If You’re Serious about Learning German, Check Out Chatterbug
By Allison Krupp . April 8, 2019
Chatterbug is a language app with a fresh approach to learning German…
…shuffling you along from one stage of the slog to the next until suddenly, you’ve got a bit of the language flopping around on your tongue. Finally.
If you live here with the rest of us, you know the German language is a proverbial thorn in many an expat’s side. It’s seemingly clunky; sentence structures are weirdo puzzles with an upside down logic. If you’re reading this and you understand and operate well with the various cases, I give you complete acclaim, you genius. As far as I’m concerned, you’re as good as a surgeon, an astronaut, a magician. Cut me open. Take me to the moon. My eternal trust is yours.
Chatterbug from Anywhere — Southeast Asia. The mattress in the hallway of your ex-girlfriend’s WG. The späti next to the avocado-ed Australian café with free wifi. Anywhere.
I first logged into Chatterbug whilst some 8000 kilometers away — in the mountains of Thailand, with the sun shining down with such optimism I couldn’t imagine how any sort of populus far north in the grey dank cloud of Germany could even exist, let alone have crafted such a language as DEUTSCH. I thought: sure. Fine. Between pretty hikes and Leo beers and Tom Yum soup, mayhaps I can keep my foggy Germany mind “afresh” before those plane wheels tear down Tegel airstrip.
A Placement Test to Get the Fußball Rolling
First, I started out with the placement test — a series of questions, mostly “fill in the blank,” definition-based ones that paced my echo-y German brain to see what I knew. (Reader, it was not a lot). Chatterbug dropped me into level 2, although it can start you all the way at level 1.0 without shame. Each level has a set system in place, taking you from 1.0 to 1.9, 2.0 to 2.9, and so on. These levels correspond to a CEFR level (like, A1, A2, B1, blah blah), and Chatterbug purports that if you pass through their 1.0 all the way to 1.9, you should be able to PASS the CEFR A1 test fully and completely (and the same for the rest). Also note that Chatterbug might not teach things in precisely the same order as whatever middling class you took last summer between open airs, so if your level seems a bit off — don’t worry. Chatterbug will fill in the blanks.
You can also set some “goals” for yourself, and Chatterbug will give you a sense for just how long it’ll take for you to reach them, given your level of commitment. See here — I declared I wanted to reach B2 (basic fluency) with 6 Live Lessons per week (LOL) and Chatterbug says I can reach B2 by January of next year! With 1 Live Lesson per week, the results were much more dire. (Think: 2023, the year I turn 33 and will probably be rich enough to pay other people to do all my speaking for me).
Live Lessons and Self-Study for Lesson Variety
Chatterbug is made up of two parts — self study and live lessons. But unlike, say, Duolingo or Babbel (neither of which I’m shit-talking, for they certainly have their place in the sun), Chatterbug offers a teaching method with far more variety.
After a few years of dabbling with Babbel and Duolingo, however, I was absolutely petrified for the “live lesson” portion of Chatterbug. A video call? With a stranger? Who will have to listen to me squawk some wretched German for 45 minutes? As I was still six hours ahead of Germany (now located deep south on the coast of Thailand, swimming in the salty sea and feeling, still, that Deutsch was a sludgy splotch of a language), I scheduled a meeting for 6 PM local time, 12 PM German time (the scheduling system is super-easy, by the way, with many different slots available) — and then logged in, feeling that ache in my gut like, here I am, it’s Judgement Day, and the axe will fall.
Hilariously, my teacher — a German named Stephan — was located all the way in Ecuador, a full 18,000 kilometers from Thailand. It was deep in the early hours for him, but he entered our conversation with pep and zeal and excitement, not the sort of Judgement-Day-Grim-Reaper I’d expected, but a man with a genuine joy for language teaching, a man who upholds the values of Chatterbug above waking up at a proper hour. If he was in for this, then dammit, I had to be, too.
Live lessons waste no time. They’re separated into 5 to 10 minute exercises that guide you through various elements of learning — from asking questions, to identifying what’s going on in various pictures, to having basic (or not so basic!) conversations, to just pronouncing letters correctly. Each lesson is based off the self-study you’ve recently conducted, so nothing feels like a massive outlier. And of course, with the sorts of teachers Chatterbug seems to hire, you’ll never be made to feel like the biggest idiot in the room (even if you, like I was, are).
After the lesson, Stephan told me he’s had over 300 students over the previous 1.5 years, and that frequently, students sign up to have lessons with him again and again, meaning that tutors can get to know you, know your progress, and get to know your learning style. To me, that saves time and cuts down on the anxiety of introducing your insecurities to yet more people.
The self-study has a range of courses, involving reading, writing, and vocabulary exercises. In one instance, I watched a video which involved two Germans heading to a German school and having basic conversations. For this, Chatterbug demanded of me a very simple task: just listen. Just see how much you understand. I watched once, and then slowed it down to .75x the speed of the original, and watched it again. And you know what? Without the anxiety of answering questions, or having anyone else around noting just how often I rewound and fast-forwarded to grasp a few of the sentences — I think my comprehension went up a notch or three.
The Study Card section is simple, easy — the same-old repetition stuff that’s worked for thousands of years. But actually forcing yourself to look at all of them, take the words in, repeat them: that’s another story entirely. Luckily, Chatterbug gets that you might not remember a word the first 15 times you see it, and smashes various vocab across your screen over and over and over. This is what we idiot expats need.
Learn at Your Own Pace and Within Your Budget
Chatterbug is also AFFORDABLE, especially if you’re serious about wrapping your mind around this bludgeoning weighted language (that, to me, is all the time becoming more of a dear, wonderful thing — Stockholm Syndrome is improperly named). For 20 euro a month, Chatterbug offers one live lesson and as much self-study as you can tear through. For 75 euro a month (still far less than normal German courses around Berlin), you get 4 personal 45-minute live lessons. And for just 140 euro a month (still less than most German courses!!!) you can take 8 Chatterbug lessons.
But if you want to learn FAST, dear reader, you can up to 400 euro a month for AS MANY live lessons as you want — seriously, like, one after another if you want to, and dive through every single self-study session available. I mean, you could make this your entire life and come out essentially Deutsch by the end of Spring. The choice is yours.
Chatterbug might be the most cost-effective way to flip that mental switch on the German language, to finally become the kind of expat that dick-measures with words like C1 and C2, to finally make tender peace with angry Aldi-shoppers and stitch yourself into the cultural backdrop of this country that has, for whatever reason, allowed us to stay.
Article sponsored by Chatterbug.