Why Learn Another Language?
In the twenty-first century, multilingualism is becoming the norm. It’s estimated that over half the world’s population is at least bilingual and this figure is growing. So where do you fit into this changing world? Do you see yourself as part of a dynamic population of world citizens, or stuck on a shrinking monolingual island? The real question should be: why not learn another language?
If you’re at all curious about the world beyond your own day-to-day routine, speaking German (or any other language besides your native tongue) can upgrade your life by increasing opportunities for career, living, travel, friendship, adventure and love. The more languages you speak, the bigger your world becomes.
And there is absolutely no reason to be discouraged, or to tell yourself you don’t have the talent for it. The idea that only children can become bilingual is simply a myth. You can learn to speak another language no matter your age or educational background; maybe you’ll never be mistaken for a native speaker, but you will be able to communicate – and that is what languages are for. Speaking a language is about connection, not perfection. So let’s ask a new question: who do you want to connect with?
A language is more than a bunch of words and rules for how to put those words together; it is another world. Speaking Standard German (Hochdeutsch) gives you access to the world of over 90 million native speakers, mostly in Germany and Austria. But learning German also opens the door to other dialects spoken in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and by minority populations all across Europe. Worldwide, around 120 million people speak some form of German as their first language.
German is easier for a native English speaker to learn than many people realize. English is a hybrid language, but its origins are Germanic. Old English is also called Anglo-Saxon after the Germanic tribes who spoke it, the Angles and the Saxons. “Angle” is the origin of “England” and the name “Saxon” can be found in German place names like “Lower Saxony”. Not surprisingly, English and German share thousands of cognates – words that sound the same and have the same meanings. For example, these verbs are similar in both languages: trinken/to drink, schwimmen/to swim, machen/to make, sehen/to see, sagen/to say, and haben/ to have.
The language offers another useful shortcut: many German words are actually compounds of smaller words. Once you have a handle on some simple vocab it’s easy to infer the meaning of longer words. For example, when you know that fahren means to drive and das Rad is a wheel it’s not a huge stretch to guess that das Fahrrad (drive-wheel) is a bicycle. The sign above the bicycle shop says Fahrradgeschäft. Since you now know the word for bicycle, you can now infer that Geschäft is the German word for “store”.
Speaking German is useful beyond central Europe. Understanding the language makes it easier to start learning other Germanic languages like Dutch, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish.
With Babbel, you can learn German without going to classes, hiring a tutor or investing in expensive software. For an affordable monthly subscription, you have access to hundreds of hours of interactive courses that get you speaking right from the first lesson. Babbel’s integrated speech recognition can even help you improve your pronunciation.
We add courses on a regular basis, so the opportunities to learn and improve are always growing. And if you own an iPhone, Android, or Windows 8 phone the key to speaking German is already in your pocket.
Having a little German in your conversational repertoire will open up the world to you on multiple levels:
For Business – being bilingual isn’t just good for your resumé, it can change your career. As the language of the Eurozone’s strongest economy, knowing some German can be extremely advantageous for anyone doing business in Europe.
Traveling – Germany and Austria have much more to offer you than Schnaps and ski holidays, but only if you can talk to people in their own language. While monolinguals can easily get stuck in pre-packaged tourist situations, speaking even a little German gives you more autonomy when traveling. Get to know Germans in their own language, but get to explore the country on your terms.
Living Abroad – When you speak German well enough to travel without a phrasebook in hand the idea of staying longer in another country can become tempting. Cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna offer opportunities for students looking for a semester abroad, or professionals looking for some excitement in their careers.
Brain Training – Even if you decide to only learn German as a hobby, knowing multiple languages will keep your brain healthy and nimble, even in old age. This is because knowing another language creates another network of connections among your neurons. The higher your neural interconnectivity, the better your memory and problem-solving skills.
Germanic Culture, Unfiltered – The German-speaking world is responsible for some hefty contributions to art and culture. Whether you want to sing opera lyrics by Wagner or Brecht, learn the Viennese Waltz, study the Bauhaus school of design, or learn how to really cook Flammkuchen, speaking the language will let you participate more directly. Knowing German will also give you unfiltered access to the films of Michael Haneke, Wim Wenders and Wolker Schlöndorff; the literature of Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Robert Musil, Thomas Mann and Goethe; and the philosophy of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche Adorno, Heidegger and Habermas. And if you are among the 50 million Americans who can claim German ancestry, learning the language will help you get closer to your roots.
Ways to Learn German
About 80 million people around the world speak German as a second language, which brings the total number of German speakers (of all dialects) to 200 million. In the U.S. it is the third most studied foreign language in colleges and universities after Spanish and French. There are a variety of ways to study the language:
In The Classroom
Classroom instruction with a teacher and other students is the most traditional approach to learning a language. Many Americans have already studied a language this way in high school, although not always with the best results. Many people who are motivated to become fluent find that classes offer a good balance between language instruction and chance to listen and speak.
Learning one-on-one with a tutor allows for a completely tailored learning experience and more opportunities to practice speaking. Compared to a classroom where the teacher has to split attention among dozens of pupils, private tutoring usually yields quicker results. However, private tutoring doesn’t come cheap and you’ll need to be prepared to pay a high hourly rate for an experienced tutor.
Audio Courses and CD-roms
For people with money to burn on learning a language, but not enough time to commit to traditional methods, multimedia courses are a good alternative – whether you practice listening and speaking with CDs in the car, or use interactive courses on your home PC in your free time. The main drawback to these methods is high up-front cost and material that can quickly become outdated.
Online German Courses
Online learning has made immense progress in the past several years and has become a viable alternative to more traditional forms of instruction. It’s becoming the norm for people with very little time or money to spare who still want to make progress with their learning. Compared to the above method, subscription-based online programs are always updating, improving and adding courses that don’t require buying a new module.
To Pay Or Not To Pay?
What do the methods mentioned above have in common? They all cost money. For thrifty folks who have a little more patience and motivation than the average learner, there ways to learn German for free:
Tandem learning is a technique where two people who want to learn each other’s languages take turns as teacher and as student. For example: if you meet for two hours, you can speak in German for one hour and then switch to English for the next hour so that you both get some practice. But be aware, just because someone is a native speaker does not mean they are a good teacher. This can still be a good option once you already know some German and just want to practice, but you must be prepared to teach your counterpart English. Tandems are free for both parties, but a significant time commitment.
OK, so it’s only free if you don’t count the airfare or room and board, but nothing helps you become fluent like living in a German-speaking country. But immersion is no magic bullet. If you haven’t arrived with at least some knowledge of German vocabulary and grammar, passive listening will not be easy and will not make you fluent without further study. Before taking the big plunge, you can simulate immersion by streaming German radio and TV online, watching German movies and doing multimedia lessons online.
If you are a real self-starter then you don’t need more than a German grammar book, dictionary and some vocab books to get started with German. Books could get you reading German after lots of studying, but won’t help with listening comprehension or speaking.
Free Online Courses and Mobile Apps
There are hundreds of ways to learn German for free on the web. From German grammar wikis to online courses, there’s no shortage of information out there, but it’s often presented in a cluttered and inconsistent way that’s harder to read than a grammar book.
Some websites offer free interactive learning material, like Duolingo and Memrise, but programs like these focus on writing and reading at the expense of listening and speaking. They also rely heavily on user-generated content, which means the quality is inconsistent and the accuracy of the information goes unverified. It’s possible to learn German online for free, but be prepared to deal with language lessons that are dull, inflexible, too basic, poorly designed, or else littered with ads.
Learning German with Babbel
Learning with Babbel costs you less per month than your morning coffee, is ad-free and has been made by a team of language experts, educators and designers – so you are guaranteed a top-quality learning experience for the best value.
Here at Babbel we believe that the key to effectively learning German, or any language, is having fun. Commitment and discipline will always be important factors, but real engagement is what helps you to retain information and maximize your learning potential. Here’s what you can expect from Babbel’s online German program:
Covers all four aspects of language acquisition – listening, reading, writing and speaking – with fully interactive multimedia lessons. The speech recognition feature even helps you improve your pronunciation.
iOS and Android apps are fully integrated with the web application. Your progress is saved in the cloud and synced across all devices – so you can learn anytime, anywhere.
Set your own pace and learn what’s relevant to you with courses organized by topic and theme.
Regular course updates and new lessons so you always have access to the freshest, most up-to-date material.
The Babbel Community lets you connect with other users so you can practice your German with native speakers or other learners.
All the material you cover is stored in your Review Manager, where you can continue to practice and improve on what you’ve learned, even if you decide not continue with a paid subscription.
Don’t like the service? We offer a 20 day money-back guarantee – no questions asked.
Try a free German lesson with Babbel and see for yourself just how enjoyable learning can be.