Learning German : A Journey through Language and Culture
Author: James Pfrehm
Publisher: TLC (The Great Courses)
Format: PDF, MP4
Learning a new language is an adventure like no other. Sounds that were once gibberish start to make sense. Words and cultures come alive. And visions of foreign travel begin to take shape.
And yet, the first step in learning a new language can be daunting. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself into believing, “I’m just not good at languages,” or “My days of learning are behind me.” Or maybe you’ve decided that, “It’s just too much work to start from scratch.”
While it’s true that there is no effortless route to learning a language, an inspiring teacher makes all the difference. With the right instructor to guide you, these doubts and hesitations disappear. And what can be an ordeal of memorization and drills turns into an accessible and entertaining adventure!
Consider German. It’s one of the world’s most important conversational, commercial, and literary languages—and also one of the most challenging to master, which makes a superb teacher truly vital. On the one hand, German and English are both Germanic languages and share a lot of vocabulary: Mutter, Vater, Hund, and Katze are probably words you already recognize. On the other hand, unlike the Romance languages, German has case endings, three grammatical genders, and very particular rules for its word order.
German, you might say, has gotten a reputation for being difficult.
But Keine Panik! (Don’t panic!) says award-winning Professor James Pfrehm in Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture. With crystal-clear explanations and a cache of insider tricks, he conducts you through a full year of college-level German in 30 delightful, half-hour lessons. And with Professor Pfrehm’s engaging and entertaining teaching style, you will actually want to repeat each lesson!
You’ll learn all the skills needed to understand and speak basic German: from its sounds and vocabulary to its wondrously challenging grammar. You’ll be able to engage with films, literature, and other media in German. And most important, you’ll be ready to travel to any German-speaking country—whether it’s Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or others. The signs, menus, greetings, and customs will be more meaningful to you, and you’ll be equipped to converse at an elementary level.
In short, you’ll be well on your way to forging your very own “journey” through the German language!
An Associate Professor of German and Linguistics at Ithaca College in Upstate New York, Professor Pfrehm enlivens his presentation with learner-friendly features, such as these:
- Take It Slowly: Rather than just throwing you into the deep end with an overwhelming “full immersion experience,” Professor Pfrehm mixes authentic examples of German with straightforward explanations in English. As the course proceeds, the examples get longer, the vocabulary richer, and the grammar more complex, but he never leaves you floundering or feeling lost.
- Travel Tips: Many lessons in this course include a short dialogue starring two animated German tourists, Ralf and Mia, voiced by German actors whose accents can help you develop your own. You’ll get to know new grammar, along with Rolf and Mia’s foibles, as they take in urban, natural, and cultural attractions in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, giving you a preview of popular points of interest for your own travels.
- Learning Should Be Fun: Professor Pfrehm has perfected the art of educating through entertainment. He dresses up as Father Christmas and sings a carol to demonstrate a new type of dependent clause; delivers a newscast on current events featuring genitive case constructions; and in a pair of lessons, he narrates a thrilling animated fairy tale to drive home the simple past tense.
- Workbook: To get the most out of the course, you’ll want to use the accompanying workbook. Each lesson has a grammar summary, grammar exercises, vocabulary, vocabulary exercises, answer keys, and the German text of the dialogues along with translations. The workbook also includes a resources section with recommended German dictionaries, cultural books, and language apps.
Throughout Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture, vocabulary and grammar examples appear on-screen in German with translations, allowing you to pause the video to review new material and let it sink in. An especially valuable feature is that the listening-comprehension element—a standard component of most language courses—is “baked in,” meaning that it’s integrated directly into the lessons. As a result, you hear increasingly long extracts of spoken German via the dialogues, stories, skits, and other pieces, always with Professor Pfrehm’s explanations in English before and after.
A Cultural and Linguistic Journey
Professor Pfrehm is an American who fell in love with the German language in college and has visited German-speaking countries repeatedly ever since. Impressively fluent, he has absorbed the culture with enthusiasm and understanding. And since he remembers the frustrations of being a beginner, he tailors his lessons to anticipate the most frequent pitfalls and trouble spots, doing this with a teaching approach that echoes the exciting experience of learning German in a natural setting.
For example, you start the course with the all-purpose greeting, Guten Tag (Good Day), paying attention to German’s pure u tone, which is unlike the “yew” sound in English. But let’s say you’re in southern Germany or Austria. There, the usual salutation is Grüß Gott, which has ü (u with an umlaut). Professor Pfrehm demonstrates how to move your lips and tongue to make this very distinctive German sound. Accordingly, you proceed through the alphabet, learning useful vocabulary and how to pronounce it like a native speaker. And if you know nothing else, a simple Guten Tag or Grüß Gott is a surefire way to break the ice during your travels in the German-speaking world.
Of course, you go much, much farther in Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture. You’ll plunge deep into the fascinating grammar and sentence structure of the language, along the way picking up cultural pointers such as these:
- Berlin, City of Contrasts: Devasted during World War II and divided by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin is now the glittering capital of a reunited Germany. In the course of a lesson on the subjunctive mood, Professor Pfrehm gives you detailed suggestions on what to do in this endlessly interesting city.
- Out on the Town: Other cities you visit include Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Salzburg, and Zürich. Your lessons in urban adventure include ordering drinks and coffee; toasting your new friends at Munich’s Oktoberfest; visiting a Swiss chocolate factory; listening to popular German recording artists; and previewing three, must-see German films.
- Practical Skills: Professor Pfrehm instructs you in Germany’s many typical civic duties and activities. Your vocabulary lessons also feature shopping for clothes, names for parts of the body, how to tell a doctor what’s ailing you, giving directions and understanding them, telling time, and counting up to a billion.
- A Remarkable Walk: When you visit Germany’s North Sea coast, you’ll want to take off your shoes, roll up your trousers, and venture out into a vast intertidal zone called the Wattenmeer. But seid bitte vorsichtig (please be careful)—an imperative instruction you learn in this lesson—since you don’t want to get caught by the rising tide!
Professor Pfrehm refers to these 30 lessons as a “journey” rather than a “course” or “class.” That’s because learning a foreign language really is a journey. A journey has twists and turns. Milestones and mistakes. And most of all, journeys are full of surprises. Your biggest surprise with Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture may be that the language is easier and more rewarding than you ever imagined.