I’ve been stuck at an upper beginner/lower intermediate German level for some time now, but I think I’ve found an approach that works for me, and I think it can work for you too.
It wraps many things all in one approach: listening, writing, natural grammar acquisition, and conversational speaking. It’s an approach I adapted from Luca Lampariello, a polyglot I’ve followed and admired for a long time.
So here’s what I’m currently doing that I’m happy with:
How I’m getting my lower-intermediate German unstuck
The short version:
- Choose an interesting video
- Watch it all the way through
- Transcribe it, bit by bit
- Translate it into English
- Translate it back into German
- Write your own sentences with new words
- Rewatch the whole video, speaking alongside the native speakers
Transcribing and Translating YouTube Videos
1. Choose an interesting video
Every other morning, I watch a few seconds of the same YouTube video.
Currently, it’s an Easy German video. These are some of the best, since they are natural dialogues that include subtitles in both German and English.
Plus, they have videos on dozens and dozens of topics, so you can easily find one that interests you.
If you support them on Patreon, you get some helpful extras, too.
So the first thing I do is choose a video that sounds interesting to me.
2. Step two is to watch the video once, all the way through
The second step is to watch it all the way through. I do my best to avoid looking at the subtitles. That way, I can practice listening as much as possible.
3. Transcribe it while listening and watching the video
The third step is to transcribe what you hear in the video.
You’ll want to do this bit by bit — I usually do about 30 seconds to 1 minute worth of dialogue at once. Anything more tends to be too much work at my current level.
While watching the segment, drag your browser down so the bottom inch with the subtitles isn’t visible.
In my case, I have to pause after every sentence (sometimes even more often) to give myself enough time to write it down.
Sometimes — especially when the person speaks quickly — I have to rewatch the same piece 5 times before I figure out what they’re saying well enough to attempt to transcribe it.
First, draw a dividing line down the center of the page. The German transcription will go on the left.
Once I’ve transcribed about 2-3 paragraphs worth, I drag the browser up slightly (so that the German subtitles are visible) and check my work, marking mistakes in red.
Once my own transcription is corrected, I move on to step number 4.
4. Translate from German into English
Step four is to translate what you’ve written down in German into English.
I do my best to translate what I’ve written down from German into English on the opposite side of the page.
I then drag my browser into full view and rewatch the same part of the video, checking my translation against Easy German’s own translation. Again, I mark my mistakes in red.
5. Translate from English back into German (next day)
The next step is to sit down and translate the English back into German.
I always wait a day to do this. It gives me more time to test myself and let new words and grammar sink in, and it keeps me from spending too long each day on this.
Rewatch the same part of the video and see how your “re-translation” stacks up against the original German.
Each time I rewatch it, I understand more and more.
Sentences that were unintelligible the first time are now easy to grasp.
And I’m digesting grammar, idioms and colloquialisms at the same time.
6. Use new words
Time to put some new words into practice.
After translating it into English and back into German, look back at the German for words that were new to you.
Then write a sentence using each word, incorporating other new words if possible, too.
7. Rewatch & “Shadow”
The last step is to “shadow” the speakers — speak alongside them, mimicking their pronunciation and intonation.
At this point, you’ll have watched the video several times, so it’s easier to do, and is a big help with developing more natural pronunciation.
An alternative to YouTube videos:
You can do this same process with a book and audiobook. I don’t like this approach as much, though, because the language is not usually conversational (which is what I want as a language learner — natural conversations to learn from).
You can do it for free if the Free Kindle and Audible samples match up in both languages.
If not, you’ll need to buy them, or check an app like Cloud Library to see if your local library gives you free access.
Each day, listen and transcribe 15-30 seconds (1-2 paragraphs) of the audiobook. You’ll want to listen to the same segment a few times for the best effect.
Then check your transcription against the actual book in German.
Then, translate that into English, and check it against the English version of the book.
Finally, translate it back into German, and write your own sentences with a few of the words that were new.
That’s it! Curious if anyone out there at a lower-intermediate/intermediate level has the same approach helpful (or has an improvement on my approach). Let me know in the comments.