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During my middle and high school years I lived in Vienna and became (nearly) fluent in German. However since then I've had almost no occasion to use my German (except for a college course or two) and now, several decades later, find myself in (reasonably urgent) need of fluency.

I have little time to devote, and am looking for a suitable resource to get back up to speed, starting from no confidence speaking (I could order a few items at a cafe, perhaps) but reasonable comprehension (I can get through Dark only occasionally glancing at subtitles, and can get the gist of a typical newspaper article).

What are some good resources specifically suited to relearning German in a situation like this?

  • I've already posted an answer to this, but I'm not entirely convinced it's on-topic for this forum. It's not a question specific to the German language but more on learning languages in general.Perhaps SE Language Learning would be a better fit? – RDBury Jul 5 at 8:38
  • Welcome to German.SE. Please consider a search on German.SE for resource or take a look at the automatically as related linked questions on the right side. This question in general is far from new. i personally doubt that there is any common resource that distincts more than between "learn as kid/learn as adult". So your very specific sounds for me like: go to language school and ask for help in your situation. – Shegit Brahm Jul 5 at 10:48
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It's not hard to find similar stories on the internet; apparently it's possible to completely lose even your native language if you're separated from it at a young age. There doesn't seem to be much research on how people reacquire a forgotten language or how to improve the process. There does however seem to be a big difference between how one learns a language as a child and how one learns it an adult, for example adult learners of German have to memorize the four cases and what they're used for, while children seem to just know how to use the cases without being able to explain them. So it's probable that your experience relearning the language as an adult will be very different from what you experienced as a child. Also keep in mind that people continue to acquire vocabulary in college and in their jobs, so even a native speaker of high school age would not be considered totally fluent by adult standards. The upshot is that the best techniques for relearning a language are probably not that different than those a new learner might use. The good news is that once those connections are formed in the brain they never completely go away, so you'll probably progress much faster than a typical learner. Which would mean that you should probably avoid courses that don't allow you to progress at your own pace.

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Try udemy.com there I occasionally watch tutorials on topics where I already know, but would like to delve deeper. You already spoke fluent german, so some rules / applications / spellings ... will come back to your mind quickly, if you just look at the tutorial.

Whatever helps with new languages: read books!

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I lived in Germany for several years and was pretty good in German (for an American). Then, I moved back to the USA for a really long time and forgot almost everything. When I moved back, I had to struggle with the language again.

The best resources I found to help me remember forgotten knowledge was the audiobook and the audio play.

I listened to all 300 hours of Game of Thrones, both versions of the Harry Potter books (those spoken by Rufus Beck and Manfred von Teufel, everything I could find with David Nathan as the speaker, and almost all of the John Sinclair audioplays from Tonstudio Braun in about six months.

Listening to German being spoken in a clear manner really helped me get back into the language quickly. Hearing German spoken helped more than any DaF book could have.

  • Youtube is a great source of free audiobooks.
  • Of course, Audible has almost everything.
  • Apple has a lot of free audiobooks and plays in the iTunes store.

What I really love are the audio plays produced by local German-language public radio.

Here are some links to five totally awesome free resources:

  1. ARD Radio Tatort https://www.ard.de/home/radio/ARD_Radio_Tatort/94130/index.html

  2. BR5 Mediathek https://www.br.de/mediathek/suche?h%C3%B6rspiel

  3. Schreckmuempfeli (The 40 year running cult classic by SRF radio) https://www.srf.ch/play/radio/sendung/schreckmuempfeli?id=46500e89-d57c-4684-aefb-2e5cb1adbca0

  4. WDR Hörspiel-Speicher https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/audio/hoerspiel-speicher/index.html

  5. NDR Hörspiel Box https://www.ndr.de/kultur/radiokunst/podcast4336.html

Beware. These are all totally addictive.

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Since you say your comprehension is OK, I would focus on speaking. This is a fundamentally different skill and one that books or individual courses will not help you with. Depending on time, money and local availability, you could try

  • Foreign language practice groups - these may be held in local libraries, cultural societies or Universities. Note that they may have moved to Zoom or other virtual format for the time being, or been suspended altogether; in that case, you may still be able to contact the organisers and find someone for
  • A conversation partner. A cheap/free arrangement would be to find a native German speaker who wants to practice their English and dedicate half the time to each language, or converse 'cross-language' (you speak to them only in German, they reply only in English, and you each only use your native language for clarifications and corrections). More expensive, but perhaps more efficient, would be
  • A professional language teacher. This would probably allow you to specifically request a certain focus (e.g. do you need to be fluent in social conversation or give polished formal presentations in German?) and a teacher may be better at identifying your level and challenging it. I'm sure lots of teachers are now available for remote learning (indeed you could contact someone in Germany) and would be glad for the income given that foreign language schools/summer camps for kids are presumably cancelled.

Your post suggests that there is a specific contingency in your life that has brought this up. If this is work-related, see if you can access any funds for a teacher. In different times I would recommend taking a solo holiday/'full immersion language course' (not even an organised course per se, but you may find families that would host you and commit to some conversation for the price of room and board) in a German-speaking country and try to get out and about as much as possible, but this may not be an option right now.

Keep in mind that Austrian German is a specific dialect of German - it would certainly be understood by all German speakers but also be distinctive. Think whether it matters to you to speak a specific variety of German, or whether you may find it easier to pick up the version you are already most familiar with, in choosing a teacher or conversation partner.

Reading books will be great for vocabulary (especially if you expect to use your German in a specific professional setting and need to acquire the relevant jargon) and listening for comprehension, but the only thing to get you speaking confidently is lots of speaking. I personally wouldn't encourage you to pursue formal GFL courses - by the time you can follow a TV programme with little or no support, you are well beyond what most courses would be able to offer you anyway.

Also, you will have retained much more than you think - especially having spoken the language in your school years, and so presumably having both innate grasp and formal use in your past experience. Good luck!

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