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Preparing for German 231

This page is written for students planning to take German 231 who found First-Year German difficult, for students who have not taken a German course for a while, and for students who did not take German 101/102/103 at the University of Michigan. The suggestions are listed roughly in order of priority.

1. Review the German 101/102 Video Lectures, Worksheets, Online Exercises, and Vocabulary Resources

2. Review the basics: Pimsleur German. Great for improving listening & speaking skills!

3. Duolingo and HelloTalk - daily practice and German conversation partners

4. Listening practice: German Audio on Netflix; extr@ auf Deutsch; Lernen to Talk Show; "Videos zum Spaß"

5. Reading: Easy/Graded Readers, Dual Language books, Harry Potter etc.

6. Preview the German 231 Gateway Vocabulary List

7. Subscribe to Mango or Yabla German via the LRC

8. MORE Self-Study advice and resources

1. Review the German 101/102 Video Lectures, Worksheets, Online Exercises, and Vocabulary Resources

Click here to access the German 101/102 overview page. Scroll past the green section at the top. You will see three columns:

  • The left-hand column includes links to video lectures summarizing the basics of German grammar. Note the list of topics for each video.
    • Pause the video lectures as needed; watch them multiple times.
    • Afterwards, make up your own example sentences using the new structures, until they feel easy.
    • Make flashcards out of example sentences you find useful!
  • The center column includes links to online exercises and worksheets accompanying each video.
  • The right-hand column includes links to vocabulary handouts for each chapter, and to online exercises and worksheets practicing that vocabulary. The vocabulary handouts include usage information, examples and mnemonic ideas.
    • The green section at the top provides a link to a flashcard program and mobile apps for practicing this vocabulary.
    • For vocab review and building fluency, I recommend spending 10-15 minutes at a time reviewing one of the vocab handouts and forming as many simple sentences with this vocabulary as you can, as quickly as you can - advice for doing this is here. Make your own flashcards (see below) for words you want to be sure to remember.
  • If time is short, try to watch one or two of the video lectures in the left-hand column every day (more would be too much to absorb at one time). There are only thirteen videos, so you could cycle through them multiple times until the material feels familiar. Once the earlier videos feel easy, focus more on the later ones. Follow up each video by trying the accompanying exercise/worksheet in the middle column. In addition, use the links in the right-hand column to review the chapter vocab, one chapter at a time, 20 minutes at a time, ideally 3-4 times per day, so that you cycle through 3-4 chapters every day. Alternate between reading through the vocab handouts, forming sentences on your own, doing the vocab worksheets and online vocab exercises, and using the flashcard program (linked at the top of the page). Focus on what feels most helpful. If you have more time, work through the chapters systematically in order. Spend about 3/4 of your time on vocab practice, 1/4 on grammar.

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2. Review the basics: Pimsleur German. Great for improving listening & speaking skills!

Pimsleur Level 1 may feel very easy, but may be a good starting point for building confidence and fluency in speaking and listening.

Pimsleur uses an audio-based approach to teach a wide range of languages. You can find Pimsleur CDs in most public libraries. Look for something like "Basic German" or "Conversational German" or simply "Level 1," and if you like it, look for the "Complete Course" collections, which exist at three levels. The basic idea is that you are taught how to say a few words, and then systematically asked to form sentences with them, e.g. Say "Let's meet at half-past five." There's a pause for you to say it if you can, then you hear the model answer, then you repeat that, then you're prompted to say the next sentence, etc. Every few sentences, another new word or phrase is introduced. The method is slow and methodical, but very effective at getting you to actually become comfortable using what you learn. It will only work if you attempt to say each sentence when prompted (and then repeat the model answer). Note their advice to repeat each lesson until you have mastered 80-90% of it before you move on to the next lesson!

If you like Pimsleur, I recommend using it in combination with a flashcard program, where you can enter words and phrases you want to be sure to remember, and with an online dictionary (e.g. pons.de or dict.cc).

If you like the Pimsleur approach but find it too slow, you could experiment with the German materials by Michel Thomas, which use a similar approach, but proceed more quickly (but also less systematically).

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3. Duolingo and HelloTalk - daily practice and German conversation partners

Duolingo is a free app (for Android, iOS and even Windows phones) with the explicit goal of making language learning fun and addictive. Practice vocabulary, grammar, speaking and listening. Constantly being improved.

HelloTalk is a free app (Android and iOS) for finding conversation partners around the world and at home. Enter the language(s) you speak and want to learn, then find partners by language, location etc.

For links to the websites, more info, and links to other resources, click here.

Also: don't be shy about talking to real people: German tourists and exchange students, friends and family members who speak German, etc.!

Finally, you can talk to yourself in German - out loud, or in your head. Tell yourself in German what you're doing, what you're seeing, what you're thinking. It's fun, makes you more mindful, and will help you learn to talk about the things that are most relevant for you!

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4. Listening practice: extr@ auf Deutsch; Lernen to Talk Show; "Videos zum Spaß"; German Audio on Netflix

extr@ auf Deutsch is an entertaining soap-opera spoof. The German is simple, clear, and useful, and the videos are captioned to help you follow along. An exaggerated laugh-track lets you know when a joke has been made, and some of the jokes are funny. 

The Lernen to Talk Show is a series of 4-7 minute videos filmed once a week by a student who went to Germany for a year in 2011/12, to document his progress in the language. Each episode is carefully subtitled (and often also annotated) in ways that also show you some of the mistakes he makes as he speaks. German captions are being added to the videos in order. I recommend working through these in order, starting with Week 1.

Videos zum Spaß: These videos are organized in accordance with their correlations to the chapters of Vorsprung, our first-year textbook. The links are accompanied by explanatory notes, ranging from general comments to detailed transcripts with translations. Choose what you like and use the related videos on YouTube to find more!

Netflix: Watching Netflix in German is probably less productive than the three suggestions above, aber es macht Spaß :) For shows produced by Netflix (Stranger Things, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt etc.), there is a language menu at the lower right of the screen where you can set the audio (but unfortunately not the captions) to German. You'll learn the most by setting the language to German and the captions to English and actively correlating what you hear with what you see.

  • Click here for a complete list of Netflix original series. Many more series are available in German (and with German captions) on Netflix in Germany/Austria/Switzerland, but Netflix is very strict about attempts to fool it into believing you're in Germany when you're not.

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5. Reading: Easy/Graded Readers, Dual Language books, Harry Potter etc.

Extensive reading is a great way to build vocabulary and learn how the language works. The key to this is to look up as few words as possible, in order to read at close to a normal pace. Look up words only if (a) you're lost, or (b) you really want to learn that particular word. A few ideas:

  • Graded German Reader (by Crossgrove & Crossgrove): Well-thought out progression from texts for complete beginners to anecdotes, stories and fairy tales - but VERY expensive (over $100 for a 240-page paperback) ==> look for a used copy, or an older edition!
  • Dual Language books in German with a facing page translation. Entering "Dual Language German" or "Parallel Text German" on amazon will show you various options. Unfortunately, most of the available texts are quite difficult.
  • German versions of easy-to-read books you like and have already read. One possibility is Harry Potter. Click here for links to a vocabulary list for the first volume, and to chapter outlines for the whole series, which can help you read this book more efficiently.

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6. Preview the German 231 Gateway Vocabulary List

This is a list of some of the most common German words and expressions. You will take a test on it when you feel ready, sometime during the first third of German 231. Click here to see a link to the list, and to an online practice test, which you can take as often as you like (you will see a different set of 100 random items each time you take it).

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7. Subscribe to Mango or Yabla German via the LRC: http://lsa.umich.edu/lrc/language-learning/subscriptions.html

The above link is a great opportunity to access these valuable resources for free. 

Mango Languages is an online language learning resource based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Here is a link to a video overview of how Mango works.

Yabla allows you to watch their library of authentic German videos (TV clips, music videos, etc.) with various features to promote listening practice:

  • You can slow down the audio. The pitch will be corrected so it still sounds fairly normal.
  • All videos are accompanied by German and English captions. For easier texts, hide the English ones. Click on words in the German captions to look them up in an online dictionary.
  • The "loop" button allows you to play a certain segment over and over (click "Loop" at the point where you want the loop to end, then click on the progress bar where you want it to start)
  • Click "play game" to see some fill-in-the-blank activities based on segments from the video clip.
  • New clips are added each week. You can browse their library without signing in to see what's available.

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8. MORE Self-Study advice and resources

Click here for much more self-study advice. If you have time, scan the list to see what resonates with you.

Viel Spaß und viel Erfolg [=success] in Deutsch 231!

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