘der’ is a modified ‘die’ and not the original ‘der’, and, why does it change at all? Okay, first things first …

Why do articles change?

It has to change because it bears information. The first sentence says that I move from here to there with ‘here’ being somewhere off the street, and ‘there’ being on the street. So, I relocate. In the second sentence I just go (or walk) on the street without neither walking onto the street nor leaving it. In English you would probably change the preposition from ‘onto’ to ‘on’. In German, however, we change the article instead.

How do you tell an original from a modification?

Very good question. Imagine you are at a carnival ball. And there is a woman dressed like a man. Can you tell the original from the modification? Of course, in most cases, you can.

The same is true for German. Just as in real life when you meat somebody new, you will put him or her into one of two categories, man or woman, right? When learning German you will do exactly the same thing. You encounter a new word such as ‘die Straße” and you put it into one of three categories ‘der’, ‘die’ or ‘das’.

Can you forget the article? No, you also don’t forget that Jack is a man and Jill is a woman, do you?

ByCarsten

Fluency – How long does it take?

What is fluency anyway?

Wikipidia has a nice sentence on the fluency page saying “Fluency is a speech language pathology term that means the smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are joined together when speaking quickly.”

I once met somebody from California who said to me, Carsten, you know what, I speak German fluently. Wow, that’s great. I didn’t know that. Yeah, he said, I only know to how to say one sentence but I know how to say that sentence fluently.

Although this might seem funny, isn’t that actually the way fluency works? You say the right sentence in the right moment and your conversation partner gets it. Of course, what you want to do is to say more than just one sentence. With one sentence after another the sentences become fluent. And when you think about it even with one single sentence and several words in that sentence, the very sentence can be spoken fluently. So, fluency is just about how long you want to put somebody to the test. If the situation is short enough, one sentence alone will do.

I had a similar situation in China. I went into a coffee shop and ordered a coffee in Chinese. My accent was probably far from perfect, however, I could get the message across in such a way that the person behind the counter handed me a coffee and took my money. So, the whole situation only took one single sentence.

Okay, this is not what most people think about when talking about fluency. For the majority fluency is being able to say whatever you want to say in any given moment.

What does it take to reach fluency?

What does it take? Hmm, it takes both time and practice. And it really depends on how you define fluency. So, you can limit your personal fluency to just a few sentences. Let’s say you want to spend your vacation time in Germany and you only have to know the sentences that you need in the hotel. You can probably reach that kind of fluency in a week or so, mastering eight or nine out of ten given situations. Limiting the number of situations will definitely help you reach your personal level of fluency in a short time.

That’s probably also not what people want. So, what can you do in order to speed up the process to become fluent in German? Well, you can reduce the complexity of the sentences. Actually there are techniques or methods to do that. Less complex sentences will help you to express yourself more clearly and precisely. And, of course, we are only talking about your own sentences here, meaning the sentences that you say, not the ones you want to understand.

How long does it take?

Okay, just give me a number of months or years or so. Isn’t that what you are thinking? Well, it is not that easy. It is not like asking the price for a new car, it is more like asking how it will cost you to bring up a child. Well, it depends, doesn’t it?

Here is an answer anyway, because I know you are not content with what I have written so far. You can make it a few months. Believe me. You will have to have a good strategy, and you can achieve fluency faster than you would ever have imagined.

ByCarsten

Is German hard to learn?

So many people think that German is hard to learn

What makes them think that German could be a difficult language to master? Hard to learn? Well, there are several reasons why a lot of people think this way. We will address many—if not all—of those reasons in the context of this podcast.

Oh, yes, and there are also a lot of reasons why German isn’t hard to learn. I have known a lot of foreigners in both Germany and Austria who spoke the language fairly well within a few months. Natural talents? No, not at all. They have used certain methods. They avoided certain distractions. They … well, I will tell you little by little, step by step.

Is German harder that English?

The short answer is yes, for most people. The slightly longer answer is a question: Why do you bother to get an answer to that question? The answer is not beneficial. Why would you want to choose between the two languages? Maybe you are from Spain and you have two job offers, one from Germany and one from the UK. Would you really base your decision on the language? That would be dumb. I would rather ask myself if I like the country, the people, and, most importantly, do I like the job.

If English is your mother tongue, and say, you would discover that German is harder than English, what you do with that fact? Right. Nothing at all. You won’t learn German the same way you learnt English. So, you are comparing the incomparable.

How hard is it really?

Actually the BBC has already done a pretty good job on giving 10 facts about the German language. Have fun reading them, and don’t let them discourage you. And remember: Any language is easy if you apply the right methods and strategies.

If you are still not convinced, why don’t you listen to the German Language Mining podcast?