With over 2,500 basic words and phrases in more than 140 languages, there’s plenty the uTalk app offers for you to learn. But as we all find ourselves getting busier and busier, how much time do we realistically have to spend on language learning? We decided to find out by having Norma, our Marketing Intern, use the app for one week to see how much German she could learn.
Firstly, why take up this challenge at all?
I tend to change my mind about what language I want to learn every other week, so I wanted to challenge myself to make a bit of a routine around a new language that I can keep up after the seven days are over.
What made me choose German?
The truth is, I had only ever studied romance languages before and I wanted to go out of my comfort zone. Considering that German is a harder language for an English-speaker than Romance languages are, I thought it would be a good bridge to non-romantic languages. Plus, I’ve always wanted to visit Berlin, so why not try and learn some German to use when I eventually make a trip?
Prior to this week I had very minimal knowledge of German, just the numbers one to ten and a couple of basic phrases, but not enough to even get me out of the airport without using English.
Given my lack of knowledge of German, I started from the basics. This meant learning more numbers (Numbers up to 10 million took a few tries to pick up), First Words and Essential Phrases. Like I said before, I had only ever seen the numbers one to ten, so I had never seen how different double digits are in German. It’s safe to say that I was surprised when I saw the second digit written before the first one, i.e. 35 becomes ‘five and thirty’, which took some getting used to.
Luckily, there are a couple of similarities between English and German in the Essential Phrases topic, so some words were easier, and the pronunciation helps too. However, I keep getting the three genders (feminine, masculine and neutral) mixed up, and the word order in the few phrases I’ve come across seem quite different.
What really helped was going through the Phrase Practice carefully before starting, even just to familiarise myself with the phrase associated with the picture. This way, if I forgot what a phrase meant in German, the picture it’s associated with would help me remember.
Topics tried: First Words, Numbers up to 10 million, Essential Phrases
Even though I won’t be travelling to Germany anytime soon, I decided to practice the ‘Directions’ topic. Yesterday I noticed a difference in the word order in German, so I was hoping that this phrase-filled topic would help me better understand how phrases are constructed, instead of just knowing a couple of random words which I can’t string together in a sentence.
By the time I got to the Hard Game I still didn’t understand the purpose of every word in the phrases on the grammar side of the things, but at this stage I was just happy to understand the general idea.
Despite my previous confidence, the Recall Game is really hard and took me a while because of all the phrases I kept forgetting! However, I still find it the most helpful exercise to consolidate the phrases in my head.
There aren’t too many vocabulary links that I’ve noticed with German and English so far, so I was very happy when I come across ‘die Straße’ (road), which is a bit like ‘strada’ in Italian and ‘street’ in English; Google tells me that the word for ‘street’ in English, German, Dutch and Italian are cognates!
Topics tried: Directions
I started the day by going back over the Essential Phrases through the Recall Game, and realised there were many phrases I needed to go over again.
Almost halfway through the week feels like a good time to try the Social Phrases topic so I can at least introduce myself!
By this point I noticed that verbs are sometimes put at the end of the sentence, although it doesn’t seem to always be the case. I tried to literally translate the phrases in the Phrase Practice (often unsuccessfully) to help me by the time I reached the Recall Game.
Since the word order is different, I had to check the uTalk Phrase Book a few times to make sure I didn’t assume that one word means something, a mistake which I made on Day 7 when I saw the sentence ‘I like dancing’ and assumed that the word ‘like’ was the word ‘dancing’ and vice versa.
Whilst this did help, I still don’t know a lot of the prepositions in sentences like to, from, at and so on, and I don’t know where to place them either, so it’s still tricky to remember the phrases at the Recall Game.
Topics tried: Essential Phrases (again), Social Phrases
I struggled a lot with the Directions topic on day two, so I started by going back over it to refresh my memory and get some more phrase practice before starting with Colours and Family (no phrases this time!).
Overall today wasn’t so bad, but I can’t help but question how the letter ‘s’ is pronounced? Sometimes I hear it pronounced as it is in English, but sometimes it sounds like an ‘sh’. Could this depend on the letter that follows it, or is it a case of memorising certain words which use one sound, a bit like our spelling irregularities in English?
Topics tried: Directions (again), Colours, Family
I started by going over the Family topic from yesterday quickly with the Recall Game to test my memory. Thankfully, I remembered most of the vocab besides a couple words like grandson (der Enkel) and husband (der Ehemann).
I then went on to the Travelling topic; not only would this help me complete my goal of being able to leave the airport but I was hoping that it would help me become more familiar with the language because of the large list of words and sentences.
I noticed that two or three words in English are sometimes put together in German, like ‘bus stop’ which becomes ‘Busbahnhof’.
Topics tried: Family (again), Travelling
In the hope of helping my ability to string a sentence together, I decided to try the Prepositions topic. The main difference is that phrases like ‘in front of the’ and ‘in the’ can be translated a couple of different ways – could this be the three genders?
Luckily, words like ‘unter’ (under) were helpful by the time I got to the Recall Game.
I followed up with the Adjectives topic and I was taken aback when I saw that ‘schön’ means beautiful, a word which I had only seen as part of the word ‘Dankeschön’.
Nonetheless, this was one of the topics where I saw the most links with English because of words like ‘laut’ (loud) and ‘hart’ (hard) – yay!
Topics tried: Prepositions, Adjectives
Since I went over Prepositions yesterday, I decided to pick a topic with phrases to see if I had improved. To test this theory, I decided to try the Likes and Dislikes topic, as well as House (no phrases in this one!) later on.
I was hoping that the Likes and Dislikes topic wouldn’t be too bad, but I was surprised to see how many different ways that ‘like’ can be translated in German! Somehow, ‘I like’ can be translated into ‘Ich mag’ or ‘gern’, which doesn’t seem to act like a verb. Instead, it’s often put at the end of the sentence to make ‘I like to read’ into ‘I read like’. Albeit confusing, at the end of this week I can say that I have become slightly more familiar with sentence structure, which is really encouraging!
Topics tried: Home, Likes and Dislikes
Whilst I am nowhere near fluency, it was really fun starting from nothing with a language and building somewhat of a foundation to go from in future.
Since this was a challenge, I was trying to fit in a lot of vocab in one week, which may not have been the best idea to ensure that the words would stick. In future, I plan on spending more time going over and consolidating vocabulary in one topic a few times, maybe over a few days, before going on to others.
If you would like to try learning a language for a week with uTalk, click here download the app!
Click here to hear about how Charlotte, our Marketing and Sales Co-ordinator, got on with learning Scottish Gaelic for a week!