Tips to Learning a New Language

I am going to be really honest here, learning German is really hard. The language has a completely different sentence structure to English, there are literally 16 different ways to say the, and most things sound really harsh. But, I am trying. Language is the biggest piece to immersing yourself into a new culture, especially when you are living and working in said country. If someone moves to the States, we all expect them to speak English, right?

Well, I am somewhat happy to say that that isn’t necessarily true when moving to Europe. Most Germans and other countries speak English fluently. Kids start learning English from a young age and is usually a required class in school. German wasn’t even offered in my high school. I took Spanish like everyone else but ditched it for Italian in college. I learned enough to order at an Italian restaurant but certainly not enough to have a conversation.

For the past 10 months, I have been studying German. I can now understand people, especially in a restaurant or supermarket and I can make dinner reservations or a doctor’s appointment over the phone. I try my best to speak German at work and most of my meetings are in German, but I am usually quiet if it’s with a large group of people. I have a “lunch buddy” and every 2 weeks we have lunch together. He wants to work on his English, so one week we speak English and the next week we speak entirely in German. Our conversations are of course small, but, hey, it’s a conversation in another language.

A perk of the expatriate program is that my husband’s company pays for our German lessons. We each have a private lesson twice a week for an hour and a half per day. Of course, this is very expensive but is the most helpful. I spend 3 hours a week only speaking German. But, I do other things, too, and thought I’d share them for anyone interested in learning another language, especially if signing up for a class or a tutor isn’t an option. These tips can be applied to any language, not just German.




Do something every single day.

This may seem obvious, but it is so, so important to spend at least 20 minutes every day learning your new language. It can be anything, listening to a CD, a YouTube video, reading, anything, just spend the time doing it. I notice a big difference in my knowledge if I stop studying for a week because of vacation or something. I try to dedicate 30 minutes daily to learning German. I set up a goal in my Google calendar and it automatically puts in an appointment every day for studying German. An alarm goes off to remind me to study and I check it off once I’m done. And the calendar shows me how many days per week I study, which motivates me to study every single day. I want to see that 100%!

YouTube is your friend.

I watch a YouTube video at least once a day. I found a great channel, Easy German, where a woman picks a theme for the weekly video and then goes around the streets of German asking people a question surrounding the theme, and the people answer. It’s subtitled, ‘Learning German from the streets.” There are subtitles in German and English, which are really helpful. Sometimes they speak really fast, so that’s hard, but I learn the language, while also learning about the culture. Some of the video topics are: What’s your favorite food? Exploring Christmas markets. A focus on the kitchen.

The “parent” company for Easy German has more languages. You can learn pretty much every European and Asian languages through these channels. Here is a the homepage for Easy Languages to see if your language of interest is available.

I also look up German nursery rhymes because the language is slower since it is geared towards children. It’s amazing what you can find on YouTube. I even found The Lion King in German on YouTube once.

What I love about listening to the language while reading it is that I can start to associate the sounds with the written words. It helps things click in my mind. I read once that you should start to learn a new language by listening because it is the same way you learn your native language because your parents just speak to you. Interesting tidbit of information.

Rosetta Stone is great, but expensive.

We have the electronic version of Rosetta Stone, gifted to us by my very generous parents. It is also a great tool for learning a new language because it uses pictures to associate words and it tests your pronunciation. I don’t use this enough, especially now that I have lessons. Before I started taking lessons, I would only do Rosetta Stone to learn. I think this is a great supplement to learning another way. You don’t learn the reason behind why you’re saying something or why you use this article over another one. I like doing this in tandem with everything else. I wouldn’t recommend it on its own.

Apps for on the go.

Rosetta Stone comes with an app with your purchase, but if you don’t want to spend that much money, there are TONS of apps available on the App Store, some are even free. I recently started using the free version Babbel and I really like it. The thinking is similar to Rosetta Stone but I like that I can flip through some vocabulary words while I’m on the bus or train or waiting to meet someone. It makes me feel more productive and is a super easy way to learn on the go.

Podcasts are great, too.

Another great on the go way to learn another language. My German teacher recommended Slow German to me because it is a podcast but also has a website with the transcripts. This way I can also read what’s being said.

The library has incredible resources.

Our local library has an entire section dedicated to learning German, as well as other languages. I can check out books on CD, workbooks, movies and more for free. I highly recommend visiting your library to see what is available. I also like checking out German cookbooks because it’s a great way to learn the measurements (why the US is the only country without the metric system I’ll never know), new vocabulary and some local cuisine. Kids books are also great!! This is a cost-effective way to getting your hands on some German resources.

Language teaching magazines.

I subscribe to one magazine in Germany and it is one dedicated to helping people learn German. It’s called Deutsch Perfekt and it’s kind of like those Highlights magazines you would read when you were a kid in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. It has three levels of articles, easy, medium and hard. I usually stick to mostly easy and at least one middle level each month. The articles are relevant to life in Germany, cultural differences and current events. There’s also a worksheet section to practice vocabulary and an online portion with more exercises and audio.

This website has a great list of language focused magazines and magazines with other language editions. I hope to one day be able to read German Vogue without issue.

Go back to your childhood with movies and tv shows.

I also usually checkout one movie in German from the library. I pick movies that I know pretty much by heart in English, hello Disney, and get them in German. I turn on the subtitles and just watch. I’ve watched Frozen and Beauty and the Beast this way. Netflix also has some German kid shows on there, which helps. The downfall of this is that Netflix will now start suggesting a bunch of cartoons for you. It is exhausting to watch a movie in another language because you really have to pay attention, but doing it in chunks is the easiest for me.

The news.

Giuliana Rancic wrote in her book how she learned English from watching the news and that’s why she wanted to become a journalist. Newscasters speak proper German and usually slowly. It’s a great way to learn while also keeping informed of current events. I sometimes watch the Euro News in German on YouTube.

Well, that’s it. I do a combination of the above with my private lessons all the time. My advice is to find something that doesn’t feel like work to you and to mix it up. If you love reading, read something in your desired language, underline the words you don’t know and then translate them. You’ll be amazed how soon you will start to understand more and more. I am certainly not fluent in German, but I am light years ahead of where I was last year. Plus, it is really fun to see my progress first hand. I get excited when I understand a conversation at lunch or when I don’t have to stare blankly at the waiter. It is a fun process and I am enjoying getting more and more immersed into the German culture.

Have you learned another language? If so, how did you do it? What language would you want to learn next?

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  1. Luann Wright | 17th Feb 17

    Great advice, Jessica. I want to learn Spanish so I will use some of your suggestions.

  2. Jacey | 16th May 17

    It’s a relief to find soemone who can explain things so well

    • Jessica | 17th May 17

      Thanks for your nice comment, Jacey.

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