How to get Germans to speak German with you
As we head into the new year, you might have the goal of using German more in 2023, or just generally improving your language skills. There is no better time than now to start working on that goal.
If you live in a big city like Berlin, getting to use your German can feel like a constant battle, as people so regularly try to switch to English. But it’s important not to get disheartened or frustrated. If you want to practise your German, you must stand your ground and speak it! Here are some creative ways of keeping locals in their mother tongue and letting you flex your language skills.
1. Never give them English: Immer auf Deutsch!
There are many chances in your day to use German. Do not be frightened to grab hold of them and use them. Keep speaking German to the other person and, eventually, they will get the idea you want to use German. When they give you English, keep giving them German! This requires some stubbornness, to get the point across that you want to use their language.
Tip: Know how to ask for the correct word in German, to stop your conversations from stalling:
- Was heißt Pencil auf Deutsch? (What is pencil in German?)
- Wie sagt man ‚___’ auf Deutsch? (How do you say ‘___’ in German?)
- Ich weiß nicht, wie man das auf Deutsch sagt. (I don’t know how to say it in German.)
- Was ist das deutsche Wort für ___? (What is the German word for ___?)
- Was meinen Sie mit ‚___’? (What do you mean by ‘___’ ?)
These phrases will allow you to keep your conversations in German and stop you from having to revert to English. This tactic will also help you build your vocabulary! The more time you spend speaking the language, the more you will improve and your confidence will grow.
2. Find older Germans to speak to
Sometimes elderly Germans do not have as good English skills as the younger generations, so use this to your advantage and try to find ways to interact with them. Maybe you could volunteer? Or could you start a language exchange with your neighbour over a weekly coffee? Offer to help someone learn English in exchange for speaking German. Think creatively to find opportunities to use German.
Tip: Use sites like Vostel or Govolunteer to find opportunities in your community to give back to your city.
You will be giving someone (perhaps much-needed) social interaction and both of you will be learning from one another. Elderly people have so much wisdom to share with the world, but we need to sit down and listen to them. You will be surprised about the things you can achieve by befriending someone who is older than you.
3. Use phrases to inform others you wish to use German
It’s also worth learning some stock phrases to ask people to speak to you in German. If someone understands that you truly want to practise your language skills, in Germany people are generally quite accommodating. Here are some helpful phrases to tell German speakers that you want to speak in German:
- Ich möchte mein Sprachniveau in Deutsch verbessern. (I want to improve my level in German.)
- Ich brauche Übung in Deutsch. (I need to practice German.)
- Stört es Sie, wenn wir auf Deutsch sprechen? (Do you mind if we speak in German?)
- Können Sie bitte Deutsch sprechen? Das hilft mir beim Lernen. (Can you please speak in German? It helps me to learn.)
- Ich möchte Deutsch sprechen, bitte. (I would like to speak German, please.)
When you ask someone to use German, try to be as polite as possible. Remember they might want to use English with you to practise their language skills, too. If this is the case, you could perhaps agree to speak for a certain amount of time in German, before switching to English. By doing this, you will achieve the objective of having more conversations in German.
4. Practise your pronunciation
Invest time in making your pronunciation better and stronger. If you improve your pronunciation skills, your speaking will sound stronger to native German speakers. If you sound confident and comfortable, Germans will be less inclined to switch to a different language.
You can spend time watching videos or listening to podcasts, attending private classes with a native German speaker, having a tandem and making time to practise your pronunciation. The best way to get better at pronouncing words is to use them in real-life situations. Language learning is just like learning to ride a bike or drive a car: tt takes time to get better. The more time you spend improving, the better you will become at speaking German.
Tip: Learn some phrases that will help you get feedback on how you’re doing with your pronunciation and speaking:
- Könnten Sie mich bitte korrigieren? (Will you correct me please?)
- Können Sie bitte dieses Wort sagen? (Can you please say this word?)
- Wie sagt man das richtig? (How do you say this right?)
- Ist das korrekt? (Is this / that correct?)
- Liege ich falsch? (Am I wrong?)
- Liege ich richtig? (Am I correct?)
If you are able to get feedback from a native speaker, you will be able to make fast improvements in the way you use German - and often locals are only too happy to help! By getting the extra help, you will sound more like a native speaker. The more you can move closer to a native speaker’s pronunciation, the less likely it is that you will be spoken to in English.
5. Learn some conversation fillers and phrases
If your goal is to have German that flows well, it is good to pick up some phrases and word fillers for conversation to make your sentences sound good. Look at how natives use German or how you speak in your mother tongue. We don’t always speak in an uninterrupted stream of perfect sentences - there are natural parts of speech like conversation fillers and turns of phrase.
These extra tools will make the flow of your speech sound better. It’s therefore a great idea to become familiar with some vocabulary you will need to build stronger, native-sounding sentences. Don’t forget natives use a lot of filler words and they say “uhmm” in their speech, too. Add some fillers and phrases to your conversations to make speaking German more fun!
- Ach wirklich / Echt? (Ah really?)
- Na ja, vielleicht. (Yeah, maybe)
- Macht nichts! / Kein Problem. (That’s alright! / No problem.)
- Ach so. (Ah yeah.)
- Stimmt! Genau. (I agree. / Yeah, that’s right.)
If you add a few of these to your vocabulary, you will get the chance to experiment with the language and learn how to properly use fillers and phrases. This is moving up to the next level of learning and using German.
6. Start a tandem
A great way to start practising your German regularly is to find a language tandem partner. This is where you exchange your language skills with somebody else (for instance, if you’re a native Spanish speaker wanting to get better at German, you might pair up with a native German speaker who wants to improve their Spanish skills). Usually, half of the conversation will be in one language, and the other half in the other.
If you have been learning German for a while, a tandem is a great way to mix up your learning and find new ways to be entertained. A native speaker can give you advice on how to sound more natural and fluent in your speech. There are many sites you can visit to find a tandem partner, including:
- Meetup: Best for in-person language exchanges
- Facebook: Great local for private groups
- Tandem: Ideal for a quick start
A tandem will let you achieve so much in a short period of time. If you match well with your speaking partner, you will be able to improve your German and get more comfortable in the language. So go find a new partner and improve your German.
New year, more German speaking
This is the year to start using your German more. Do you want to take the B1 Exam for long-term residency? Do you want to have better German? Maybe you want to expand your knowledge of the language? There is no better reason to start than doing it now.
Make 2023 the year you start to have more conversations in German! Viel Glück und ein gutes neues Jahr!
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