Sunday 25 November 2018

The Berlin Project

My brother has invited Benedict Ambrose and me to stay with his family when they do a two-week house swap with a family in Berlin. There may also be a weekend across the border and south to Zakopane, to which I said, "Yes, please."

But as we will be spending most of the holiday in Berlin, I am going to brush up my German, which was never that advanced to begin with. I went to Germany in 2006 to learn enough German to read Karl Rahner's theology, but instead I took conversational German courses, watched a dozen 2006 World Cup games, partied with seminarians, and wrote down much descriptive detail that ended up in Ceremony of Innocence. The nun-professor who graded my subsequent Theological German exam back in Boston was underwhelmed. Also, women are no longer allowed to live in that seminary. Fact.

Anyway, I am now collecting useful German-learning websites like The German Project although first I will start with Pimsleur's German, as Pimsleur's Polish was so good.

Because I need both Polish and Italian for work, I am not going to spend too much time on German: just half an hour a day. Also I am not going to spend a penny on German lessons because I am already spending many pennies on Polish. Besides, one of my brothers and both my parents are German-speakers. To practise speaking, all I'll have to do is call up my parents on Skype.

Of course, I may never be in a situation in Berlin where I'll actually HAVE to speak German, for I imagine we'll all be in either museums or restaurants during our waking hours. (I will, however, have to go to  club one night for as a child I was possessed by a great desire to go to a punk rock club in Berlin, and this will be my first opportunity to do so. The closest I have come was a Goth bar in Frankfurt-am-Main; I went there with a Mexican classmate whose flat I awarded to my fictional Catriona, and it was an awesome adventure. On the other hand, I can imagine neither B.A. nor my brother nor my sister-in-law in any kind of nightclub in Berlin. Hmm....)

That said, it is polite to know at least a little of the language of any country one inflicts one's touristy self on, and it will be fun to speak to my parents and brother in German. My father is a keen advanced German learner and recommends "Rocket German", so I have signed up for the free sample lessons.

So far I have done Pimsleur Units 1-4, and I am curious to see how much I can learn after seven months of only half an hour of German study a day. That's almost 200 hours, about a third of the time (allegedly) one needs to become fluent. Hopefully that is enough to recall what I learned in 2006 ("Tor!!!"), plus "Six tickets to Kraków, bitte."

The Berlin Project Resources

1. All the Pimsleur.
2. Free online stuff.
3. Self-made cards for everything in my Berlitz German Phrase Book and Dictionary.
4.  "Teach Yourself German" kit from Edinburgh library system.
5. School of Mum & Dad

Update: Current tally of family languages: Anglo-Saxon; English; French; German; Italian; Latin (reading and/or Church); Classical Greek (reading); Japanese (beginner); Polish; Spanish; Romanian; Russian (basic 1960s). Both my parents, both my sisters and one of my brothers is much better at language-learning than I am although I am catching up.


  1. I did German for my Leaving Certificate (A-level equivalent in Ireland) it's reasonably like English especially if your reading it and having to pronounce from that. I wish you luck. Languages are not a strong point of mine I admire your commitment to learning them.

  2. Besides Pimsleur, which looks expensive, what resources would you recommend for Polish self-study?

    1. The best ones I have come across are "Polish in Four Weeks" and "Polish in Four Weeks 2". I recommend them wholeheartedly.

    2. Thank you very much!

  3. Perhaps I should add that my boyfriend is Polish, so I can practice with him and am thus not too concerned about buying a language learning resource with an audio component. I just want a good textbook or two to use to learn the grammar. Thank you! :)