After the initial excitement of starting to learn German, you’ll already have found that your motivation goes up and down. That’s true at all levels. But what are the specific highs and lows that you’re likely to encounter as a lower intermediate (B1) German learner? In this post, let’s look at the good bits (things to look forward to( and the not so good bits (and how you can push through them).
This is the third in my Into Intermediate German series. First, we did a high level comparison of the skills needed for A2 German and the B1 German level. Then we focussed on some of solid specifics of the grammar and vocab that you need for lower intermediate German. Now let’s do feelings.
What are the highs and lows of intermediate German?
There’s no doubt that there are typical highs and lows in the lower intermediate phase. Let’s be honest: it can be a particularly difficult stage.
On the objective side, the language really is suddenly getting a lot more complex.
On the subjective side, as you meet more and more structures, you’ll become increasingly aware of what you don’t yet know (those known unknowns replacing the beginner bliss of a forest of invisible bear traps (unknown unknowns). Maybe you’ll catch yourself feeling that you’ve let yourself in for more than you bargained for.
The frustrations you already know from your experience as a beginner in German will persist, as well. You’ll keep forgetting words you know you “know”.
If you remember them, you’ll often get the gender wrong.
You’ll still make mistakes with the complicated German case and declension system and German word order. Oh, and all that just got several steps more complicated as you come across the genitive case and start having to use all sorts of subordinate clauses (Nebensätze).
Another challenge for you as a lower intermediate German learner is that “the real thing” – native German, with ease – is still a way off.
Unlike the upper intermediate (B2) learner, you still can’t enjoy native level TV shows or books. That’s a thrilling reward when it comes, but not for you quite yet.
You don’t just have to mope around, though.
First, you can still enjoy German music if you don’t understand all the lyrics.
You can turn on the subtitles to films, TV shows and YouTube vids whenever they’re available (and try to use subtitles in German, not English, as soon as possible). You’ll already have more context than you did as a beginner and you’ll be understanding more and more snippets.
Remember that you can also seek out attractive listening and reading materials “graded” to your level.
As for speaking: you can already have real interactions and it sometimes feels good. But there’s no denying that even casual conversation in German yet can still be a strain for the lower intermediate learner.
The problem every time you’re down and dirty with the lingo is that you still don’t have active command of enough structures and words. Those you do have don’t always flow (even if you’re doing it right and learning lots of “chunks” and set phrases).
When you’re approaching upper-intermediate level, you’ll be far better placed to get your message across via an alternative route, so to speak. Nimbly side-stepping gaps requires firm ground on both sides, though. Your ground is still a bit shaky.
What you can do is can to developing those basic work-arounds you should have started with as a beginner.
One work-around is to learn “filler” words and phrases to win time or keep the conversation moving and repeating what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve understood (or signal to your conversation partner that you haven’t).
Another is the art of the intelligent guess: working your way out from those bits that do already know (again, this gets easier when you’re upper intermediate).
Try to get comfortable with gaps in understanding (and misunderstandings!). There’re inevitable at this level.
Do all this and then just embrace the suck as some might put it (not Dr P) 🙂 .
Remember that your frustration is normal for any German learner just getting to the intermediate level.
The good news is that when you’re a B1 level German learner, the new language you’re covering is still essential structures and high-frequency vocab.
So, just like in the beginner phase, you can really feel the relevance of what you’re doing. You will sense real progress in a way you may not so often in the upper intermediate and advanced levels. A lot of your time is spent trying out exciting new things and quite often – hey! – they work.
Pity those upper-intermediate to lower advanced level learners that you’ll hear complaining of being “stuck on a plateau”. They’re the ones who are often “not sure what they should do next”. They also have to put in a heck of a lot of work for what may often be, well, mere linguistic “nice to haves”.
You, meanwhile, can feel you’re crushing it, if you use good methods and have the right support.
Another plus that comes with the lower intermediate territory is that you still appreciate have far you’ve come.
Get to upper intermediate and advanced level and you may longer not feel so excited and impressed with your already German-speaking self. Then the risk is that you fixate on relatively minor shortcomings.
A supportive structure to improve your lower-intermediate German
Getting fluent at German can be thrilling and it can be fun, but it’s unlikely to feel like that all the time.
No! Learning German is an endurance sport and, to keep going, you can’t afford to be at the mercy of your fluctuating mood.
To maintain your motivation to really learn German you need to combine two powerful drivers: habit and community.
The intermediate German habit
First, then, what do I mean by habit?
Make sure you’re scheduling in regular slots in your week for active study focus on new structures and vocab, to use the language actively (speaking, writing) to get passive exposure to German (listening, reading).
Commit yourself to study a certain amount a certain number of days a week.
You could log your progress in your diary or a spreadsheet, or a special notebook. It’s satisfying to see your track record building and you can develop a “run” you won’t want to break. The feeling can be all the stronger if you have accountability partner or are sharing your log with a wider support group..
You can book lessons on line in advance for the week, or month ahead. I do this with the teachers I learn with on italki. It keeps me going because I know I’ll lose your money if I cancel within the last 24 hours. If I just fail to turn up, I’ll not only be charged, but I’ll lose my 100% attendance rate (not bad after 427 lessons, eh? I’m not going to duck out at the last minute whatever my mood.
You may only have time a lesson or two a week (two or three half hour sessions would be ideal) but you should be feeding your German habit every day. On busy days, it may only be using flashcards on the train to work or playing German audio while you’re in the shower, but do keep going.
Have some “down time” activities lined up for when you’re tired. Maybe you’ll watch a German film or the news in German (with subtitles).
It all adds up.
The power of community to learn B1 German
Second, make sure you have a supportive community of people who can help you on your journey.
Your tutor or exchange partner and people you know (or whom you can get to know) who speak the language are central here.
If funds allow, you can look into having your own language mentor to provide more overarching guidance, be a sounding board and keep you on track. My language mentoring clients typically check in with me for a fifty-minute session once or twice month, for example.
You can also get together with other German learners for mutual encouragement, whether it’s sharing wins or, at times, commiserating together). Go to learner meetups, if there are any in your area, or find German learner online discussion groups.
You may still find interacting with natives quite a challenge at the lower intermediate level.
Dive straight in if you feel up to it. If you don’t, though, there’s nothing to stop you following discussions in German in a more passive way. Find people talking about topics you’re interested in other than learning German. These could be professional interests, hobbies, learning practical skills, sport, music or film or a life phrase such as becoming a new parent or entering retirement.
If you’re realistic, you’ll know you aren’t about to jump from the beginner stage to speaking like a native. You have to go through that intermediate phrase and it can be quite a long one.
The good news, as we’ve seen, is that this stage has its psychological upsides too and you can get at lot more “fluent” in German within the limits of your level,.
What you need is the right mindset, methods, materials and, just as important, the right supportive structures in place.
Taking on B1 German with Dr P
If you’re serious about getting from upper beginner, A2 German into the ranks of the intermediate learner, keep a lookout for my upcoming German “Into Intermediate” Focus for Fluency programme.
I’ll be leading a group of learners on a ten-week journey. I’m partnering with some of the best native-speaker teachers out there to create interesting and realistic conversational materials that are at just the right level so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
There will be guidance on to-the-point, jargon free explanations of key new structures and phrases, exercises to train those language muscles and a “brain-savvy” interactive study routine. That’s not about technical wizardry it’s about using the materials in ways that reflect the way that cognitive science tells us work best.
There’ll be live mentoring from my and you’ll have my unlimited personal email support….and a lively supportive online community discussion forum.
Launch is scheduled for spring 2019. If you want to hear more, you first need to join the Howtogetfluent email club by signing up in the box at the bottom (and at the top right on desktop).
If you do that, you’ll get my free, five-part “How to learn a language” video course (relevant not just to German but to learning any language, at any level). See you in the course and, once you’ve signed up, look out for more via email about the new German “Into Intermediate” Focus for Fluency programme. Los geht’s!