First of all: Speak up!

So you want to speak a foreign language? Then you better start speaking. As soon as possible. For all German texts on howwedu.com, you'll find native audio recordings. That's what we can do for you - provide the spoken language. What we can't do for you is speak out loud the words of your texts, or flashcards. For some people, speaking is quite a hurdle to overcome. Of course it feels strange when you're alone in your room, starring at a screen or looking at a piece of paper, and all of a sudden you read a text to nobody. Even if you do this enough that it becomes "normal", it can still get uncomfortable and raise questions: Is it really worth the effort to pronounce this word out loud? Again? Isn't it enough to just think the words?

speak-up

To make a long story short, it's worth the effort.

If there's one piece of advice I have on language learning, it's to use your study time as actively as possible!

So start speaking German, from day one.

Understanding a foreign text: the translation

Now, it seems like what we need, in addition to our text, is an audio recording to practice with. Although it would certainly be fun to go to the grocery store in Germany and say "Haben Sie eine Packung Papagei für mich oder hatte ihr Flugzeug Verspätung?" without having a clue what it actually means, when we say something in a foreign language, we usually want to understand what we say. We want to apply our knowledge adequately.

An early parallel text (Old English - French). Excerpt from Beowulf, an Old English epic poem

An early parallel text (Old English - French). Excerpt from Beowulf, an Old English epic poem

We want to have an English translation with our German text and audio. A good translation. When you talk with your potential future boss in a job interview, you probably don't want to rhapsodize like a 19th century romantic, nor do you want to sound like a resentful gangster rapper. A good translation can show you which parts of the short story or lyrics you should practice with for your personal learning purposes. A good translation mirrors the language registers of the source language and can thus implicitly put up helpful warning signs for you as a language learner. For example, when you look at some archaic English words in your translation, this tells you, "Be careful, the German text sounds dated as well". And when you read something like "God damn motherfucking shitty fucking shit fuckers", you probably know the corresponding German swear word isn't the one you would want to use after spilling a glass of wine in Berlin's gourmet restaurant Le Faubourg.

The problem with translations, the power of decodings

In Ionesco's The Lesson, the student responds to the teacher's complex math question with "Three billion seven hundred fifty-five million nine hundred eighty-eight thousand two hundred fifty-one times five billion one hundred and sixty-two millions three hundred three thousand five hundred eight equals nineteen nonillion three hundred ninety septillion two quintillion eight hundred eighty-eight billion two hundred nineteen million one hundred sixty-four thousand five hundred eight." In reply to her teacher asking how she could possibly know that without knowing the principles of arithmetics, she tells him, "I have learned by heart all the possible results of all the possible multiplications."

Of course you can learn by heart translations for all the things you would possibly want to say in German, but if you want to go beyond reproducing memorized expressions – and save a lot of time - you have to be able to combine individual words in the right way to form new sentences.

You have to develop an understanding of the meaning of individual words and patterns of how to put them together. When you read that "Was glaubst denn du wer du bist?" means "Who do you think you are?", how do you know which of the German words means you and which means who? And why are there 7 German and only 6 English words? This is where decodings come in: literal, word by word translations.

 

It turns out German sentence structure is quite different from English sentence structure. There's even a word, a so-called particle, denn, that only translates to a certain feeling or subtext in English.

When you look at something completely and utterly unfamiliar, that is strange in every detail, you easily lose track of what is conceptually and fundamentally different about it because everything is so overwhelmingly new. When you read through the English word-by-word translation, however, you start to see things like word order in direct contrast with what is familiar to you: the English language. Underlying rules and logic suddenly become tangible. Eventually you can easily identify the meaning of individual words: who translates to wer, and you translates to du.

Word-by-word translations have been used in language courses for a long time, with names ranging from decoding to mother-tongue mirroring. For howwedu, we built on these experiences to make decodings as helpful as possible, guided by the following principles:

  1. Practicability: Decodings are provided in a neat layout - every word has its literal translation directly below it. When practicing listening understanding with new text, for example, this allows you jump back and forth between some German words you already know and the decoding for the next word that you might not know. This layout boosts confidence and speed with new texts and makes the examination of patterns easier.
  2. Consistency: We keep as close to the German original as possible. Nouns are capitalized, punctuation is the same in the decoding, composite nouns are translated as such (der Schreibtisch (the desk) = the Writ(e)-table), and particles (like denn) get assigned a certain meaning {in curly brackets}.
  3. Interconnectedness: Sentences are numbered to facilitate a quick comparison with the regular translation to clear ambiguities. If necessary, additional annotations are provided.

The combination of parallel text and decoding

In a nutshell: While the regular translation, the parallel text, tells you what's being said, the decoding allows you insights in how it's said. The decoding helps you see important patterns like word order right from the start. Together, the regular translation and decoding help give you confidence in building new phrases and sentences correctly. Both combined with audio recordings are all you need for a good practice session.

Building a study-routine

The next step is to build a study routine for working with the material-rich texts and lyrics provided on howwedu.com.

Some steps you might want to follow:

  1. Basic understanding (Parallel Text): Put on the audio , and read along with the regular English translation, to get an impression of what is being said.
  2. Active listening (Decoding): Put on the audio and read along with the decoding. Then, more and more, let your eyes jump between the English and the corresponding German words so your brain can connect the German words to the pictures the English decoding creates in your mind. Repeat this step until you know the texts and the words better. Try not to look at the decoding to see if you can identify and understand the words just as they are being said, and then look at the decoding again.
  3. Active speaking (Decoding): Start speaking! Speak along with the German speaker on the audio recording, and try to get closer and closer to the native pronunciation. Look at the German sentences and pronounce them out loud in chorus with the native speaker. If, at any moment, you're not exactly sure of what you're saying, simply look at the decoding. Pick particularly useful or difficult phrases and set the audio on repeat for these passages. Have fun! Imitate the speaker. Exaggerate his way of speaking. Speak loudly or softly. Try different intonations.

(Further ideas: Translation exercises; read the standalone German text column (parallel text); test your understanding and find passages that you still can work on; or do dictation exercises if you want to practice writing.)

During all these steps, be active! Highlight things, go back and forth between regular translation and decoding, spot patterns, take notes, and enjoy the insights!

Combine these suggestions and your own ideas. As you familiarize yourself with the method, you'll certainly use the material more freely according to your own personal learning purposes.

But make sure of two things:

  1. Study with a text for one week, 12 minutes or more a day.
  2. Spend at least half of the time of each session on step 3 – speaking WITH THE NATIVE SPEAKER.

"This is going to fast! I can't start speaking yet!" If something like this is going through your mind, be aware that you can slow down, and still start to speak right away in these two ways:

  1. Use slow audio recordings of the text if provided, or slow down the recording with your media player to have every word pronounced to you slowly.
  2. Focus on single sentences or phrases, and go through them often, instead of tackling the entire text at once.

Speaking is what really gets you fluent, and at the end of the week you'll realize you've successfully made many expressions part of your own active vocabulary. Even when talking about other topics, some constructions will pop up and will naturally flow in in your phrasing.

After seven learning sessions, you might want to work with the text for some additional days, test yourself after a week or so, or create some flashcards for very useful or interesting words to have your Spaced Repetition System like Anki remind you to review a word. Bear in mind to study with purpose. Choose what words and expressions you want to learn. Try out different methods and customize them to your own needs.

This is how you mindfully and efficiently learn with texts on howwedu.com. Got a sec? Start listening, reading and speaking with sketches, lyrics, and short stories. Now!


The Basic Recipe

one text, 7 days, 12+ minutes a session. Spend at least half of the time on step 3.

  1. Basic understanding (Parallel Text) 🔊☰👂 listen and read
  2. Active listening (Decoding) 🔊☰👂💡 listen, read decoding, jump back and forth, have insights
  3. Active speaking (Decoding) 🔊☰👄 read the text aloud as you listen, get closer and closer to the native speaker

image attribution: title: Skeletalmess https://www.flickr.com/photos/skeletalmess/8430766779 | mouth: Moondustwriter https://www.flickr.com/photos/moondustwriter/8724306466

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