A good time to germinate your German

Today’s article is in response to a request I had on Facebook Messenger from a Polish youth called Adam.

He complains of having received 10 years of teaching at school in German after which he has emerged with very little German knowledge, and blames this on the teaching. He has however managed to learn English even though he didn’t get this kind of classroom time in English. He feels if anything that the lessons at school just served to make him feel bad about German as a language.


Vergissmeinnicht – naja, das ist genau worauf wir hinauf sind…

This is not to do with any implicit dislike of German people or the country – indeed in 8 months time he means to move there on his own and wants now to learn sufficient German in the intervening 8 months to cope with the move and function properly in the country.

So I agreed to produce an 8 month plan of action for someone in this situation, but it will just be a first 8 months of an ongoing study plan, but in English and here for other people to benefit from who are in the same situation.

The first point is – do not try to activate or “feel fluent” in German prior to leaving. The first three days will be a bit bewildering but that is when your brain will activate everything you learn over the next 8 months. Just use the methods I will give here and leave the activation until you are there (go three days earlier than the day the fluency becomes critical so that you can make the adjustment). Activising continually right now will rob you of your study time and is a totally pointless exercise. Unfortunately phoney activation and other short-term memory techniques are what school lessons tend to be full of – don’t let’s repeat that failure this time.

Second point. Use English materials to learn your German so that refreshing and improving your German is not at  the cost of your English, but rather enhances it at the same time. This is the best way to be able to learn two languages in the same family. English and German are the same family. We and the Germans may not always feel that, but to a native Slav learner that will be fairly obvious and the chances for getting them muddled up will be high unless you use English to learn German – then the materials automatically highlight the differences between English and German.

First let’s use Paul Noble’s German course to refresh you on the grammar and give you a good inner voice for German. He uses a method very similar to Michel Thomas and also uses a native speaker, but does not have additional students and he has a native speaker. He will not confuse you with his awful accent when speaking English as Michel Thomas does, and the course is about the correct length and contains useful phrases for landing on your feet in a country.

This course as you will see from the link above is 12 CDs and should take you up to a month to complete fully. It will take about 30 hours of learning time. You may cover it a bit quicker but no need to rush this too much, even if you wanted to do 30 hours a week.

You don’t need to use any paper or goldlist at that time. Just follow Paul Noble’s own instructions at the start of the course.

After you have finished that I would normally recommend Pimsleur, but you had enough listening to German at school to not need that. Noble will be enough up-front audio only in your case. So this is where we start the Goldlisting.

Use the good explanations about goldlisting you will find on here or on the web to understand how it is done. Be aware that not just vocabulary  but also practice sentences and grammatical rules can be included in Goldlist, and the specific grammar that attached to a word should be learned with the word.

For German in the case of Nouns that means the gender, the plural form and if it is a weak masculine noun which adds an -n in the accusative and dative singular (there are not many of these so you can also learn that as a separate list). In the case of adjectives if it is indeclinable (most are declinable) and if it lacks comparative and superlative degrees, which in German very few do. In English you have to worry about saying “idioticest” instead of “most idiotic” whereas in German the only big worry is the handful if irregulars like gut, besser, best which also tend to be in English as they go back to a time when we were one people, and Germans also drank tea at five o’ clock. For verbs you have the strong verbs which are found in English too and again you’ll see similarities as well as need to look out for differences.

The biggest issues from English are the use of cases and the syntax – the strange word order, by English standards, of German. Here you need to goldlist a lot of example sentences and learn them.

I am going to suggest that you take as the initial written material the following book: Colloquial German as you get the audio for free off the Routledge website now, you only pay for the book. So if you feel like you want more audio input after Paul Noble you can still have it with this, or if you are comfortable you don’t have to use it and either way you only pay for the book. That’s very fair and Colloquial are the leaders in doing it this way.

Having got to the end of Colloquial, you should then graduate to the book Using German
and this will again give you a lot of good input to stop you confusing German and English and an excellent top level overview of the grammar and phraseology.

Following this I suggest a bit of vocabulary building with Wort fuer Wort and the Frequency Dictionary of the German Language as a good use of your time. All these can be Goldlisted.

The total of all these, if you did all the work in Goldlist is, give or take 20% depending on how thoroughly you put it into your headlist, as follows:

Colloquial German – about 4500 lines of headlist
Using German – about 10,000 lines of headlist
WfW – about 2500 lines of headlist
FDGL – about 3000 lines of headlist (assuming you only headlist what you don’t know by then).
Therefore total – 20,000 words of headlist.

So, to Goldlist off a headlist is usually three times the amount of the headlist, that is the headlist itself, plus another two times. So a 20,000 line headlist is likely to be a 60,000 line total Goldlist project. Although I am on record as saying that 25 lines is 20 minutes and then you need a 10 minute break, which effectively means 50 lines an hour is what you need to budget for, in actual fact on big projects you are going to get used to things and the rate is going to be more like a line a minute. Especially on languages using a form the Latin alphabet when you are native in another form of the Latin alphabet (same goes for inter-Cyrillic, inter-Arabic learning). This gives you a learning time on the whole project (which really is all the German you will need to function there along with the bits you’ll pick up going along) of 60,000 minutes. That’s a thousand hours.

In addition you will spend about 30 hours at the start doing the 12 CDs of Paul Noble. That doesn’t make a big difference to the total. Let’s just call the whole thing 1,000 hours.

If you had German at school for ten years at say two hours a week, then you did 600 hours plus maybe you had 400 hours homework and didn’t achieve much, but this 1,000 hours is going into your long-term memory if you do the Goldlisting properly. The difference between this thousand hours and the school one will be absolutely radical.

In addition you will spend about 30 hours at the start doing the 12 CDs of Paul Noble. That doesn’t make a big difference to the total. Let’s just call the whole thing 1,000 hours.

Now if you have 8 months that’s 240 days. You would need to do more than 4 hours a day to cover the syllabus in that time. This can possibly be done. In the Facebook Group “GoldList Method User Group”we have been doing 70 day challenges and the winners are doing over 8,000 lines in 70 days. They are talking about doing 10,000 lines in a future challenge. But this is like the Holy Grail of Goldlisting, it is for addicts. I suggest you don’t even attempt more than 2 hours of this a day and then just do have that syllabus before you go and the second half, which is already advanced, while you are there.

So, two hours a day, fifteen a week, 70 per month and 500 over the next eight months, that’s the challenge. You don’t need to sit there with a teacher. Your budget for the above materials plus the goldlist books and pens you need including postage is about 1,500 PLN. If you took 1000 hours of lessons with a teacher the budget would be 50,000 PLN minimum, plus all the time to get to the lessons and back. And the difference is this works and the lessons don’t.

In the event of questions after you have thought about the answer and can’t get there you can ask Polyglots group or another German language learning group on Facebook but I would use this as a last resort as this also is time-consuming.

Viel Glueck und Gute Reise!

About David J. James

52 year old accountant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written discussion. Conservative Christian, married to an angel, we have three kids, and live in Warsaw, Poland. I can help you with company set-up, bookkeeping, payroll, tax, audit and due diligence all over Poland and the region.

Posted on 10/04/2016, in Blog only. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A question about goldlisting German:

    If you make a 100 word headlist in 4 sessions every day for a week, will this cause a issue when distilling the first days words? (Because, the latest headlist would have been from a week ago, but you are distilling words from two weeks ago in this scenario).

    Also, I have been doing German pimsleur and on pimsleur 4 right now. I want to goldlist the phrases I don’t know from pimsleur starting at lesson one getting 25 gold listed phrases from this from each lesson or every two lessons. What are your thoughts on this? I am open to anyone’s advice. Thank you.


  2. The same recommendation (books) for French too, David?


  3. Alan Brenville

    Don’t know if anybody has come across this* series of German language learning titles. I hadn’t until very recently. The method (primarily audio with a written backup) seems well thought out and the audio samples are all in slowly spoken clearly pronounced German.
    The series is by André Klein and is called * “Learn German With Stories” there are currently six titles each containing 10 short stories. As far as I can tell they are only available from the Amazon store (which is a pity !) but they might be available from other sources; I’m not absolutely sure about this. The accompanying audio is downloadable from “Audible.com”, also an Amazon-owned company (also a shame !) but this is the nature of monopolies unfortunately. Anyway I thought I would just throw this in the pot, for what it is worth. They might form an interesting addition to the titles recommended by David. I haven’t actually used them myself but I’m just about to purchase the first volume called “Café in Berlin”.

    Here is one of the reviewer’s comments :-

    “I am at an intermediate level – completed Pimsleur, Michel Thomas etc and at the point where I am looking for actual material to read rather than just listen and repeat.
    This is fantastic. Actually really funny short stories all in German, that gave me great confidence as I could read and understand 90% and then there is a guide to highlighted words/sentences at the end of each story.
    Stories about 3/4 pages long, so you can read through, do the vocab, and then read through again fully understanding (hopefully!).
    There is also a quiz at the end of each story.
    Have purchased a couple of the Authors other books, and they are looking just as good.
    Only downside is its only about 100 pages in total but I will go back and enjoy again once I have read the others. Also a good price – well worth it if you are at a point where you are moving on from lessons, but not quite at the point where you can say watch German TV or Film just yet.
    Great job André keep them coming!”

    You might also like Lucas Kern’s “Leicht Deutsch lernen” [http://leicht-deutsch-lernen.com].

    Both of these recommendations would of course benefit hugely from being put into the context of Gold Listing.

    Hope this might help.



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