Learning German as a Chancellor Fellow at IFS, Bonn

Learning a new language awakens your mind. Especially when that language is German.

Conjugate the verb. Learn the article. Understand the noun cases (there are 4, mind you). Remember the sentence structure . Choose the correct preposition. Separate the separable verbs.

This is only the beginning. A1.

360 hours of German in 3 months was certainly not a breeze. It was a tornado.

Institut für Sprachvermittlung, Bonn

As a creative pedagogue who has used art and play to teach English as a foreign language in India, I noted interesting similarities in techniques while teaching a new language, adults and children alike.

a. Practice makes perfect!

Simply learning the rules and repetitive writing is boring! Practicing the language in an authentic environment is key. Our teachers Vera and Detmar repeatedly asked us to describe our day, share our interests, present our ideas and experiences. Our lack of vocabulary didn’t stop us. When we didn’t know a word in German, we asked ‘Wie sagt man …auf Deutsch?.’ We progressed from brief laconic responses to Wie geht’s? (How are you doing?) to providing elaborate reasons and anecdotes to why it was so. We even went as far as to present our Fellowship Projects in German!

Getting ready, are we?

Equally important here is to not overthink! Often, I found myself getting caught in the treacherous German grammar web, slowing down and getting exasperated. But as my co-fellow Nan (she’s at C1 Level) rightly pointed out that language is all about communication- understanding and being understood. The rest will follow! We often made egregious errors — aural assaults to any native German speakers- but thankfully Vera or Detmar never ‘over-corrected’ us.

b. We are a Big Community!

The next big thing is finding a group of fun, supportive individuals with who you can practice your newly acquired language in a safe environment. Since all of us in class were also Chancellor Fellows and met each on several occasions, we made it a habit to start speaking in German. It was not easy but it had to be done.

5 countries. 7 languages. . United by German.

Mengling and Saahil had near perfect grammar and simply listening to them reinforced correct sentence construction. Mayowa was fearless and probably the strongest in putting her ideas across in German. Vivek was absolutely thorough in his note taking and built himself an extensive vocabulary treasure chest. Lauren’s sense of adventure and persistence kept us all going.

It’s all German to me!

A ‘Tandem Partner’ is another way to expedite your learning. Say for example, you want to learn German and have native level fluency in English. You can partner with someone who wants to learn English and has native level frequency in German. This way you learn while you teach. It is informal, fun and a good introduction to local phrases and everyday use of language. Sometimes it can be hard to keep the rhythm and regularity though.

c. All work and no play makes German a dull language!

Games are a fun way to learn and practice our vocabulary, revise the grammar rules, clarify concepts and in the process are a great team building exercise!


We played in smaller teams, in pairs and as a class. We mimed, drew and described words in German. We played classic games like Taboo and Pictionary auf Deutsch. We matched verbs with the correct prepositions, completed sentence stems, created sentences with verbs as cues. I found myself playing games that I have played with my students in India. As an educator, this experience has helped me empathise more strongly with new language learners!

Vivek pantomiming a German verb. Can you guess ?

d. German is German , English is English

Mark Twain’s humorous exploration of German Language as a native speaker of English makes for a witty read. But it will certainly not get us too far to endlessly translate German to English or to any other language. German is a language with its unique set of rules and expressions which like in any other languages is arbitrary too. Translation doesn’t help. How can we ever translate ‘Das ist mir wurst’ to English?

In order to learn a new language one must begin to think in that language. To teach a new language, it is recommended to not use a familiar language as a support or a crutch. From day 1, Vera spoke with us only in German. It is okay to not understand every word, the idea is to listen, absorb and get comfortable with the sound of a foreign language.

Language dissolves boundaries. Like any beginner, speaking German is uncomfortable. But certainly not unrewarding. When I speak German, people are happy, appreciative, even amused. Sometimes corrective. But more often than not, unquestioningly more cooperative.

Don’t hold back!

As they say, Deutsche Sprache, schöne Sprache !

Dream Team!