Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

I am an English speaking American, but would like to learn to speak at least conversational Deutsch while I’m here this time. While previously living in the KMC for four years, it’s pitiful that I could say only one phrase (and know what it meant), other than the standard Bitte, Danke, etc. This time I am much more determined to at least know basic phrases, colors, numbers, and the alphabet.

One of the issues I see or hear most frequently are inquiries about learning to speak the language. While many are looking for free resources, I meet plenty of people who are willing to pay for tutors!


Many people perceive it as a hard language to learn. In my opinion, the people who have the most difficult experience learning foreign languages, are those who are English grammar fanatics…..those who are precise about “verbs following subjects”….not the other way around. I need to know who or what is doing something before I can handle what they’re doing….hence my problem learning Spanish!


But the German language has three genders, capitalized nouns, and unique letters; even though they use a Latin alphabet there is an additional consonant called “Eszett” (ß) which represents a double “S” as in straße (which means street) or gaße (which means alley). There are words that exist only in German, and probably the most difficult part of learning to speak Deutsch is the pronunciation of certain sounds (ch and pf for example) and the sound when two vowels are combined.)


One major difference I've noticed here, is that when you tell Germans (not so much the younger ones!) you don't speak Deutsch, that doesn't stop them from carrying on a full conversation in their native tongue:) It's like they think if they keep speaking it, you're going to figure it out and miraculously learn the language. I keep thinking "Really? What part of "Ich spreche kein deutsch" didn't I say right? I don't know about you, but if I'm in the states and someone is speaking Spanish only, and they make it apparent that they have no idea what I'm saying in English, I'm not going to assume they will comprehend it if I just keep saying it! They don't even have to tell me that they don't speak English; I'll know!


Oh, to be as fluent as Sandra Bullock!!!

"One major difference I've noticed here, is that when you tell Germans you don't speak Deutsch, that doesn't stop them from carrying on a full conversation"

As mentioned in an earlier post, it is much easier to interpret the language when you see it on signs and advertisements, than to be able to speak it. In English we have to decide whether a “c” sounds like “October” or like “City”. Deutsch uses a “k”, which makes a lot more sense (Oktober, Konstruktion, Kalender, Produktion) and makes phonetic pronunciation very simple. There are also words that LOOK very much the same as in English (like Kindergarten and Schulbus), but due to the accents, I’m lucky if I can pick those words out of a single sentence. Between the speed and the dialects with which they speak, it’s SO much easier to read than to carry on a conversation or even understand a one-way conversation. But I’m sure that’s what most foreigners think about speaking English too; we certainly have way more exceptions to our rules than most other languages. Try to explain reed/read and red/read to a beginner!


I think the problem with trying to learn a new language (especially if we are no longer school age) is that when you grow up speaking English, knowing how to speak way before you know how to spell or understand proper sentence structure and basic grammar, it seems like it all fell into place rather easily. It wasn’t difficult to learn because we had been hearing it even as infants. Since it was so easy, I think we feel like all languages should be equally as easy; they shouldn’t require a lot of time and effort. Right?


Well, if we are serious about learning it, it IS going to require both. Unless you have a photographic memory, you can’t just watch to a single video and remember everything you heard, and you can’t look at one website and absorb everything that you read. Like everything else, if you don’t use it - you risk losing it! Just ask those who took three years of Spanish 20 years ago but haven’t really used it since!

To become fluent requires being able to have a dialogue with someone in Deutsch……….or finding another option like recording yourself saying phrases and comparing it to the way it should sound based on videos that include an audio track. Yes, I did find some websites that have audio to tell you exactly how it should sound! Yes, I did stumble upon a site that has audio playback to demonstrate exactly how the phrase should sound.


For me, it’s going to mean carving out 2-3 hours a week to dedicate to learning the language. While there is no one right solution; no one link I can share that will address all your learning needs for free, there are definitely some good sources. The best way to spend your very first hour you’re allocating to learning is to search the web and YouTube for “Learning to speak Deutsch”. You have to read and view what you find to see if it’s ideal for you and then save as favorites so that during your next session (for which you have allocated time – not that you are trying to see how much you can learn in the 15 minutes before you are due to leave for an appointment), you can go right to what’s going to work best for you. You will be surprised at how many people have made YouTube videos to help beginners, which is sometimes less monotonous than reading text.


I did come across a few resources I thought were worth sharing on the Resources Page under “Talk the Talk”, including the Deutschland.de/en site from which I borrowed the video above.