Language Transfer: Learn German in an Afternoon

My German sucks. There, I’ve said it. It’s not for lack of trying though. I’ve taken a course, I’ve been flying through levels of Duolingo, I’m reading “The Idiot’s Guide to Learning German by Yourself”, and alternating this with a book written for German six-year-olds. (It came with a rat with a magic eye, which you can use to check if your answers to the exercises in the back of the book are correct. I look very cute when I read it on the train - people stop staring eventually.) I've got a rather impressive collection of SchweinDeutsch, for example, “alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei”, but even this can only get me so far.

I’m determined to master German though so when I heard about a four-hour German workshop taking place on Saturday, I was all over it. After being on the train for what felt like hours, I finally made it to Beussel Straße for two o’clock. Around forty other people were already there but luckily, I managed to get a seat.

The workshop was being run by Language Transfer, an unfunded project which aims to teach people a language in 15 to 20 hours. Ambitious stuff. It was founded by Mihalis Eleftheriou, who has only been in Berlin for a couple of months. He’s just started renting the space at Beussel Straße, and the chairs we were sitting on had just arrived the day before, paid for by crowd funding. The next round of funding will pay for cushions. He has no idea how he’s going to pay the rent next month, which is probably pretty motivating.

Interestingly, Mihalis doesn’t actually know that much German. He learns right along with you. Naturally, I was a little skeptical in the beginning - how can someone who doesn’t actually know the language teach it to other people? My skepticism was completely unfounded, however; the course was absolutely fantastic. There were people there who didn't speak a word of German and by the end of it, they all knew something. For me, it cemented the language I already knew, and gave me a whole new way of thinking about German.

It’s all about creating pathways in your mind, not about memorising chunks of language, but actually thinking about the language and how it works. German has a lot of similarities with English and it’s about using these to build your vocabulary and get your head around the grammar. For example, a lot of the time, the English “th” becomes a German “d” so if you take the verb “think” and try to Germanise it, you’d get “dink”. All German verbs end in "en" so add that and you get "dinken", which is pretty close. Using your quizzical “language eyebrows” and making your tone sound questioning when you say it to a German will result in them correcting you, so then you throw away “dinken” and replace it with the correct word, "denken".

Mihalis had a few German native speakers in the room, who he used to check our pronunciation and make sure the language leaps he was making were correct. He works with native speakers to perfect the courses he gives - and it really works. This was his first four-hour German workshop so it was a bit of trial and error, but by using us as guinea pigs, he’s convinced the course will just get better and better. I’m convinced too.

The courses are free but, of course, you can make a donation, which I did. He has ambitious plans for the space at  Beussel Straße - more courses, more languages, language exchange evenings, maybe even a little cafe. I know that I will definitely be attending the next German course, and if you’re serious about learning this language, you probably should too. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Visit Language Transfer  for more information.

By Linda O'Grady
Linda works as an English teacher, writer and editor, and has been living in Berlin since September 2014. She also shares some of her more irreverent thoughts on life as an Irishwoman living in Germany in her blog - Expat Eye on Germany.

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