Learning German Vocabulary

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Posted

Hello All -

 

I hope I'm writing this in the right section! I've used the search function with different varying keywords already to see if someone had written about this specific topic already - in the process, I found so many other interesting threads about learning German that even after several hours of reading, I still had to create a folder to keep the others for later :-)

 

But I haven't found anything that deals specifically with learning vocabulary. So, I would love to hear about the TT community's experiences! Do you use flash cards? A notebook? A computer program? How do you organize your learning schedule? How long does it take you for words to "stick"? Any other insights you'd be willing to share?

 

I have a few techniques - using flash cards mainly, to be honest out of laziness. Then I only have to write the word once, and can carry it with me everywhere. But I'm still struggling to remember the genders properly...

 

Also, I wonder how others deal with the problem of word relevancy/frequency of use. By that, I mean that what happens oftentimes is that I get a word from a book (dictionary, magazine, even coursebooks!), or hear it somewhere, and then try to use it in writing/conversation, only to discover that this is some archaic, formal, regional or simply inappropriate form of the word (my German husband has almost "laughed himself Tot" several times with these kinds of errors).

 

Thanks in advance for any help!

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Posted

Good topic! I use Provoc for the Mac a lot, which is fantastic and free. For Windows, there's the Langenscheidt Vokabeltrainer - which is good, but costs money and doesn't have a German-as-a-foreign-language option, so you'd probably end up having to type in everything you want to learn yourself. I did this during one miserable but profitable summer some years back, and suspect it was extremely helpful.

 

To make sure you're learning the most useful words, Langenscheidt's Basic German Vocabulary is a great place to start (which has definitions and example sentences for the most common 4000 words or so), after which Using German Vocabulary is excellent, providing thematic wordlists divided into levels according to usefulness. By level 3 (the highest), I typically don't know what the English words mean, so don't bother learning them. But if you no longer need words like 'tree', but rather every conceivable type of tree, it may be time for this book. If you're at the point where you don't mind your word definitions being in German, this is pretty great (and falls somewhere between the level of the other two books).

 

That said, and my favourite resources having been shared, I'm curious as to other people's suggestions, since my vocabulary skills are still pretty limited and crap when it comes to Real Life. I think that's mostly due to laziness, not actually having a learning schedule, and never finishing the learning tasks I start. To try to kick things off again, I recently began a new strategy for properly important words in which I would write out short narratives containing the words - making the narratives as concise and ridiculous as possible, while still containing all the required vocabulary - along with sketchy illustrations to get a bit more of my brain involved. I learned a few words this way, and learned them well. Right now I don't remember what they were, but once I find the book in which I wrote them down again again, I think it'll work wonders.

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Posted

thanks very much Woanders for your tips! I've already put Provoc on my computer, and am planning to head to the various bookstores around here tomorrow to check out the books in person. They look exactly like what I'm looking for - words in context - which as I mentioned is something I'm really lacking right now (to my husband's amusement). And like you said they will probably be the most common/important ones. Great, thanks!

 

Something else you might find interesting, since you've mentioned other computer programs, is Supermemo - have you checked it out already? It's built around a psychological theory that the best time to repeat something is when you're on the brink of forgetting (not before, not after), which is apparently very predictable. I think the (wacky but awesome) creator even calls it something like the "forgetting algorithm."

The program tracks your learning based on this algorithm by shuffling vocab words in and out of your daily set based on your input (self-assessment) and it's own calculations. It was very effective for me for the few months I used it, although one could argue that it was just simply studying every day, and not some special algorithm, that did the trick.

 

The site I linked above is for the really old-school, free version (only for Windows), which I could only recommend for people who don't mind a bit of a learning curve with programs. But now they also have a commercial site, which I can't comment on, except to say that I think they have a free demo. Wired Magazine also ran an article on the creator, an interesting read in itself.

 

About the narratives - that sounds like a great idea! I've been doing it a bit myself and it does seem to help (we'll see about long term!). LIke you said, making it ridiculous really helps. Today I also tried picking a grammatical theme and a few important words (maybe 5-6) and making a dialogue out of it. Harder than I thought but fun.

 

When you say your vocab skills are limited in Real Life, do you mean just your active vocabulary?

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Posted

Real life use. Don't mean to sound rude but these techniques seem to take no account at all of the massive advantage of actually being in a place where the language is used! You could do them anywhere (or - turn it round - be using them for any language).

 

Do you use a German PC, operating system, applications, German versions of google and other websites etc? (I found that awful at the start but paid off long term). Are you working in a German language technology environment? Reading German news sources? There is a gigantic amount of IT and business coverage in the three weekly news magazines, and the papers here. That lot automatically feeds you "relevance". No need to figure it out.

 

You can learn bits overnight. But to me vocab is about seeing the word - seeing it in use (ie. passive) - then starting to use it actively. I see it like climbing a ladder. I find myself noticing a few words. So I learn them. Then I notice a few more. So I learn them.

 

The other thing I rely on word formation. One stem forms a verb, at least one noun, adjective(s), adverb(s) etc. You only have to recognise a "base" and you can identify what all forms are likely to mean. (Like in English: develop / developer / development / developing / developed etc)

 

As to scheduling, the main thing is to commit the time - regular routine. Again, I found being in a German language enviroment, like a cafe, where I can talk to people, hear the language / radio, read the papers etc the best. That is also a cycle because you make connections with people who see you as just another German speaker and so you get more real-life practice.

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Posted

We all have our techniques ( or lack of ). Some need to write the word or take notes , some to read, some to listen or a mixture. Swimmer has made some great points here. Best of Swimmer´s tips: real life..you´re living in the country.

 

One thing I like: knowing a movie inside out in your mother tongue and then watching the DVD in the target language.

 

Actually, because I´ve been here so long, I usually end up watching a movie in German with my German girlfriend and tthen watching it again in English to refresh my English!!

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Posted

Reading. It improves your vocabulary and gives you a sense of word order and grammar structures at the same time. From my own students, I know that most of the impeccably maintained vocabulary lists they keep are never read again. That is a waste of time you could be using to read in the target language.

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Posted

This only sometimes works, and rarely produces literal translations of words but it can be damned useful in remembering vocabulary since it forces your brain to make the links between the two languages that it otherwise wouldn't. The principle is that words that are very similar between English and German are far easier to learn, so if you can establish more links between the two languages then more words become easy. The process is something along the lines of 'learn-Grimm's-Law-and-have-a-guess-at-an-English-cognate'.

 

What I mean is that English tends to have softer German dental consonants (so German->English: z -> t, t -> d, d -> th for example), then there are labial shifts (pf -> p, b->v/f for example). Vowel shifts are unfortunately not so orderly. Other than it can be useful to remember prefixes in German, particularly verbs, often have English cognates (ver- = for-; be- = be-; ein- = in-; ab- = off-)

 

To demonstrate what I mean here are some cognates (NOT translations), some really obvious and some not so, that help me remember German meanings and often decipher compound words:

 

drehen -> to throw (think of 'throwing a pot'... it's really being rotated)

Zug -> Tug

tragen -> drag

Dieb -> thief

Taub -> dove (the bird)

heben -> to heave

schieben -> to shove

verbieten -> to forbid

saugen -> to suck

tief -> deep

schmal -> small

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Posted

I would recommend reading German newspapers. If you are just beginning to learn German and have some idea of what the story is about you can figure out a lot of words. Start by reading headlines, captions etc

If you have a local paper with stories and events of local interest which won't be reported in an english language news source, then that may provide more incentive.

If you're really committed, buy a Sunday paper and spend some time during the week with it and a dictionary.

Also, I recommend regular trips to a nice cafe where they provide papers and magazine for customers.

 

If you are a book reader, buy the english and german versions of the same book. First I try to understand the german. If that fails, I refer to the dictionary. If after doing the literal translation, I still don't follow what's written, I allow myself to read the english sentence.

 

My second recommendation (which I mentioned elsewhere before, so please forgive repetition) is to watch german TV with the subtitles (in german) switched on. Not all programmes are subtitled, mainly fiction - usually at text page 150 or 777

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Posted

Definitely agree with reading, reading, reading. It's a wonderful way to learn vocabulary.

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Posted

Thanks for your responses, really appreciate it. :-D

 

swimmer - thanks for your suggestions! Yes, real life conversations have been really helpful. But remembering the words/phrases/collocations that I someone said (that I liked) is something I find difficult. If I only heard/read it once, and it's not written down/studied, it's gone. :-/ So it goes onto a flash card for now.

My cell phone is in German, but I hadn't thought of changing my computer. Right after finishing reading your post I changed it. My head might explode but I agree, it'll be worth it.

And although this may sound terribly naive, if you go to a cafe/public space, how do you go about approaching people to speak to them? :-)

 

john.g - great idea, another simple thing I hadn't thought of. I'm also curious how humor/puns are translated - my husband told me that "Colonel Sanders" from Spaceballs is "Colonel Sandfurz" auf Deutch, haha! Wonder what Germans do with Monty Python...

 

Noel - yeah, definitely agree, once I started reading the classics-for-kids series by "cbj" (found them in Weiland) my vocab exploded (in a good way). I could really recommend that series for other B1ish level students - assuming one has already read some of those classics, they will have the same effect john.g mentioned - you already know the plot, so you can guess from context quite often, relatively accurately...

 

wobytides - thanks, that's a cool list! Some I knew but some I hadn't connected - Zug - Tug, heben - heave, schieben - shove, saugen - suck. And outside of cognates, as others said, learning prefixes/suffixes/stems is really helpful (and often shows the deep relationship these two languages have), although sometimes it can trap you a bit - I read a chapter of a book assuming that "Leidenschaft" was "suffering..." Oops. As you can imagine I was quite confused after a while... ;-)

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Posted

I read a lot of books. Right now I'm reading a German translation of Matilda by Roald Dahl. I also use a website called flaschcardmachine.com to make flashcards on my computer. It shuffles the cards automatically and puts the ones you got wrong back in the pile. It also has a data base where you can look at other people's flash cards or to share your own. I've used it for lots of other subjects, not just for German.

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Posted

http://www.smart.fm/ has a bunch of German language packs, I'm about 1/2 way through the top 1000 words. It's quite useful, and better than flash cards IMHO.

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Posted

Deutschland Rundfunk

 

http://dradio.de

 

is a great way to hear new words as they should be used.

 

When i work from home, i have it on in the background.

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Posted

i am someone who still has her vocabulary books from school. I sometimes take them with me to the gym and revise vocabulary when I'm on the stationary bikes or step machine.

 

I also recommend reading. Especially Easy Readers which can be borrowed from the library. Even go to the baby section and get "My first 100 English words" kind of books as they usually have the words in English and German alongside the pictures. Visual reinforcement of a word is good.

 

Maybe sing along with songs. The more I listen to my Cuban and French tapes, the more I can sing along.

 

I also look a lot up in the dictionary.

 

But basically, it's a long hard slog. I started learning German in school in 1979. I'm still gaining insight into the language. I find crosswords help a lot there. I started doing German crosswords in 1986 when I was here as a student. At the beginning, I needed an Atlas, the Brockhaus encyclopaedia (the German equivalent of Encyclopaedia Britannica), and a German/English dictionary. Now... they're easy. But because of the clues, I learn synonyms for everyday words which in turn leads me to understand their meanings better. Maybe you could start with puzzle books for children.

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Posted

I am taking a fairly intensive Spanish course at the moment and have an Excel workbook for vocabulary with separate sheets for nouns (masculine), nouns (feminine), verbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, misc.

 

I put down the nouns in singular and plural, then the English word, then the German one.

I also put down each form of the verb (up to now we only have learned the present form), i.e. quiero, quieres, quiere, queremos, quereis, quieren.

The adjectives are put down in their masculine and feminine forms, singular and plural.

 

By writing each word at least twice you repeat them and also learn to spell them.

 

And, of course, read, listen, talk. Learn a new word and make sure that you use it. Saying things out loud make them more real, and you can remember the word by recalling the situation you used it in.

 

Good luck!

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Posted

http://www.dict.cc/

 

has a vocabulary trainer. You tell it which words you want to store and be tested on and in the test it asks if you want the words in English or German.

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Posted

Before You Know It Really handy flash card tool. Free to use existing lists--if you want to create your own, then you need to buy it. But it's a relentless little bugger... good way to build your vocabulary.
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Posted

All these suggestions are great, and I have noted some of them down myself!

 

I am also a newer learner of German...I have found that reading (equipped with dictionary, notepad and pen!) the newspapers, and talking with my tandem partners are far and away the most useful thing for me. try www.erstenachhilfe.de We usually meet once a week in a cafe (better a nice quiet cafe than one with loud background music obviously), and spend 15-20mins talking in English (for them), then 15-20mins auf Deutsch (for me), then repeat.

 

Although I have to say, that in the main, Germans' grasp of English is far better than my grasp of German :( so far anyway.

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Posted

 

One thing I like: knowing a movie inside out in your mother tongue and then watching the DVD in the target language.

I like this too! Started after my A1 with Star Wars & so on. But for me works well with stuff that I'm familiar with. These days we're watching Two and a half men, but I don't find it that funny in German! :)

 

Also magazines like Der Spiegel are pretty helpful. I don't go on reading the complete articles (not yet), but I just the titles, captions, charts etc.

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I've been using German Flashcards for a while now. It sends you a daily newsletter with a new word, and gives an example sentence along with the breakdown of the sentence into it's components. The newsletter also gives you a list of previous words and their sentences, eg. from yesterday, 4 days ago, 1 week ago, 3 weeks ago etc.

 

You can select your level, and when words come up that you don't know you can add them into your 'loop', which you can then go through like flashcards, changing the frequency of when certain words come up.

 

There are also daily texts on there, which again are explained in English and the words can be added to your loop.

 

I find it really useful and always take the 5 mins to look through the email and add new words to my loop. I could use the flashcard function more often - must spend some time in the evenings doing that - but even just focusing on vocab briefly every day helps :)

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