Learning German: Let’s break it down!

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Today on the blog we have Anna Pastrikos, a passionate language teacher who will be doing a new series on learning German on My Swiss Story for the next few weeks. I am very happy to introduce you to this topic since as an ex-pat we are always looking for quick hacks and tips to be able to learn and converse in the local language.

Have you ever thought about learning a new language? Whether it be English, Spanish, Chinese, or German the four pillars of language learning are always the same. These four pillars are:





In this article, I want to deconstruct every single sub-skill (writing, reading, listening & speaking) while learning a language, in order to explain to you exactly why these skills are important and how to master them in German.

1. The skill of writing

My Swiss Story: Learning German: Let’s break it down!Pic Credit: Unplash

When learning a new language, writing is a crucial skill. Let’s just remember our time in school when we learned a new language, probably one of the first things our language teacher taught us was the alphabet. Being able to differentiate the letters in the alphabet to writing them correctly is very important in order to form words and sentences. Imagine if we were to learn a language just through mere listening and imitating. No doubt we would – at some point – be able to understand and even respond, but we could never be able to enjoy reading a book or write something, something as simple as a text message or an email.

Learning to write is probably also one of the most challenging parts of learning a language. Therefore, it is highly recommended to either enroll in a course or get private tuitions. Getting a proper understanding of the alphabet remains important since it is the basis of everything that follows. This implies, learning how to spell (and pronounce) the alphabet. In German, it is important that you don’t just learn how to write single letters, but also letter combinations (e.g. double vowels), also knowing that they are pronounced differently. Some examples would be:

Double vowelsPronunciationExamples
ai / eieyedas Ei (egg), der Mai (may)
auowauch (also), das Auge (eye)
eu / äuoyneu (new), Europa
ieeehSie (you), nie (never)
My Swiss Story: Learning German: Let’s break it down!

After you have tackled the single letters you can move on to basic vocabulary. This is another very important step, as it is vital to have a basic repertoire of the most important words in German to be able to get around in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

2. The skill of reading

Another very important skill is the skill of reading. This again will take a lot of time in the beginning – therefore you have to start slow! Reading the alphabet and knowing how to pronounce the letters and certain letter combinations (see the table above) is your first step to successful German reading. From reading single letters and letter combinations you will then quickly be able to move on to reading simple words and even sentences.

You might experience that you will make faster progress in reading than you do in writing. This, however, is not a surprise! When writing you are producing a language, whereas when reading you are consuming the language. Although in the end, you have to be
able to do both(produce – and consume a language), it is often reported that people find it initially easier to consume a language, rather than produce it.

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At the beginning of your German reading journey, you should start extremely easy so you do not lose motivation. This would mean reading simple words and slowly graduating to very short simple sentences. You can practice your German reading in your day-to-day life, for instance, when taking a stroll through the city you can try to read signs on the streets or names of restaurants and cafes. You might even want to walk into a restaurant or a coffee shop and ask for the menu in German. Reading a menu in German would be great practice for your German language learning.

3. The skill of listening

The skill of listening in a foreign language is probably the skill that comes most naturally to us, especially if we happen to live in the country whose language we want to learn. If you want to learn German and have moved to either Germany, Austria, or Switzerland you will be exposed to the German language on a daily basis. Be it, going to the supermarket, your favorite restaurant or your local pub – German is omnipresent and your listening skills are put to practice on a daily basis. It’s quite natural to recognize and understand familiar words that you hear every day such as public service announcements on the train or the regular “Bitte” & “Danke” when you go to the shops.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there! Once you are committed to learning German you will probably start attending a German course. In the course, listening will take place all the time. You will, for instance, listen to the teacher and other course participants in your class. In class, you will also listen to recorded listening comprehension exercises. And last but not least, it is recommended to practice attending meetups in order to practice your German skills.

My Swiss Story: Learning German: Let’s break it down! Pic Credit: Unplash

4. The skill of speaking

The skill of speaking might be the most difficult skill of them all. Not because it is the most challenging skill per se, but because it involves stepping out of our own comfort zone. There is only one way to tackle this skill and it is by moving out of our comfort zone, by dropping your inhibitions and speaking German as much and wherever possible.

There are many possibilities to speak German when you are living in a German-speaking country. It might be with your colleagues at work, other participants in your language course, or while running errands. You can start with very simple sentences at first to ease into speaking German. A simple “Guten Morgen, wie geht es dir?” to your colleague might go a long way and pave the road for future interaction and small talk in German.

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No matter if you are an absolute beginner or at an intermediate level – the most important thing is – don`t worry about making mistakes. Making mistakes when learning a new language is quite natural. Embrace the journey and just start speaking!

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that I could give you some insights on the 4 sub-skills of learning a language. All sub-skills are equally important and therefore need to be practiced consistently for a while till you can finally master them.


Guest author: My name is Anna Pastrikos – I’m a passionate language teacher and the Founder of the German Academy Zurich. On my blog, you can find tips and advice on how to pass the telc and Goethe exam.

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