Learning German as a Foreign Language

This week’s blog is all about trying to learn German as a foreign language.

My best advice is start learning the language when you are really young because it is a difficult one; but since there more than likely are not many five year olds out there reading this blog, I suppose I better tell you about the challenge learning German at the tender age of 23.

I enrolled in February 2005 for the first year course “German as a Foreign Language” at Rhodes University in South Africa. I initially took German to keep a promise to a friend, for personal reasons, and because it was supposed to be an easy credit. In addition I took it as an extra credit alongside my commerce degree, as I found it refreshing to have a humanities class in my schedule to buffer all the accounting, economics and other business subjects that made up my Bachelor of Commerce Degree.

We started with the basics, the alphabet and an explanation about the funny two dots, umlaut, and why the letter ‘y’ has such a long name in German. To be perfectly honest the first year of German really was an easy credit, but that was where the easy credits stopped. In the second year, the dativ and genitiv cases and the mind boggling Konjunktiv II and Präteritum forms were presented, not to mention the array of exceptions to numerous grammar rules as well as the long lists of regular and irregular verbs. An extremely steep learning curve and no more jokes about easy credits was experienced by our class, which at the beginning of the year was 15 people and by the end of the year had dropped to seven people. I got through the course and even went on to complete a third and fourth year of German Studies alongside my commerce degree at Rhodes University.

In hindsight I am extremely happy that I started to learn German, as it has opened many doors for me and has assisted me greatly in coming to Germany. Also, it has been particularly useful outside of the classroom at EBS too. I think that learning a foreign language helps one immensely in understanding the culture and mannerisms of the people who speak that language. As a very basic example many non-German speakers generalize and say that Germans come across as being a little too formal, but when one of these non-German speakers takes the time to learn the German language and understands the use of Sie and du and how the language is structured and intertwined with accepted forms of behavior and address, then the person will understand why Germans come across as being a little formal.

I have just entered my sixth year of learning German and despite making many small errors, I continue to practice through speaking in an attempt to improve my German. I still struggle with applying the gender cases correctly die, der, das, but I figure that it took most Germans about 15 years to learn their own language during school and all, so I still have 9 years to get absolutely fluent.

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