Hallo an alle!
Today is a really great day. After 6 months of studying, intensive German classes, and countless hours practicing with sites like /german
, I was finally ready for my B1 exam which I just took today. I have to wait about 4 weeks for the results for some reason... but I'm extremely confident that I passed. Let's hope my confidence doesn't disturb the Gods of Fate.
I wanted to share with everyone here my experience and offer some advice if you're interested in eventually taking the B1 test too. First, a little of my story and arguably the most important part of it, my motivation.
100% of the reason I started learning German was a girl who smiled at me a few times at a gym in Seattle. After she gave up on me making the first move (was never going to happen, too shy), she gave me her number and couldn't get rid of me. Now I live in Germany.. Being exposed to the language everyday is helpful in ways that are obvious, like reading signs and hearing people talk around you, but also in less obvious ways, like being forced to interact with cashiers and waiters/waitresses who only speak German, or otherwise don't want to speak English to you. Without my girlfriend's motivation, not just her direct motivation and help but the daydreams about having conversations with her and her friends and family in German, I simply wouldn't have gotten this far. That initial desire will get you over the first mountain, but it takes something more to stay on your feet when you see 200 more in front of you.
Important to note is that I wanted to learn as fast as possible, and not just to memorize tourist phrases and a few introductions, but really speak the language and live my life exactly how I do now, just in German instead of English. If you're more of a casual learner, driven by the romance of knowing a second language, or even if it's important, but more of a binary decision, like needing to speak the language for a job opportunity or something but not really caring about language itself, just remember to pace yourself. So often I see friends learn a language and just burn out after banging their head against a wall trying to grasp a concept. I've watched the sullen look of horror creep over the faces of people learning adjective endings.
So, my learning path. I started learning German in the USA about a year ago just with Duolingo and finding a private tutor on craigslist. The tutor was expensive, but the structure was nice and especially in the beginning it's nice to have someone drag you along the boring and awkward details. Things like pronouncing the alphabet and learning colors weren't fun in Kindergarten and they aren't fun now either. I went about once a week for 1.5 hours.
After and during my months seeing the tutor I really just sucked up every piece of information that I could find like a Hoover. Honestly, the entire language is online, I can't stress that enough. Websites like nthuleen.com
were instrumental and mostly free. There are tons of free pdf's that just offer so much good, free information.
That lasted about 8 months, after which I made the huge decision to move to Germany to be closer to my girlfriend.
Here I started an "Intensive German Course" at a Volkshochschule, which is basically a Community College. I started at the A2 level. That was 4 months ago. Now, when they listed "intense" they truly meant it. 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. I am lucky enough to have saved some money when I moved here, so I could focus 100% on the courses. While expensive, it was affordable for what you got. Compared to the options in the US it was at least half as much.
The courses were great, but like with most things, you're really only going to get out of it what you put back in. I studied another 5-10 hours per week. Just practicing grammar that I didn't quite grasp, reviewing vocabulary, etc. Having my girlfriend available for the random question here and there was nice, but it's important to remember that most
German speakers understand that language only or at moslty intuitively, not literally, as we're learning it. I think I know more about German grammar than I do about English! This simply means that it's helpful, but don't get discouraged that you don't have one or two advantages that I or someone else may have. Nothing is truly in your way.
My path was this, skipping A1.1 and A1.2 because of my studies in the US: A2.1
-> B1 test
Each "Module" was 1 month long. Because I'm an over-confident penny-pincher I skipped the B1.2 module and studied on my own. I had been doing it in the USA and was confident my discipline and organizational skills would be sufficient. I wanted to save money and have a more flexible schedule. The book we used was called "Netzwerk" and I found it pretty good. It's unique in that it's 100% in German, as many people, especially here in Germany, aren't learning the language as an English speaker. That forced me to learn some extra vocabulary and didn't allow me to "zone out" while studying. The books have silly examples but overall did a good job of teaching me what I needed to know while being "up-to-date" with the lessons and scenarios. (I have seen and even used a few German lesson books talking about "Crazy" things in the future like "phones that you can put in your pocket!") The answers and digital versions of the audio is all available on their website too which is really nice.
Okay... so, test day was today. It was broken into two parts: Writing / Reading / Hearing
and then Speaking
. Depending on who you are one of these is more nerve wracking than the other, for me it's Speaking. If you happened to be in my 9th grade Chemistry class you may have seen me black out when trying to present something about... chemistry. Or maybe you were with me in the 7th grade when I gave the worlds shortest book report which started and ended within the same sentence after I had to sit down to avoid passing out.
I'm not great at public speaking.
Onto the tips! Part 1:
Reading / Hearing / Writing
This part of the test I really liked. It's simply one of those "you know it or you don't" situations and if you belong in the test, you'll nail it. I really had to learn to trust myself and after I got over some of the butterflies that come from that "whoa, I'm here" realization, I just stopped trying to force the answers. Just like the chefs on the show Chopped, WATCH THE CLOCK. You only have a limited amount of time and when that time is up, it's over. Do not reread your "Brief" 10,000 times. Write it, trust yourself, reread it once to fix silly mistakes. Same goes for the Reading portion. You'll likely get some kind of multiple choice selection thing where you have to choose the right newspaper ad for the right question. These are hard, they are meant to trick you. Pay attention to the details and underline key words. For example, if the prompt is:
There will be an ad that says something like:
- Dein Freund will sein Auto reparieren lassen. Er hat ein deutsches Auto."
- Your friend wants to get his car repaired, he has a german car.
- Auto Garage! Would you like to get your car repaired but don't want to spend money on a mechanic? Our workshop supplies you with the tools you need to take care of it yourself!
This, of course, is wrong
. In German "lassen" here specifically means "let someone else do it" like in the sentence "Ich will mein Auto reparieren lassen". This sentence specifically means that you don't want to do it yourself. Also there is no mention of "German Cars" which can be and often is a red herring.
This sounds a little complicated, but rest assured, I'm only illustrating the few problems that have a little trick to them. And really not so much a trick, but more of assurance that you're truly reading, and understanding both the prompt and the options you're selecting.
That underline thing I mentioned I mean very literally. You will get an Answer Sheet, which you can only fill out the bubbles on, but you CAN write in your work book, and let me tell you... WRITE IN YOUR WORKBOOK! On the listening sections underline the things that you are listening for. If you're going to hear an announcement at a train station, underline the platform that you're listening for, and the time you're listening for if applicable. IGNORE everything else. The tape will play an entire announcement, of which only half is important to you, know what to listen for.
Same goes for other types of hearing questions too. I had a question along the lines of "Is the reason the A21 is closed because of an obstruction in the road?" and the tape had something which included the phrase "obstruction in the road" but it was for a different Autobahn... tricky tricky. Fortunately I had "A21" underlined and the moment the tape said "In der Autobahn A61.... blah blah blah doesn't matter because of my flawless system". Listen carefully, underline what you need. Lastly... the dreaded speaking test.
I'm not great at public speaking, or speaking in front of anyone. I'm much older than I was in 7th and 9th grade but I still have to control myself with deep breathing and focus before I step in front of a group of classmates or something. This test is really important to me and basically justifies all of the hours of work I put into German, and my giant move to Germany in the first place. That means my head was racing with doubt, threatening to swerve off the road at every turn.
The format is simple:
- Teil 1: Introduce yourself (sich vorstellen)
- Teil 2: Describe a photo (ein Bild beschreiben)
- Teil 3: Make an appointment (einen Termin machen) - this one with a partner
You can search in YouTube "B1 mündliche Prüfung" and find a thousand, literally a thousand, examples of this test in various formats and I encourage you do that. Sometimes they're a bit different but always similar.
The entire thing is 15 minutes. When I sat down across from my partner, adjacent to the two Instructors, I could feel the adrenalin pump through me. I noticed the outside of my vision getting a little blurry. I took deeps breaths, I forced myself to smile, and made eye contact with everyone around. I reminded myself that we're all here just to chat, it's important, but you're prepared and again, trust yourself.
To prepare for this test I didn't write my entire introduction out, but rather key phrases and words and grammar that I wanted to show off. I had some classmates who wrote the entire thing out but then became so focused on simply memorizing their "speech" that they got caught up on super simple phrases like remembering the word order for a "weil" sentence. It wasn't because they didn't understand that the verb goes to the end, but because they just couldn't remember what they had written. Don't write down things like "ICH KOMME AUS FRANKREICH". You know that, trust yourself to be able to say that under pressure.
Instead I wrote down a few key phrases like:
- Nachdem ich nach Seattle gezogen war, habe ich als Barista gearbeitet.
Plusquamperfekt, at least for me, was very new, but I did understand it and wanted to use it, so i wrote this down. I didn't even use it, I used a different "nachdem" sentence, but again it was just about the format and grammar rules I wanted to cement in my head. In this case "nachdem + plusquamperfekt,
simple past or perfekt".
I also wrote down something like:
- Es wäre so toll, wenn ich als Schriftsteller arbeiten könnte.
Again, just nailing down the grammar in my head, in this case Konjunktiv II.
Deep breaths, and keep your review non-specific, focusing on weaknesses in grammar and what you can show them that you know, rather than just trying to memorize a speech.
Last bit of advice for the speaking test is that you are allowed to be human. When you trip over your tongue and hit a brick wall, excuse yourself and just start over, they are so happy to accommodate that and pulling out an "Entschulidgung, Ich möchte es wiederholen" not only is no problem, but also shows you can do that in the real world, which is what they're looking for. So chill!
The next two parts are just a matter of building your vocabulary and using "Redemittle" like "Ich schlage vor...", "Was denkst du über..." and "Ich finde es toll, wenn..." for the appointment and other phrases like "Im Hintergrund sehe ich...", "Zwischen dem Baum und dem Haus steht ein Stuhl" and so forth.
This post started as an idea to say about a paragraphs worth of encouragement and here we are... 50000000 words later. Thanks for reading if you have this far and I hope my meandering stream-of-consciousness was helpful in some way. Please ask any questions you have and I'll be happy to answer them!