by John Ross
When I landed in Munich to start my 6-month study abroad program, I didn't know a word of German. Literally not one word. I take that back; I actually knew one word: bier.
In any event, within a few hours I was basically lost in a sea of German speaking people. I felt isolated, frustrated, and maybe most painfully, ignorant. As a result, I made it my goal to learn to speak German by the time I left in 6 months.
Yet, there was a catch. I didn't have hardly any money. My business courses through the study program were paid for, but beyond that, I was living like a shoestring backpacker. So here's how I learned to speak German for under $50.
Up until the last ten years or so, people often learned how to speak a second language by taking classes. You'd pay for an expensive course, meet in a classroom a few times per week, and get taught how to speak a language like it was math class.
However, that's all changed as technology has evolved. Today, language apps rule the world.
These apps leverage smart tech, such as machine learning, AI, and algorithms to maximize language learning and retention. Plus, they make learning a new language fun and easy. Exercises feel like games, and lessons take just 15 minutes per day.
That said, some language programs can be a little pricey, costing $20+ per month, if not more. However, in my experience, more budget friendly apps like Babbel and Memrise are just as good as the pricey ones. These programs cost just $5 to $7 per month and offer a ton of value.
For 6 months, you might be looking at a grand total of $36, and these courses provide an incredible foundation for learning a language like German. Personally, I used Babbel and absolutely loved it. The Babbel program was great for establishing my basic German grammar.
My other hack is children's books. At a local thrift store in Munich, I found a box old children's books for €5. Children's books are perfect for just starting out with a new language.
They often utilize basic vocabulary, and are almost always written in the present tense. Statements like "the girl is tall" and "he eats spaghetti" are not uncommon.
You'll feel silly laying around your flat reading these books, and you'll probably want to hide them when friends come over, but they are my secret sauce. My personal favorite was Eine Woche voller Samstage.
Watching television in your target language is not a new trick. English teachers have long suggested TV to their international students as a means of getting immersed in the language.
Soap operas are particularly assistive in this respect. Their melodramatic scenes with over the top expressions and lines make understanding the vocabulary and context for a situation much easier.
For me, I watched the American show Two and A Half Men in German on repeat while in Munich. It helped that I knew most of the episodes already from watching them at home, and the German voice actor playing Charlie did a great job articulating his lines.
German TV was just one more great, free resource to learn the language.
No matter what hacks and tricks you try to learn a new language, the simple truth is that there is no replacement for complete immersion. You will never learn faster than when your feet are held to the fire.
When you are immersed in a culture and locality where everyone speaks the same language, you are forced by nature to learn that language. For my situation, I tried to place myself into German speaking situations as often as possible while in Munich. In fact, I even sometimes pretended I could not speak English so that people were forced to speak German to me, which in turn forced me to use what I had learned.
Many travelers and students studying abroad rely on English as crutch. And it works in places like Germany, where a majority of the population is well-educated and speaks English to some degree.
However, I would implore you not to give in to the easy path of allowing them to speak English. You need to make the painful effort of speaking German yourself.
In sum, learning to speak German doesn't have to be expensive. With a combination of cheap language learning apps, children's books, German TV, and full-scale immersion, you can learn the language quickly and affordably.
German is not an easy language to learn, but with some hard work, dedication and a little bit of money (little being the operative word), you can learn to speak German in under 6 months like I did.
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