A User's Strategy to learn German - Part II

By Stephen S. Hirsch—Pennsylvania, USA

In part I of this blog I related my reasons for studying German together with the principal resources used. This part II addresses mainly the segments of German language study I've identified and my experiences using them. First, however, let me provide a few additions to Blog—Part I.

One resource I omitted in my last communication is the About German Language weekly newsletter by Ingrid Bauer. That was because at the time she had just announced it was canceled after a number of years. But, just two weeks later as a result of demand it was reinstated. Go to http://german.about.com/bio/Ingrid-Bauer-63662.htm?nl=1 and sign up at the top right. It is free.

Further to my having recommended the dual-language (German/English) parallel Bible as a study aid, I recently found two related free online resources—the English and German Scriptures read aloud by excellent narrators. For English, go to http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/audio/?book=1&source=8 and for German, access http://www.wordproject.org/bibles/de/index.htm. Finally, if you value the side-by-side print version of the German and English Bibles but don't want to buy the rather costly book (link to it is in my first blog), here is a free alternate online: http://www.biblestudytools.com/parallel-bible/. Enter the Bible book you want on the first line and select "Luther Bible" on the first drop-down menu. All these are excellent study tools.

I recently found another online source of free German/English dual-language stories that make excellent learning aids. Go to: http://germanstories.vcu.edu/. Unfortunately, most dual-language texts are not provided in a convenient side-by-side format (an exception is the dual-language Bible). You can address this by creating a three-column, single-line table on a landscape-formatted Microsoft Word page. Paste the German text in the first column and the English in the second. Use the third column to record the words you don't know together with their translations.

Turning now to the German language segments I've identified in my studies, here are the six I've found useful as categories: vocabulary, grammar/syntax/usage, reading, speaking, writing, and special topics. These fall into two natural groups since vocabulary and grammar/syntax/usage are integral to the other four. I dedicated much study until now to vocabulary and grammar/syntax/usage. Requirement for achieving vocabulary skills requires no comment. Regarding grammar/syntax/usage, I find that my understanding of these exceeds my facility of using them. Reason for this will be clear from the comments regarding reading/speaking/writing that follow.

As I noted in part I of this blog, my German endeavors are entirely self-study using materials in books, on tapes and CDs, and on the Web. This means I've had no opportunity to engage in conversation with others (I plan to address that, at least in part, with future use of Rosetta Stone). Regarding the four components, I've done most and best with reading. There are four reasons for this: (1) I have put the most effort into it; (2) remembering meaning of a word when I see it in print is easier than groping for it to create a sentence; (3) understanding foreign-language words in context (of a written sentence) is more facile than "pulling them out of the air" to speak or write with them; and (4) one needs to be only secondarily concerned with declension* when reading. To move ahead, my plan includes (1) using Rosetta Stone for speaking/understanding skills after I complete part 2 of the Foreign Service Institute German Course (see Part I of this blog) and (2) performing writing exercises in the several workbooks I have for the purpose.

Finally, I mention above a sixth component—special topics. By that I mean addressing those learners whose principal purpose for studying German is to use it in their particular professions. For such individuals there are resources in dedicated fields. I have three in my library: German-English Dictionary for Chemists, Dictionary of Modern Theological German, and HarperCollins Business German.

*Mark Twain has related he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective. This is from his famous humorous essay that I highly recommend, The Awful German Language. Here is a link to the essay (note that it is in two parts) that contains a further link to its German translation: http://german.about.com/library/blmtwain01.htm