Is Berlin the Worst Place to Learn German? I Have the Answer
By Andrew Cottrill . April 12, 2016
“This is Deutschland, and here we speak German.” It’s that time of year again, where my friends from West Germany come to visit me in Berlin. They’ve just realised how little my German’s improved over the time since we last saw each other. “This isn’t Deutschland,” I tell them, “this is Berlin.” Incredulousness.
The German-speaking ambitions of your regular Berlin ex-pat follow a familiar curve over time: optimism > frustration > embarrassment > apathy. Rinse and repeat if necessary. But, is it for want of trying? Lack of effort? Is German too hard?
Learning German in Berlin sometimes feels like learning to drive in a place without cars. It’s a hobby, like how some people play crosswords. A bit of fun. All for nought. I shell another €300 out on another month of lessons (sacrificing all my free time in the process), and hit the streets at 9pm after the first class, bursting with optimism over my German-speaking future (see table above), only to be asked “where’s Alexanderplatz station?” By a German. In English.
Don’t get me wrong, German classes in Berlin can be useful. You get to discuss our generation’s pressing problems: namely… what museums Weimar has, and how people greet each other in das Gebirge. But, between my international WG, my international office, and Berlin’s apologetic attitude to its own language, German classes can seem ein tropfen auf dem heißen stein. Whatever that means.
So where’s an anglocentric anglophile living in an anglicised world to turn? The internet, of course.
I’ve found two new German teachers in the most unexpected places. One is online language school Lingoda, based (ironically) just down the road from me on Boxhagener Strasse. The other is Germany’s favourite agony uncle, talk radio and 1 Live star Domian. In fact, these two things have formed a sort of ultimate teaching partnership, one helping the other – part of my new BERLIN LOVES YOU-approved German learning technique.
So, how does it work?
Well Lingoda’s a language school like any other, with one unique twist – you don’t have to leave work early and rush to Alexanderplatz for classes. It’s all online. Live online group and private classes. And they understand people work day jobs, so classes start on the hour, every hour, 24/7. You can work your classes into your own schedule. Plus, you pay (not much to be honest…) for a set number of private and group classes a month which you can take whenever you want. Want to do something Tuesday night? Skip German class that night and do it. Your online teacher will forgive you.
Lingoda also provides a load of online exercises and games and a wealth of online material to give me stuff to browse and learn/practice with whilst I’m bored at work.
But Lingoda is a language class. And anyone who’s ever taken a German language class will know one thing: what you learn isn’t German. It’s classroom German, not the German people speak in real life. For that, you need something else. That’s where Domian comes in.
To a German reading this, Domian needs no introduction. For the last 20-odd years, Domian has been giving Germans advice on their problems. He’s like the German Frasier Crane, if all of Frasier’s callers had an endless list of bizarre, hilarious sexual dysfunctions and fetishes, almost unbelievable confessions (see: “Help, I accidentally roasted my girlfriend’s cat in the oven!“), and amazing life stories which shed light on the seemingly normal Germans we live amongst: what they do, how they think, and what turns them on.
In between Domian’s slow, calming voice (he handles even the most outrageous issues with grace), and the wide range of voices and accents of the people calling in, you get the feeling of being in the middle of a real German conversation. A hilarious conversation. And the best thing: there are literally hundreds of hours of Domian for free on YouTube.
This is the beauty of my new Berlin-proof German learning technique. You take the Lingoda lessons when it suits you and learn and practice the formalities of the German language. Then you can hear them in practice on Domian, as you listen to a story about a man who makes sex dolls out of hackfleisch, and build up your real-life German vocabulary in the process, primed and ready to use at your next Lingoda class (most of us know what “Natursekt” is, but what about “Kaviar-spiele”?).
By quickly putting the theory you learn in class into practice before it fizzles out into the ether (and without using kiddy shows about Wurst and Käse, patronising podcasts for language students about hotels, or obnoxious German comedies), the knowledge quickly seems usable and worthwhile. By attuning yourself to German conversations, voices in the street are no longer confused clouds of sound, and finally (most importantly), you get to understand every word your waitress says, up until she passes you an English menu and says “You’re welcome”.
Would you like to win a month’s free language classes with Lingoda? They got in contact with us to offer one of you the chance to win one month’s worth of classes. To win, simply email email@example.com with your favourite German word.
Written in partnership with Lingoda.