Berlins and Outs

4 Ways We’re Learning German

It looks like I’ll be signing up for another German class sooner rather than later because… I’m applying for a year-long residence permit to learn German! That’s right, we’ve found a solution to our residence permit problems! The Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office) will let me live here on my savings if it’s in the interest of learning German – I just have to study German 20 hours per week for 3 months, and they’ll give me a residence permit for the next year. This gives E and me plenty of time to find a cheaper place to live; and it gives me plenty of time to establish myself as a freelance writer (and apply for a freelance permit) or find a day job, which will be a lot easier to do if I speak German. Plus, I like language learning! With the exception of the cost, it’s a win-win!

Until I start my next class though, I’ve been practicing at home, and I thought it would be fun to share some of the language learning resources E and I have found.


We’ve mentioned Duolingo on the blog before and I’ve actually been using it for years to practice my Spanish and attempt to learn French. It’s a website and an app, which gamifies language learning – you set a daily goal for yourself and maintain a streak. Each lesson quizzes you on some aspect of grammar or group of vocab words before you can move on to the next level. Completing lessons earns in-game currency, which you can then spend on in-game nonsense. The app is great for a quick hit of on-the-go language learning, but the website is better for in-depth engagement because the exercises are harder and the content is explained better.

I like to screenshot the weirder sentences Duolingo comes up with

If you’re considering learning a new language or brushing up on an old one, I definitely recommend Duolingo as a starting point.

What it does best: encourages daily practice, builds vocabulary, many languages available

Easy German

I can’t stop singing the praises of this charming youtube channel. The host, Cari, lives in Berlin and conducts interviews on the street with German speakers asking them questions about their lives and interests. The topics range from silly things like a super introductory video where Cari very slowly narrates what a friend of hers is doing to a serious conversations about refugees in Germany with a migration expert. Every video has subtitles in German and English so it provides an opportunity to listen to the language, but still understand what’s happening. Her husband, Janusz, is typically behind the lens, and it’s always amusing when he appears in a video.

I especially like this show for the glimpses it gives into German culture – whether they’re talking to people about how they use slang or discussing the stereotype that Germans are direct. Even if you’re not interested in learning German, Cari and Janusz often travel internationally, and those episodes make for a good travel show.

What it does best: provides opportunities to hear German spoken by a variety of voices with a variety of accents, grounds itself in a real life context and cultural content, Cari and Janusz are so charming!


One of the first things we did in Germany was get library cards (we <3 libraries!), which we’re mostly using to check out children’s picture books (Bilderbücher)! This is actually one of the more challenging things I’m doing to try to learn German. My understanding of grammar and my small vocabulary make it hard to understand what’s going on even with pictures. I don’t like to skim while I’m reading, but that’s what I have to do if I don’t feel like typing the entire story into google translate. It’s a balancing act because on the one hand there’s value to going through and translating an entire book, but on the other hand, there’s something to be said for experiencing the book the way a child would – coming to understand it through repetition and context.

Our current library haul

Of course, this experience is also reminding me just how nonsensical children’s books sometimes are…

What it does best: taps into the way we acquire language as children, builds vocab and grammar in context, is quite charming

German Pop Music

I recently started to listen to German pop music on Spotify and found several songs and artists that I’m really enjoying. Music is a fun way to get used to listening to the sound of another language and wanting to sing along forces you to practice. I haven’t really gotten past the chorus of any songs yet, but it’s been fun to just learn that much. E and I have enjoyed singing along to “Brot & Wasser” by Xavi (who looks like a German Mark Ruffalo) with its over-the-top version of romance:

“Für den Moment, brauche ich nur Brot und Wasser / Brot und Wasser und dich”

“For now, I need only bread and water / bread and water and you”

An artist I like more is Namika, and although the below song’s title is in French, I promise the rest of the song is in German. And the video features some incredible modern dance.

What it does best: gets stuck in your head, improves pronunciation (hopefully), introduces you to some German pop culture

Those are my current language learning strategies – have you used any of these methods? Can you think of anything else I ought to check out? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • RJ

    I’m barely awake so I might make a more sensible comment related to the content of this part later but right now WOOOOO AND ALSO HOO

  • Brittney

    Yaaaay! I’m glad you found a solution to your residence permit issues!!

    German is so hard. I commend you for making such an effort to learn!

    • Emma

      Thanks! Last week I went to the Ausländerbehörde and picked up my residence permit so I’m officially allowed to be here through March 2019. German is hard, but I’m hopeful that I can get to a conversational level by the end of the year.

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