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The secret to understand more when talking to a native speaker

Do you easily get frustrated when talking to a native speaker in German but only understand about half of what the person is saying back to you? You are not alone! Almost all learners struggle with understanding a native German speaker – at least in the beginning. It might be that you can´t follow that quickly, are unfamiliar with the type of vocabulary the person´s using or simply cannot get over that strong accent you´ve never heard before. The following tips will uncover the secret to understanding more, no matter at what language level you are currently.


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Understanding a native speaker is actually more difficult than it appears at first sight. You´re not only need to hear what the person is saying to you, you have to actively listen to it to fully understand the message. This requires a lot of concentration, which we´re normally not used to because in our daily lives we tend to listen passively. Therefore, the very first step to understanding more is to listen actively!


Switch from passive to active listening


To listen actively means to follow actively what the person is saying to you. In your mind, picture the situation or object the speaker is describing. This means you literally picture it in your head, like a story board, comic strip or film if you like. If you don´t, the number “zweitausendvierhundertsechzehn”, for instance, will quickly disappear without you ever finding out what the person has just said to you!


If you´re listening to a video, podcast or audio, stop and listen again as often as you need to, and try to understand a little more every time. Write down any expressions or words which you don´t understand but feel they are important. Later, you are going to look these up in your dictionary. The secret is to actively engage with the content you´re listening to. It also, simultaneously, trains your ear for the correct pronunciation.


If you use a video, check if it offers subtitles in German, and use them! The advantage is that you can listen and read at the same time and give your brain the opportunity to connect the sound with the written word – the information enters two channels at the same time.


Choose suitable materials


Choosing the right materials for your level is a strategy as well as an art. let your interests show you the way. Look for (German) videos, documentaries and TV-programmes on topics like health, cooking, animals, sports or fashion, TV series, sitcoms and films are all easily accessible and actually the best (and most fun way) to practise understanding German. Simply because they´ll give you a realistic impression of a German conversation in real life. In addition, the speaker´s facial expressions, gestures and actions will also help you understand more. A lot of understanding will happen through associating and connecting the words you hear and the actions you see.


By selecting a programme on a specific topic you´re interested in you´ll automatically limit the expected vocabulary and you´ll probably hear the same words and expressions several times. That´s very useful for consolidating certain expressions you may like! If you´re a fan of movies, telenovelas or TV series you can perfectly use your passion to improve your understanding of German. Ideally, you should choose one which is originally spoken in German like this one or this one to make sure spoken words, gestures and actions match. If you´re using a DVD which offers subtitles in German, use them for help if you need to. However, be aware that you´ll need to switch them off from time to time (yes, do it! It´s not a test.) Because you´ll know what will happen: instead of listening more carefully to what´s being said, you´ll keep reading the subtitles. And this is not what will improve your listening comprehension skills!

Watch the News in German


I also recommend to watch the news in German. The range of topics and vocabulary you can expect is much bigger but you may have already watched or listened to the news in your own language and know what´s going on in the world. Therefore, you know what to expect. And if you jot down some key words you pick up while listening and look them up, you´ll very quickly understand a lot more.


Last but not least, I suggest you use a German radio programme or audio book you like. I really enjoy listening to audio books myself since I discovered them. Now you don´t even have to buy a stack of bulky CDs, you can simply buy and download your favourite from www.audible.de. Listen to some samples before you select one to download. And if you don´t feel quite ready to for audio books, you can also use an audio version of an Easy Reader. Here is another example. Choose one that is slightly above your current level of German. If you´re not quite sure what your current level is, take a look here. Follow these tips and soon a conversation with a native German speaker will not intimidate you anymore.


Now I want to hear from you. Which of these strategies have you tried or are you willing to use? What has or hasn´t worked for you in the past? Let me know in the comments below. And if you liked this article share it with your friends, colleagues and family.


Lots of love
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