Though I’ve learned many languages throughout my life, I will always have a special place in my heart for the first language I ever tried to learn on my own:
That being said, it wasn’t my first foreign language experience. I studied both English and French in high school long before I ever settled it in my mind to try learning a language independently.
But when I did make that decision, German was my first and most obvious choice.
The attraction that I felt to the German language came mainly from my home life; my parents had a friend who spoke a bunch of languages, and whenever we were invited to dinner at this friend’s house, I heard a lot of stories about him and my father learning and speaking German.
I found it absolutely fascinating!
Getting Started with German
So, once I decided to learn German on my own, I had some choices to make—first and foremost, how would I learn?
I turned to the only German resource I had ever actually seen with my own eyes—a weathered, old grammar textbook that was gathering dust on one of my grandmother’s bookshelves. When my grandmother said I could indeed borrow the book, I was overjoyed!
However, that joy didn’t last very long; while that grammar book did give me some access to the German language, using it was not easy or enjoyable. In fact, learning with the book often felt like a punishment I was inflicting on myself.
How was it like a punishment, you ask?
The book was so old the print was in gothic letters. There were no dialogues, audio, or even images—just endless grammar explanations and exercises.
With that book, I had stumbled upon a way to learn that was even more frustrating than learning a language in school!
The Difference a Good Resource Can Make
One day, though, my luck changed. As I was watching TV, I saw an advertisement for a course called “Il Tedesco Per Te” (“German for You”), by the Italian publisher De Agostini.
This course was everything that my grandmother’s German tome was not: it was new, colorful, and full of images and dialogues. And best of all, it came with audio, meaning I could finally listen and learn along with the sounds of authentic spoken German!
Naturally, I bought the course as soon as I could. It’s a good thing I did, too—if I had not found an alternative to the dusty German grammar, I probably would have given up learning German completely.
With “Il Tedesco per te” in hand, however, my future was bright.
The Birth of Bidirectional Translation
My excitement at using the De Agostini course was so high back then that I can clearly remember getting home from school and ignoring my homework completely. All I did (and all I wanted to do) was learn more German. So that’s what I did, often for more than two hours each afternoon.
As I moved further and further through “Il Tedesco per te”, a slow change started to happen. I experimented with all of the various features of the course (audio, dialogues, etc), and tried to see if I could organize my learning routine in a way that helped me learn German faster and more efficiently.
Eventually, I realized that through a combination of listening, reading, and written translation, I had developed a learning system that was quite powerful; this system is what I now call my Bidirectional Translation Method, and it is what I still use to this day to learn any new language.
Speaking German for the First Time
After I found “Il Tedesco per Te” and developed my Bidirectional Translation method, my German progress went through the roof.
Despite all that, though, I ended up learning German for almost two whole years before I had the chance to use the language with actual people for the first time.
It was at a summer camp in Sardinia. Despite being in Italy, the camp was full of lots of German camp-goers—and I mean A LOT.
Inevitably, I found an opportunity to speak German with these people. And though I was initially nervous about my abilities, the reaction I received was incredible!
Whenever I spoke to a new person in German, they were always so surprised and thrilled! “Wie kannst du so gut Deutsch?” - “why can you speak German so well” - they kept asking me. Apparently it was unusual for an Italian kid my age to be so enthusiastic about learning and practicing German outside of a school setting.
Of course, all of their surprised reactions motivated me to practice even more and work even harder with the aim of surprising even more people.
Thanks to all that, my German really started to flourish, and I rose to a comfortable level quite quickly.
The icing on the cake came later that summer when I met and fell in love with a German girl. If you think having conversations in a foreign language is a challenge, imagine what it’s like to exchange long, detailed love letters in one!
The Difficulties of Learning German
You may be reading all this and thinking that learning German was something that came easily and naturally to me.
While I’ve had plenty of successes along the way, there have been difficulties as well.
First of all, German is grammatically quite different from Italian.
For example, German has a grammatical feature called “cases” which cause certain words to change form depending on the role they play in the sentence.
Der Mann ist groß - The man is big.
Ich sehe einen großen Mann - I see a big man.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but the words in bold here (definite and indefinite articles, respectively) communicate two things: the grammatical gender of the following noun, and the case (or role) that that noun takes in that sentence. And even the adjective (“groß” in the first example, “großen” in the second) has to change to accommodate the case as well.
Italian grammar, by contrast, doesn’t have cases, so learning to accurately create sentences like the ones above did occasionally cause me a bit of a headache.
Pronunciation, on the other hand, was a bit easier. German, like Italian, is mostly pronounced how it is written, so once I learned how the German sounds matched to the German/Latin letters, I didn’t have too much trouble—though I remember struggling occasionally with the “glottal stop” that occurs between German words.
Speaking of German words, one of most interesting things about them (from my perspective) was that they could be SO long.
German is quite fond of what are called “compound words”, which are words formed by putting two or more existing words together in a row. My native Italian does occasionally use compound words, but not anywhere near as often as they are used in German.
Here are a few examples, to show you what I mean, along with their English translations:
- “Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften” - The legal expenses of insurance companies.
- “Betäubungsmittelverschreibungsverordnung” - Narcotics prescription ordinance
- “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” - A law of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern of 1999, to do with the supervision of the labeling of beef products.
Beyond tricky grammar and the occasional indecipherable compound word, I’d say that the most difficult part of the German language has to be its syntax.
In German, the word order can change in ways that seem quite strange, even to speakers of other European languages.
For example, in German, you don’t say:
“I think that Berlin is a cool city”
X“Ich denke, dass Berlin ist eine geile Stadt”.
While most languages would have the verb “to be” (“ist” in this case) between “Berlin” and “a cool city”, German actually requires the verb to go all the way at the end. This means that the correct form of the sentence is:
“Ich denke, dass Berlin eine geile Stadt ist.”
Perhaps even more confusingly, this “verb at the end” word order isn’t required in every sentence. Instead, it is used for more complex sentences and in a number of special occasions.
If you’re unfamiliar with German, all of the above difficulties may seem intimidating.
But here’s the thing: any language has its quirks and idiosyncrasies. If you have a passion for the German language and you’re learning it with a method that works well for you, all of these challenges eventually become irrelevant. If you learn every day, with focus and passion, these difficulties will not stop you, just as I did not let them stop me.
Learning to Live Through German
Though German continues to be an important part of my life to this very day, there’s one last turning point that I’d like to share here:
In 2012, shortly after passing the Goethe Institute’s infamous C2 exam for the German language, I signed up for a Conference Interpreting school.
In case you’re unfamiliar, conference interpreters need to have a very, very high level of listening skill to be able to do their jobs, so I knew back then that if I wanted to do conference interpreting for German, I would have to work extremely hard to perfect my skills.
This led to a period of my life in which I spent countless hours living through and immersing in the German language, even though I didn’t even live in Germany at the time.
Every single day I listened to the news, podcasts, and the radio, and also read books (affiliate), magazines and news articles. I even spent a lot of time watching “Tatort”, which is a TV crime drama every German knows. On the personal side of things, I also continued to meet and make friends with German native speakers, which helped me learn cultural details and colloquial expressions that would never have learned from a language course or dictionary.
Building these habits with German really helped me gain a deeper connection to the German people, culture, and language. That being said, learning German has truly been one of the most transformative linguistic experiences of my life.
So that’s my story about how and why I learned German. These are just the highlights of course—the full story of my 20+ years learning German certainly couldn’t fit here—but I hope that I’ve shared enough to inspire you and show you how learning the language can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly transformational.
What about you?
Have you ever learned German, or thought about learning it? What motivated you? What was your journey like?
If you can, please take a moment to let me know in the comments below. I’m always fascinated to learn more about the journeys people take with their languages—and who knows? Your story could inspire someone as well!
Written by Luca Lampariello
The bidirectional translation method
One interesting way to use translation is the bidirectional method created by famous polyglot, Luca Lampariello. This is a simple method which involves two steps: Find a text in English and translate it into your own language. Translate it back into English again.
- Listen in. Every good conversation starts with good listening. ...
- Learn the genders. German has three genders, so it's important to learn nouns along with their gender. ...
- Hack your memory. ...
- Turn up the volume. ...
- Record yourself. ...
- Create a personal phrasebook. ...
- Speak up.
So, how did Luca Lampariello, an Italian, learn to speak English, Dutch, Swedish, Mandarin, Russian, German, French, Hungarian and the rest on top of his native Italian? And why would anyone go to all the trouble of learning and maintaining 11+ languages?Is it possible to be fluent in German in a year? ›
According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI), you'll need about 750 hours of study to become fluent in German. This means that if you study 12-15 hours a week, you'll be able to speak like a pro in just a year!What methods do polyglots use? ›
The idea is to start by reading and listening as much as possible. With each new text, you learn more words, understand more and can move on to more complex texts. Once you start understanding the language fairly well, you are ready to speak it. By then you know lots of words.What are the four methods of language teaching? ›
- Total Physical Response.
- The Silent Way.
- Community Language Learning.
The German language has 6 CEFR levels – starting with A1 (absolute beginner), and ending with C2 (completely fluent).How long did it take for you to learn German fluently? ›
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) estimates that learning German will take about 30 weeks, or 750 classroom hours, as it is rated as a category two language similar to English.Do people who speak 2 languages have a higher IQ? ›
In the early nineteen fifties, researchers found that people scored lower on intelligence tests if they spoke more than one language. Research in the sixties found the opposite. Bilingual people scored higher than monolinguals, people who speak only one language.Who can speak 42 languages fluently? ›
Powell Alexander Janulus speaks 42 languages fluently
Powell Alexander Janulus, born in 1939, is a Canadian polyglot who now lives in White Rock, British Columbia. He entered the Guinness World Records in 1985 ready to prove his fluency in 42 languages.
Bilingual speakers have two minds in one body, new research has revealed. Speaking two languages literally changes the way we see the world, and bilingual speakers think differently to those who only use their native tongue.How long does it take the average American to learn German? ›
German is rated as a category 2 language and considered to be similar to English. The FSI estimates that German takes approximately 30 weeks, or 750 classroom hours to learn. This study was conducted on a group of language students who spent 25 hours per week in class, and three hours daily on individual practice.How can I learn German fast on my own? ›
- Know Your Goal - And Plan How to Get There. ...
- Study Daily. ...
- Prioritize Key Words. ...
- Start Talking from the Beginning. ...
- Study Vocabulary Daily. ...
- Use Free Apps and Tools. ...
- Develop Activities That Target Your Learning Styles and Schedules. ...
- Treat Mistakes Like Free Lessons.
|Assess your current level & test your German online!||Super Intensive course (30 lessons/week)|
|B2||upper intermediate||6 weeks*|
As Steve Kaufmann writes on his blog The Linguist, the magic formula for foreign language learning is [motivation + time] / inhibition. Polyglots are highly motivated, spend a great amount of time studying their target language, and are less inhibited in practicing their target language than others.Are polyglots brains different? ›
In one study, she and colleagues found that polyglots' networks (which include the frontal and temporal cortical areas of the brain) were smaller than those of people who speak just one or two languages.Do polyglots learn faster? ›
Polyglots spend way more time listening and speaking
Most classes in schools or language courses focus on reading, learning vocabulary, and grammar which keeps students in their comfort zone. But nothing in your language learning will help you progress faster than speaking.
- Take risks and speak the language whenever you can.
- Read children's books and comic books in the foreign language.
- Consume foreign language media.
- Immerse yourself in the local culture.
- Make use of free foreign language podcasts and apps.
- Communicative language teaching (CLT) ...
- Task-based language teaching (TBLT) ...
- Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) ...
- Cooperative Language Learning (CLL) ...
- The Direct Method.
- Communicative. The communicative approach dominates most classroom-based language classes, and for a good reason. ...
- Total Physical Response (TPR) ...
- Natural Approach. ...
- Task-Based Language Learning. ...
- Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) ...
- The Direct Method.
With plenty of straightforward rules, German is not actually as hard to learn as most people think. And since English and German stem from the same language family, you might actually be surprised at the things you pick up without even trying! And on top of it all, it's definitely a useful one, too.What is the highest level of German fluency? ›
- Levels A1 and A2: These levels provide you with basic knowledge of the German language. ...
- Levels B1 and B2: Here is where you will learn German at an advanced level. ...
- Levels C1 and C2: These levels are German at the highest standard.
It shouldn't take long to become fluent in German. Actually, after 6-8 months of studying in intense courses (about twenty hours every week) you will be able to gain proficiency of your German language to navigate your daily life. It is possible to gain professional proficiency within a mere year!How hard is B2 German? ›
How hard is B2 level German? The German language is complex yet highly systematic. For a systematic language, you need a systematic course structure though. If the course material you are using has a thought-out structure, then it shouldn't be difficult.How fast can you learn German if you know English? ›
For this reason, English speakers will learn German much faster than French. In fact, it takes a native English speaker an average of 30 weeks (750 hours) to become fluent in German.How hard is C2 German? ›
The C2 level exam: Think “very hard” & multiply that by a thousand. The Common European Framework of References for Languages level C2 is one of the hardest possible examinations you can do in any language.What is the most difficult thing in learning German? ›
The only reason that German seems so difficult to people is that it has grammar rules that other languages don't. German is a language with relatively high “inflection,” meaning that the words in a sentence change based on their grammatical roles.What is the best age to learn German? ›
German for Kids: Toddlers (Age 2-5)
Three years is said to be the optimal age to start learning a second language. This is because younger kids are better at mimicking new sounds and learning new pronunciations.
- Best Overall: Lingoda.
- Best Budget: DeutschAkademie.
- Best for Flexible Learning: Rocket German.
- Best for Listening Comprehension: GermanPod101.
- Best for Casual Learning: FluentU.
- Best for Learning in a Traditional Setting: Goethe-Institut.
- Best for Conversational Practice: italki.
For example, relative to a bilingual, a trilingual has to remember even more words and has to inhibit even more languages. To adapt to this increase in cognitive demands, trilinguals may develop a larger cognitive supply (i.e., greater advantages) than bilinguals.
Studies show that children who have a low IQ or are born with some mental delay learn language just as well as any other child.Can low IQ people be bilingual? ›
Early research on bilingualism, conducted before the 1960s, however, linked bilingualism with lower IQ scores, cognitive deficiencies and even mental retardation. These studies reported that monolingual children were up to three years ahead of bilingual children in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence.Who is the fastest language learner in the world? ›
Powell Janulus was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He was exposed to many Slavic languages as a child. His Polish mother spoke six languages while his Lithuanian father spoke at least four. He could speak 13 languages fluently at the age of 18.What is the hardest language to learn? ›
Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.Who can speak 70 languages? ›
Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti, born in 1774, spoke 38 languages and 40 dialects. The 10th-century Muslim polymath Al-Farabi was reputed to know 70 languages.What being bilingual does to your brain? ›
Bilingual people show increased activation in the brain region associated with cognitive skills like attention and inhibition. For example, bilinguals are proven to be better than monolinguals in encoding the fundamental frequency of sounds in the presence of background noise.Do bilingual brains look different? ›
More recently, scientists have discovered that bilingual adults have denser gray matter (brain tissue packed with information-processing nerve cells and fibers), especially in the brain's left hemisphere, where most language and communication skills are controlled.Do bilinguals have an accent? ›
There is a longstanding myth that real bilinguals have no accent in their different languages. Joseph Conrad and many other bilinguals, in all domains of life, show how unfounded this myth is. Having a "foreign" accent in one or more languages is, in fact, the norm for bilinguals; not having one is the exception.What are the stages of bilingual method? ›
The bilingual method makes use of the traditional three P's: presentation, practice, production. The three P's are the three main stages of any language lesson. First, you present material. Then you all practice together and students are expected to produce something with their new knowledge.What is the technique of bilingual method? ›
Bilingual method means using one language (mother tongue) which the students have mastered in learning English. The mother tongue is learnt by the child in real life situations and thus has various ideas and concepts in his mind because of the direct experience.
In general, we recognize two main types of translation techniques: direct translation techniques and oblique translation techniques. Direct translation techniques can be used when the elements of the text being translated are similar in both the source and target languages.What method is language identification? ›
The different approaches are: Short Word Based Approach. Frequent Word-Based Approach. N Gram Based Approach.What are the benefits of the bilingual approach? ›
- Students become functional bilinguals. ...
- Never miss out on a Lesson. ...
- Give importance to other languages. ...
- Accessibility. ...
- Discipline. ...
- It's the teacher's tool. ...
- Builds strong foundation for reading, right from the start.
Bilingual Method also helps in giving proper training for different skills namely listening, speaking, reading and writing. 6. The use of mother tongue saves a lot time and makes learning easier. Complex things can be easily explained in the mother tongue.What are the 5 stages of bilingualism? ›
Students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency (Krashen & Terrell, 1983).What are the three main approaches to bilingual education? ›
- Bilingual education: Students are given instruction in two or more languages. ...
- Submersion: ...
- Two-way bilingual education: ...
- English as a Second Language (ESL): ...
- Immersion: ...
- Three language systems:
Widely considered one of the best ways to learn a foreign language, the immersion method involves diving into a language completely, sometimes being exposed to foreign vocabulary even before you're sure of its meaning.What is the two-way bilingual approach? ›
A two-way dual language program is based on the premise that two groups of students (each with different home languages, in the United States one being English) learn together in a systematic way so that both groups become bilingual and biliterate in the two languages.What are the 4 types of translation? ›
- Literary Translation. ...
- Technical Translation. ...
- Administrative Translation. ...
- Financial Translation. ...
- Legal Translation. ...
- Other types of translation.
There are eight types of translation: word-for-word translation, literal translation, faithful translation, semantic translation, adaptive translation, free translation, idiomatic translation, and communicative translation.
There are three teaching methods that dominate the business of language instruction: the Direct Method, the Grammar-Translation Method, and the Audio-Lingual Method.How do you determine first language? ›
A child's first language usually refers to the language the child learned from birth (before the age of 3) and heard most often in their environment. However, some children may have more than one first language: this is the case with children learning two languages at the same time, from birth.How is language a key to identity? ›
Languages symbolise identities and are used to signal identities by those who speak them. People are also categorised by other people according to the language they speak. People belong to many social groups and have many social identities.