Difficulty understanding German

56 posts in this topic

Posted

Hi everybody,

 

I was wondering whether anybody has encountered this difficulty so far. A bit of background information: I am a Canadian that came to live here in Germany with my wife about 6-7 months ago. I've passed all the C1 courses at the Goethe Institut and also passed my B2 exam last year with flying colours. I am also employed in a German speaking environment for a few months now and I've come to speak (keyword speak) German quite fluently. However I have a lot of difficulty understanding spoken German; I can read, write and speak but I don't understand.

 

This is causing a lot of difficulties at work because I don't get what's being said at meetings and I almost always have to ask people to repeat themselves. I also understand pretty much nothing when I watch German movies or American movies dubbed in German other than two-liners like "Komm zurueck" or "Bitte" but if the movies have additional closed captions or sub-titles in German I get pretty much everything. I can understand when people adjust their speaking to my abilities but they usually have to speak very slowly, if not it sounds extremely blurry to me, like static. I don't have a hearing problem because I understand absolutely everything in my native English.

 

I've done a google search and no luck so far (apparently nobody in the world had this problem yet). The Internet is full of cases such as "I can understand (insert language here) but I can't speak it". My problem is quite the opposite; and it's not a lack of effort, I try to watch/listen to a couple of hours of German TV/radio/podcasts every day and have done so even before moving to Germany but with no progress.

 

Did anybody else here have this problem? And if so how did you improve it? I'm not sure whether I have some sort of foreign language disorder but I couldn't find anything on the Internet. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

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Posted

Okay, so your level of speaking and understanding German is pretty damned high, but in reality you don´t understand a right lot - strange!

Could it be to do with the dialect? I know that language schools teach "hoch Deutsch", but that most certainly isn´t what I hear around me...I even caught myself saying "ee dee aah" this afternoon, and thinking "I never learned that at the Goethe Institut"!

 

What language do you speak at home? If it is English, you probably know it would help you for it not to be!

 

What language do you think and dream in?

 

Do you socialise much? Whether in terms of going out for a beer or being part of a sport club, it would really do you and your German good if you got out and about a bit and simply had to communicate with the locals!

 

I think the best thing for you to do is simply surround yourself with German, 24/7 and hope that things will improve by themselves!

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Posted

Do you watch people's faces as they talk? At first I used to get headaches from concentrating on facial expressions, and I couldn't understand telephone conversations at all, since I couldn't see the face of who was talking.

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Posted

I have the same problem the other way round. I can speak, read or write English without any problem but understanding can be difficult, depending on who's speaking. Some dialects/accents are much harder to understand than others and I think that just might be your problem. Also some *people* are just hard to understand.

 

I used to think my English was pretty good but the first time I went to the UK, I didn't understand a word :(. Extremely frustrating experience! I still prefer watching original version movies with subtitles so I don't miss too much.

 

I think the only thing that helps is practice, practice and more practice. Which should be easy since you live in Germany!

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Posted

I can understand spoken or written German no problem.

However I cannot write German worth a shit and I have a problem with remembering to use sie instead of du (fortunately my accent gives away I'm a foreigner and people most times don't care).

My German was learned on the fly by living with one,watching TV and working with Germans.I have never had any type of German lesson.

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Posted

I've had that problem when I was learning Japanese, you could do exercises like listening to people, text, audio book in German and then writing down what you hear, or what you think you hear and adjusting sounds to words. I'm no expert in German but this really helped me a lot when I was in Japan and people talked really fast. I hope it helps.

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Posted

Thank you all for your responses.

 

I speak English at home with my wife although for the 3 months that I was studying for B2 we switched to German (since her German is better than mine). And since my native language is English, of course I think in English.

 

john g. & Robinson - I'll admit, I haven't socialized much with Germans outside of work and of course small things like small talk with neighbours, the store, getting things from the bureaucracy etc. I do go out but it's mostly with my wife so I guess I'll have to continue trying and hope things get better. As for the beers suggestions, thanks but I can't be buzzed my whole life :lol:

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Posted

Well, JOker...maybe you´ll make friends with a local family with lousy English..that helps! Then you HAVE TO speak German. Coffee and cake without beer!! :D

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Posted

I'd say try to watch more TV or get movies that you already know and like and watch them in German. That way, you have an idea what they are saying already and try to concentrate on listening and see what you can make out. Don't watch with subtitles or you risk that you will just read and not listen. Of course it is hard at first when you don't understand much but it will get better.

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Posted

It depends on the region, too. I can understand easily any form of hochdeutsch when spoken by someone from Frankfurt, Stuttgart or Munich, but with someone from Duesseldorf or Koeln I have some troubles too. Perhaps you ended up in a particularly "difficult" area...

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Posted

 

And since my native language is English, of course I think in English.

 

Admittedly this is a difficult thing to do, but you'll probably improve a bit if you start trying to think in German... yes, much easier said than done, I know.

 

Also, my husband is not terrific with hearing languages but, like you, has no problem with the other bits. I'm pretty sure he only finally "mastered" understanding spoken English (100% fluently) when he ended up with me...

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Posted

 

I am a Canadian that came to live here in Germany with my wife about 6-7 months ago.

 

Don't be funny; it takes most non linguistically challenged punters at least five to ten years of full immersion in the country and a sustained effort to become fluent in German. You've been in Germany for all of seven months. Boo hoo.

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Posted

 

I think in English.

 

There's your problem. You need to put a stop to that, Sofort! I clicked the MultiQuote to say that before reading the sound advice AmandaUSC had added. She hit the nail right on the head.

 

You should start holding internal conversations of the simplest and most inane kind. You may find it quite amusing once you get on a roll. Try to make sure and begin your day with a radio news broadcast - it's better if you have time to hear the headlines repeated. Then you can discuss the issues with yourself.

 

Another cheap and simple way to improve your vocabulary and conversational skills is to pick up and read some children's literature. That's how Germans learn their own language so don't worry about it being beneath the level of your adult intellect. If you do want to read something beneath the level of most adult intellects there's always the Bild zeitung too. B)

 

The other tip AmandaUSC mentioned is another favourite of mine too. Learning about what you have an interest in, in German. I used to do that when I was starting out so I speak from experience. Buy some magazines, or borrow books from the library, on subjects that interest you personally as hobbies. Doesn't matter if it's cooking, cars, music, fashion, health or computer gaming. If it's something you'd be interested in reading and learning about in English then, apart from the fun you'll have seeing how many English words have come into use or been gedeutscht, you'll be motivated to look up and add new German words to your vocabulary. These are words you can then drop knowledgeably in to your conversations at break-time.

 

Immersion, immersion, immersion... can't stress that enough.

 

Immersion!

 

2B

 

PS:Just in case I forgot to mention it, you should concentrate on linguistic immersion.

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Posted

 

I'm not sure whether I have some sort of foreign language disorder but I couldn't find anything on the Internet.

 

You have trouble understanding a foreign language and think that may be a disorder? I think we may have to redefine the word 'disorder' if that's the case. Or 'foreign' :-)

 

Before I came here I had the idea that after being immersed in the language a couple of years I'd be pretty fluent. The reality was that it took about five years before I could understand most of what was going on. Even now, after 20 years, if someone has a Bavarian accent or something and speaks fast it can momentarily be as if we are having a conversation in a noisy disco.

 

The 'static' thing you mention is simply not being able to understand the language. Your brain gives it a go for a while then the RAM runs out and your brain says 'better process that as white noise'. If it didn't do that your head would heat up and a fuse would blow.

 

I remember being on a tram after a year or two in Germany and overhearing someone say something. I was amazed, as it was the first time I'd ever overheard someone say something in German. You know when a snatch of interesting conversation pops out at you? Or when you idly look at a piece of text and a word that is especially relevant to you just jumps out of the text? When you start out with a language that doesn't happen, as your brain does not have the processing power for it.

 

Watch a lot of German TV. I found breakfast TV was especially helpful at first - talk shows and the like where you know the general gist (Who's the father?!) so 'all' you have to do is catch the words.

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Posted

It certainly isn't a "disorder". It's difficult the other way round, too. In my experience many Germans have problems understanding English when they visit Britain despite having had school English drummed into them for years.

 

I had a similar problem many years ago when I met my Scottish ex-husband. It took me weeks to get used to his accent. It was the same when we were posted to Northern Ireland.

 

My ex-son-in-law is from Rheinland-Pfalz and I had problems understanding him, too, when he spoke with his family and friends. And my German is 100% fluent.

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Posted

I've been here five years and while I am by no means fluent I get by better and better as time goes on. I've not had formal classes since my VHS course a few weeks after arriving, but I used to keep the local radio on and listen to the news, shamelessly eavesdrop on public transport (I don't do that any more because now I'm likely to actually be able to understand) and force my brain to adapt to the new language. But it has taken five years for me to feel competent, which is not the same as fluent. I think you're expecting too much of yourself, but when it comes to improvement I think the advice to learn a skill in German is brilliant.

 

Also, don't be afraid to ask your colleagues to repeat themselves. Just explain that hearing it twice means you're sure to understand, or ask them to confirm what they said via email. Read the minutes of meetings to confirm what was said, or if you have a friend among your colleagues tell them that while you speak and read and write just fine, your listening comprehension is your lowest modality and you need a bit of extra help so would they mind just gist repeating for you? I think as long as people can see you trying, they don't mind helping.

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