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Six easy ways to boost your German skills now

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Six easy ways to boost your German skills now
These guys probably speak good German. Photo: DPA.
10:48 CEST+02:00
Ali Butt, a student of German at Oxford University, recently spent six months in Berlin. He imparts some pearls of wisdom that'll help your language skills soar.

1. Read your favourite children's book in German

Remember that book you couldn’t put down as a kid? Was it The Cat in the Hat? The BFG?

If you know a children’s book inside out, try picking up a German translation. You know the general story anyway, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out what’s going on.

I must have read the Harry Potter books at least 20 times each, so the first book I ever read in German was Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen. JK Rowling is objectively a pretty bad, repetitive author, so once I got past learning the words for “wand”, “magic” and “love”, it was plain sailing.

In fact, the majority of the first Harry Potter audiobook is on YouTube up until the epic wizard's chess scene.

If you want to really assimilate, take a look at Pippi Langstrumpf. Germans grew up with this series about a carefree little girl with superhuman strength, and you’re sure to bond with some natives if you’ve read Pippi too.

There was also a Swedish TV show that was dubbed into German in the early 1970s, so you can go old school with the whole shebang, learning through children's TV and books and pretend you grew up in Cold War West Germany. Geil.

A still from 'Pippi Langstrumpf' (1997). Photo: Buena Vista International.

2. Watch your favourite movie

Basic, I know. Everyone does this, but that’s because it works so well.

You can watch a lot of movies on German Netflix with German dubbing. And again, since you already know the plot line you can focus on learning how to say your favourite movie lines, which can come in handy in conversation with your German buddies.

Movie quotes can also fall flat when dubbed into German, which is satisfyingly entertaining. I find it really funny when the nuance of a quote gets completely lost, such as Casablanca’s iconic “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

In German this gets translated as “Ich seh dir in die Augen, Kleines,” which means “I am looking into your eyes, little one.”

3. Reality TV

Germans love trash television. It’s a fact. If you want to get closer to becoming a ‘real German’, you’ll have to immerse yourself headfirst into the world of German reality shows.

Everyone knows Big Brother, but here's a fun fact: did you know that the German version has been running six months longer than its British sibling?

Like many other versions, BB Germany features a 24-hour live feed and is a great way to observe natives and how they act.

You can pick up some slang here and there as well as copious amounts of swearing - something you don’t learn in school but that's essential in real life, just like how to fill in your tax return.

Germans also have a version of Celebrity Big Brother, which they call 'Promi Big Brother', so you can get up to speed with both your lingo and your pop culture.

Presenter Jochen Bendel on the Big Brother set. Photo: DPA.

4. YouTube tutorials

YouTube is an incredible resource of knowledge, cat videos and wisdom.

You can pretty much learn anything for free on the site nowadays, and why should language not be included in this? There are videos for learning conversational phrases, slang and swearing.

 
5. Get drunk
 
Maybe you already speak German to your non-German speaking mates to dazzle them when you're drunk. I've found that speaking to Germans when drunk is also unbelievably fun.
 
If you head to a beer garden and have a go, you'll find you care much less about nonsense like grammar and word endings.
 
The more you drink, the more you speak, and the more you speak, the more you improve.
 
The person you're talking to will likely be impressed with your confidence, and if you make a few slip-ups, who cares? You're drunk! So get some beers down you and start practising that Deutsch! 
 
Photo: DPA.
 
6. Get passionate
 
Is there a specific area of German culture or history you're particularly interested in?
 
If you're really into a particular art movement for example, you can go to an exhibition and make some new friends there. You'll be fine because all the art vocabulary is pretty much the same in German as in English anyway.

'Surrealismus'? 'Impressionismus'? 'Barock'? You're sorted.
 
Or, if you like football, try watching the Bundesliga in an Eck Kneipe (local pub). 
 
I was always really interested in life in East Germany, specifically East Berlin, so one of the first things I did when I came to the capital was go to the classic Berlin Wall attractions and strike up conversation with native Germans.
 
I learnt a lot of new vocab, but it didn't feel like work at all because I was learning about something I was fascinated by.
 
Checkpoint Charlie, one of the Berlin Wall's crossing points during the Cold War. Photo: DPA.
 
Speak, read, listen.
 
All you need to do to become really good at German is find fun ways to immerse yourself. 
 
I find my German improves the most when I don't even feel like I'm working hard to practise it.
 
Viel Glück und viel Spaß!
 
By Ali Butt
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