Do you feel it’s impossible to learn German cheaply?
When I first set out to learn German I was amazed by how expensive it was.
For what is the same price of an all-inclusive holiday on the beach in Spain, you can just about get two German lessons and a used textbook. It seemed almost impossible to learn German cheaply.
But I refused to believe that you had to invest hundreds of pounds into a course or a private tutor. Especially when they’re not even guaranteed to get you results.
So, I went in search of a way to learn a basic level of the language without eating into your savings account.
What I found was Language Hacking German from Benny Lewis. And for less than £15, it’s an absolute game changer for anyone looking to learn the language.
In this article, I’m going to show you my experience with the book, how it works and the pros and cons of using it.
My Language Hacking German Experiment
First off, I’d like to show you what the book did for my German.
I started learning German with book around the 10th of September 2016 and by the end of October I was able to have 60 minute long Skype conversations with my girlfriend
Here’s a video I recorded for one of my clients to illustrate my German level after six weeks:
Okay, so my grammar is a little crappy there and listening to that months after makes me cringe a little. (I should have said Ich glaube Deutsch ist schwer aber es ist leichter als ich gedacht habe for example).
But you can see that I could quite easily start having conversations, talk about the past tense and survive should I be dropped in the middle of rural German. (Also: please excuse the Blue Hair; it was a charity thing.)
In fact, when I posted that video on Facebook I got some good responses from other German speakers:
I’m going to go on record and say my German was better after six weeks than my Spanish was with hours of lessons. And I had a lot more confidence.
How Does The Book Work (And What Is ‘Language Hacking’)?
Language Hacking works on taking the elements of the language you need to speak and making them the focus of your learning.
You’re not bogged down in endless grammar lessons and conjugation tables, which in German can be fatal to your progress.
Instead the book focuses on specific conversations, 28 in total throughout the book, that you’ll encounter when you’re speaking German. Topics like:
- Introducing yourself
- Discussing your interests
- Talking about your family and friends
- Telling stories in the past and future tenses
- Taking classes and joining clubs
- Talking about learning languages
And then teaches you to build the language around what you would say about those topics.
For example, I’m a meat-eating, rugby playing, world travelling, freelance writer from Salford. So when I talk about myself I learn to discuss sitting on planes, my favourite places to visit, stories from the road and how many injuries I’ve picked up.
If you’re a vegetarian football player from Leeds, your end result is going to be vastly different from mine.
This approach works really well because you learn to use the language. Instead of just being words on a page, it comes to life.
You don’t have to suffer the pain of “The ball is red”, “The cat is on the table”, “Suzanne lives in a house”. All of this comes naturally when you use the language, and you can learn phrases you’ll actually use.
You’re also never bored. It becomes much more exciting when you’re talking about topics you actually care about. And, lets be real, everyone’s favourite topic is themselves.
Okay so that’s how the book works; let’s take a look at the specifics.
The Book Itself: What You’ll Be Doing
There are 10 missions (read: chapters) in total with two to three conversations in each.
Each chapter starts with a conversation that you can listen to through the Podcast app that comes for free with the book. You can listen to this as many times as you like, follow the transcript, and adjust the speed to fit your level of listening.
You’re then greeted with a set of ‘Figure It Out’ questions that ask you to work out specific meanings based on context. For example:
- Based on the context, what does Ich Bin mean?
- What do you think Du means?
- Can you guess what ‘Praktish’ means?
This section is probably my favourite because it teaches you an important skill: understanding what someone is saying based on context, a language we can all understand.
Then there is a ‘Notice’ section where you learn the essential phrases from the conversation, and can being to fill out your language. Such as how to say:
- “Rugby ist mein leiblingssport” (Rugby is my favourite sport)
- “Ich spiele gern Playstation” (I like to play Playstation)
- “Ich bin ein Schriftsteller” (I’m a writer)
You’re then given a Language Hack, such as finding Cognates (words you already know in English: Functioniert, Konzentrieren, Milsch), and implementing it yourself.
Then a quick grammar explanation so you understand why a particular thing – such as cases or sentence structure – is happening.
You put it all together by creating your personal script from what you just learned. Before being encouraged to record a video of you saying it and uploading it to the Language Hacking Community (found on the iTalki website).
But I have to recommend that if you have someone to speak to, you have a conversation with them about what you’ve learned instead of uploading the videos. This listening and speaking practice is absolutely vital.
This was a really fun way to learn the language and helped a lot with my confidence. Normally, I feel the fear of speaking a language quite heavily, but because you know how to respond with this, you become more confident.
Plus, with the added structure to the sessions, it felt like I was getting all of the benefits of a language lesson without the cost.
Pros and Cons: Can It Really Replace A Language Teacher?
I honestly feel this is the best language learning product that I’ve purchased in a long while. Everything I’ve bought since – with perhaps the exception of GermanPod101 – has felt a little lacklustre in comparison.
For a beginner, it can definitely replace a language learning tutor (or course) up to about the A2 level. Then, after that, you may need a teacher to polish your rough edges and move forward.
For me the biggest pro is getting out there and using the language. For most German learners it’s normal to sit in a classroom (or your bedroom) and study German grammar and vocabulary. Doing that you acquire a lot of knowledge, but you’re always timid about using the language for it’s main purpose – speaking.
There is also the fact that you receive so many language learning materials – a 256-page book, over 90 minutes of audio, access to an online Language Hacking Community – all of which costs less than 60 minutes of tuition.
However, there are a few cons…
With the language hacking method you can pick up some bad habits; using the wrong cases, speaking Denglish at times and coming out with a limited vocabulary. Also while you may be great at talking about yourself your knowledge of what someone might say back to you is somewhat limited.
But what is important about a language is being understood and speaking to people. So while those cons may require some work to fix at an intermediate level, they’re severely outweighed by the pros of using the language straight away and refining as you go.
And with these cons come with one big silver lining: making mistakes, and being told how to improve, makes your overall language a lot better. I remember more from my mistakes being corrected than I ever did sat in a classroom.
Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.0
Overall this is the perfect language learning companion for a beginner. Especially if you want to learn German cheaply and get to grips with the basics of the language.
If you don’t want to invest lots of money in a teacher, but you’re not sure where to start otherwise, you should definitely pick up a copy.
There are a few bugs that need to be worked out: the language hacking community is hard to find, and the podcast app can often be a little glitchy. But for less than £15, what can you expect?
It’s also available as a Kindle version and a Paperback. But I’d highly recommend a paperback so you can scribble all over it.
Of course you are free to invest lots of money into a language learning course. But, I promise, you won’t quite get the benefits you will from this book.
You can pick up a copy right here…