I’m still working toward becoming a German-to-English translator. After passing the ACTFL German reading exam, I’ve kept the momentum going and have been studying every day.
I still have a ways to go, though, so I’m going to bump things up a notch.
It’s time to get really good at understanding news. As of today I’m starting a 6-week program to get really comfortable with German media.
For many language learners, the main goal is to be able to speak the language. When they’re looking for materials, they often gravitate toward TV shows, movies, novels, cartoons–anything with natural language that carries over to speaking.
That’s more or less what I did when I was studying Spanish, and I got pretty decent results with that approach.
Sometimes you’re going to want to get to a higher level in a language, though. Maybe you want to work with the language in some capacity. Or you have to take a proficiency exam. Or you simply hate not being able to understand everything you come across.
If this is the case, then you need to tackle media texts: Newspaper and magazine articles. TV and radio news broadcasts. Current event documentaries.
You will never reach an advanced (ILR 3 / C1, or higher) level in a language if you aren’t comfortable with the news.
And I have good “news” and bad news for you.
We’ll start with the bad first. Media can be:
- Hard to understand, with difficulty ranging from publication to publication
- Confusing if you don’t have some knowledge of the subject being discussed
- Quite a bit different from what you’re used to, in terms of language usage
- Dry, since artistic and rhetorical concerns are (often) secondary to communicating the basic facts
But there’s also some good. Media:
- Follows consistent patterns, so you’ll understand common structures and conventions in no time.
- Is clearly written by professional journalists who keep readability in mind (unlike complex texts in other sources).
- Is clearly spoken using standard, neutral accents.
- Can be surprisingly rich, especially if you consider editorials or long-form journalism
Right now, I’m all over the map when it comes to understanding the news. Sometimes I can read a 500-word article and understand 98% of the words and 100% of the content. Other times I can only understand 93% of the words and miss entire chunks of meaning.
(Sorry for the nerdy percentages, but it’s pretty easy to see where you’re at when you’re marking up a text and selecting the words you don’t know.)
It’s time to go back to the basics. I’m following my own advice and using the main template from Language Master Key. The specific routine? Every day I’m going to:
- Listen to or watch the news for at least 45 minutes (Free listening)
- Transcribe 100-200 words from a news article that’s read aloud (Active listening)
- Do intensive reading and follow-on vocab drills with ReadLang, with a goal of 15 to 20 new words a day (Studying)
- Read 5 to 10 news articles (Extensive Reading, a bonus activity in LMK)
For the next six weeks, I’m going to put down Harry Potter and stop watching Bob’s Burgers in German and focus entirely on news.
I’m also going to use my transcriptions to identify areas where I need grammar review. Here’s one I did this morning from this article at Deutsche-Welle:
I used that highlighter to mark my errors. I know it’s a little hard to see the colors and read my handwriting, but the only true spelling mistake I made was with the word Trophäen (trophies). I made a few punctuation mistakes, which I’m not going to obsess about since I think a lot of that is a matter of style, which I can work on later.
But I made a few recurring mistakes with adjective endings, including one in the title (which I forgot to mark up the first time). So now I know I need to go review adjective endings for the tenth or eleventh time.
I’m going to do this for six weeks–a 21-day burst two times. After the first 21 days, I’m going to assess my progress and see if I need to make any adjustments, but I’m committing to doing this in some form for six weeks.
Later on I’ll go over where I’m getting my texts from and discuss some of the finer points of this.
Do you like to read news? Any techniques you like to use? Let me know in the comments!