Not All That Crazy
People who talk to themselves are often considered crazy. Yet, studies imply that people who talk to themselves are nothing less than geniuses. This is an exaggeration and overgeneralization, of course. However, there are in fact many benefits for this seemingly awkward behavior, especially so for language learners!
A small study, conducted by Heather Fielding for her Honor Thesis, whereby she interviewed language professors and asked them about their use of self talk while learning English as a second language. 93% said they self talked, and 80% found this very useful. Yet, only one-third advised their students to use this technique. This discrepancy might be due to the lack of its social acceptance, but let’s not allow this to get in our way. I use self talk and can highly recommend it.
Speaking Needs Practice
Speaking is all about practice. When babies start to talk, they mimic their parents. After all, they have to develop and train their speech organs to produce the sounds. And, don’t we feel like babies sometimes when we learn a new language with very unfamiliar sounds? At times we have a hard time producing a sound, and we might end up with a Knoten in der Zunge (literally: a knot in your tongue).
Self Talk For All Levels
Sounds & Words
For beginners, the most important thing is training your speech organs to be able to produce sounds that can be recognized. German can be challenging in this way. Take the different sounds of ch: throaty after low vowels (a, o, u) and quite different after high vowels (e, i, ä, ö, ü, ei) and consonants. The latter sound is really hard to describe. Check out this site to hear examples.
Listen to new words and repeat them until you can produce them easily and clearly. You won’t need to bother your German speaking friends for this, though. A better option is a good online dictionary that provides audio files such as dict.cc. There you can listen to a computer as well as different speakers pronouncing the words and phrases.
Another great trick is labeling. Take some time every day looking around your apartment, office or whichever place you’re in, and say the names of the things around you out loud. When you label nouns, make sure to always label them with the correct article. It is very frustrating when you have mastered the German declension and still don’t get it right because you pick the wrong gender. For example:
- Im Badezimmer – in the bathroom
- die Seife – soap
- das Duschbad – shower gel
- das Handtuch – towel
- die Haarwäsche – shampoo
- die Zahnbürste – toothbrush
- die Zahnpasta – toothpaste
- die Zahnseide – dental floss
- das Mundwasser – mouthwash
- der Kamm – comb
- die Haarbürste – hairbrush
- der Rasierer – razor
- der Rasierschaum – shaving cream
- die Gesichtscreme – face cream
- das Deodorant / das Deo – deodorant
Bathroom appliances & furniture:
- das Waschbecken – sink
- die Dusche – shower
- die Badewanne – bathtub
- der Spiegel – mirror
- der Wasserhahn – tap
- die Toilette – toilet
- die Fliese – tile
- der Handtuchhalter – towel rail
- der Badezimmerschrank – bathroom cabinet
- der Badvorleger – bath mat
You can also label activities. Some verbs are reflexive, especially the things you do in the bathroom.
- (sich) waschen – wash
- (sich) duschen – shower
- (sich) abtrocknen – dry
- (sich) die Zähne putzen – brush teeth
- (sich) kämmen – comb/brush hair
- (sich) rasieren – shave
- (sich) eincremen – apply cream
When you label activities, you can also practice the irregular verb forms. Most of the bathroom verbs are regular, so let’s expand this.
3rd P. Singular
This will help you to practice pronunciation as well as do a great deal for your memory. You will remember much more vocabulary and even grammar this way. Another hot tip: check out Bildwörterbuch, an online Pictionary game where you can find loads of general and specific vocabulary.
Once you’ve mastered the sounds and single words, it’s time to practice sentences. Imagine a little figure inside your head that is constantly commenting on the things you do. This works fantastically with everyday (boring) activities.
So, let’s say you are washing your hands. Comment: Ich wasche meine Hände. When you have finished: Ich habe meine Hände gewaschen. Now, my hands are clean: Jetzt sind meine Hände sauber. When you’re eating an apple: Ich esse einen Apfel. The apple is green and juicy: Der Apfel ist grün und saftig. It is delicious: Er schmeckt lecker.
When you are just doing nothing, your little commentator can elaborate on how you feel.
- I’m excited: Ich bin aufgeregt.
- I’m cold: Mir ist kalt.
- I’m hungry: Ich habe Hunger.
You can also think out loud.
- I think I need a break: Ich glaube, ich brauche eine Pause.
- This movie is really boring: Der Film ist wirklich langweilig.
- Looks like rain: Es sieht nach Regen aus.
You see, you can comment on so many things during your day. If you’re around people, you can talk in your head. This helps, too.
Grammar Hot Spot
Create a grammar hot spot in your apartment where you place a paper with the sentence structure you want to practice. Let’s say you need to practice comparison. The paper could read like this:
Every time you pass this spot, make up a new sentence and say it out loud. The sentences can be nonsensical, as long as they follow the structure. Have some fun.
Read out loud
Reading out loud will help you in many ways. You will remember 50% more (you speak and you hear). It is a fun way to practice intonation and try out different voices. You can impersonate different speakers and different moods. This will make your self talk much more livelier. You will also develop a feeling for sentence structure.
Acting it out
Imagine situations and the various topics you’d like to talk about. If you’re not sure how to say something, you can find example dialogues for specific situations on Google or YouTube. Let’s say you want to practice talking about your last holiday with a colleague. Act out both parts! Ask questions and answer them. Here’s an example:
- Wie war Ihr Urlaub? How was your holiday?
- Absolut traumhaft und natürlich viel zu kurz. Wie immer. Absolutely fantastic and
- much too short, of course. As usual.
- Natürlich. Wohin sind Sie denn gefahren? Of course. Where did you go?
- Wir waren in Thailand. Am liebsten wäre ich dort geblieben… We were in Thailand. I would have loved to stay...
- Das kann ich mir gut vorstellen! I can imagine!
- Ja, die Leute waren so freundlich, das Wetter war fantastisch und das Essen ist ein Traum. Yes, the people were so friendly, the weather was fantastic, and the food is a dream.
- Das habe ich auch gehört. Sie können es also weiterempfehlen? I’ve heard that. So, you recommend it?
- Auf jeden Fall. Wir fliegen nächstes Jahr wieder dorthin. Es gibt noch so viel zu sehen… Definitely. We’re going there again next year. There’s still so much to see...
This works wonders for me. When I actually encounter a situation I have practiced like this before, the sentences just pop out. Do you have a pet? Talk to your pet in German if you need a listener. You can even self talk in public nowadays without getting any attention. Just put some earphones into your ears and talk all you want. No one is going to think you’re strange.
Record your speech and play it back. How does it sound? Are you happy with your rhythm and tone? Listening to yourself might be awkward, but it gives you an impression of your listener’s experience. Vary your intonation, voice, and your mood. Play around and have fun.
Do you like German songs? Well then, sing along. Singing is not really self talk, but it will surely help your speaking skills. It’s easy to find the lyrics to your favorite songs online. So, what’s stopping you?
Einstein was a self talker, and so are many other smart people. If you already self talk, this will be no sweat for you. Just continue to self talk -- but in German now. For everyone else, consider the benefits:
- Self talking in German will allow you to become more natural because you practice way more.
- Your fluency will improve a lot.
- And don’t forget: your memory capability will increase.
If you adopt self talking in German, then the next time you have a conversation in German, things will definitely be much easier. Enjoy your conversations with yourself! You might even hear something new.