The 8 stages of learning German

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Below are fictional diary entries. The diary of the average German learning expat, at least as I imagine them. Together they document the 8 stages of German language learning. Many do it far quicker and with commendable commitment, though most, I imagine, follow a path this haphazard. I did and am now at step 7.5. My German still sucks, and I’ve lived here for five years. I’m not judging or mocking anyone for how much or how little they’ve learnt, because that would be very hypocritical when I’m still this bad and, to be honest, I’m really just not interested. Learn it or don’t learn it. Up to you. Each to their own. That’s why we moved here in the first place, right? More freedom to live as we want without being judged. Okay, then let’s go…


 This old, dead guy said it, so it must be true.

Stage 1 – Don’t learn German

Dear Diary, guess who moved to Germany? Me! Yeah, crazy, right? It’s a great adventure. Berlin is just amazing. I was born to live here. I can feel it in my soul. I have this super sweet WG down by Sonnenalleye, with this crazy Spanish artist guy and this lesbian couple from Canada who have a dog and a parrot and one has a tattoo of a wolf on her butt. Can you imagine that? I know. Yeah, I’m so happy to be out of my home country. Boring! That place was just stifling my creativity. Everyone should travel more. Anyway, the only problem is that people speak German here. It’s really hard to understand them. I’m not learning that shit. Did you see what Mark Twain said about the terrible German language? He said it was pretty much the hardest language in the world to learn. I don’t have time for that. I’ve got this big art show thing coming up. It’s probably easier to learn Chinese than stupid German. In German they even have this thing with genders. Did you know that, diary? Der, Die, Das. Totally crazy. I’m probably not going to stay very long. A few months max, I reckon. No need to learn it.

Stage 2 – Don’t learn German

It’s been a year already, Diary? Unglaublich. See how I said unglaublich there? You can have that one for free, Bitte schön. Yeah, can’t believe I stayed a whole year already. It’s been wild. I love Germany. Especially the beer and the six streets of Neukolln that I know. I think I’ll live here forever. But I still not learning German. I mean, I already learnt quite a lot. I get by. Basic conversation. In bakeries, sorry, I mean die Bäckerei’s! Anyway, I going to leave pretty soon, I’m sure. A few more months, I don’t really need German, you know? I work in English. When I work. I have many German friends. Pretty much all my friends are German. We even speak a few words of German together, manchmal.


Stage 3 – Don’t learn German

Two years already, Diary? Unglaublich. See how I said unglaublich there? You can have that one total kostenlos, Bitte schön. Yeah, can’t believe I stayed two years already. It’s been wild. I love the Fatherland. Especially the beer and the eight streets of Neukolln/Kreuzkolln that I know. But, I’ve still not really learnt German. I work only in English, you know. I can speak “enough”, just the other day someone confused me for a German, when my back was turned to them and I hadn’t said anything and I was wearing a hat. Yeah, happens all the time. Anyway, I’m going to leave pretty soon, I’m sure, a few more months, max. I love it here, but I’m just getting tired of all those new expats coming in and totally ruining the Kiez. Stupid Ausländers, they don’t even like try to fit in. Yeah, I don’t really need German, I speak “enough”, you know? I get by. I mean I’ve tried, of course I’ve tried. But every time you speak auf Deutsch, they just reply in English. It’s pretty much impossible to speak German to them, they all just want to practice their English with you. Maybe I should pretend to be Russian.

Stage 4 – Don’t learn German

Three years here already? Seemlich Ziemlich Verruckt! See how I said zeimlich Verruckt? Ja, you can have that one total kostenlos, Bitte sehr. I can’t believe I’ve stayed a whole three years already! It’s been a techno-filled blur. If I didn’t have the 8201 photos of partying that I uploaded to Facebook, I’d not remember a thing. It’s been really wild. I’m thinking about doing a startup now. Yeah, I’m just tired of that whole “arts” scene, you know? Or maybe I’ll try some kind of DJ thing. Or I’ll open a restaurant, maybe something with cakes. I don’t know. Let’s see. Many options. It did get a bit embarrassing the other day when someone commented on meiner mein meinem Portemonnaie and I reacted angrily because I thought they were talking about my gut. I got a bit fat or should I say dick (hehe!) on Bier und Wurst. And port can mean like fat in English, you know? My lack of German is getting really peinlich now. I think I’ll start learning it. I probably won’t stay much longer though, a few more months maybe, max. But still, I think I’ll do a course at the Vauxhallschooler Vaulkshallschule Volkshochschule. Foreigners really should make effort to learn German. No, diary, Volkshochschule is not a place where they make cars. It’s a public funded college thing so it’s super cheap, but most of its teachers lost the will to live back in 1973 and now are just going through the motions. It’s just round the corner. I start on Monday. It’s super cheap.

Stage 5 – Erste Deutsch Unterricht

Wow, it was awesome. It’s amazing how much I already knew. I guess you just pick it up over the years, you know? Like osmosis oder etwas. The course was good. The instructor didn’t speak a word of English to us, right from the erste Klasse. Bin beeindruckt! So, the beginning class was pretty easy, names, ages, hobbies and all that. I can’t wait for class tomorrow! I’m totally nailing this German thing now, I have no idea why I waited so long to get started? I love Sprachen lernen! Ich bin ein Berliner! 

German grammar hates you, stupid foreigner.

German grammar hates you, stupid foreigner. Image source

Stage 6 – Grammar

I hate foreign languages. I hate foreign people. I hate life. But mostly I hate German. The class is okay, I’m one of the worst, which can be super peinlich. I try to do my homework Hausaufgabe, but the class is in the morning. You might not have heard of the morning diary, since I mention it so infrequently. It’s basically all the things that happen before lunch. I know, crazy that they expect people to do anything before lunch, never mind complete tables of irregular boring verbs. Anyway, learning Vokabeln was fun but now all we do this total langweilig Grammar shit. If I hear the words Akkusativ and Dativ one more time I’m going to punch someone in dem Kopf. It’s total sinnlos. The German language is such a dinosaur. Not even one of those good and dynamic dinosaurs like a T-rex, just a shit dinosaur that makes no sense like die Vaterkrautasaurus. I missed class today, for the first time. I had a headache and I hadn’t done my homework. I’ll totally be back there tomorrow though.

I have 17 books like this. 16 I’ve never opened. I don’t want to think how many trees are felled each year to be sold to idiots like me, still delusional enough to think one more study book is going to make the difference. I use them mostly to prop up my monitor.

Stage 7 – Language no mans land

I didn’t end up going back to class, diary. I missed a few with that really bad headache, more of a migraine really, a severe one, actually. Then I’d missed so many classes, I just couldn’t really go back because I’d be too far behind. But it’s cool, I’ve got the books and CDs and stuff, I’m totally going to study at home. I’ll start tomorrow. If I just do one hour a day, I’ll be fluent in six months.

Author’s note: This stage can last for several years and it is only when the weight of public shame becomes so great, when sheer embarrassment has crushed all your excuses into dust and you’ve finally accept you aren’t going to leave Germany in a few months, that in fact Germany is your home. Only after all that can you pass through to the final stage of German language learning.

Stage 8 – Endlich Fließend

Heute habe ich endlich mit Englisch Sprechen stopped aufgehört. Egal, wer mit mir redet, jetzt antworte ich nur auf Deutsch. Ist peinlich, ich hasse es, niemand kann ein interessant Gesprach mit mir habe, weil ich wie ein Kind mit zwei Jahre rede, aber egal, ich muss das machen. Da gibt keine shortcuts Abkürzung, keine mehr excuses Entschuldingungen. Ich mochte hier bleiben. Ich mochte Deutsch sprechen. Ich mochte mit dir Familie von meine Partner sprechen. Es wird nicht einfach sein. Aber, enough genug ist genug.

Author’s note: This is the final stage. You must refuse to speak English with everyone. Even English people. That’s it. Once this realisation is made, it’s just a matter of repeated effort, refusal to speak anything but German and the normal passing of time before you’ll reach fluency, or at least the working semi-fluency that you’ll never really need to improve upon. Sure, you’ll probably never get a handle on adjective endings and you’ll continue mixing up genders. All of which is totally fine and unimportant and many Germans also struggle with. But you’ll learn it, you’ll speak it, heck, occasionally you’ll even think it and you’ll be a credit to all us Ausländers. Assuming you don’t forget all the 7 previous stages and how long it took you, becoming one of those preachy every-foreigner-must-learn-German foreigners, ranting at other foreigners.

OUR BOOKS

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spiegel-bestseller

Required reading for all Ausländer and Germans who sometimes have the feeling they don’t understand their own country. We learn why the Germans speak so freely about sex, why they are so obsessed with Spiegel Online and why they all dream of being naked in a lake of Apfelsaftschorle. At the end, the only thing left to say to Adam Fletcher’s love letter to Germany is “Alles klar!” More than 100k copies sold!

Released: 2013   Length: 192 pages  Languages: EN/DE  Publisher: C.H. Beck Illustrator: Robert M. Schöne

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An illustrated love letter to the language of our adopted home. Join us as we take you on a tour through some of the German language’s greatest words, expressions, proverbs and language possibilities, all wrapped up for international delivery in the form of Denglisch!

Released:  2014    Length:  240 pages       Languages:  EN/DE     Publisher: Ullstein   Co-Author: Paul Hawkins    Illustrator: Robert M. Schöne

After two best-selling books I find I’ve become somewhat of a pundit for German life. Unsure about my position I take on a series of integration challenges. Readers will learn:

  • What happens when someone of no musical talent creates a Schlager song.
  • Why you shouldn’t accept a ride from a Mitfahrgelegenheitvan containing a mattress and a cat with one eye.
  • What watching seventy hours of German TV in a week does to your health.
  • Why you shouldn’t attend a Schützenfest if you can neither drink nor march.

Released: 2015  Length: 400 pages  Languages: EN/DE Publisher: Ullstein.

Fifty new and advanced integration steps that explain the sticky friendship glue of Kaffee und Kuchen, the educational superiority of wood, and the rituals of the German Weihnachtsmarkt. You’ll learn how to blame the weather for most of your ailments, how to survive a visit to your local Baumarkt, why Germans take their kitchen when they move, and why you keep losing to them at table football. Adam Fletcher’s book is the ultimate, irreverent love letter to a nation that has gotten so under his skin.

Released: 2016  Length: 192 pages  Languages: EN/DE  Publisher: C.H. Beck Illustrator: Robert M. Schöne

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