Was one of the goals you have set, when you decided for volunteering at European Solidarity Corps, also to learn or improve the language of a hosting country? So was mine... I'm volunteering in Germany in Karlsruhe, that is near the city of Stuttgart. I have to admit that improving my German language abilities was one of my main reasons to come here. I have studied German in high school for 4 years and I have had nice grades but that was 6 years ago. Imagine 6 years of not using the language. Of course, I have forgotten a huge amount of my vocabulary, including one, how to order a kebab without onion.
Embarrassing, I know, but my goal is to be fluent at the end of my project. Okay, at least, fluent in every day talking situations with native speakers. I did some research on best language learning methods and in this post, I'm going to share some of my personal and expert tips about how to study and practice German while volunteering. I think this can be useful for all volunteers who the same as me experience a language barrier. So back to the point, this is what I do and (also) experts are recommending!
Take a language course
First of all, I cannot wait to begin with official language course (that is usually given for ESC volunteers). It is probably one of the best things that volunteer can get in the host country (plus, it comes with the possibility of meeting your future wife or husband). The disappointing side of it is that it starts late, at the end of November and I’m staying in Germany from the 1st of October. If I'm going to stay passive and wait for it as the only option, I'm going to stagnate and lose a month or two of opportunity to learn, so I try to do some learning by myself before it starts. The same rule goes for volunteers who already had a language course and after that haven't done anything else to improve their language skills. You will have to do some work by yourself and the best thing is: all little daily things count.
Listen and translate
If I'm too lazy to get involved in conversations with native speakers or my level of German is just not high enough, I try to listen and catch some useful phrases. I often ask people what a word that they just said means. You can also translate some advertisements while waiting for a bus or train. Translate what is saying on the box of your cereals or lyrics of some famous German songs (now it’s the perfect time to enlighten yourself what Nena is saying in 99 Luftballons). I also notice I’m learning so much faster if words are put into melody.
Communicate at volunteering and in public places as stores and restaurants
Of course, you will probably sound like an alien from planet Mars but who cares! I use hands, show at objects and draw a picture if necessary. At the end of the day, you will be proud that you managed the situation and communicated in German. I used small phrases and slowly progress to complicated sentences. And one million Euro advice that I learned from my roommates: if you don't understand what Germans are saying just answer with: ahh soo!
Use language learning platforms
I registered at free language platform Erasmus+ OLS but I personally don’t like it. I cannot find any structure in it that could motivate me for regular use. I rather use website deutsch.info where you can take 4 courses from A1 to B2 and they cover different and interesting topics for example situations in the store, hairdresser and also about German politics, school systems and culture.
Borrow some books
This one may sound funny but I borrowed some kid’s books from kindergarten where I volunteer. They are simple enough and include illustrations so I can understand the story’s main point. You can also borrow children’s literature in a library or buy one in a bookstore. My opinion is books are always a good investment of money. You can also subscribe to a local newspaper that is specifically written for language learners. It includes different topics with different language levels and explanation of words.
Watch a movie or YouTube channel
In my free time, I tried to watch a couple of German movies. If your language level is not so high is maybe not the best method of learning it but I liked movie Lore and Downfall. I have also checked YouTube and found some good short language courses like Learn German with Jenny.
Join the language talk club
My next wish in the future is to participate in one of language club or to find myself a German talking partner with whom I can practice the language. That can be someone who has the same level of language as you or a native speaker with good nerves that is willing to speak with you for some time and teach you with some useful new phrases.
That's how I practice and learn German and that’s how people around the world are doing it. Why not try it? Remember, it gets easier every day and at some point, you are going to look back and be amazed by how much you have learned in a couple of months!
I also attached all the websites that I was talking about and may be useful for you:
YouTube channel Learn German with Jenny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwBfUzPCiaw
Deutsch Info language platform: https://deutsch.info/en
OLS language platform: https://erasmusplusols.eu/en/
Movie Lore and Downfall: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1996310/ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363163/
More tips on how to learn a language: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/how-to-learn-a-language-in-super-fast-time/
Acquire a language with the music: https://www.fluentu.com/blog/learning-language-through-music/