In the past few months, as part of my German morning reading, I’ve read several full books of comics in German including three Asterix books and one giant Lucky Luke volume. In the past week, I’ve pivoted back to using the Foreign Service Institue German course.
However, it’s not just reading. These are courses developed by the US government for diplomats and which are now in the public domain. The course comprises dialogues and then exercises where you alter sentences or just try to say the translation as quickly as possible. Each accompanying audio track is between 20 and 30 minutes, and if you want to feel like you’ve worked your brain to exhaustion, then this will do it.
This is a tedious way to learn to be sure, but I did this faithfully before moving to Germany, and it was invaluable. When you begin speaking the translations fluently without thinking too hard and without pauses, then it can feel very good. The course is brilliant at drilling sentence structure and flow into your mind, and the vocabulary is usually very useful. I also find that it makes certain concepts, such as the cases (nominative, dative, accusative, genitive), feel instinctive in a way I never got from other learning methods. I can also use their pre-made vocabulary lists at the end of each unit for my morning journaling. Any extra words still get added to my monthly Evernote note.
There are a few negatives about using the FSI German course, of which you should be aware:
- They use some outdated words, and you have to be careful using them. I’ve never heard anyone refer to a bus as an “Omnibus” or a taxi as a “Taxe”, even though those are legitimate words. And I would never refer to anyone as “Fräulein”, even though the speakers of the FSI course do regularly. This is Mad Men era German, and you should have other sources to provide you with more modern language.
- The audio quality is very degraded, and sometimes it can be hard to understand what the readers are saying without reading along, which sometimes defeats the purpose.
- Again, because this is Mad Men era German, it’s very male dominant. It’s usually men speaking to other men about business. When women are around, they tend to be secretaries or housewives.
- The vocabulary is very tilted towards diplomatic relations. There’s lots of talk about embassies and consul generals and such, which is irrelevant to most people.
Nevertheless, I still find them valuable. Even with the limitations listed above, most of the situations are still situations you’ll find yourself in in modern Germany.