1. Commit to the culture
As it turns out, there’s much more to communication than just words!
With many words, even if you know their definitions, using them can still get very confusing at times.
While the dictionaries and vocabulary lists do teach a lot of real Spanish, it’s nearly impossible for them to keep up with all of the extrinsic influences on them which can definitely affect the way they’re used and understood.
Imagine how confusing it would be for a non-native English speaker if they asked you to cut the cheese, and you responded by passing gas or imitating the sound as you might jokingly do with your English-speaking friends or family. It’s doubtful that this joke would be in language books or even understood by some other native English speakers, depending on region and maturity level!
The same is normal with German. There’s just so much to the language that you simply need to read into the culture to learn.
Another thing to consider is how much cultural references come into play. Think about how much your own country’s culture comes up in your everyday conversations, from its history to its foods to its traditions.
Researching the foods, history and traditions, as well as learning the slang and listening to the accents, will greatly expand your understanding.
2. Pick up the pronunciation
Many people can read German, but when it comes to listening to it, they find themselves having a hard time understanding something they could easily read on paper, or vice versa.
To fully understand the language, a variety of skills are required and each of them must be practiced. Sometimes, a lack of certain skills comes from simply using our eyes too much for learning rather than our mouths and ears.
So, to improve your understanding of spoken Spanish, take a break from the books and give more vocal, communicative lessons a shot to try and get your ears caught up with local accents and dialects. Yet again, you’ll want to keep your destination country or intended use of Spanish in mind. Pick up the accent or dialect that’ll be most useful to you!
You’d be astounded by how lack of familiarity with any place’s local accent or dialect can affect your understanding.
Here are a few tips and resources to help with this:
Watch TV in German with English subtitles.
There’s plenty of content available for this type of thing on YouTube. One YouTube resource you can check out is the short series of listening exercises called “Easy German.”
3. Get with the grammar
Imagine you’re trying to have a serious conversation with Yoda or George of the Jungle. Even though they both speak English, it could take more time and concentration to understand them fully.
Sometimes, even though it may seem trivial, putting a word out of order or missing a punctuation mark can completely change the meaning of a sentence! We can use the example of the subtle change in punctuation and the disturbing difference in the meaning between “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and “Let’s eat Grandma!” This same type of thing applies to German.
Beyond that, native speakers of any language break the rules of grammar in casual speech, or deliberately change them around or play with them to get across different messages. That’s why you’ll need to know grammar inside and out, if you want to catch everything everyone’s saying.
Even though you may know thousands of words in the language, if you don’t know how to properly—and improperly—put them together, understanding the language will be a struggle.
Here are few you can take a look at:
This very website, German Learning Easy, has countless articles on the topic of German grammar. Watch your favorite real-world videos on the website, and follow along with interactive subtitles that break down sentences, phrases and vocabulary for you. After that, practice the grammar in the program’s learn mode to really cement the grammar in your mind!
Find a used German grammar book on Amazon that suits your current level of grammar and overall comprehension. It can cost you only a few cents if you’re a smart shopper.
Get an online tutor. There are many places you can check with many tutors available.
4. Soak up the spelling
Knowing how the spelling works is key. Getting to terms with the sounds that each of the German letters produces will help solidify your overall understanding. You’ll hear someone say a completely unknown word—but your brain will be able to translate those German sounds into letters and piece together the word itself.
Once you can more or less envision how that unknown word is spelled, there’s a great chance you’ll remember its definition, recognize it as a cognate (sounding similar to something in English) or recognize prefixes, suffixes and roots that you already know from other German and English words. Cool, right?
Luckily, this is one of the easiest parts to learn when you already speak English fluently. Whether you learned English as a child or in your later years, you’ll quickly notice that Spanish spelling and pronunciation is a snap.
For starters, English and German both use almost exactly the same alphabet, which means that German is already significantly easier and less intimidating to learn than many other languages.
You may find this hard to believe with English as a first language, but there are actually languages in which spelling is intuitive, where most letters and vowels only make one sound each, and you can almost always succeed with a little guesswork. Spanish is fortunately one of these. That’s why this is an exceptionally good tip for this particular language.
To get yourself started (or familiarized), the Internet has a ton of resources that you can check out right now.
So, this step will be easy breezy.
5. Vamp up your vocabulary
This one may seem obvious, but there are thousands and thousands of words in German. The more you learn, the more you’ll understand.
It’s always a good idea to make sure you know exactly how the words are pronounced, spelled and used in context. It’ll make fluent understanding happen more quickly and make you more likely to remember them in the future.
When learning vocabulary words, there are many different ways to approach it. Some will work better than others, resulting in greater comprehension level for you personally. This all boils down to your personal goals, yet again. While you should strive to learn vocabulary covering a wide variety of areas, just for the sake of general knowledge and understanding, you can really dig in and focus more intensely on the vocabulary that you’ll encounter more often in your life.
With this in mind, here are a few tips:
Study vocabulary words in groups. Working with thematically related words will give you more context for remembering them all. You’ll build associations between them, which is perfect for learning and retaining everything. For example, you could try learning tons of fruit names at once, or words for common things around the house.
Use a nice variety of methods to keep yourself entertained. Don’t just stick to vocab lists or the same old deck of flashcards. Try out different flashcard apps, learning games and more. Keep it fun and fresh, and your brain will respond better.
Focus on words that you use often, and for things you see and do every day. This will get you speaking quickly, so making your own lists isn’t a bad idea!
Focus on words related to your profession, hobbies and interests. For example, if you’re a nurse and want to communicate with German-speaking patients, learn word sets for things like body parts, commands (do this, don’t do this) and treatments first.
Once you’ve got enough words, it’s definitely not a bad idea to start studying synonyms and words related to ones you already know.
All in all, knowing more vocabulary will likely make things clearer for you in everyday conversation, considering the variety of words we use in our daily speech. Though another key thing to remember is that some phrases don’t always translate the way you’d assume.
One last thing that’s important on this step is to keep your words active so you won’t forget them. Think of how much your vocabulary level went down after you finished college, or took an extended holiday from working and studying, and weren’t reading complex things on the regular. In a matter of weeks (even days!) your vocabulary can start to slip away from you, so consistent practice is a must.
Naturally, if you only learn the words once and never use them, you’ll probably forget them. Keeping some Spanish active in your daily or weekly study routine is a great way to keep yourself fresh and quick.
A few ways to do this that will barely take time from your life (if any) are to:
Update your personal libraries with German listening and reading material
Find someone to practice with. If that’s not exactly easy where you’re living, there are a few websites that will come in handy. On My Language Exchange, you can find a pen pal along with plenty of other helpful tools.