You can say what you like about social media, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who is constantly amazed and impressed by the help that people offer there. I just received this extended tweet with some tips about learning German. It came from a teacher called Hannah Gurr, who’s based in Bristol.
All I can say is – I wish Hannah was my German teacher. She seems to have nailed the challenge of a language with lots of fiddly endings with some clever mnemonics and some classy use of chunks and contexts.
Here’s what she wrote:
Great to read on your blog that you’re learning German. You’ve given me so many teaching ideas and tips that I’d like to share with you my tips for learning German as an adult. I’ll tell you the main ones, and you can accept/reject as you like.
Firstly, I’d recommend the lexical approach for mastering article endings. For example, for almost all forms of transport you can say ‘Ich bin mit dem X gefahren’ and you don’t have to worry whether it’s das Auto or der Wagen. There’s only one exception (as in English) ‘on foot’ (zu Fuß).
I think articles and adjective endings in German, are a bit like gerunds/infinitives in English: native-speakers never make mistakes with them, learners constantly do, but mistakes rarely impede communication. However, I wish I had known that it’s best to learn them in chunks rather than just learning a noun and disregarding its gender. Also, it’s confusing for a learner when you’re pretty sure it’s die Tür and then someone says ‘Er hat den Fuß in der Tür’.
You can also take a phrase you might realistically be able to frequently drop into conversation, and use that as a mnemonic. For example, if you say ‘I went there/I did that/I had dinner … with my beautiful wife’ (mit meiner schönen Frau) and learn that by heart, then you will always know how to apply the dative endings to the feminine singular article and adjective.
Ed’s note – she’s right about meine schöne Frau
Do you have kids? Choose an appropriate epithet and you’ve got a ready-made crib for the dative plural.
Ed’s note – kids?? I have GRANDkids! Here’s a totally gratuitous picture of me with two of them…
If I were teaching German to English speakers, I would put the articles into four case groups, on large posters on the four walls of the class. I’d also assign a colour as well as a position to the cases.
• The first I would call ‘Group 0’ (nominative) because there are zero new things to learn, as everybody knows German has der, die, das and plural die. Used with the verb ‘be’.
• Group 1 (accusative) so-called because there is only one change, as der becomes den. No other changes. Practice with verbs such as ‘have’ Ich habe keinen Stift and ‘know’ Ich kenne ihn gut.
• Group 2/to (dative – remember to say dem der dem DEN! – it sounds so dramatic!) because this is used with verbs such as ‘give to’ ‘say to’ ‘bring to’.
Practise with these verbs first, then drop in ‘help’ because it’s common – although learners will just have to accept it doesn’t fit in with the ‘to’ mnemonic.
Also, during the course, add to the poster the prepositions which always take the dative: zu, mit, bei – learn useful chunks such as Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag! and zum Fruhstuck. It helps avoid L1 transference as in English we say ‘for breakfast’, ‘for my birthday’, whereas German uses zum not für.
• The final group (genitive) is best remembered in chunks such as am Ende des Monats/Ende der Woche. By the time you get to this case, your learners should have already encountered it many times! Nothing new to learn! German uses the same system as English for possessives but drops the apostrophe – Kens Auto, and when in doubt, the Genitive can be avoided by using von + dative.
The preposition takes priority when choosing case, but when (as with in) there is a choice, I use the mnemonic ACtion is ACcusative, state is dative, so you know to walk ins Zimmer and to be/stand/sit im Zimmer.
You also have trouble with word order, as you say in your blog: “I’ve only ever made working visits to Länder wo spricht man Deutsch” which should be “Länder wo man Deutsch spricht”.
Ed’s note: If that’s the only mistake I’ve made in the German in these blogs, then I am WELL pleased!
As I continued to learn German I realised I was very adept at using the correct syntax in these types of sentences, as well as the use of ‘him’ and ‘her’, which are particularly tricky.
As in English, the books are organised with what has been judged to be simpler/more fundamental structures first. As I made my way through the units, learning a lot of vocabulary along the way and constantly struggling with articles and adjective endings, I would come up against these ‘advanced’ structures and realise I had mastered them way back.
Hope you weren’t bored by these ideas, and that some of them turn out to be useful for you.
All the best
Hannah Gurr, a TEFL teacher in Bristol