So, the first great experiment is over - in the last four months I went from zero to B2(ish) German (pending exam results mid-February) in five months. Input fluctuated from between 0 and 12 hours a day, I'd say probably an average of 5 - 6 throughout. I also spent two months of it travelling through 19 different cities in Germany which was an unbelievable experience. I love the Germans - they are AWESOME.
On Monday I fly to Vietnam for a 10 month trip through Asia and am planning to learn Mandarin (through German) - so I'll be back on iTalki shortly! I can't wait to take on a language with easier grammar! :)
Anyhow, for anyone who might be interested - here is a simplified framework for how I went about it combined with a lookback on how I would go about it again if I could start from scratch.
Aside from the fact that there's no "right way" to learn a language (just the right way for you) this is just the first language I've tackled so I'm sure there is A LOT of room for improvement here - thoughts, comments, suggestions and tips very gratefully recieved!
// An Optimized language learning process (OLLP) v1.0
This OLLP was codified on the 30/01/2015 and is „what I would do if I could do it again“ based my experiences studying German for five months and taking the B2 exam.
/ Time allocation table (sorry it looks terrible, no tabs on iTalki!)
„I think of Languages as having 7 parts, the four core ‚natural‘ skills and then three additional ‚superchargers‘. Each one benefits one or more of the other parts so no time is ever wasted or stops getting worked on. E.g., 0% on specifically pronunciation at Advanced level doesn't mean you don't work on it - it's still going to get a lot of practice from e.g., your speaking“
Table: Share of 100% of hours in a week (e.g., multiply the hours you intend to invest by the percentage for a rough idea of how long to spend on each area)
Level / Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced (Est.)
CEFR / A1 - A2 / B1 - B2 / C1 - C
Speaking / 40% / 30% / 20%
Listening / 0% / 10% / 20%
Reading / 0% / 15% / 30%
Writing / 0% / 10% / 20%
Pronunciation / 10% / 5% / 0%
Grammar / 20% / 10% / 0%
Vocabulary / 30% / 20% / 10%
/ ACTIVITY BREAKDOWN
„This is the reason why you’re learning a language and the most fun and interesting way to pick it up - start speaking from day 1 and stay in the language as much as possible“
- Talking to real people (on iTalki in German and no English!!)
There is no substitute for 1 - 1 conversations, ideally with a private teacher - I found the informal teaching sessions on iTalki absolutely invaluable. I wish I had done this from day 1, instead I spent 5 weeks learning vocab before opening my mouth by which point I'd built up lots of bad habits!
Here are a few of my favourite teachers.
Marcel - http://www.italki.com/teacher/1437461 - an absolute hero. If only there was a Marcel for every language. My main teacher and mentor through German.
Christian - http://www.italki.com/teacher/1746416 - has a very different approach but was fantastic - focus was on understanding and reading articles out loud sprinkled liberally with lots of Germanisms
Doreen - http://www.italki.com/teacher/1757521 - I wish I had found Doreen earlier in the process, her energy is fantastic. Unfortunately we only had one lesson together!
Jan - http://www.italki.com/teacher/1441395 - Fantastic energy, a little on the expensive side for me for the volume of lessons I was looking for but if I could afford it I'd definitely go back.
- Real world immersion (Visiting the country, CouchSurfing)
If only there was a way to thank the countless friendly Germans who were more than happy to try and understand my terrible German as I travelled through the country. Many WILL try to talk back to you in English but if you stick to your guns eventually they'll give up and go back to German.
„Try and write from your head little (no more than 180 words), often and on a range of different topics“
- Writing on iTalki/Lang-8
Another thing I WISH I had started with earlier. I won't make the same next time. I can't thank all the people who took the time to correct my entries on iTalki and Lang8 enough. You guys are frigging awesome. If you're writing here you'll pick up on who the stars are pretty quickly.
- Integrate corrections from both approaches into SRS (ANKI) system
My first mention of Anki and SRS - really an incredible way to learn, see https://fluent-forever.com/the-method/spaced-repetition/ for more info - the FluentForever book is also excellent.
„It is much easier to get this right earlier than to correct it later. Minimal Pairs training will help you to be able to hear new sounds that your brain can no longer detect as well as habituating you to the phonemes (sounds) in a new language“
- Create/download MinimalPair SRS decks (see FluentForever.com)
- Integrate Minimal Pairs SRS (ANKI) system
See https://fluent-forever.com/chapter3/ again, I came to this FAR too late in the game and had already developed a load of bad pronunciation habits. This would be one of the first things on my next to do list.
Three last things before I forget:
- Forvo.com is a superb website that allows you to hear native speakers saying almost any word (you just need to register for a free account)
- dwds.de is an awseome monolingual dictionary with loads of synonyms and even a section on etymology (Thank you Christian!)
- Spotify was a great way to listen to German pop music non-stop as I travelled through Germany (You can find a playlist I borrowed here: http://spoti.fi/1yfGpdD ) N.b., I can't be held responsible for never getting the tunes out of your head...
„Do not rely on DuoLingo to teach you grammar, especially for languages like German where the grammar is particularly difficult. At best these are good sources of high frequency vocabulary“
- Grammar course books
I worked the whole way through Schritte's B1 book and also the Klett Telc B2 book (I sat the Goethe exam but the language level is the same either way). I thought they were great but each to their own!
- Complete grammar course book exercises
- Integrate corrections from both approaches into SRS (ANKI) system
This is great advice from one of the most dedicated language learners I've known! It was incredibly fun learning with Arthur who really has enormous energy. He really has unique insights into intensive language learning now that seem incredibly valuable.
As a language learner, I've never been very systematic in my learning, which makes me think that I probably could have achieved more in a shorter timeframe if I had tried to do so. One thing that I've found has worked for me was to postpone the speaking until I've reached at least A2 level and focus on passively absorbing vocabulary and sentence structure early on instead.
I imagine that a textbook containing nothing but various texts (fictional or non-fictional) on specific topics, introducing related vocabulary for each one, would be a priceless resource for autonomous language learners, since you could use them as a great basis to work with a tutor or other native speaker and put the new vocabulary to work. It's hard to find such a ressource, however, since most works are clearly geared towards the traditional classroom.
/ AND FINALLY: Exam preparation
In my opinion the best way to practice for an exam is to do lots of them. I usually budget enough time to do 4 - 5 practice exams end to end the week before the exam. If I can’t get to a teacher who knows how they’re marked then I try and buy a good guide!
Passing an exam in my experience is about 50% what you know and the other 50% is just being familiar with how to get the marks. Do a few practice papers and you'll nail it!