The german language adventure

The most random achievement of my life, the product of a rather stubborn mind – I hope I remember the most important thing!

The beginning

Learning

Total integration

The search for certification

Preparing for the exam

The exam

Conclusions

The veredict

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The beginning

Explaining how I learned German is going to be difficult. It’s not even clear to me why I started “studying” it. I just have the feeling that it has come so far in a very short time. Which is great, isn’t it?

Only about a year and a half ago, the only thing I knew about the language was “Ja” or “Nein”, which had a reputation for being difficult, and memes comparing words from different languages. In the latter, the German word was completely different and the person pronouncing it was shouting.

But once the first and very hard quarantine was over, I needed to learn something different, something that would arouse my curiosity. I knew, however, that I had to make it entertaining, otherwise I would give it up right away, as I did at the beginning.

The first steps were made with the popular Duolingo (on the cover are most of the sources I learned with; the green owl was the first one), and with a course bought on Udemy. There I learned the first peculiar grammatical structures and some vocabulary. But the streak was short-lived, I needed to learn in another, less tiresome way.

Learning

The big step was to adapt part of my daily life to learning the language. This is the case, for example, of changing my mobile phone to German, or starting to follow Instagram and Youtube accounts, which are great for covering leisure time or potentially productive time (washing dishes, walking, etc.). From there, the involvement grew exponentially:

– On Instagram I started to see how the language sounded through videos and sporadically came across some new rule or structure. In addition, many accounts referred to very interesting sites such as alemansencillo.com.

– On the other hand I started to consume on Youtube content from Spanish creators who dealt with German. The great advantage is that there is content for every moment, from entertaining series for beginners (Extra!, Nicos Weg) to simple sentences repeating themselves (German with Chris, Hallo Deutschschule), learning and memorisation techniques, and occasional beginner’s podcast (Andyygmes).

As for the latter, the most effective was that of possits. I hung verbs in my bedroom window; on the left wall, conjunctions and adverbs; on the door, adjectives; and next to my bed, nouns, distinguishing the gender of the word by colour. And all this added to some notes on specific objects. It’s amazing how much vocabulary I got with this method; the rest would come from repetition.

The translator played a big role in all areas: I actively translated the content if necessary and understood the context. I also managed to retain words, which were also stored for future revisions. I also used it to translate my thoughts, if I was not able to find the structure in German to express them, and objects and actions that I perceived in my routine.

I earned like this numerous resources to actively and passively learn everything about the language, and in a very manageable way. I therefore acquired a very good basis that would allow me to understand the language better and better. After a few months, my level had taken off.

Total integration

The time came when many activities in my routine were compatible with continuing to study the language. The most important ones are listed below:

-I started to consume videos from native German youtubers, whose aim was no longer to teach German but to create content on their subject. These channels were about chess (Niclas Huschenbeth, The Big Greek), science (Kurzgesagt), economics (Wirtschaft Simpleclub)…

– I was more or less able to watch some films and documentaries. With the help of German subtitles, I was also getting my ear for the language.

-I read the news in the Tagesschau, relying on extensions such as the translator and Snippets (highliting).

– I switched languages to the videogames I played (PlayStation, League of Legends…) and even downloaded some only in German (Pokémon), which I could translate with the split screen of my mobile phone if necessary.

– In the methods of the previous point, I included material for learning more advanced German, such as the EasyGerman podcast and videos (questions to people on the streets of Berlin) and the Instagram and Telegram accounts of Deutsch mit Benjamin (B2-C1 coach).

With all this came scenes like watching Forrest Gump in German – Lauf, Forrest, lauf! -, replaying Pokemon Mystery World, an incredible game from my childhood, or grape harvesting with videos of advanced phrases repeating themselves.

After a while, and without even realising it as I managed to make everything completely natural, it was amazing how much I had improved. But what level was I really at?

To be able to do most of my daily activities in German is a great achievement, especially in practical terms. However, I already had the desire to prove this level, because after all, I had put in a lot of time and with a diploma I would be able to prove it forever. But it wasn’t going to be that easy…

I started by using Italki, a platform where you can contact a teacher and schedule online lessons. And of course, my speaking skills were not developed at all. However, the ground was already prepared, as I had enough resources to talk confidently; I just needed to apply them. After trying a couple of teachers and even a visit to an exchange bar, I found a teacher from Paraguay who helped me a lot to become fluent, through conversations on various topics.

I also wanted to force myself to write in German, which was relatively easier for me. One effective method was to start writing this blog, as this directly forced me to interpret my speech into German. The tool Reverso Context was a great tool here.

With that, I had already developed the four skills more or less extenseively and could consider seeking certification. I saw that Goethe B1 and B2 exams were held regularly in Valencia, so I looked up the model exams. After reading them, I saw that I had no problem understanding them, and I was likely to pass.

However, when I went to register for the B2, the places were full and the next one was in a couple of months. At that time I already started to study with an exam approach. So, I started reading websites like wissen.de, or listening to Ratito’s audios on Youtube from time to time.

Readings of all kind

I understood almost all of the reading, I understood almost all of the recordings, I was writing my texts and I was talking, both to myself and in some classes. Then, at the end of January, I lost my mind…

Preparing for the exam

I said to myself: you already have a great level. Go signing up for the most recent exam, prepare for it properly and we’ll score a new achievement. And I also wanted to open the door to study there, because their universities are good quality and cheap (only administrative costs, not tuition fees). So after some thought, I signed up for the Digitaler TestDaf in Madrid, for the 17th of February, at the end of the previous month.

This exam is not a normal language exam, but focuses on German at university level. The exam is divided as follows:

1. Seven texts to read that dealt with a discovery, a phenomenon or an opinion on a topical issue, with limited time.

2. Seven audios from which to extract relevant information or to take notes, on similar topics.

3. Two texts to write, the first one argumentative, and the second one summarising an essay and a related graph.

4. Seven own recordings simulating situations from university life: seminars, councils, presentations, group meetings…

And along the way I found a course on Telegram by a certain Dr. Deutsch, who helped me with how to face the exam and each of its parts. The course lasted a week, and we took an exam that he had prepared, simulating a real one. It was very useful to guide my study for the last weeks of preparation.

In this way I forced myself to study for something specific, which I had hardly done before. I took up speaking classes again to make them specific, started to develop exam-appropriate reading and listening techniques, and wrote the occasional text, all according to what the exam was like. All of this, of course, including the classic techniques of consuming content in the language.

The exam

The day of the exam arrived. I retreated to the village to see my family and go from there straight to Madrid. Obviously, I couldn’t sleep, and my train was leaving at 5:40 in the morning.

The alarm clock went off, I went to the station and at 7:00 I arrived in Madrid. The exam started at 9:30, so I went to have breakfast in a café nearby, while I relaxed before the hour of truth, listening to music and watching some chess videos.

Goethe Institut Madrid

To my surprise, only two of us took the exam. I had already had some rumours that this format was quite strange, and many students preferred to take other exams, or the paper format of the TestDaf.

The day was not off to a good start, but I was sure of myself and my knowledge. 9:30 AM. The test begins…

1. The first part was reading. The texts, in my opinion, were quite a bit more complicated compared to the Mustertext and source texts they usually took. But I was more or less getting the information right, except for some parts that I will never know what they were really talking about. They were writing experiments, like the recognition of a pattern insect, or phenomena, like why we hear ourselves differently in headphones than we do in real life.

During the break I was able to talk to the colleague who had also taken the exam, and her statements indicated that the German exams had never been easy. But at least by chatting, we avoided dwelling on the previous test, as we had to focus on the next ones. What else?

2. The second test was listening. This was without doubt the part that gave me the most respect, as you only get the information once (yes, there was only one chance). The first part was a failure, but I think I gradually pulled myself together until I more or less saved the test.

I’m by the way guessing the evaluations, as at the time of writing I don’t have the evidence. In order not to spoil the story, I will update it on the day of the report and the comparison will at least be funny.

3. Writing time. The first text had to argue, in comparison with statements by two fellow seminar participants, whether the inclusion of English words in the German language was beneficial or not, and the second one had to summarise a text about the construction of a bridge between Denmark and Sweden, which was very interesting. I’m pretty sure I made two good points, I hope the examiners feel the same way.

4. And finally, speaking. I had practised a lot with my friend, but in the exam I did not make clean statements. Tiredness and perhaps the lack of practice had taken its toll. But on the other hand, in terms of content, I always had something to say. I hope that will save me.

The exam was finally over and I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was definitely a very positive (and fun) experience regardless of the outcome, and whatever the result, I will get the diploma if I need it.

I met then one of my chess students from Madrid for lunch, and we met for the first time in person. Then, after my initial Blablacar was cancelled, I had to find another one by the skin of my teeth so as not to get stranded in Madrid. I got home and had the best sleep since a while.

Conclusions

Learning German, without the help of an academy and on my own, has been one of the most enriching achievements of my life, and an incredible morale boost. So many tools and creators have crossed this path, and it has awakened an interest in me that did not exist before, and which is really productive. Below I will list several relevant facts as a guide for people learning languages, and, even if it is now time to consolidate knowledge of both German and English, also as a reminder in case I wish to learn a new one someday:

– Compared to the battle with English, it is probably the fact of learning a language the way children do that has enabled them to master it so quickly: asking questions, making mistakes, reading a lot, listening and comparing, etc. As an adult, you also have endless tools that simplify the process.

– Speaking of tools, today’s access to information makes self-learning possible in many fields. That is why one only needs an effective method and motivation to discover about one’s area of interest.

– By effective method I mean the adaptability of the learning mechanism to everyday life. For the human brain to learn such skills requires regular work, and it is best to make it part of daily activities.

– And to conclude on the subject of learning, it is best to learn words and expressions in context, without focusing on translating. Many of these are learned thanks to a moment when you come across them. It occurs to me, for example, that I learned the word “lästig” from the chess youtubers to refer to their position, when they were getting beaten up. These associations create connections up there, which make languages child’s play.

More specifically, German is a complicated but therefore very precise language. Especially the verbs express actions much more concretely than in English, but also by means of the cases of the verbs you can locate the function of each syntagma more quickly, avoiding confusion. This part is difficult to master, but it is another challenge that is also engaging in its own way.

– If we talk about the advantages of knowing another language, the diversity of sources it gives you stands out. Now, I have more choice when deciding what videos to watch or what news to read, for example. Culturally, you get closer to the speakers. Moreover, especially in my sector, it opens up new job opportunities, although, as the reader can imagine, that must be one but not the main motivation.

– And finally, on a personal level, these kinds of activities are very positive. They make you learn something new every day, you feel you improve, and thanks to that, it keeps you active and thirsty for knowledge. Not only for learning itself, but for constantly seeking to optimise the way you learn, which is totally personal.

Little left to add. Undoubtedly, it has been on a personal level to break down many barriers and to prove to myself that if you want to, you can. I thank you for reading it as always, and I encourage everyone one last time to get rid of that thorn in your side with the language you like, be it German, French, English or any other language. Which, by the way, it’s taught badly hahaha (spanish meme).

The veredict

A month later, I received my results. I had never been so uncertain about a grade before. Although I was confident in my performance, it was extremely complicated.

TestDAF is special, but a picture is worth a thousand words. And two yet…

In short, my certified level is around C1.

If we compare the results with the assumptions

Reading and listening went surprisingly well; I’m very happy with how I handled myself there. There was quite a lot of chance of collapse.

– However, the writing texts must have been corrected very harshly. This is confirmed by other test takers. Fortunately, I was able to pass, although it was the part I was most confident about.

– The worst part was the oral expression. I was tired and nervous, the sentences didn’t come out well; it could happen. After all, I hadn’t trained it enough; we’ll work on it over time and done!

The purpose of the TestDAF, which stands for “German as a Foreign Language”, is the higher education in the country, for which a TDN 4 is required in all parts.

I would be 100% eligible to study at all universities in Germany if he had that extra point in the Sprechen, although for technical subjects the required mark is usually reduced.

Anyway, I finally have a certificate, and I can once again enjoy learning this language without having to worry about proving it. Let’s keep on learning as usual!

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