I've been living in Berlin for a year and a half now. If this was any other city in Germany I would probably be fluent by now, but it's Berlin, so I'm not. You have to make a real effort in Berlin because so many people who work in the cafes are fellow foreigners and will happily switch to English or, as has been discussed many times before, if they're not expats often they hear that you are foreign and immediately switch to English. This makes it easier in the short-term but harder in the long-term. A while back I Heart Berlin posted a story about Days of Deutsch and learning German in Berlin. It got me thinking about how I learn German. Whilst nothing really beats taking lessons, if you can't afford that then here are a few tips to incorporate into your daily rituals. Got any more? I'm all ears.
1. Find someone who you only speak German to.
They're out there - the people who either aren't willing to talk English or who understand that you're learning and want to help you on your way. You'll certainly find them at the Bürgeramt... but you might not be so grateful for them then. For me, it's the local cafe owner and the cleaner at the office.
2. Read simple German books
If you've got a Kindle then give André Klein's books a go. With simple language and definitions he makes reading easy, and the stories are a lot more fun than your average German school book where the old lady goes to the supermarket to ask for carrots... yawn. You can also check out more of his stuff at LearnOutLive.
3. Hunt down some great comics and graphic novels
Once you've mastered those books then try your hand at some graphic novels in German. Some are a lot harder than others because they're not for learners, but arm yourself with a dictionary and pay close attention to the pictures and you'll be away. Asterix and Tintin, or should I say Tim, are always good (although some of the language is a bit obscure and outdated). There are also a great many interesting and more modern ones, my latest reads have been Vampir, Berlin and Adagio.
4. Listen to podcasts
If you're like me, as soon as a German starts to talk to you you'll panic and not be able to take anything in. The key is to attune your ear so that you can start to comprehend the more complex sentence structures. Every morning at breakfast we'll listen to a German podcast. At the moment we're working our way through Slow German's back catalogue but there is also a daily news bulletin from Deutsche Welle–in both they speak slowly and clearly. It gives you more of a feel for the language and the sentence structure. Repeat listens are highly recommended though.
5. If all else fails, go out and paint the town red
I'm not suggesting you go out and get blind 'forget your name' kind of drunk. That probably won't help you once you've sobered up the next morning. Find a place that's not just packed full of tourists or expats–getting drunk in the Sony Centre is not going to benefit you... in fact, drinking there is never a good idea. Have a few drinks with your friends and instigate 'German hour' where you can only speak German to each other. If you're feeling confident then go and chat to some other Germans on the dancefloor. Night over? Hail a taxi and talk to the taxi driver in German. This is actually my favourite way of practicing German, I find that my best German conversations happen in a taxi at the end of a night. Give it a go!
6. Get social
If you've never quite 'got' Twitter then I'm here to change your mind. Twitter is a treasure trove for the German learner. If you don't want to tweet about what you had for breakfast then simply follow a bunch of German Learning accounts and broaden your vocabulary, some of them even have nifty little quizzes you can try your hand at. Having trouble finding them? Here's a list I prepared earlier– Learning German on Twitter or you can follow the #dailydeutsch or #learngerman hashtags. If Twitter still isn't for you then you can also find similar pages on Facebook and Instagram.
That's it from me. If you have any tips then be sure to leave them in the comments below. I'd love to hear them. Now go forth and learn German.