How to learn two languages at the same time (as long as one of them is German)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This is a topic mentioned here before, but the technique deserves a post of its own. A lot of people are torn between whether to learn language x or language y and thus have a hard time simply deciding on one, but there's no rule that you can't use one foreign language to use another. This is one example of one of the easiest ways to learn two languages at the same time, thanks to Deutsche Welle's excellent online German courses.  The same technique is possible to a certain extent with other languages as well but German seems to be the easiest, and here's why.

Okay, let's say you're learning a language and also have a fair amount of interest in German at the same time. Deutsche Welle has two online language courses that you can use to learn both. Online language courses on Deutsche Welle are available in a huge number of languages (Persian, Turkish, French, Portuguese, Bulgarian, you name it) but let's take Romanian as an example for the sake of simplicity.

If your Romanian is already fairly good, then you're in luck. Go with a course called Deutsch - warum nicht? This is an older German course but with a very nice atmosphere, and tells the story of a university student and hotel employee named Andreas that lives and works in Aachen. He has an invisible fairy friend called Ex, and the course follows the two of them along with some other hotel employees and guests and others they know. Eventually they make their way to Berlin, the former East German provinces, and other parts of the country. By the end you end up learning about the Myth of Barbarossa, Goethe, the Brocken, and a lot of other interesting parts of the country.

The reason why you might want to have fairly good Romanian before embarking upon Deutsch - warum nicht is that unfortunately the pdf that comes with the course only contains the German dialogue, and not the Romanian dialogue (i.e. the person that talks in Romanian in order to explain the German grammar to the listeners). For a beginner this might be a bit difficult as without being able to see what you're listening to it will often be impossible to tell what is being said. Nevertheless, with a good mp3 player with a repeat function you can simply write down what you know and skip ahead when encountering a part you don't understand. I did this with Turkish, and ended up writing down every single lesson in the course for a total of 104 lessons of 15 minutes each. That took about 3 months to do.

The second option is a more recent language course called Radio D. Radio D is unfortunately quite annoying as it attempts to be interesting and trendy but completely fails at that. The characters come across as being snobby and arrogant (Paula and Josephine) or annoying and desperate (Phillip), and one character (a talking computer called Compu) has a voice so grating that it makes you want to...well, I would say jam an ice pick into your ear but really it just makes you want to skip ahead a few seconds until he's done talking. On top of that the creators of the language course decided for some reason to introduce German dialects right away (and by right away, I mean even before you've learned how to conjugate the verb to be in the present tense) as well as a number of other languages too for some reason. There's a character from Spain that keeps on using Spanish half the time, something similar with a guy from Italy, and some parts just featuring people using only French and English. Oh, and a Turkish-German guy named Ayhan that likes to rap - really, really, really bad rap. The course just doesn't make sense.

But!

There are two silver linings here. One is a big one: the pdfs for Radio D have the dialogue spoken in Romanian (or whatever other language you prefer) written out as well, so you can always take the time to check what is being said. Pause, copy and paste in Google Translate, check the meaning, continue. In fact, there's no reason you even need to learn German with Radio D; just keep an eye on the general gist of the story and skip ahead to the parts in Romanian if you prefer.

The second silver lining is that Radio D improves a bit in the second part as the German dialogue gets more and more complex. Once you get to part 2 the story begins to get a bit more interesting, with a feature on Beethoven, the Berlin Wall and so on. But it still contains some weird stories that don't make any sense like the one about "laser terror" in a city called Jena. Oh well. Part 2 is still tolerable though.

Here's an example of what the pdf looks like when using Radio D, using Romanian as an example again. If you've chosen another language then that language will be seen on the right instead of Romanian.



First you see someone on the left saying "das ist ein Surfbrett" (that's a surfboard) and "das war ein Surfbrett" (that was a surfboard), followed by a few seconds of Romanian as the person explains that this is the past tense (forma de trecut) and that he's talking about a surfboard (planşa de surfing), after which it goes to the next part of the dialogue as it explains it bit by bit. This really is a good way to acquaint yourself with the written and spoken form of a language together, and is especially useful with languages such as Persian, as online Persian dictionaries are quite bad and obtaining them in print can sometimes be difficult, and without a proper dictionary it can be hard to tell exactly how to pronounce a word. Here's an example of the Persian version of Radio D:



The first sentence is pronounced "Filip ammâ mitavânad be khubi tasavvor konad ke..." and you can hear this in the dialogue while listening to the mp3. Without the mp3 though a student may not know whether تصور is pronounced tasavvor, tasur, tesvar or any other combination since it's just t + s + va + r and it's impossible to tell how to pronounce it without actually hearing it (similar to English words like doughnut and through - we just ignore the gh but someone first learning English has no way to know that).

So that's how to learn two languages at the same time. Other examples can be found here and there (learn Finnish grammar through Afrikaans here) but I've never seen any quite as complete as the language courses Deutsche Welle offers. If there are any out there though, do let everyone know in the comments section below.

9 comments:

Steve said...

Radio D sounds great to me. I'm thinking of trying it just to see how awful it is. I love awful stuff.

lyzazel said...

The idea of using something you are learning for learning something else is great. It doesn't have to be a language, though. For example, I watch lectures and read stuff and learn about, say, Physics using English. Recently it downed on me that I could use other languages I want to learn for my coursework so I began reading some of the stuff I had to read for my studies in French. Well, I don't really like to learn when I have as oppose to when I want and that prolonged it but it also made it more interesting to some extent. You can do your studies, you can read articles or you can learn another language. Two birds with one stone.

I did try to do Deutsche Welle and although the story is nice, you really have to put in the extra effort to learn the structure of the language. I did do Michel Thomas and it was a lot more helpful. I know some German now and I might be going to Germany for the summer if I get very lucky so if that happens, perhaps I should re-do Deutsche Welle. Even if that's so, I don't think I'd do more than just listen or sometimes read through the transcripts.

Beowulf said...

Thanks for the post! You sent an answer to my mail weeks ago saying that(ex. learning German trough Bulgarian, in my case). But now you put it in a practical way.
The problem, like the other fellow above said, is that don't know why, Deutsche Welle's courses don't interest me much...
Anyway, I'll try to give it another go.

Cheers,
Roman
P.S.: As for your interest in learning Portuguese, the professor from Macau didn't answered me until now.(Do you remember it?)

Jennie said...

I've been working on comparative tutorials in French & Italian and French & German, but they are nowhere near being complete (no audio yet either.)

http://ielanguages.com/frenchitalian.html
http://ielanguages.com/frenchgerman.html

I am also constantly searching for materials that allow you to learn more than one language at the same time, but there aren't many at all.

Robert Robbins said...

I'm learning French and German so I have ordered some French textbooks on German. I figure it will reinforce my vocabulary in both languages. It is also useful to read a French textbook on English because it clarifies how English should be translated into French.

Robert Robbins said...

I'm learning French and German so I have ordered some French textbooks on German. I figure it will reinforce my vocabulary in both languages. It is also useful to read a French textbook on English because it clarifies how English should be translated into French.

lyzazel said...

The idea of using something you are learning for learning something else is great. It doesn't have to be a language, though. For example, I watch lectures and read stuff and learn about, say, Physics using English. Recently it downed on me that I could use other languages I want to learn for my coursework so I began reading some of the stuff I had to read for my studies in French. Well, I don't really like to learn when I have as oppose to when I want and that prolonged it but it also made it more interesting to some extent. You can do your studies, you can read articles or you can learn another language. Two birds with one stone.

I did try to do Deutsche Welle and although the story is nice, you really have to put in the extra effort to learn the structure of the language. I did do Michel Thomas and it was a lot more helpful. I know some German now and I might be going to Germany for the summer if I get very lucky so if that happens, perhaps I should re-do Deutsche Welle. Even if that's so, I don't think I'd do more than just listen or sometimes read through the transcripts.

Beowulf said...

Thanks for the post! You sent an answer to my mail weeks ago saying that(ex. learning German trough Bulgarian, in my case). But now you put it in a practical way.
The problem, like the other fellow above said, is that don't know why, Deutsche Welle's courses don't interest me much...
Anyway, I'll try to give it another go.

Cheers,
Roman
P.S.: As for your interest in learning Portuguese, the professor from Macau didn't answered me until now.(Do you remember it?)

Jennie said...

I've been working on comparative tutorials in French & Italian and French & German, but they are nowhere near being complete (no audio yet either.)

http://ielanguages.com/frenchitalian.html
http://ielanguages.com/frenchgerman.html

I am also constantly searching for materials that allow you to learn more than one language at the same time, but there aren't many at all.

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