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Learning German: Formal Education

Updated: Aug 23, 2021



This article deals with the more formal German learning options in Basel. I'll give you a quick run down of what the language levels mean and some tips and tricks for finding a good teacher and picking a school. Online tutors and learning apps will be covered in a separate article.



The Levels

When I first started learning German, I had no idea what the A, B, C language levels meant. When I was in A1, a B-level student seemed to me to be practically fluent, but now that I am a B-level student, I realize how far I need to go. Certainly, I have a much deeper understanding of the language, but learning a language is like climbing a mountain and I have only made it to the first plateau.


The Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFRL), is an international standard to measure a person's ability in a language and is generally split into six different levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. There are, of course, specific standards for each level, which you can read about here, but this is my personal breakdown of what they all mean.


A1 - Congratulations you can introduce yourself German! You can also greet people and have a general idea (sort of) of how the numbers work. Conversations are possible provided you only talk about whether or not you like apples.


A2 - Well done! You’ve jumped the first hurdle! You can now tell people where you are from, how old you are and what your favourite colour is. If they respond, your options are: 1) freeze like a deer caught in headlights or 2) smile and nod your head.


B1 – You’re on your way now! You now understand (more or less) what someone has just asked you. The problem is formulating the response. Before you figure out whether to use der, die, das, den, dem, des or where to put the @#$% verb, the conversation has already moved on. Continue smiling and nodding, agreeing with the occasional ‘Jawol!’ to show you still know what’s going on. Order with confidence from a menu in full sentences.


B2 – B means bilingual right? Not quite. Enjoy that you are finally able to approach a clerk in a grocery store and ask for something that you have been looking for, for 8 months, but have been too afraid to ask. Have a full 5 min conversation about the weather with your German speaking neighbour. You are officially conversational!


C1 – You’ve made it! You can be very proud of yourself. Now you can successfully pass the ultimate test of learning a foreign language: having a conversation in a noisy, crowded bar and being able to follow every shouted, drunken word! Please refrain from correcting native speakers' grammar, just because you can.


C2 – You are AMAZING! You are now the shining example for German learners everywhere. You can read, you can write, and you know how to use all the German idioms that revolve around pigs and cats. When you speak, native speakers can’t distinguish you from their own, except for the fact that your grammar is better. You are every German teacher’s dream come true and may become one yourself, since you are so intimately familiar with the grammar. Congratulations! Though no one will truly know how hard it was to get here, so bragging rights are limited.


How long does it take? How much time it takes depends on a lot of factors, but a good guide for those coming from an English-speaking background can be found here. As an example, romance languages like French, Spanish and Italian take approximately 575-600 hours to learn, German approximately 750 hours and languages like Arabic, Mandarin and Cantonese being the most difficult for English speakers at 2200 hours!


German Classes in Basel

80 hours to jumpstart your journey!

As part of your welcome package from Basel-Stadt, you will receive a voucher for 80 hours of free language instruction. This is to encourage expats to settle and integrate. With this voucher is a list of the schools in Basel that participate in this program (here). The voucher is a great way to get started and will usually cover a half to a whole level of language learning, depending on the school you choose. Unfortunately, this program is only available to people living in Basel-Stadt and those living in Basel-Land must pay for any instruction themselves.


Finding a good teacher

I would say that the most important element in a successful and enjoyable German learning experience is a good teacher. Unfortunately going to a well-recommended school is not always a guarantee of a good teacher, and speaking from experience, they can make or break your ability to learn the language. The best teachers use exercises from textbooks, but also do some extra work to come up with games and special topics to keep you interested and engaged.


So ask around. Keep in mind that some teachers are better with beginner students than advanced and vice versa, so make sure you indicate what level you are looking for. I would also recommend changing teachers in between levels if you are in it for the long term. Every teacher has their own methods and you will have better language skills in the long run if you are exposed to different teaching techniques. You also end up spending a lot of time with this person, so changing it up can add a bit of excitement.


Good to know. Teachers are often tied by contract to a certain school. If you are looking to take lessons outside a classroom, make sure you ask if they have a freelance licence as this can greatly affect their price and availability.


Picking a school

Beyond having a teacher recommendation, choosing a school in Basel can be a bit daunting as there is so much selection. If you received a relocation package as part of your move, check to see if it includes any funding for language learning and which schools are included. Then consider at the timing of the lessons and the location of the school. Keep in mind that you will most likely be attending these lessons at least a couple times a week, so convenience is important both in terms of your schedule and location.


Hot tip (literally). Visit the school before committing and see what the classrooms are like. Some schools are in buildings that are a little run down, which can be uncomfortable, especially in the summer. Remember: air-conditioning is a rarity in Switzerland!


Before choosing your school, don't forget to pay close attention to the school contract and policies. A few things to consider are:

  • What is their cancellation policy?

  • What is their policy for illness?

  • What happens during COVID restrictions?

  • What is their payment schedule?(Sometimes there is flexibility here, make sure to ask)

  • Are learning materials included?

  • What is the maximum class size

  • Is a trial class available?

There are many schools to choose from in Basel as well as Weil am Rhein in Germany (which can be much less expensive). Here are a few links to explore and get you started.

In Basel:

In Weil am Rhein, Germany:

Intensive vs. Part-time

If you have the time and are able to fit the lessons into your schedule, intensive is the best way to go. Forcing yourself to communicate in German every day is the fastest way to progress. Intensive generally means about 2 hours of study a day and for some courses, even more. There are also boot-camp type courses where you immerse yourself completely for two weeks to a month. This may be a good option if you wanted to do some intensive German study over a holiday.

Of course, this is not always possible (or desirable) and part-time classes can be equally as effective (though a bit slower). Even if you are doing part-time, try and aim for two, one-hour classes a week, minimum. Meeting only once a week might be more convenient, but is inefficient and you end up forgetting what you have learned the week before. Better to have more frequent classes for a shorter time, if you are able.


Group vs Private

There are advantages and disadvantages to each side. Private lessons are more flexible in terms of scheduling (the teacher can often come to you) and they can be tailored to your specific needs. On the other hand, they are very expensive and you don’t get the benefit of meeting other students, which in addition to the social aspect of it, can help further develop your language skills.


Group lessons are less expensive, a great way to meet and learn from other people and with the right group, can be a lot of fun. The downsides are that you can be paired with people who may have different learning expectations and/or level of commitment.


Personally, I think the best option is Semi-private lessons. If you have a couple friends who are at a similar level (and have similar dedication) to you, you can split the cost of private lessons and have the best of both worlds: the camaraderie of group lessons, with the flexibility of private. If you don’t know anyone in town, it’s also worthwhile asking around on the B-Hive. Given how many German learners there are in Basel, chances are, you will find your very own learning buddy!


I hope this article has helped to clarify some of the formal learning options that are available. If you have a recommendation for a great teacher or school please leave a message with the specifics below.


Bis bald! Tschuss!

Sources

https://www.fluentin3months.com/cefr-levels/

https://www.openculture.com/2017/11/a-map-showing-how-much-time-it-takes-to-learn-foreign-languages-from-easiest-to-hardest.html



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