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How to Choose the Right Teach Yourself German Guide

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In today’s ever more globalized world, learning a second language is becoming more and more common, as well as increasingly important. Gone are the days when the only polyglots you would meet were diplomats and worldly traveler types.

Now, everyone can study a second language simply as a past time. This is where Teach Yourself German Guides come in; with all of us working for longer every week, regular language classes are simply not convenient for many people.

Teaching yourself, however, can be done whenever and wherever you want, fitting into your busy schedule. Past this need for convenience and flexibility, however, our preferences begin to diverge based on our various objectives, priorities, preferences, availability, flexibility and budgets.

Are you looking to just pick up the basics for a holiday or to find employment in Germany? Do you prefer to lean the language through social interaction and engaging activities or through carefully examining the grammar and syntax of the language? Luckily, there is a wide range of Teach Yourself German Guides out there to suit almost all profiles, although of course, none of them will cover every preference.


Learning Style

It is up to you to do a little introspection and try and define what kind of learner you are. In this way, you will be able to find, not just any teach yourself German product, but the one that is best suited to you. Now this is easier said than done as almost every product in this category promises to get you speaking and understanding German quickly while having fun. However, to what extent this is true will depend on a combination of the product’s quality and whether or not it suits your learning style.

Experienced language learners will already have a good idea of how they like to learn, in fact, knowing how you learn a language best is half the battle; once you’ve got the knack, a lot seems to just fall into place. This does mean that more often than not, complete beginners slave away for years using the wrong techniques for them and just as they are sick of language learning they try another technique and think “this is amazing and so easy, I wish I’d discovered it years ago!”.

Here at No1Reviews.com we will do our best to cut past all the jargon, options and variation of this category in order to save you having to do it the hard way. Our reviews will provide you with a breakdown of how exactly each specific product will attempt to fulfill their promise, how likely this is depending on the quality of the product and what type of learners it will suit best. With this in mind, you must then think about your priorities in order to make the right choice. Taking a little time to do this now will invariably save you a lot of time and money in the future.

Fluency in a language can be broken down into mastering 6 main components; reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar and vocabulary. Some consider 'thinking' to be a 7th component, however not everyone is agreed upon this and we'll go into this later. The order in which these are tackled and the emphasis put on each one will differ from learner to learner. For example, those looking to learn German for business will need a solid understanding of Grammar and the formal language, however if you want to go and live in Germany and work in a bar you will be looking for more colloquial, conversational German.

Likewise, some may want to just pick up a few words and phrases for their next holiday while others maybe be studying German in university. Setting your expectations and choosing a level is also important. We would recommend erring on the side of caution as, contrary to what most products will tell you, achieving an advanced level will require hard work.

For beginners it would be better to take small steps rather than attempting one giant leap; this way, you can refine your experience as you go along, choosing specific products to suit your needs as they change. Putting all your eggs in one basket may result in your $500 beginner to advanced complete teach yourself German course sitting in a cupboard gathering dust. With just a little language learning experience it will become far easier to gauge your expectations.

Teaching style

Language can be divided into two parts; vocab and grammar. Vocabulary consists of the words that form the building blocks of any languages while grammar deals with the rules governing the way that those words can be combined to form meaningful sentences. Both are intrinsic to the language, reinforcing one another, yet this doesn’t mean that they have to be learnt in parallel.

Grammar without vocabulary is pretty useless, so many programs set out by equipping you with a strong base of vocabulary, this way you can begin by expressing yourself in the most basic way, as well as understand simple instructions. It has been proven that students with a strong vocabulary base will be able to pick up the complexities of a language much more quickly.

However, it must be noted that, although German is similar to English in many ways, the grammar is known to be very complicated. Hence, many products place a special emphasis on carefully explaining to you the rules, as it may not be as easy to ‘just pick them up’ as it is with other languages.

You will come across some courses which claim ‘no need for books’ and go about teaching you German on an audio-only basis. Clearly these are great in terms of portability as you can listen to them in the car or the kitchen while cooking. Furthermore, with the rise of the mp3 player their portability is multiplied as a lot more data is stored on a smaller device which you can take with you while jogging or going to the gym. Such courses focus solely on listening and speaking, arguably two of the most important aspects of any language.

Some also explain to you the grammatical rules (some do this very well), but it is usually easier to study these with the aid of a textbook. Overall, an audio-course will improve your conversational German and is highly portable but it will not, on its own, represent a comprehensive course.

Recently, in the world of language teaching, a rather polemic and divisive debate around immersion learning has reared its ugly head. This is because recent advances in technology are claiming to be able to simulate an immersion approach to learning German in which you learn the language “like a baby”. In the past, what could only be achieved by actually living in Germany is now being sold in a CD-ROM box-set on Amazon!

The, let’s call them “immersionists”, claim that learning in this way gets you actually thinking in German and is much easier, as language acquisition is a natural process. In this way, as long as we are simply exposed to the language our brains will subconsciously link words to their meanings and pick out grammatical rules.

The traditionalists however, argue that, on the contrary, our brains are very different to those of babies as are the reasons we learn languages. We don’t have doting parents to take us through the learning process and, although children pick up oral communication amazingly quickly, they can’t write and essay nor present a business plan in German.

This debate is still up in the air with as many swearing by the immersion approach as cursing it. As with most controversies, however, the likelihood is that each side has its own strengths and weakness. Hence, your perfect learning experience will consist of a synthesis of the two, depending on your personal preferences. To help you make this choice, see below for a brief outline of each approach.

  1. The immersion approach: 
    Practically, this involves a range of exercises which, rather than explicitly explaining grammatical rules to you, slowly builds up your understanding of increasingly complex sentences by simply exposing you to the language in a logical manner. Learning is simply a trial and error process and the pure “immersionists” don’t even include any grammar or translations which can really frustrate some users.

  2. The traditional approach:
    Although invariably more of a “classroom” approach, don’t let this put you off. As opposed to the dry verb tables and vocab lists you probably remember from your school days, increasingly powerful technology has bought language learning into the 21st century with a variety of interactive exercises which keep the learning experience varied and contextualize your learning.

    Despite the flashy technology, however, the premise of this approach remains the age-old reductionist approach: the whole is broken down into its constituent parts in order to understand the internal workings. Indecipherable “babble” is broken down into individual words which, when their meaning and interrelation is understood, can be reconstructed into sentences of your own and “babbled” right back! Practically this involves precise explanations of grammatical rules and memorization of subject-related vocab.


Format and features

Not so long ago, the pinnacle of technology available to those of us looking to learn German was nothing more that some fuzzy cassette tapes and dodgy VHS (younger readers may need to look-up these now antiquated terms!); textbooks, grammar tables and vocab lists were the key ways to learn.

In the last 20 years, however, a technological revolution has taken place which has allowed Teach Yourself German products to become more and more sophisticated. These developments, however, have not occurred in a linear fashion but have rather unleashed an explosion of products, each branching out in a slightly different direction to fill its own niche in the market.

This said, the humble textbook is still going steady and for good reason: high quality content, an organized structure and well-written grammatical explanations are timeless; textbooks are fully portable and do not crash; they are far cheaper then multimedia; and finally, we find that there is something nice about flicking through a real book. The only real drawback is that audio cannot be effectively replaced by phonetic spelling and pronunciation guides.

In this way, there is a strong chance that users relying solely on a textbook will develop a poor accent and bad habits which will be hard to shake and will slow down their German learning in the long run. Luckily, however, many textbooks come with audio CDs. If not, you should consider supplementing your textbooks with other learning sources.

On the other end of the technological spectrum we find multimedia box-sets boasting a sophisticated variety of features, the quality and quantity of which is generally related to the price you pay. Film clips, role plays, interactive lessons and language games undeniably make language learning a far more engaging experience.

Furthermore, many of these materials can either be transferred to CD, mp3 or printed off in order to keep you learning on the go. Flashcards, despite being a reliable method of learning vocabulary, have really been brought into the 21st century; one click on the word exposes you to a native speaker pronunciation while a specific algorithm regulates the rate at which you learn in order to optimize the memorization process.

Speech recognition technology may possibly be one of the most crucial developments in this field. Increasingly powerful personal computers now enable the public to enjoy technology previously reserved for academia and industry. It generally consists of an audio playback of a native speaker which you have to repeat into your microphone.

An audio graphic is then produced which is analyzed and compared, along with the audio recording of your voice, to that of the original native speaker. Accuracy scores can then be recorded and improved upon at a later date. This technology can also be incorporated into interactive activities in order to simulate real conversations! Although far from perfect, speech recognition technology is coming closer and closer to replicating real language-based interaction.

Despite all these advances, it must be said that a trusty textbook will neither freeze, crash nor need replacing in 2 years. In this way, we encourage you to keep in mind that a slow internet connection or dated hardware could prevent you from taking advantage of more advanced features. To avoid disappointment, please make sure you check the system requirements against what you own before making any purchase.

While most laptops these days have microphones built in, external ones are almost always better. A bad quality mic will render even the most sophisticated speech recognition technology useless!  Despite generally being sold as CDs and DVDs in box-sets, software is increasingly becoming available online or to download. Some small savings are available with this method; as it becomes more popular these will invariably increase due to greatly reduced production and distribution costs.

An apparent running theme throughout this section is a trade-off between sophistication and portability. However, with the advent of smart phones, increasingly advanced technology is becoming available on smaller and smaller devises. Despite this still being an emerging market, it is looking as though, sooner or later, complete language learning solutions will be available in the palm of your hand.


Support and Community

All technology has the potential to go wrong or confuse us; hence, good customer support can make or break your language learning experience. All software producers are required by law to provide something in the form of customer support, however, this “something” can vary incredibly from company to company. From a personalized concierge service to nothing more than some forms that you must order, you will generally get what you pay for.

However, with most of the products listed in our Top 10 category you will receive adequate customer support and some kind of money back guarantee. Towards the top of the range you will even get language-learning customer support. This is basically like having your own personal language teacher but more flexible, unfortunately you will still pay an equivalent price. However, recent entrants to the market are beginning to introduce products that significantly reduce this.

Throughout our extensive research and reviewing of this category we did feel that, although all this technology was all very well and good, it did seem to entail a correlated reduction of the human element of language learning. However, we were heartened to find that community features are becoming increasingly common in this sector. These “spaces” are bringing together language learners and teachers from all over the world to share knowledge, discuss the language and even make friends along the way.

Users can also share additional resources such as useful links, articles and videos on these sites. We think this is a great way to add a human (often expert) touch to your language learning while taking advantage of the price and flexibility benefits of recent technology. The incorporation of social media into the language learning world may bring us back full circle to a distinctly human approach to language learning.

 The Bottom Line

With products covering almost all perceivable language learning preferences and prices ranging from 50 cents to $500, choosing your Teach Yourself German Guide may feel like a mammoth task. Don’t be daunted however; with just a little bit of research, some products will begin to stand out.

Read our reviews to get an better picture of the field and take advantage of the numerous free trials on offer to assess your preferred learning style. A little bit of time spent now will soon pay dividends in terms of money and time saved by having the right product for you. Whatever your final choice may be, we wish you good luck in learning another language; it may very well change your life! Viel Glück!