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Friday, May 09, 2008

Goethe Institute 2 week Superintensive German class

I spent the last two weeks at the SuperIntensive German course at the Goethe Institute. I figured that the start of a new work assignment is the best time to take the class, since I would then get to use my new found language skills (if I acquired any), for the rest of my stay.

The class is conducted in 10 days, from 8:30 to 5:00pm every day, in 4 sessions of 1.5 hours each, and a 1.5 hour lunch break. It is a full immersion class, where the instructors speak to you completely in German from day 1, and my class at least, had only 3 students per instructor, so the instruction was really really personal. In fact, the instructors take a survey at the start asking you what you want to know, and everything you need will be covered, up to a point.

The point, unfortunately, is that German is a difficult language, structurally speaking. No lesser a man than Mark Twain himself has written a treatise on how difficult the language is to learn. (The article is a lot more funny when you've burnt 40 hours attempting to learn the language) Of course, there are benefits to learning German --- you don't have to remember as much vocabulary because there are a lot of similar words to English.

My goals were very simple: to be able to do simple tasks (get a hotel room, ask for directions), and to be able to listen in on colleague's conversations, as well as make myself understood. I'm afraid I wasn't terribly successful at the first, and my German accent is apparently thick enough that I'm going to have to carry a dictionary so I can point at a word in frustration if I can't pronounce it well.

This is indeed the biggest fault of the Goethe Institute: it does not have a language lab. It has a media center, but to get rid of strong and heavy accents like the one I have, you'd have to have a real language lab --- one that records your attempts to say a word, plays it back to you along with the correct enunciation, and thereby provides you proper feedback to modulate your voice. As evidence of this, I used a language lab as part of my Japanese class at Berkeley 15 years ago, and I enunciate Japanese perfectly --- I might not know much Japanese, but my pronunciation is so good that people assume I know more than I do.

As it is, I can understand about one quarter of typical spoken German, and I can read the train site now without much trouble. I no longer need an English menu at a restaurant, and I can count. This is pretty good progress for 2 weeks, so I'm pretty satisfied. Obviously, at 38, I'm no longer young and find it tough to learn new languages.

All in all, if you had to learn German in a hurry, this is probably a good way to go. If you have a month, the institute also has month long classes that aren't as intensive, which is probably a good thing --- you have more time to absorb what you're being taught, and it isn't as all consuming. But then you'd have to take a month. If you have that much time, then perhaps enrolling at UC Berkeley or some institute of higher learning where you have access to a language lab would give you better results. But then you need at least a quarter or so and the results might not be so immediate and personally tailored.


md said...

Why did you choose Goethe if they don't have a language lab? Did you realize that before you signed up?

Eric said...

Sounds like you're off to a flying start on the German. I don't think you'll need a lab...let Muenchen be your lab, and your pronunciation will click soon enough. As long as you can say "zwoelf" and be understood, you'll be fine.

Unknown said...

free language lab from might be useful

Piaw Na said...

I picked the Goethe Institute because that's what folks in the office recommended. No, I didn't know they didn't have a language lab. Then again, I don't know how prevalent such facilities are outside the US.

Unknown said...

Hi there. I should be signing up for a 4-week course at the Goethe Institute in Munich soon and I wanted to ask you about the residence. Did you stay in their hostel? I'm thinking of getting a single room there. Do you recommend that? Where did you stay? Thanks a lot.

Piaw Na said...

Sorry, I stayed in corporate housing that my company had arranged for me. I stayed at the Hotel Max Emmanuel in Haidhausen, which is quite far from the institute (3 stops by S-Bahn). Given that you probably won't spend too much time in the room (if you're doing the super intensive course), I wouldn't worry about lodging and go with what they have --- that way you'll live with other students and get more of a community experience.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this post! I am looking for language courses in Germany. The Institute's courses are VERY expensive... So i just wanted to make sure they were worth it! Seems so. Thanks agaiN! Ksenia, NYC