I’m Paula López Herrera
Conference interpreter, translator and a language lover with a zest for helping others
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Before we get into the subject, I’d want to explain how my relationship with this language began. I live in a village in the province of Seville called Cañada Rosal. It dates back to the 18th century with the New Towns of Charles III of Spain. This project aimed to bring settlers from Central Europe, especially Germany, France and Switzerland, to populate the wastelands of Sierra Morena.
Leaving aside the settler origins and focusing on the present, Cañada Rosal is twinned with a German village called Idstein, and yearly exchanges take place between the two localities. My relationship with German began at this time when I spent a week in Germany on an exchange programme in 2013.
Two years later, I opted for a degree in Translation and Interpreting, with German as my first language and English as my second. Unfortunately, this was not my cup of tea, as I started my degree with a B language, which I didn’t know.
As you might expect, the first course was not a bed of roses; I had to undergo intensive therapy, which was more like shock therapy, to learn such a complex language in such a short period of time. Here are some tips that helped me and that I hope will help you as well.
Although grammar is crucial, I’ve always believed that vocabulary is more important. It doesn’t matter how well you know how to decline a verb if you don’t know the verb itself.
I got on with it and became obsessed with words. But how can I learn new vocabulary?
I started by making and cramming glossaries of essential words, such as days of the week, animals, food, months of the year, parts of the house, and so on. Remember that German was my B language at university, and we started the first-year teaching with a B2 level, so you can imagine how well I got on with vocabulary in the first year.
From then on, whenever I came across a new word, I jotted it down in the glossaries and studied it.
We already know that the content of children’s cartoons is simple to grasp and without any complex plot. So I started watching Peppa Pig in German, Peppa Wutz in this case. Although there was much vocabulary that I didn’t understand at first, thanks to the ease of the storyline, I was getting an ear for it and understood more than I expected.
I became bored of this cartoon as the months passed. Don’t waste your time watching Peppa Pig; what an annoying and arrogant pig. I switched cartoons and started watching Die Sendung mit der Maus, which helped me get an ear and learn vocabulary.
3. Children’s books
As with the cartoons, I began to read myself stories that I had already read in my childhood: who hasn’t heard of Little Red Riding Hood or Sleeping Beauty? Here I had an advantage since I knew each story like the palm of my hand. Knowing the story and reading it in German helped me to understand and learn new vocabulary.
I added new terms to my glossary list while reading and watching cartoons, and I studied and memorised them every day.
Can you guess what kind of music I listened to?
Bingo! Children’s music too.
And it’s not that I have childhood trauma, and now I want to enjoy children’s stuff. But much like learning to speak, I think that approaching a new language from a child’s perspective may be really helpful. Children are said to be sponges, so if our sponge stage is over, maybe it’s time to dress up as children again and reactivate our “sponges”.
5. Language tutor
I couldn’t end this tips list without mentioning it. The easiest method to approach a language is to find someone who is a native speaker or who speaks it almost perfectly. In my particular case, I was in a three-month intensive course, with lessons three days a week, three hours each day. So everything I learnt here I added to my vocabulary lists and complemented it with the other things I already stated.
As it’s said, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, this is mine, and this is how I approached and learnt this language.
Of course, these tips are for people who are just beginning out with German; over the years, my ways of approaching the language have changed. The only one I maintain is to make glossaries; I’m a glossary addict, and it has served me well in learning and studying vocabulary.
No matter how well we think we know a language, it’s never enough. So it’s essential to keep practising and learning it.
To keep learning German:
What is the secret ingredient for learning German?
One thing is clear to me after 6 years of German study: I still have a lot to learn.
Like in every recipe, there has to be a secret ingredient. The secret ingredient in this case, as strange as it may seem, is: patience.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. So I’ll keep using all these techniques, and I’ll continue to learn the language of the settlers who populated the village where I was born.
The Germans keep inventing long words, so I’ll have to keep writing them down in my glossaries and learning them. I don’t want any of these words to come like a bolt from the blue during an interpretation.
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