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Techniques for Using Authentic
Language Sources on the Web

How even a beginner can use "real" German
on the Web to learn the language

Also see: German and Your PDA

For advanced learners of German, the advantages of using the numerous authentic-language resources on the Web are obvious. The vast amount of German on the Web and thousands of sites in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are a rich resource for information and vocabulary-building.

But even beginners can use certain learning strategies that can open up the world of German on the Web, even for learners with only basic German skills. The most important trick for beginners and intermediate learners of German is to "simplify the task."

In recent years, ever increasing numbers of good language teachers have learned the value of using authentic materials in the classroom—rather than, or in addition to the traditional, simplified or specially-written textbooks and materials. To do this, language teachers follow a simple rule that can also be employed by independent language learners: simplify the task, not the material.

Simply put, this means looking and listening for basic bits and pieces of information or words contained in written or audio sources in the target language—in this case German. Since the material is not simplified, you need to simplify your approach to the material. Set a specific goal for yourself and use the "KISS" principle ("Keep It Simple, Silly").

Don't try to understand every German word or allow yourself to be overwhelmed by "language overload." Learn to concentrate on and build on what you already know or can guess from the context. Language doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are almost always clues and hints in a text or listening passage that can help you decipher the meaning of part or all what you are trying to understand. As time goes by, you will get better and better at using this to your advantage.

For example, if you are listening to or reading a weather forecast (das Wetter), try to catch just the numbers of the temperatures. Don't attempt to understand everything. You'll have the satisfaction of saying, "Hey, I know what the temperature's going to be tomorrow." As time goes by, you'll be able to understand more and more in a German weather forecast. Just take it one step at a time.

If you are reading a newspaper article from the online edition of a German newspaper or magazine, there may be photos or illustrations to give you hints as to what the article is saying. There are usually cognates—words similar or identical in both English and German—that can aid your understanding. Just try to get the gist or general idea of the article first. Later, if you make a printout, you can take the time figure out more if you want to, using a German-English dictionary, but this isn't necessary or even a good idea in the beginning.

Also see: German and Your PDA
More about using a handheld computer, Palm PDA, Web phone, or other mobile device for reading or listening to authentic German online.

If you are a "detail person"—someone who has to know every word and every nuance—then learn to loosen up and not succumb to that impulse. You will become a better language learner if you learn to take a more holistic approach. (This is especially important in listening!) Even in your own language, do you always understand every word of what you read or hear? Of course not. And that applies to a second language as well.

If you find yourself translating all the time, then something's wrong. Some translating is a necessary evil in language-learning, but it is a skill best left to those trained in it. It's really not for beginners! In a real-life situation, it only gets in the way of comprehension and slows you down. It is a crutch that must be tossed away if you ever hope to function well in German.

Summary: A few language-learning tips

  • Read and listen to German often. Visit many different Web sites in German—especially those on topics that you find interesting. The more exposure you get, the better your skills will be.

  • Avoid trying to understand each separate word and translating. Go with the flow and learn to listen to or read entire phrases or sentences—which is what you do in your first language.

  • Learn to focus on the overall "gist" of an article in German rather than trying to understand it word-by-word.

  • Simplify the task. Learn to concentrate on a single goal in understanding difficult material—only the temperature in a weather forecast, for example.

  • Don't worry about failing to understand everything you read or hear in German. Just keep building on what you know. Avoid translating!

  • Use the context (the surrounding info and setting) of an article or passage to help you understand it. If you're reading an article from a German automotive magazine, the context is different from that in an article in a German fashion magazine.

  • Use photos and their captions in German online magazines to understand more German and learn additional vocabulary. You may also want to try our Foto Fun exercises for beginners and intermediate learners.

  • Practice! Follow the German saying: "Übung macht den Meister" ("Practice makes perfect"). Visit our German chat room and our German Forum for practice and support! Listen often to streaming audio in German on the Web. Read the online editions of German-language publications. (See our links below for reading and listening online.)

Related Pages

German for Beginners
Our free online German course. New lessons added on a regular basis. With written and audio exercises.

German and Your PDA
More about using a handheld computer, Palm PDA, Web phone, or other mobile device for reading or listening to authentic German online — at home or on the road.

Are You Listening?
Increase your listening comprehension on the Web. Plus, the results of our online listening poll.

German Chat
Practice your "speaking" skills in our chat room.

Practice your German (or English) writing skills in our Forum.

German Newsgroups and Lists
An article about newsgroups for German. From your Guide.

Info and links for listening to German online or offline. Also see "Radio in German."

News, weather, and sports in German.

Radio in German
Listen to online radio and TV in German.

Also see the many other "Subject" listings
on the left side of this page and every page on this site.

Using the Web to Learn German
Work on all four language skills online: Listening, reading, speaking (Chat), and writing (forums).

German Newsletters
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German Chat


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