Every year, people from all over the world learn German with us. Some find it easier, others a little harder. Our student Abigail (25) shares her experiences and tips and tells us in the first part of our interview why the German language is not as difficult as its reputation and what is the best thing to say when you don't want to admit that you don't understand a word.
My name is Abigail and I’m from Florida/USA. I’m 25 years old and participating in the „Parlamentarischen Patenschafts Programm“ (PPP) - the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), as the program is called in the USA. I have been in Germany since August 1, 2021, and will return to the U.S. on June 20, 2022.
I am currently interning remotely for the podcast “Common Ground Berlin” and live in a shared apartment in Düsseldorf.
I was spared some surprises thanks to some pre-departure orientations: our cohort was briefed about the cultural differences and the directness of Germans in a seminar before we left. We were also well prepared for life with a host family. I already had contact with my host family before I arrived in Germany, which made it easier for me to arrive here.
I’m from Florida - the Sunshine State. I thought Germany would be very cold in comparison, so I brought a lot of warm clothes and layers. But it was okay, especially being in NRW and I got used to everything in time.
I found out about this exchange program in Germany by accident on a blog about two years ago: Living and studying in Germany for a year as a “junior ambassador” for the US. I had always been interested in a year abroad and thought, why not go to Germany? I had never studied German and there was no language requirement so it was very accessible for me. A couple years ago, I didn't know a single word of German. After almost a year in Germany and lots of practice, I'm almost at a C1 level. 😎
I had wanted to take part in the PPP in 2020. However, the program was canceled because of Corona. I then spent a year learning German in the USA online. When the program did start in 2021, I spent two months in Cologne at the CDC where I was learning tons of German every day. Currently, I attend a German course at the university once a week because studying in German is more challenging than getting by in everyday life.
I have always been interested in languages. I took Spanish at school and also dabbled a bit in French I had never envisioned myself learning German, but I find it really fun and challenging nowadays.
It's amazing how much better you can communicate when you know more words. My teacher at Carl Duisberg put a lot of emphasis on our vocabulary. And it's true: If you're diligent, you can communicate in German after a short time. Maybe not grammatically perfect, but in such a way that the people around you understand you.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Being understood is much more important.
German grammar with the main and subordinate clauses is difficult, especially as an American, because the grammar in English is easier in my opinion. But people understand you even if you don't know the grammar rules perfectly. Of course, you want to get the grammar right, but that comes with time.
My - not entirely serious - TIP: If you have no idea what your counterpart is saying, just answer with "genau" which means “exactly.” This has worked for me a few times 😉
Learning a language in the respective country is much better than attending a language course in your own country. You can immediately use what you have learned in everyday language and internalize it better. With our teacher, we regularly went on course excursions and got to know so much of the city and culture. In the meantime, I have fallen a little in love with Germany.
My TIP: Learn German in Germany!
It's definitely not the easiest or most affordable way, but it's definitely the best for your language skills.
My German teacher at Carl Duisberg Centren, Albina, spoke German from the beginning - and very quickly. She told us to get used to the normal pace of speaking so that we could get along better in everyday life. At the beginning you hardly understand anything, but it gets a little better every day and she was right: You get used to it in no time.
The German language is not as difficult as its reputation!
German is not as romantic as French, but still very interesting. And mostly very logically structured: The verb is usually second in the sentence. It's like a mathematical formula that you have to learn by heart, and once you understand the meaning, it comes more easily.
Also interesting is that you can create great new words from word combinations, for example: Weltschmerz, Fernweh or Feierabend.
Luftzug. (Luft = air, Zug = train). The idea of a train flying through the air is very endearing. "Zug" is generally part of many words that have nothing to do with the train at all: Anzug (suit), Aufzug (elevator).
👉 In the second part of our interview, find out why even the best preparation doesn't protect you from culture shock, what hurdles there are to overcome when living in Germany, and why Germans go down to the basement to laugh.