After countless hours learning German, you finally get to Germany – but then everyone speaks English to you. Time for a strategy change!
Before I first came to Germany, I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours studying German grammar and vocabulary in school.
Once in Germany, I found that many people would just speak English with me, even though I was trying to speak German. I sometimes tried to persist, but after getting a few responses in English, I just gave in and spoke English, too.
Needless to say this annoyed me, and even offended me a little. But I wish someone had just told me to lighten the heck up!
When Germans speak English to you, they are not insulting your German skills. They are simply excited to practice their second language. Just like you! Don’t go out of your way to avoid people like this. They could become important allies on your language learning quest.
Think of it this way. As enthusiastic language learners, they will often be eager to ask you questions about English, and that gives you an excuse to do the same for German. And at some point in the conversation, you can always say it’s time to switch to German. Just politely say you’d like to switch languages and do it.
Here are some tips to get more practice speaking German:
Keep speaking German. Worst-case scenario is that you go the entire conversation speaking German while your conversation partner continues in English. This is still excellent practice. Sure the input is missing, but you’ve just carried out an entire conversation in German and your German interlocutor has understood you. Consider this a success.
I went through 6 years of school German and 4 years of college German. In those 10 years, no teacher ever told me that a German “R” sounds different than an English one. I had no idea that I was wearing my nationality on my tongue. You can always tell an Ami or a Brit by the Rs.
To be honest, my German R is far from perfect. But I can at least make my Rs different enough that most Germans can’t tell where I’m from. Maybe they know I’m a foreigner, but a hard-to-place accent is good enough to keep them speaking German.
The German “CH” can give you similar problems. To improve these and other pronunciation difficulties, remember there’s a lot of free stuff on the web. Google “the German r” or something similar. You’ll find helpful guides and videos like this one: http://bit.ly/1VUlUnA
If you are observant, you’ll notice that you can often pick out different nationalities based on appearance alone. Big white tennis shoes and baggy clothes? American. Large sunglasses and dark clothes? Italian. Birkenstocks and socks at the beach? German.
I don’t mean to stereotype, but you should consider how well you fit in with the locals. Some things you can’t change, but there’s a lot you can do to fit in better. Then people may spontaneously start speaking German to you!
In addition to being patient with others, you also have to be patient with yourself. You’ll need some time before you master the skill of getting others to speak German even if their English is quite good.
Get out there
In another post, I offer some inspiration on how to meet Germans. But I’m sure you can come up with some ideas yourself. Get out and meet people and soon you’ll have many people who are happy to speak German with you.
When you’re not amongst Germans – read!
There are many things you can do to improve your language skills when you’re not out conversing with native speakers, but my top recommendation would be to spend time reading in German. Choose a topic you like and read as much as you can: magazines, blogs, short stories, books. Try not to look up every word you don’t know. Just dive into the text and you’ll be surprised at how much you understand – and how fast your German will start improving in general.
Reading also gives you more topics to talk about when you meet new people!
Practice before you get to Germany
With so many chat forums on the net, there’s no limit to the number of Germans you can meet without even leaving your home country. It’s really easy to find German forums on topics that interest you.
You can also find Germans to talk with via Skype. In a so-called tandem, you’ll spend some time speaking both English and German so that you and your partner can improve your respective skills. Try to google “German English tandem” or “Tandem Deutsch Englisch”. Opportunities abound.
If you want to speak German exclusively, you can also find a German teacher or tutor, which can be quite affordable, on iTalki: http://bit.ly/1PUeIzV
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Learn about our vocabulary trainer app for German: vobot German
Learn more about our reading & learning app for German: StoryPlanet Deutsch
Photo by Kevin Curtis via Unsplash.com