How To Improve German Fluency
Reaching a certain level in your target language
Many often ask: “how can I sound more fluent when speaking German to others?” In January, some may set learning more vocabulary as a goal. Others have said they want to formulate sentences with confidence.
For me, my new goal will be to sound more fluent, especially in my current target language, German. Before anyone can fully commit to this, you need to master German basics. Sounding confident and more fluent may not always be down to knowledge but also down the body language, confidence and ability to ‘wing-it’. Sometimes – it’s not what you say but how you say it.
Most linguists and teachers will tell you that fluency takes time. I am of the opinion that you can sound fluent, you just need to learn some tricks.
Sound more fluent
When I first went to live in Germany in September 2012 I found myself in a state of ‘language block’ – if that makes sense. I would be thinking of so many things I wanted to say whilst listening to people; so many expressions I had learned beforehand and wanted to use somehow, and finally, hoping when words did come out, that I would pronounce it correctly.
As you may know, German can be very complicated and have very long sentences. Take a look here (in German) at some words which we are pronouncing incorrectly. Sometimes it’s best to slow down and avoid starting any sentence if you are not sure how to end it. I used to have a feeling of what I wanted to say but not have the right verb, for example. Take time to reflect but speak freely: you are probably not speaking as slow as you think.
Even now I often get people chuckling at what I say, or staring blankly / frowning as if they did not understand me at all.
In these situations, it can also be frustrating and disheartening – this is completely normal. The majority of people who tend to do this are nit picking or do not speak a foreing language or understand how much work goes into it. Now I understand this, it encouraged me to reflect: maybe I am speaking too quietly? Maybe I did not quite use the right verb? Maybe I was speaking before thinking and the meaning of what I wanted to express got lost? Slow down.
Fluency can really be improved by having natural phrases at hand. In order to sound native you should vary your sentence length but even natives will pause naturally between thinking and speaking in order to form a response. I find the best way to demonstrate active listening is to reuse the other person’s vocabularly (but not all!). It gives you time to reflect on a) how to find your language flow and b) what on earth your opinion is on the subject whilst letting the other person know you understood them. Very important.
– Also, ach so, genau…
– Ich würde sagen…
– Auf jeden Fall
– Was ich dazu sagen könnte wäre…
– Ja, das kenne ich…
– Damit ich es richtig verstehe, meintest du…?
– Sorry, ich habe dich akustisch nicht verstanden leider…
– Achso, ist das wie…?
– Meinst du…?
Ask for feedback
This is where you have two choices: either you shrug off the situation and continue the conversation having not learned anything, or you got one step further and ask why it is wrong. Be a linguist. Most native speakers cannot always explain why the grammatical rule is x or y (me included in English), but asking them for a reason behind their correction also can make room for a less formal conversation and even create friendships – hello tandem partners. As a language learner, we learn and use words / phrases which fit for general use. A native speaker can suggest more idiomatic phrases or words to use – which could be cultural or regional. Having someone explain how you can express yourself better can bring you closer to someone socially; you may also notice language patterns which you can apply elsewhere.
Speaking with confidence
Often we are too worried about what we want to say and how it sounds, that we don’t say anything. In my experience, try to speak and express yourself even if you make mistakes. Language learning is about learning and improving via saying the odd thing incorrectly, and if you are too scared to speak it means you will only ever reach a certain level of fluency.
I used to even run through adjective endings and visualise the case table in my head.
Take a look at some great German expressions for some humeur.