Lately I’ve been preparing to reactivate my very rusty german skills. In the past, i’ve practiced german a lot, but in unsophisticated ways. I had some exposure to it as a child, when i lived near my german-speaking grandparents for a year and a half. Later, i took a few years of german classes in high school. I never really got to a conversational level, but i feel very confident doing the “which way is the train station?” sort of stuff that the high school courses were good at teaching.
Currently i’m planning a brief trip to Berlin in the summer, so i thought it’s about time to refresh my german. So far I’m just gathering resources and taking stock. I’m looking for any and all possible blogs about other people who are learning german, i’m looking for german books i’d like to read, and movies i’d like to watch. I’d like to also find some regular podcasts to listen to, hopefully on the easy side rather than complicated newscasts.
One thing i’ve found helpful as an easy refresher is smart.fm. There are a couple of lists of interesting (but easy) phrases in german, and they have some automated text-to-speech computer readouts of each of them which are actually pretty decent-sounding. They’re not all entirely accurate, but good enough to remind me of a few things quickly. If i can get the smart.fm “IKnow” importer plugin working for Anki, then maybe i’ll import some of them, but i don’t expect to spend much time on these phrases.
My highest priority is to get some real content, though. All i have right now is a fantasy book i bought years ago, called Der Abschiedsstein (aka ““The Stone of Farewell” in the original english version) by Tad Williams. I’ve read the english version of the series, and i picked up the german translation of this when i was on my last trip to germany 9 years ago. It’s pretty tough for me to read right now, but i get some good words from it because i already know the story and the characters somewhat. If a particular word stands out to me, and i’ve seen it a couple times, then i write it down and look it up later.
To get some more input, particularly audio input, i ordered some new books with audio versions on CD. For now i’m sticking with the theme of things that are fun to read, so i got some fantasy / sci-fi books. First i ordered the german version of Harry Potter #1 and #2. I haven’t read the harry potter series yet, but i’ve seen a couple of the movies so i know the basic story. the books and CDs were easy to find on amazon.de…a bit pricy though. I also ordered Der Schwarm (“The Swarm” in english), which sounds like an interesting novel about the ocean ecosystem fighting back against humanity’s destructive practices. It’s apparently due to be made into a movie by 2011 too. I ordered the german and english paperbacks, and the german audio version.
For both harry potter and Der Schwarm, i intend to read a chapter first in english, and then work through the german version by following the audio. I’ll also try reading out loud to follow the audio, a practice that i’ve heard has some great advantages for working on your accent, and also for reading comprehension. As i go along, i plan to grab various interesting phrases and put them into Anki for later review. By reading the english first (but separately), i hope to get a good understanding of the plot before i switch back to german. That way, when i read and listen to the german version, i should be able to follow along well and i’ll be able to pick up more words from the context. By switching every chapter or two, i won’t be tempted to directly look at the english version while i’m working on the german, and i’ll avoid doing dictionary lookups. I should also have enough space between the languages that i won’t be thinking about it in english as i listen to the german. I’ll probably want to listen to the german version several times before moving on to the next chapter.
Der Schwarm probably has about 250000 words in it, similarly with Der Abschiedsstein, and each of the Harry Potters probably less, more like 100000 each. With some inevitable re-reading of chapters, the sum total of all of these should put me past 1 million words of german. It’d be an interesting exercise to evaluate my german skills before and after, to see what effect the 1 million word plan has.
One possible test is counting the percentage of words i know on an average page of a real novel (before, and after). It’d probably be best to do the “after” test on a book that i haven’t read yet, just so that i don’t have particular familiarity with it, although it might still be interesting to see if that differs from the “after” value on one of the books i have read intensively. I’ll just take a larger sample size for the average i guess.
Another test could be the speed in which i can read 10 pages with a reasonable level of understanding, but my current reading comprehension is pretty low. I guess i can just do as best i can at the start, trying hard to understand the text instead of just mechanically reading the sounds just to get a fast time. Maybe a qualitative description of my comprehension after each test would be good to record.
I can’t think of any other quantitative tests at the moment, but certainly i should note that i can’t currently understand newscasts or most normal spoken conversation, unless it’s about simple topics. When i get to Berlin i can report on how my comprehension is when i sit down for beers with people and try to listen (assuming i’ve finished reading my million words by the time i leave).
For people looking for related topics, I’m also inspired in this project by the concept of the “Listening-Reading” method, also known as “L-R”. I read about it on the How to learn any language forum. The idea with L-R is mostly what i just described…expose yourself to massive input both audially and visually with text+audiobooks, and do it for many hours per day until your brain is saturated. People on the forum claim that if you only do half an hour per day, the benefit is not as pronounced as it could be, but if you can manage to do 3 or 4 hours per day then the gains are supposedly tremendous. IIRC, there was a report there by someone who did it with Polish for 4 hours per day, and after several weeks she was able to understand polish radio broadcasts. This seems startling to me, after such a short time, but that’s a LOT of hours of exposure i guess.
I don’t have much more than a couple of anecdotes supporting this method, but it seems to match up with my experience and what i’ve read about input being king (see also: AJATT). I don’t think i can manage 3 hours per day consistently, especially when i’m trying to also work on chinese a little every day, but i can probably get that much on the weekends. It might work best if i make it a morning ritual to get up a bit earlier, have some caffeine, and listen/read for an hour before going to work.
I could also augment this by having some sort of german podcast playing on my mp3 player all day. Perhaps some sort of BBC thing, but i’d like to find something easier that i have more hope of understanding. In the beginning, anything should be fine because i’ll mainly be using it to get those german sounds pounded into my head. I guess i could just use the audiobook recordings, albeit without paying as much attention to them since i’ll also be trying to get some work done.
Anyway, i’ll make more posts as i progress. I’m still in the beginning stages of this project, but things should take off in a couple weeks once my audiobooks arrive. Until then, please send me any tips on german-learning blogs. I can’t seem to find that many yet, so i’m not sure if there’s a big community like there is for japanese or something.