German: An Update

This is just ending a series I have previously written on. I am no longer learning German. Whilst I still love the language and the culture and still have Ostalgie and collect things – I am just no longer actively pursuing learning German.

The reason for this is because my interests in my research have change. I originally decided to learn German as my research interests were in German history, in particular, life in the two Germanies and the Holocaust. Whilst these topics are still close to my heart, circumstances beyond my control made me have to switch to a different department. It was a tough choice and I do miss researching the Holocaust, but ultimately switching departments was very much needed.

I am saddened that I can no longer follow what was once a passion and as a result I have stopped learning German because it saddens me, knowing that the reason behind learning German is no longer there. Right now it is still a very raw decision. I may pick up my learning in the future but for now it’s not an option.


Ostalgie is a very whitty pun and a merging (well really it’s dropping of a letter!) of two German words Ost, meaning east and Nostalgie, meaning nostalgia. It is a term that is used to refer towards showing sentimentality for the east, particularly for the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or as we called it, East Germany.

In 1989, The Berlin Wall fell and Germany ceased to be two divided countries and reunited into one. Although it was seen as a victory for the West, it was often quite traumatic for those living in the East, especially as parts of their cultural identity had been stripped away. This led in part to a turning back to the DDR with fondness and nostalgia. Today, elements of DDR life such as TV Shows (such as Unser Sandmännchen), Food, and the Ost-Ampelmännchen (The green man on crossing signals) still play a part in daily life.

I have a friend who was born in the DDR and still lives in former-DDR territory. He is a die-hard lover of the DDR and he jokes that he hates leaving the DDR to go to the West. Over Christmas, he went home to his Mum’s house and showed me some old coins and DDR maps that he had. I adore old coins and maps and I saw these and instantly decided I wanted to get a DDR map and some coins and join the Ostalgie bandwagon.

I was able to pick up some lovely items.

First is a 1 Pfennig coin dating from 1961. This was the year the Berlin Wall was established. I thought it would be perfect to set it in a coin mount and have my own lucky penny necklace. At first I couldn’t find a coin mount to fit with the standard English penny coin mounts, but luckily I live in Birmingham, home of the Jewellery Quarter, so I was able to find someone to make me a bespoke one. I really love this necklace.


Second, I found a 1990 5 Pfennig coin, this one is slightly bigger than the 1 Pfennig, and 1990 marks the final year these coins were made. This one sits in my Filofax. I don’t really have a set use for it, but like some of my other coins I collect, they are just nice to pull out occasionally and look it.



Finally I have this beauty, a wonderful map of Berlin, complete with red line marking the Berlin Wall and a little icon for the Brandonburg Gate. My absolutely favourite feature of this though is the refusal to even draw West Berlin on the map, leaving it instead blank. Under the Hallstein Doctrine, West Germany had refused to acknowledge the existence of East Germany as a separate country. In addition, any country that formally recognised East Germany and established connections with it, would be denied diplomatic relations with West Germany. Although by the time this map was created the Hallstein Doctrine had been abandoned in favour of Ostpolitik, relations between East and West were still frosty. Hence the refusal to acknowledge West Germany on a map. I am currently looking into a frame so I can hang this map up on my wall.






Duolingo on completion


On Sunday (14th February) I completed Duolingo, which is no easy task. I guess I have been doing it for about two years, but I have restarted the course maybe 3 times during that period…but on Sunday it was the first time I completed it. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to review more fully now.

I think Duolingo is a great tool for helping to learn a language, I love the competitive element and seeing how your friends are doing. Often trying to beat my friends score keeps more doing Duolingo.

I like the game style element, with the trial and error format. I think it is a great way to learn a language. However I do not think it is the only way to learn a language. I think to use it within different ways to learn a language is the most successful way to use Duolingo. I think you need to read, speak to native speakers, watch films, listen to music, and attend a regular class.

I love that Duolingo has little notes that explain each section and the rules of grammar. However whilst these are good towards the beginning of the tree, some of the lessons towards the end, which need explanation do not have as much (or any) information to them. Which is why I think you need someone, such as a native or a teacher, to help you understand more.

That being said, if you want to learn the basics of a language and be able to get by in a country where the language is different – I think you can very easily do that with Duolingo. Natives have told me they can understand me, even if I do not get the sentence right perfectly.

What happens once you finish Duolingo? Well I have just started getting involved with the Immersion/Translating section of Duolingo. So this is a great way to develop your language skills even further. I also took a Duolingo test and scored 3.48/5.00. So I am not fully comfortable with all of the Duolingo lessons yet and I knew I wouldn’t be. So I will continue to practise words until I am fully comfortable with them alongside translating documents.

If you fancy brushing up or learning a new language I really recommend giving Duolingo a try!

Learning German

I’ve been learning German for about two years, learning a language is not an easy experience so I thought I would share some of the things I have learnt along the way.

Firstly my number one tip, and perhaps the most obvious is you cannot learn a language on your own. I have been teaching myself for nearly two years, but have only been attending classes since September. I wish I had started classes much sooner. The reason I didn’t was because I was too self conscious and worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the class because I am dyslexic, so I wanted to have some German under my belt before I could join a class. I wish I hadn’t left it so long.


Get yourself on a course:

I really recommend booking yourself onto to a course. I currently attend the Brasshouse, before enrolling I rang and talked to a tutor on the German course and asked their advice. I think upon reflection my class, which is Beginner’s Plus is too basic and I should have gone to a more advanced level. You do usually have the option to change your levels within the first week or two if you’ve been placed in the wrong group.


Your course will have it’s own textbook, my course suggested the Schritte International book. I really like this book because it is completely in German, which is great it forces you to use and read German. It has many levels so as your understanding of German grows the books in the series will become more challenging. I also have a couple of other textbooks: GCSE German for AQA Grammar Workbook, GCSE German Revision Guide, AQA GCSE German Second Edition Higher. These books are ok, they are designed more for GCSE students, so they fit within the course and are mostly in English and designed for teenagers. The thing that angers me the most if The AQA GCSE book, the course book has audio file links, but to access this material online you either have to belong to a secondary school that subscribes or pay a subscription fee. I’m not that impressed with that. Schritte provides their audio files for FREE on their website. So I recommend them over the other books.


You will need a dictionary. It’s a given that you will need to look up words you do not know. You can buy a paper one but honestly I would not recommend it. They are limiting by the fact they are paper and you have to buy them. If they update them you will be subject to having to buy a new one. On my phone I have two dictionaries which are apps, they are available as a webpage as well. They are fantastic and they update themselves. They are super portable and they are great. I use two. Dict Leo is probably my favourite. I like this one because when you are learning German you will have to learn that nouns have genders (for example Der Hund, Die Katze, Das Haus). Dict Leo gives you the article within the dictionary. gives the nouns as either (m, f, n) which is ok, but I like having the less abstract form of Der, Die, Das, it stops the thought process of M > masculine > Der. So I find it slightly quicker. is better for more obscure words and idioms. also has the options to work with difficult languages, such as German-Italian, German-Polish, so if English isn’t your native language, I recommend looking at that for your native language. Both of these dictionaries are German based rather than English based.


The main app I have to recommend is Duolingo. I have done a review of it here. I think it’s really amazing. It’s not perfect sometimes you write things that are correct but it’s not the answe the moderator picked, and didn’t think of that translating it. So I recommend reporting it, it always makes me feel great when I can a translation accepted.  This is my most used program for learning German, I really love it. I recommend using the website and the app, as both have different types of lessons which I think are useful.

Memrise is another app, I have used it a little bit but I don’t like it as much as Duolingo. I will be planning to use it more when I’ve completed Duolingo. It is good though because you can create your own lessons and learn vocab that is tailored to what you want to learn.

I recommend a German word of the day app, it’s great for building vocab. I think you need to write these down though to help you retain them. I don’t really remember them as they can be quite obscure, particularly as I think my one is quite advanced. You can probably find one more tailored for beginners though.

You can find some other apps such as Wortschatz (word search) and other games which can be quite fun to plan.

You need to start listening to German to get use to how it sounds, so I recommend listening to radio, Einslive has an app on android which is good.


It’s good to try and find some things on youtube. I quite like crime documentaries and I found some that were dubbed in German. They are good to listen to. Documentaries which have German in them are good too.

You can also find websites that have children’s stories this one has audio files. This one is text. Children’s books are great because they are short and simple language, so it is more manageable. I have a copy of Brother Grimm in German, and I don’t recommend using that one as it is like reading Dickens or Shakespeare, it’s quite old German.

Get Germanized is a set of youtube videos which cover a range of things, they are short bitesized and informative videos that are quite entertaining.

Another good thing to get is something like Harry Potter. You’ve probably already read Harry Potter before in your language so you’ll be familiar with the story. They also have words that have not been translated into German, so you can follow the story. You can get audio books of it too…so someone will read you the story and you can follow and see how words are pronounced.

The next thing to do is to get out Meetup and see if there is any local German speaking groups. I attend one and quite often speak English there because I’m not confident about my German. It’s great to listen to German being heard though. My group is great and will speak to you in German, speak slower if you don’t understand…they even will then repeat in English if you really struggle.


Michel Thomas has been recommended to me and it worked really well for the person who recommended it. I don’t personally like it. I find it difficult to follow and think I need visual and audio for effective learning. I also think it’s quite pricey and risky if you find like me you don’t get along with it so I recommend going to your local library and checking to see if they have a copy of it before you invest in it.

That’s all I can really recommend at the moment. If I come up with anything else I’ll give this post an update, alternatively if you use anything that I’ve not mentioned please let me know.


Duolingo is available as both a website and an a free app for mobiles and tablets. It is an app that allows you to learn a language and I have to say it is absolutely fantastic. I love this app. It’s easy to use, no advanced knowledge of the language is required and it is brilliant thought out.

You start with either a basic level or you can take a short test – the test will then place you where it thinks you should go.

Duolingo is like a tree. you start off at a base and translate sentences which are broken down into lessons. Once you’ve finished all the lessons in a particular skill – that skill turns gold. Once you have completed a line of skills – a new line of skills appears. Each skill is a particularly topic – these start off easy like Basics and progress to harder ones like clothings, education and Verbs: Modal and Idioms.

The website and the app are slightly different and I recommend you use both. Firstly the app has a word pairing feature which I really like, it also has a sentence builder from preselected words. The website has an answer against the clock feature – which is really good at building up association with a word.

If you don’t understand something there is a forum where you can make a comment and others can help explain something to you. There is also (online) a skill overview which talks about the particular skill and gives you an overview of the grammar rules. The main why you learn with Duolingo thought is through try and error – like a child does.

The app is designed designed to get you from going from a complete beginner to relatively comfortable with a language. It doesn’t help towards giving you conversational skills – but it certainly helps you build up a vocabulary and increase your understanding of grammar. It’s not a complete programme for learning languages and you really do need to supplement it with other ways of learning a language. However considering it’s price tag (or nothing) it is certainly one of the best free ways to improve your language.