You’ve heard it on TV and read it on every language website: “This Is the Perfect Way to Learn German.”
Spoiler alert! You’ll learn in this article that there’s no such thing as a perfect way! What’s important is that you pick a plan, get started as soon as possible and make adjustments along the way.
There’s one more thing you should know about the “perfect” way to learn German:
The perfect plan is the plan that you actually follow through with.
The best methods strategies or courses don’t mean anything if you don’t actually follow through with them!
Here are six tips to help you effectively learn German by listening.
Tip 1: Choose Diverse Listening Materials
Don’t just listen to the same kind of German all the time.
Don’t stick to listening to only the news, or only watching the same TV shows over and over. Instead, listen to a variety of different kinds of situations and topics.
As long as you find a resource that makes you happy, keeps you learning and lines up with your goals and interests, you have my full support.
Tip 2: Start with a Positive Mindset
The first thing you want to learn to do is to listen optimistically. Why? You have to actually believe that you can hear and understand what people are saying.
I know listening can be very difficult, especially with speakers who have a strong accent or who talk really fast. But you’ve actually done it before! You learned how to listen and understand and speak a language when you were a baby. Why should it be any different now that you’re a grownup? If you listen with a good frame of mind, you’ll see it’s not impossible.
If you don’t believe that you can listen and understand what people are saying, in the words of Jedi Master Yoda from “Star Wars”: “That is why you fail.”
Having a hard time? Focus on actively listening. When people are talking, don’t focus on what you’re going to say or reply, don’t try to translate what they’re saying, don’t analyze the grammar structure of the sentences… just listen.
Tip 3: Begin by Predicting Content
Pretend you’re listening to the radio.
You hear a helicopter in the background, and a speaker is mentioning the names of streets, roads and avenues, and talking about how many vehicles are currently on these roads.
What do you imagine he’s talking about? Most likely, you’re listening to a traffic report.
Based on the context, you can often predict the words and even style of language you will hear. That’s a big first step forward!
Unless you know nothing, like Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones,” your previous knowledge of the world will help you predict what information you’ll likely hear. When you predict the topic of a conversation, all this knowledge and related vocabulary stored in your brain will be turned on to help you better understand what you’re listening to.
Next time you’re watching or listening to a TV show or the radio, pause after every few sentences. Try to predict what’s going to happen or what the speaker might say next.
Tip 4: Focus on the Big Ideas
At first, you should resist the impulse to try to understand every single word people are saying. It’s more important to keep up with the conversation and try to understand the main ideas.
German is like a road and, as with any road, there are “signposts,” which are words that help us follow the sequence of what’s going on—in this case, they help us understand what we’re hearing. These words link ideas and help us understand what people are talking about. They’re especially relevant in talks or presentations.
For example, if a university professor giving a lecture says, “I will talk about three reasons supporting…” be on the lookout for expressions such as “first of all,” “moving on to” and “in summary,” that link the ideas and indicate the next parts of the lecture.
Focus on keywords like these to grasp the most relevant parts of a conversation. Once you relax and make it a priority to understand the main idea, you’ll have the freedom to complete your comprehension with the details and clear the air later by asking questions.
Tip 5: Focus on Details Later
After you’ve focused on the big picture, now look for specific details that will help you understand better.
When listening for details, you’re interested in very specific information such as a name or a number. Ignore anything else that doesn’t sound relevant to what you’re listening for. This way, you’ll be able to zoom in your search and get the details you need to understand the message.
For example, if you’re interested in knowing the age of a person, pay attention to any words related to age like “old,” “years,” “born in” or even a number, which could be that person’s age.
An excellent way to practice listening for details is to decide what kind of detailed information you want to practice listening for and then listen to radio shows where you would get this information.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to practice listening for details about the weather. You could listen to a weather report and focus on the names of cities and the temperatures in every one of them.
You can also focus on other kinds of details. Like intonation or stress.
Tip 6: Rinse and Repeat: Practice and Listen Constantly
Finally, the best way to learn German by listening effectively is to simply listen to German as much as possible.
There’s no magic fix, but you should be sure to listen to things that interest you. If you don’t, it’ll be be difficult for you to continue. You’ll get bored and eventually stop.
You can take advantage of the spaced-repetition technique to improve your listening skills. Listening to the same thing allows you to listen more deeply. When you listen to new vocabulary for the first time, you should repeat it several times. Go back later the same day to practice again. Repeat it again the following day. Come back to it in a week. And again in a month. What you’ve learned should be ingrained in your brain by then.