22 May Language Learning During Lockdown: Audio Learning Tips & Resources
Earlier this year I stumbled across a bucketlist I wrote when I was 16. Among things like “Move to New York” and “Buy a vespa” (?) I noticed one of the things I’d listed was “Learn German.”
Reading that little scrap of paper filled me with joy because while I’m not scooting up and down the streets of Manhattan on a vespa I have been learning German for the past 2 years.
What initially started out as a Teach Yourself German audiobook to keep me entertained on my commutes, shouting “Ich möchte einen Kaffee!” while sat in heavy traffic, progressed to me chatting to potential clients auf Deutsch at an exhibition in Germany last year.
I’m still quite a bit off fluency but I never thought I’d even get to the level of understanding that I’m currently at and it’s super encouraging.
While evening classes, tutoring and actually using German a bit for my job have all been pretty instrumental in getting me to the point where I’m at, I’ve also been extremely proactive in “immersing” myself in the language.
And that immersion has only ramped up tenfold during lockdown in lieu of the usual evening classes I’d been taking for around a year.
I’ve gradually strived to fill every nook and cranny of my life with a little sprinkling of Deutsch to keep me on my toes. I’ve got so many tricks up my sleeve in fact, that I’ve had to make what was supposed to be one blog post into a little series of three, possibly four.
So today I have my audio learning tips and resources, next week I’ll have my audio/visual resources and the week after that I have reading/writing resources.
Audio Resources & Tips
Understanding spoken German was my greatest stumbling block.
Whenever I sat in my first evening class and the teacher suddenly swapped from English to German I was filled with fear. What happened to all the confidence I had in the car with my audiobook? I couldn’t understand anything the teacher was saying. My mind just went into a panic. And when we listened to audio resources in class I couldn’t understand anything either. It made me despair a little.
It was a lack of familiarity with the language but also hearing it in real time and the pressure of needing to react in real time that made me jam up. I recognised words when they were on a page just fine but when it came to listening it all sounded like… well, a foreign language.
Nowadays I can differentiate one word from another most of the time. And while yes, I might not understand every single word, I can pick out the ones I don’t know from the ones I do, use a little detective work and Google Translate to fill the gaps.
Since my classroom panic I went pretty hard with listening to spoken German to tackle the issue head on. It’s taken a long, long time to not feel like I’m drowning in a sea of foreign words every time I hear spoken German. I still have those moments of… uhh, what? but I’ve slowly learnt to be more patient with myself. It’s a whole other language obviously it’s going to take time. And for every three words I don’t understand in a sentence there’s at least one that I do and I’m counting that as a win. Even if it’s just “Ich” or… “Apfel”
These are just some of the audio resources that have helped me get over my greatest stumbling block in language learning.
1. Radio Garden
One of my more recent discoveries, I love love love Radio Garden. It’s amazing. You can travel the globe, listening to radio stations from every corner of the earth. Naturally I headed straight for Deutschland.
I have the German radio on most mornings and keep it on in the background as I work. The repetition of headlines and stories in Die Nachrichten (the news) every hour has been particularly helpful in drumming new vocabulary into my brain. I don’t understand it word for word but I can get the jist of the story and that’s really rewarding.
Another entertaining aspect of listening to the radio is the adverts.
Adverts are short, snappy and concise. They’re also repetitive which is another good way of getting new words to stick. They tend to mention prices/discounts a lot too (a 40% off sale for instance) which is good if you struggle with remembering number formats (I still question myself a little whenever I hear a number mentioned in German… 40 or 14?) Many adverts also contain puns, wordplay and coloquialisms which can be a particularly interesting aspect when getting a feel for another language.
I downloaded Calm at the beginning of lockdown when I was having difficulty focusing and also sleeping. It’s filled with ambient soundscapes, calming music, ‘bedtime stories’ and meditation guidance. They also have a “Daily Calm” series which is essentially a podcast series updated every day. It covers various ideas and concepts around well, being calm. In short, it’s an amazing app.
Obviously, it’s not a language learning app though. However, as I said, I’ve been finding ways to fill every corner of my life with a sprinkling of German language. So when I discovered that it was available in multiple languages including German, I started exploring the German resources available.
I’ve listened to a number of the ‘bedtime stories’ in particular I love “Der Nordland Nachtzug” which describes a train journey through Norway. The ‘Daily Calm’ series is also great because it’s only ten minutes long. And there’s a whole section dedicated to children’s content which I haven’t listened to yet but plan on giving a go due to the simplistic, easy to follow language.
Calm may be a little unconventional as a language learning resource but I really love using this app in German. It’s a welcome alternative from the constant stream of the news on the radio which can become a little tiresome. Plus, it’s always nice to hear some soothing words. Even if they’re in a another language!
Calm is available in English, German, Spanish, French, Japanese and Portuguese.
For a while I was hell-bent on finding German podcasts that native speakers listen to. Which was a little premature on my part.
It was too overwhelming to try and understand a podcast discussing the news or political issues, for instance. I wouldn’t really listen to that kind of content in English, why would I listen to it in another language?! I had to accept my limitation and move on.
Luckily, there’s plenty of podcasts focused around learning another language. In particular, for German, there’s a lot of different podcasts from Deutsche Welle.
These are some of the German podcasts I’d recommend –
- DW Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten – slowly spoken news Monday – Saturday
- News in Slow German – slowly spoken news again but this one has more of a discussion rather than a newsreel feel
- Sprachbar – Short 5-10 minute podcasts covering interesting subtleties in the German language
- Slow German – Short podcasts around 10 minutes long covering various topics mainly around German culture
While I enjoy a good 1.5 – 2 hour podcast the key thing is that they’re in English. Trying to understand another language you aren’t fluent in for that length of time becomes counter-productive. It was far too much of an undertaking for me, maybe one day but not right now.
I’ve had the most success with German language podcasts when they’re short bursts between 10 – 15 minutes long. I also make a point of not multi-tasking during these podcasts as tempting as it may be. It’s important to take the time to really focus and write down any new words to look up afterwards. It’s also much less of an undertaking to replay shorter podcasts and usually the second time round you’ll pick up even more.
I love my Audible subscription. I got it around two years ago for something to listen to on my commutes to and from work. If you aren’t familiar with how Audible works you pay £7.99 per month for a “Credit” which you can spend on any audiobook. It’s a really nice monthly treat.
My beginners German audiobook was one of my first downloads which then led to even more language learning audiobooks. I’ve built up quite a library at this point.
These are my two favourites –
“Learn German with Paul Noble” – Paul Noble
Some of the biggest initial turning points in understanding German were sat in my car with this audiobook. Honestly. I can’t recommend it enough.
It was instrumental in getting to grips with the verb patterns for “I/you/you (formal)/they/she/he/it”. It also covers, in layman’s terms, some of the more confusing nuances of case in another language. And crucially, without putting you off with the terms dative, genetive, accusative and nominative. It was only when I was sat in class learning about the dative case that I realised I already knew the dative case a little bit from this audiobook.
Paul Noble’s audiobooks are also available for French, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin.
“Learn German With Stories” – André Klein
I graduated myself from Paul Noble’s German audiobooks after repeating them a few times through and then moved on to André Klein’s “Learn German With Stories” series.
The series of ten audiobooks follow the protagonist, Dino, from one German-speaking city to another as he explores the culture and way of life there while trying to get to grips with the German language himself (he’s from Sicily).
The stories are designed for beginners but they gradually incorporate more complex language as you progress through them. It was the first German audio material I tentatively listened to outside of class and was pleasantly surprised when I could follow the plot. It felt like a turning point.
Learning another language through stories is very effective and there’s plenty of similar audiobooks I’ve noticed available on Audible in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian and more.
I asked a friend who is a fluent Spanish speaker what techniques he found effective when he was learning the language. He said that he would obsessively listen to Spanish music, repeating songs over and over again.
This surpised me but after a while it made sense. He said that music was very effective in learning new words and short sentences because of the melody/rhythm. It’s easier to recall things when they’re in a sing-song format. When I gave it some thought I realised that I knew so many songs off by heart without even really trying.
So, I can now accredit this technique to my love for Rammstein. On the days when I don’t feel like listening to the German radio or podcasts but still want to feel like I’m keeping up learning German I swap it out for some German music. Usually Rammstein. I’ve discovered some other cool German artists but Rammstein have a special place in my heart now.
Now that I’ve worked through all of Rammstein’s albums numerous times I can say that I am very familar with their music. However, hearing music in a foreign language is very different to hearing it in English. You know those songs you love but you’re not 100% sure you’ve got the lyrics correct because they’re sung quickly? That feeling is amplified when it’s another language. As a result I’ve made up a lot of German words because the way I heard them sung was not how they’re said or spelt.
So, after you’ve listened to a song a few times over look up the lyrics to double check the spelling of words you aren’t sure about. Sometimes what you think is a word is actually two words sang quickly.
Hopefully you’ve picked up a few tips and resources for your own language learning. What have you found that works for you? I’m always looking for new tips!