German is possibly my favorite language. As the medium of many a philosophical idea, the complexity of its grammar and its likeness to old Dutch adorn the language to my eyes with an aura of intellectualism. Everything said or written in German looks so proper, so formal, imbued with an eloquence that my native Dutch seems to have left behind when English became cool. For second-language speakers of German, the continuous need to mold one’s words to their exact function in their sentences leads, if spoken correctly, to a precise awareness about what exactly one is saying. Uttering a single German sentence is like the art of juggling, keeping many balls in the air while the sentence unfolds like a Russian doll with one Relativsatz after another, embellished by commas, featuring hysterical compound words while the most essential verbs or the tiniest parts of words are treasured until released at the very end, when everything comes together in a final moment of insight – a German sentence you can only understand in completion. In no language the period is so breathlessly beautiful.
I. Resources for beginners
Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten
Among the podcasts for learning German, my favorite for beginners is Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten from Deutsche Welle (a website with a great amount of learning material for all levels), which is the slowly spoken daily news with the script to read along!
I am big fan of a YouTube channel called Language Transfer. Although I haven’t used it for German, the Spanish and Arabic series have been of great help for my understanding of the languages. I would listen to an episode mostly every morning while getting dressed or at night while cooking. Language Transfer’s method is for learning is termed the “Thinking Method” which means that you are remembering grammar and vocabulary not just by learning it auswendig but by understanding the logic behind it. It does so by transferring the knowledge you already have from other languages to your target language. Remembering, then, becomes a way of following a mental process of logic steps, which both makes it easier to trace things back if forgotten and provides you with a better understanding of the language.
This is an educational series available on YouTube in a couple of languages, especially made for language learners. It’s about a group of friends and their adolescent problems and attempts to find love. The difficulty of the dialogues (all subtitled) is increasing with every episode and it thus works great as a support to regular studying.
Good intentions of reading the news in German (like Die Welt, FAZ or Tagesschau*) are likely to loose their appeal once you find you have to look up every other word. A helpful tool is Readlang: an application you can install in your browser which translates any word you click on. German’s compound or fragmented words indeed are often challenging to dictionaries, but Readlang does a remarkably good job with them.
* Check out Tagesschau’s daily ‘news in 100 seconds’ bulletin.
Listening to music is one of the nicest and easiest way to immerse in language. I have two playlists with German songs on Spotify. Let’s pray Spotify will soon bring back the song text function! Until that time, googling the lyrics will have to do.
Mark Twain – The Awful German Language
And if ever you will find yourself fed up with the complexity of German grammar, find some solace in this famous essay of Mark Twain in which he hilariously describes his struggles with the language.
II. Resources for advanced learners
To advanced learners and linguistics enthusiasts I recommend my favorite podcast, Belles Lettres. When I was studying German in Berlin, I listened to an episode every morning on my way to class.
Part of what makes German so awesome are the beautiful ways to express yourself. This blog has a nice collection of them: check out the Redewendungen, die schönste Deutsche Wörter, typische Deutsche Sätze and Fußballerzitaten.