About Holger Haase

German Tutor living in Cork (Ireland)

Benny Lewis: Fluent in 3 Months

Fluent in 3 MonthsBenny Lewis is a self-proclaimed failed language learner…. yet is now also a polyglot, having mastered a dozen or more languages in varying degrees.

It wasn’t, however, until his 20s that he figured out how to approach language learning. He failed miserably acquiring languages for the Irish leaving cert and couldn’t speak Spanish even after spending six months in the country.

It’s only when he changed his outlook towards learning Spanish that he made any progress.

He now runs the language hacking website Fluentin3months.com and is a digital nomad whose entire worldly possessions fit into a 50lb bag.

He is one of the few genuine Irish Internet success stories and one of the only Irish guys (if not THE only one) to be invited to a TedX Talk.

He has now consolidated his approach to language learning in a new book published by Collins, also boldly called Fluent in 3 Months and is currently doing an extensive book tour through the UK, Ireland and the US (as well as some other parts of the world) and I took this opportunity to attend the event in Waterstones in Cork where he first gave a little 15-minute presentation, then answered questions from the audience before moving on to the signing.

So…. Fluent in 3 months?

Seems like quite a promise, especially for people who may have struggled with languages before.

Is he selling snake oil?

Nope.

But the title does bear some explaining.

For starters he defines “fluency” as being able to express yourself in a social setting in a flowing style of talking without too many hesitations. In other words somewhere between B1 and B2 is where he would be aiming for.

He acknowledges that there are various other ideas of what constitutes fluency in a language and for the later stages C1/C2 he uses the term “mastery”.

On his site he had once mentioned that the 3 months part of his domain name is not a promise but a goal or a challenge and he is very keen on setting yourself precise targets and mini-missions and if 3 months may prove too short for your goals, then 4 months or 6 months could also do (or indeed just a week or two for smaller challenges).

In the book he emphasises that the 3-month goal is not achievable with just an hour per week here or there but does require full-time studying during that time frame (or at least two hours per day).

So with a minimum of 180 hours (but up to 720 hours if done “full time” properly), it’s safe to say that reaching levels around A2/B1 or slightly higher is indeed within the realm of the possible.

Benny quickly ditches a number of language learning myths. It has e.g. never been scientifically proven that children are indeed better geared towards language learning and there is at least one study that shows that adults are actually far better wired towards acquiring new languages. If kids have one advantage then it is the fact that they are surrounded by better “teachers”, i.e. parents who constantly encourage them and provide non-stop feedback. In other words: if there is a possible advantage, it is a question of nurture over nature.

His main point about acquiring new languages is to speak from Day 1. There really has never been a better time to learn a new language. If you don’t know anyone in your neighborhood who can help you speak, learn and communicate, then there are now scores of opportunities that can hook you up with language exchange partners and tutors online.

He keeps traditional academic approaches focusing on grammar to a later stage in his studies and also doesn’t bother much with reading or listening and film watching exercises at the early stages.

This is one of the few points where I may ever so slightly disagree with him. I love to surround myself with various media and foreign language input right from the start and am somewhat dubious whether it really is a good idea to keep everything grammar related to a later stage when it is more difficult to unlearn a number of bad habits but, hey, who am I do argue with someone who has clearly been more successful than me in acquiring a large number of languages? Plus, Benny openly admits that there is not one sure fire way in this regard and the important thing is just to set yourself precise missions and then find your own path to glory and see what methods work for you and which don’t.

All in all this is a fun and encouraging book, primarily aimed at people who have so far struggled with learning languages. Those who have already mastered one or more may not get all that much more out of it but even then one does find occasional nuggets: One suggestion he has for the mastery stages of language learning when a lot of the basics are already in your blood is not to find a tutor but a speech therapist or voice coach to help with the proper enunciation.

The book is kind of an offline summary of his online ideas and will likely introduce him to a new audience that may not yet be all that familiar with him. If you have already followed his website extensively, then a lot will of course already sound familiar.

Still, it’s great to have all his tips and tricks combined in one book.

(The book can be purchased from either Amazon US or Amazon UK.)

Irish B&Bs – A simple idea to improve your web presence

Cloisters-BB-1Cloisters B&B in Kinsale have now launched their bi-lingual website.

I had encouraged them to add a German language part to their already existing website and they took me up on that suggestion and ordered a translation from me.

They are regularly rated Number 1 on TripAdvisor which is hardly surprising as offering a bi-lingual website demonstrates a large degree of forward thinking that is often not prevalent in the traditional market of Irish B&Bs and guest-houses.

I strongly believe that offering a German language part to a B&B website is a very effective and low cost opportunity to attract extra visitors from one of the most important markets for Irish Tourism and have now added a special translation part to my website focusing on website translations for B&Bs.

More info is available there but the biggest benefits of adding a German language part to your site are as follows:

You promote your property in one of the key markets

Outside of the English speaking countries (US, UK etc), German tourists make up the largest group of visitors to Ireland. They are well travelled and generally have enough income at their disposal to spend it well when in the country. German tourists may be cost conscious but they value good service. And from all visitors to Ireland they generally stay the longest.

For a full overview of the German Market Profile, please visit Tourism Ireland.

You are a market leader

Very few of your competitors currently have a German language website. So if you offer a site that presents your house in German by default you’d have a major competitive advantage over all the others. If German visitors browse through the online offerings they’d be automatically drawn to your website.

Search engines will love you 

Guess what property will feature when potential German visitors enter their German language key words in preparation of an upcoming stay? It is only natural that visitors search for information in their own native language first before possibly switching over to English. You are effectively adding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to your web presence.

A translation will cost less than you may think

Most of the websites are not all that text heavy and usually feature property description, room rates, menus and general facilities. As such a translation can be done relatively fast.

That means that for a typical B&B the average cost would be somewhere in the region of about two room nights. So if you only attract one single extra German visitor, the translation may have already paid for itself!

If you’re a B&B or guest-house owner in need of a translation, please contact me.

Can’t we all just be friends? Well…. no!

friendship“Hey guys, let me introduce you to a good friend of mine: That’s Holger.”

It was one of the first nights out during my first trip to Ireland all those years ago and I was stunned.

Here was this guy I had only met half an hour before over a pint at the bar, who I didn’t know from Adam and who I would likely never see again in my life and the moment he met his buddies he introduced me not just as a “friend” but as a “good friend”.

What had happened? Had I unknowingly unearthed the secret on how to make friends and influence people?

The truth was, of course, much more mundane.

I would soon get to learn that whenever you’re introducing someone here you will invariably introduce them as “friends”…. unless of course they’re family or the big important boss from overseas.

Apart from that: Neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances, sports buddies etc etc. They’re all “friends”.

In actual fact: Dare to introduce someone as anything else but a “friend”, you will soon hear: “What do you mean ‘neighbour’?!? We’re friends!!!!”

Yet, would you really call on any of those folks for help or serious advice if you needed it. Y’know the way you do with friends?

Of course not, but that’s the way language is used in this neck of the woods. It’s a convention and break that convention and you’re at risk of alienating a large number of folks.

In Germany, however, we don’t have any of those issues. Freunde are a very small group of people we tend to trust and be able to rely on. They have become friends over the course of a few years – Germans aren’t exactly known for striking up friendships fast but when they do, they tend to be loyal – so anyone who doesn’t fall into this hard earned category gets their own special group:

Das ist Frau Schmidt, meine Nachbarin.

Kennst du Peter, meinen Arbeitskollegen?

Johanna, darf ich dich der Marianne vorstellen, einer guten Bekannten von mir.

Introductions done this way also make it easier to really put someone and their relationship into proper context.

Below a list of common vocabulary that can be used to introduce someone. The list can easily be extended for whatever special relationship you may have and features both the male and female forms of the nouns.

Rest assured, if you want to introduce someone who plays chess with you regularly, has an allotment next to you or meets up for Dungeons & Dragons all-nighters, we’ll certainly have names for those too.

Oh, and if as a male you introduce a female friend you may want to say eine gute Freundin. The term meine Freundin is generally reserved for a romantic link.

der Freund  – die Freundin (a friend, y’know, a real one!)

der Bekannte – die Bekannte (an acquaintance)

der Nachbar – die Nachbarin (a neighbour)

der Kollege – die Kollegin (a colleague)

der Mitschüler – die Mitschülerin (a fellow pupil in a class)

der Kommilitone – die Kommilitonin (a fellow student in university)

der Sportsfreund – die Sportsfreundin (a buddy from a sports club)

 

 

Heftromane – Pulp Fiction German Style

Perry RhodanOne of the most important aspects of learning German (or any other language) is total immersion. Whenever possible surround yourself with German texts, music, sounds, advertisement etc.

Of course, having the appropriate literature at your disposial can be challenging when your German skills are not quite as evolved yet.

You may want to upgrade from reading children’s stories but don’t have the skill set yet to approach Thomas Mann’s ZAUBERBERG. So what to read next?

Well, one thing you could try is to start reading Heftromane. Heftroman loosely translates as “novel published as a small booklet” and denotes nothing else but the German equivalent of the “pulp novels”.

These days they generally clock in at around 64 pages. They’re published weekly and are written in normal but not too demanding German which makes them good for intermediate learners. The downside: They are usually only on sale in German railway stations and newsstands and difficult to get outside of Germany.

lassiterThey come in a variety of different genres so there’s something for everyone Crime (Krimi), Horror, SciFi, Fantasy and “Arztromane” (romance novels set amongst doctors) for the ladies. Just don’t expect high literature.

Prior to being known as a Heftroman they were also called Groschenroman (i.e. a “dime novel”). A Groschen in pre-Euro days meant 10 Pfennig and referred to the initial cost for the small books. These days the term is anachronistic (they cost more and the currency is no longer around), but it is still my favourite term for that genre though most everyone else now uses the term Heftroman.

The modern form of the Groschenroman goes back to the 1950s and up to this day dozens of series are still around. These novelettes as a general rule are published weekly on cheap paper in A5 format that easily fits into even the smallest pockets. They are generally around 60+ pages long and can easily be read within a short space of just 1-2 hours. Given that they are not published in the more common paperback or hardcover formats, they cannot be found in general book stores, but instead need to be purchased in news agencies and are most widely available in train stations where the low costs, the special material as well as the short reading period makes them ideal reading material for an average train journey.

jerry cottonThey cover a range of genres. One of the most popular is a long running Sci Fi saga called Perry Rhodan that has story arcs that last 100 issues, so you do want to be around for the long run for this one. Most other series, however, have self contained stories in each issue. Jerry Cotton is a popular FBI action Krimi that has been around for about 3000 issues at this stage.

Other genres include Western (Lassiter), War (Der Landser) and Fantasy (Mythor). At some stage you were even able to find some Trucker novels (Trucker-King)! And in case you now think that reading those novels is primarily a guy thing: There are also a bunch of series around that are clearly addressed towards a female readership with romance as well as Doctor or Heimat novels. The latter being a typical German genre, saccharine sweet weepies set in alpine landscapes full of lederhosen and dirndl clad characters.

Groschenromane are often written anonymously or from German language authors with an English pseudonym to give these series a more international appeal. The publishing houses generally insist on some very strong and detailed guide lines and writing codes. The authors are never anything less than prolific.

arztromanGiven these restrictions and the high output the overall result is less sophisticated than other literary genres and the language appeals to a wide range of audiences who just want to be entertained on a train journey or after a dreary day at the office. They are also at times quite endearingly Germanic in their inability to properly describe the English or American Way of Life.

All of this makes them a great entry drug for the determined language learner who wants to dip his or her toes into some prose but who may not yet be ready to venture into more difficult material.

 

———–

As it happens, the Thalia Verlag is offering a free download of one their most popular titles: Wolfgang Hohlbein’s AUF DER SPUR DES HEXERS. (You will need to register with them.)

Browse even further and you will discover a range of other complimentary downloads on their website, some Heftromane others regular novels.

Current editions of JERRY COTTON in eFormat are available here. That website also has a range of other Heftromane available for download. (You can search by title or genre.)

Supergeil…. the evolution of Germany’s favourite slang word

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EDEKA, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation, has long been known for its conservative ethos. Their ads have never really rocked the boat and have never been anything approaching cutting edge.

As such their current campaign showing a Teutonic Barry White singing the praises of a range of their goods in a somewhat funky style involving the expression “supergeil” has come as a surprise.

See, “geil” is one Germany’s most favourite slang words. Anyone who has ever spent some time there and listened closely would have come across it at some stage. Though for obvious reasons it is not a term you’re going to come across in your regular run-of-the-mill text book.

Most Germans are generally not even aware that going back in time, the term used to initially describe a very bloomy fauna, plants that grew extensively.

That meaning, however, has now been completely eroded and most German native speakers would tell you that in its modern usage it first of all meant, ahem, “horny”.

Boah, gestern abend war ich so was von geil!

From then on the word started describing someone of either sex who is “hot”.

Die Melanie/Der Thomas ist ziemlich geil.

Until it then became a catch all phrase for everything that is “fabulous” or “awesome”.

Wie geil ist das denn? (How cool is that?)

Kickboxing ist echt geil.

Or simply: Geeeeiillllllll!!!!!

It was the 1980s where the word started becoming more and more popular. So much so that a duo of English DJs based in Germany even wrote a song about the word that stayed in the charts for a few weeks.

Note how they even reference variations such as “affengeil” which is similar to Edeka’s “supergeil”. Or if you even want to go a step further: “superoberaffengeil”.

EDEKA’s usage of this word is by far not the first time it was used in popular ad campaigns. In actual fact the German electronic discounter Saturn had a very famous decade-long campaign with the slogan:

Geiz ist geil! (Being stingy is awesome.)

With that slogan, Saturn managed to combine one of Germany’s most eminent conservative social virtues with one of Germany’s hippest fun words

Mind you, given the longevity of the term, it is hardly cutting edge anymore. Deutschland’s yoof has long adapted a range of other terms that may at least for a while remain obscure to most of us adults. After all “Babo” was named the youth word of 2013. (And yes, my sister had no idea what it meant but my nephew did.)

Still though, we all still think that the J. Geils Band had one of the funniest band names of all times.

Who’s the Man? – Introduce yourself (and others)

MeetYou Ich heiße Holger.

Mein Name ist Andrew.

Das ist Susanne.

So far so good.

What about:

Ich bin der Peter.

Das ist die Julia.

THE Peter? THE Julia?

For English speakers this sounds at best strange, at worst awfully pompous, yet this way of introducing yourself is pretty common in Germany and you’ll hear it all the time.

There are absolutely no hidden connotations when using the definite articles “der” or “die” in connection with introductions. They absolutely don’t need to be used but if you come across them don’t be surprised and if you feel like wanting to use them in your own speech: Be my guest.

Just remember:

Das hat mir der Holger gesagt.

Mahlzeit! – Greeting rituals in German

mahlzeitHallo! Guten Morgen! Guten Tag! Guten Abend! Wie geht’s?

Tschüss! Auf Wiedersehen! Bis dann!

All very popular ways of saying “Hello!” and “Good-bye!” in German and probably some of the first few words you had encountered when learning the language.

But what about the likes of….

Mahlzeit!

Ever heard that one?

It is indeed another popular greeting you may occasionally come across.

It literally translates as “meal time” and still carries the general meaning of a dish or a meal.

Hmmm, das ist aber eine leckere Mahlzeit. Yummy, that is a nice meal.

Over the last couple of decades it has also become popular as a greeting when meeting colleagues, friends or family who are sitting down for lunch in a canteen or elsewhere. Kind of like saying “Guten Appetit!” when you are not actually a member of the group of diners and just happen to come across them.

Now it can, however, also be heard as a general informal “Hello!” all day long and is no longer necessarily connected to a meal. I was once working with a guy who used this as his general greeting first thing in the morning when entering the office. Not everyone says it and it’s a matter of personal preference but it is quite popular.

There’s one last additional meaning that the word can have and that is in the context of

Prost Mahlzeit!

This is an ironic term of frustration when a small disaster has just happened in your presence.

Someone drops and smashes some plates on the kitchen floor: Na, prost Mahlzeit!

You heard that you’re all made to do unpaid overtime: Prost Mahlzeit indeed

When someone comes over to a table with a group of people already seated around them, you may notice that they knock on the table while saying “Hallo!”, “Mahlzeit” or whatever greeting of their choice.

See, in Germany it is still customary to shake hands vigorously when meeting folks and parting from them. No problem, when you meet one or two people. A complete nuisance when you’re at a large event:

Get off from your chair, shake hands, say Hello and chat. Sit down.

Then get up again from your chair for the next person to come along, shake hands, say Hello and chat.

Wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve said Hi to everyone at which time the first people will start leaving which will require you to go through the same routine in reverse again to shake hands and say Goodbye.

So the cool kids on the block simply come over to a table with a group of people and say Hello while knocking on the table surface. Everyone can then breathe a sigh of relief knowing that hand shakes will not be required.

Depending on what part of Germany (or indeed Austria or Switzerland) you’re in, you may also come across a number of other regional greetings such as e.g.

Servus!

Grüss Gott!

Grüezi!

As these are dialectal variations it may end up sounding strange if you attempted them without really being strongly connected to that region.

Please be aware that some of those (e.g. “Servus”) can be used for saying both Hello and Goodbye, similar to the Italian Ciao!

Please let me introduce… Peppa Wutz

peppaFollowing up on my recent post on learning German with the help of movies and in particularly silent movies, here’s a little addendum:

One really helpful way to improve your listening and general language skills is to watch children’s shows.

Their language is generally relatively simple, yet includes a large number of important phrases, and the pronunciation of the speakers concise.

And a lot of them are easily available on YouTube. In order to find those just e.g. search for “Peppa Wutz”, the German name for Peppa Pig, and spend the next few hours going from one recommendation to the next.

Shhh…. – Learning German the Silent Movie way

frauimmondposterOne of the most entertaining ways to immerse yourself in a new language is through its movies. You can kick back and get entertained while at the same time brushing up on your language skills.

Regardless of your current language skills, you are bound to pick up something new. Even absolute beginners can benefit.

Years ago when I watched LOLA RENNT which features a very important bag stashed full of money, my girlfriend who doesn’t speak much German and wasn’t even watching the film but just heard bits and pieces in the background, came over and asked me what the word “Tasche” means. Obviously the term was used so regularly that it stuck in her mind and she is still able to remember that word whenever she travels to Germany.

Though there are lots of opportunities these days to watch foreign language films via Netflix & Co., only a properly mastered DVD may offer you the flexibility you need to pick subtitles of your choice so that depending on the level you’re at you could do one of the following:

  • Watch the film in German with English subtitles
  • Watch the film in German with German subtitles
  • Watch the film in German without any subtitles

You could even do all three, i.e. start watching it with English subtitles, then – as you are already familiar with it – watch it again with the German subs and finally without any subs at all. It will become increasingly more difficult to understand it but as you are already familiar with the plot and dialogue you’re going to recognise and understand more and more of the actual text.

So far I haven’t told you anything that hasn’t been recommended elsewhere before

What is never really mentioned, however, is the idea to use silent movies (Stummfilme) as a learning tool.

True, there is only a hardcore set of movie fans left who still explore those films regularly, yet once you start to get into their archaic world and rhythm you will see that they provide wonderful imagery that is bound to live with you for quite some time.

And Germany during the Weimar Republic was the world’s leading producer of quality movies. Hollywood was just setting up shop at the time and one could argue that the large scale emigration of German and Austrian film makers to America following Hitler’s rise to power let to the proper resurgence of Hollywood. For starters: What would Hollywood have done without the likes of Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Robert Siodmak & Co?

But let’s forget about the historical and artistic qualities of German silent movies and focus entirely on their linguistic benefits.

Given that the majority of these products are indeed silent, all you really need to understand are the German language intertitles. And these are strategically placed in a way so that you can even pause the film if you can’t read and understand them quickly enough without interfering too much with the flow of entertainment.

Pause a proper modern movie in between and you have bizarre random cut-offs of faces and interrupt the natural pattern of speech between characters. Pause a silent movie and you just pause it at a point where the film was actually designed to be read and where you won’t interfere with the natural acting flow.

Of course, whenever silent movies are still shown these days, they usually come with English language intertitles, so make sure to purchase DVDs that offer the original German intertitles as an option. Or you could simply purchase the DVD via Amazon’s German website, where they will generally sell the German versions of those flicks.

As silent movies by and large are out of copyright, they can also easily be tracked through YouTube or Archive.org but again a lot of those versions come with English language intertitles.

Below please find some examples of German silent movies with German intertitles to get you started.

Mind you, some of them feature a more old-style way of writing and some have additional Spanish or English subtitles but these should still give you something of a head start nonetheless. Please also note that some of those productions are sliced up into various parts that can all be found online as well.

 (Part 1/3)

 (Part1/10)

Elke Sommer sagt No

Elke SommerKnow “Schlager”, know Germany.

Love’em or hate’em but the much maligned Schlager” are an integral part of German life.

The term (der Schlager, plural: die Schlager) describes nothing else but a German pop song. It’s the style of music that for English native ears sounds decidedly Eurotrashy but that for millions of Germans has been the soundtrack of their lives. Even if you end up rebelling against it at a later stage – Believe me, I’ve tried! – these addictive ditties easily become a part of you that is impossible to shake off.

The good news for German learners is that these songs by and large operate with a relatively simple vocabulary that is generally sung very clearly and with a catchy rhythm and melody that makes the lyrics easy enough to remember.

There are countless examples for this type of song and Elke Sommer’s ICH SAGE NO is by far not the most popular but I like the way this YouTube video integrates the German lyrics with a collage of her photos.

Sommer is not generally known as a singer but as part of the post-war “Fräuleinwunder” was one of the few German actresses who have managed to create something of an international career for herself. She acted opposite Paul Newman (The Prize) and Peter Sellers (A Shot in the Dark), appeared in a number of TV shows (The Six Million Dollar Man, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island), was in Carry on Behind and in two films by Italian genre master Mario Bava but my overall favourite performance of hers was as one of a duo of sexy female killers in Deadlier than the Male, the best James Bond movie to not feature James Bond but instead focus on bikini clad vixens who emerge out of the ocean and murder by harpoon.  (Check this YouTube clip to get an idea what I am talking about.)