“Hey! You’re the girl that wrote that article!”

Memories of Latvia came flooding back and I braced myself for the cup – or chair – that was probably going to be aimed at my head.

“I really liked it! In fact, it’s the reason I’m here tonight.”

The article was one that I’d written for Berlin Logs about a really interesting free German workshop I’d taken with an organisation called “Language Transfer”. The “here” was the second workshop, which I was eager to attend after learning more in the previous four-hour workshop than I’d done in eight weeks of standard German lessons.

As a teacher myself, there were a couple of things that I found fascinating about this approach to learning a language:

1. We didn’t take any notes – at all.

2. The guy running it doesn’t actually know that much German. He’s only been in Berlin for around three months and is just learning himself.

But how, I hear you ask, can someone who doesn’t know the language teach it? And this is the interesting part for me too.

Basically, he’s learning right alongside you. Of course, he’s checked everything he’s saying with native German speakers, and he had a few in the room to show us how ‘real’ Germans would say things, but instead of being a drawback, it turns out it’s a huge advantage.

The course I took is specifically tailored for English speakers, not necessarily native English speakers, but you’d have to have a pretty good grasp of the language to get anything out of it. This, of course, makes perfect sense as speakers of any language will have different issues with any new language. For example, Germans have different issues with English to Latvians or Russians; Spanish speakers have very different issues to Japanese speakers. How can you teach them all English in the same way?

It’s the same with German, but everything you already know is probably useful in some way, and that was what this course was all about – making connections with your existing language and creating new pathways in your brain. It might all sound a bit cultish but bear with me…

First of all, quite a few verbs are pretty much the same in English and German:

bring – bringen

find  -finden

pack – packen

Some other verbs will just require a bit of a tweak, so you get:

think – denken

thank – danken

wash – waschen

book – buchen

For verbs that originate from the Latin languages – usually the longer, more formal verbs, sometimes you just add ‘-ieren’ to the English verb:

reserve – reservieren

organise – organisieren

Really, after listening to around half an hour of this, I was wondering why people make such a big deal out of learning German at all.

See? I bet you can understand almost every word of this, even if you don’t speak a word of German…


There are a lot of other patterns that are useful to know as well. For example, the English ‘th’ often becomes a German ‘d’:

thank – danke

The English ‘t’ often becomes a German ‘s’ or ‘ss’:

what – was

water – Wasser

And so many more. Naturally, this won’t work every time, but if you’re aware of these patterns, you have enough information to at least make a stab at forming a word – then, hopefully a kindly German will have a little chuckle at your efforts and gently correct you.

Being aware of the German you’re surrounded by every day is also incredibly helpful. Mihalis, the guy who runs Language Transfer, asked the group if anyone knew the German word for ‘next’. Nobody did. Until everyone realised that they did, as they’ve seen it on every train, bus and tram they’ve taken since they arrived in Germany.

Also, I doubt there’s a soul in Berlin who hasn’t visited a ‘Spätkauf’ at some point, yet nobody had taken the time to figure out what the words actually mean – ‘Spät-kauf’ = ‘late-buy’, basically an all-night shop that’s very useful when you run out of wine at 1am.

I won’t give away too much more but in case you’re wondering where I got the title to this post from, I’ve discovered that when attempting to speak German, it’s rather useful to speak like Yoda. The word order in German sentences is quite different to English so it’s like a little puzzle every time you have to put one together.

In English, we might say, “I can’t stay here long now”. In German, you would say, “I can now not long here stay”. German sentences generally follow the order of ‘when, how, where’, enclosed in a verb sandwich, so:

verb – can

when – now

how – not long

where – here

verb – stay

Trippy, right?

But it’s given me far more of an understanding of the language than any other method I’ve tried so far. There’s an intensive course coming up at the beginning of April, and I’m definitely going to be taking it. Now, try that sentence out in your best Yoda voice…


For more information on Language Transfer, click here.



96 thoughts on “Yoda-lay-eee-ooo!”

  1. This sounds like a pretty cool way to learn a language. I took a four-week intensive Mandarin course when I got to Shanghai and it was basically an international clusterf*ck. There were two Spaniards, an Indonesian, a Dutch girl, someone from Kazakhstan, and me. Needless to say, we all had vastly different problems with the Chinese language. Our poor teacher was at a complete loss! I did end up learning a lot, but it was a struggle, and still can’t hear the tones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you finding Latvian easier!? Still taking lessons? I’m hoping this intensive course happens – he’s just waiting to get a minimum number of students. Fingers crossed!


    1. A lot of it is yes! The grammar is quite different but many words are similar, or can be figured out at least! The grammar makes me want to weep though – I don’t remember having these problems with French but I was but a young pup back then 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great! My husband and I live and work in Germany and are going through the long, slow, laborious process of learning German ourselves. I’m still at the point of constructing sentences in English in my head and then translating them to German, and the Yoda speak describes this perfectly. If you want to read about our experiences as American expats in Germany, feel free to visit our blog: http://www.submergedoaks.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Meghan! I just subscribed so I’ll be sure to check out some of your posts! Yeah, I thought Yoda-speak summed it up pretty nicely! I’m constantly shuffling words around in my head now 🙂 Linda.


  3. Very interesting, My sister was given an intro to Portuguese class a while ago that used a similar approach, though I don’t know how far you can take it with English – Portuguese.

    Have you tried using the same technique while teaching English to Ze Chermans?

    I sometimes try to point out the similarities between English and Italian to my students (there are plenty) but they themselves always tell me there are far more similarities between English and Sicilian. Rather intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure I know enough German yet, but whatever I do know, I use! And students mistakes are very useful in figuring out the German structures as well. That’s interesting about Sicilian!


  4. I took German classes up to second level, but I hardly ever use the language so I am forgetting the language already. This is despite the fact that I have lived in Vienna for three years 😦 Maybe I should try the Language Transfer stuff, if it exists here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it does yet – but watch this space! It’s just getting started in Berlin now but the online course should be up in a couple of months – you could start with that!


  5. Really fascinating. Decades ago (I used to be able to just say ‘years’) I took a class on the development of the English language. English has a lot in common with German, as you point out so well. And word order is an interesting aspect of it too. We have a friend who is American but spent a number of years in Germany when she was in her 20s. Long story short, she wound up working under my husband’s supervision for awhile and he also got a kick out of proofing her reports. Her sentence structure was often backwards. She didn’t talk like that at all, but when it came to writing, it was like she was translating from German into English. Your class really sounds like fun. Of course, it helps that you’re actually in Germany 🙂 Even though I took some conversational Spanish courses, the world I lived in was American English. Immersion wasn’t really possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The method described doesn’t sound particularly impressive. These observations with cognates and stuff are quite fun, but they are largely pretty obvious if you’re erudite enough, and it’s not like you can go way too far with them (English has lost about 85% of its original Germanic vocabulary, and it shows). Plus, consciously relying too much on your own language when learning another one can get you into a crapload of trouble (and any similarity/proximity between the languages is a huge trap).

    As for the rest, the German compound nouns look terrible only to people who don’t know any German, I wonder how pointing this out is in any way novel or special. Ditto on teaching the correct order of adverbs (something which I personally have never consciously learned in any of the languages that I know – somehow, exposure to the language is enough).

    Liked by 1 person

        1. It is but if it helps to have a few tips, tricks and associations along the way, then I don’t see the harm in that. Also, not everyone reading this blog is fluent in German (or whatever language they’re learning), so if I come across something interesting that helps me, I’m going to write about it. And so far, this approach has broken down the language in a far more interesting and understandable way than anything else I’ve tried so I’m going to stick with it – if that’s alright with you.


          1. Don’t take this personally: I’m not trying to criticise your writing choices, or what language courses you take. But, seeing your examples of what is offered at the course, I’m immediately thinking ‘so what?’ These things are largely trivial, and while they can be helpful in memorising new words (one certainly shouldn’t ever forget what ‘gift’ means in German), their usefulness is very limited, and there are so many other things that are bigger and far more difficult, and which you can’t explain with simple parallels and cognates. I’m sure they tackle these topics in other parts of their course, but I see only what you have written, and what I see is good for a fun introductory class, but not for really learning the language.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. But it was just an introductory class! Over half of the people there didn’t know a word of German! And you’d be amazed how many people walk around with their eyes wide shut – they just don’t SEE the language, so pointing out stuff like this makes it seem accessible to even the most hopeless cases!


    1. Well, I hadn’t heard of this Michel Thomas guy either before someone else mentioned him today so I guess anything is possible! Thanks for commenting! Linda.


      1. Michel Thomas was a real genius, and was using the method (no homework, no drills, no memorizing) to teach Hollywood actors, diplomats etc. already in 1950s or so. I completed his 8 hour+ program in French and went to France and enrolled directly in B2 level group! I could not believe that I was in the same group together with students who had studied the French since their childhood!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow, that sounds really incredible! I’m hoping the same magic happens to me in March! 25 hours over 5 days – if it’s going to happen any time, it will be then! Wish me luck 😉


    1. Ha, ‘book ’em, Rex’!! I’m not sure if they use it like that but that would be cool 🙂 I’ve only seen it as in book a hotel, book a table, book tickets… much more boring 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They really are! We meet us soon, we know us 10 years – now I can say both sentences perfectly in German, just based on how the students put them in English! Thank you, lovely students 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Damn you, O’Grady. Now I can’t stop singing the bloody yodeling song in my head! Sounds like a good approach. I do that association thing all the time for Lithuanian and it works well. And your famous again, this time in a good way – yeay!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. now I want to relearn a language!! I blame you!

    I used to work with a Swiss woman who spoke with a very good English accent and you could hardly tell she was Swiss…except that she did that back to front thing with the verbs sometimes…

    I got so used to hearing it that I started doing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know – I think I’m going to be reordering things in my head a lot very soon! I know one English guy here and his English sucks because he’s been here so long! He’s Yoda 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, I’m practising sentences in my head all the time now for different scenarios – I don’t know if I’m right or not as I’m usually on the train, but I can check with my poor long-suffering flatmates whenever I like 🙂

          And I love it when there’s no obvious connection but then you discover one – like Thursday and Donnerstag – doesn’t look like there’s any link until you remember that Thursday is named after Thor (god of thunder) and learn that Donner is German for… thunder! Love that stuff 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

      1. Russian is complicated. Sometimes when we’re working on a byline, the whole team of Ivy-league-educated Russian gets involed in these brain-wrecking discussions about proper spelling or punctuation or grammatical structure of something or other. Whereas in English I can make nouns into verbs and adjectives, and just play fast and loose with structure, and generally have a lot of of other linguistic fund. Also, it’s the language of Harry Potter!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I would love for a kindly German to have a little chuckle at my efforts and gently correct me but they say “oh, you’re English?”, then rattle off perfectly structured sentences about how they found English hard to learn and how they haven’t spoken it since they left school. I want just an ounce of their linguistic confidence!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha! I hate when they apologise for their ‘appalling’ English. I’m like ‘well, if you know the word ‘appalling’, you’re not doing too badly 😉 I find the Germans very helpful in general though – they seem to like it when we make the effort!


    2. Tipical german behaviour, that is. They’re fishing for compliments. Don’t let them intimidate you and don’t buy that ‘haven’t spoken it since school’. Usually they have been reading talking writing english at every occasion. Look at me. Reading this blog like an addict, and why am I doing this? Right-O! Improve my English, hehe😇.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a frighteningly logical approach to language learning! You mean we don’t actually NEED to go through tortuous grammar lessons?! Just figure out what movie character the language ‘speaks’ like…? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love learning by association. I have a cd set that I listen to in the car – it’s called the Michel Thomas Speak Arabic method. I’ve learned many words that way, including ‘Bizza’, ‘Batatis’, ‘Subermarket’ … Noticing the trend? That’s right, no ‘p’ in Arabic. Simple tricks like ”Bukra” means ”tomorrow” …. ”I think I’ll buy a ‘book’ tomorrow’ … are helping me navigate around a very complicated language.
    Great piece. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I’m really enjoying this method! I like figuring stuff out instead of just being spoon-fed the language and then expected to remember it all! I guess it’s not for everyone – I’m sure some people like a more structured, or visual, approach but hey, use whatever works for you! This language-learning stuff is hard enough 😉


  12. That is a photo of butter, right? At least my English is still up to snuff. 🙂

    It’s the word order that gets me every time. I find it difficult to reorganize my thoughts on the fly into the proper sentence structure. So that trick seems very useful. After a while I’m sure it becomes second nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what I’m hoping too! It’s in my head now but I’m still a bit slow reorganising on the spot 😉 Still, the Germans are fairly patient! And butter is just Butter in German so sometimes the language takes it easy on us 😉


  13. Very interesting and a propos – just today had my 4th Dutch class (3 hours of suffering) – and I still feel like such a looser 😦 So, this sounds like smth I wish I will be able to find here in Brussels.
    I consider myself being fluent in 4 languages and I thought that this will be a big advantage in learning Dutch, but it turns out that 10 year break of learning no new language – is too long. I feel very frustrated and since now my home language is English, I realize that during the Dutch classes I have total mix in my head – notes are taken in both English and Latvian and sometimes even French and I guess that also affects the fact that I simply can’t remember the new words we learn, and I will not even start on the pronunciation – if you think French is difficult, please try some of the numerous sounds of Dutch for smth that to me sounds just the same. Sorry for the lengthy comment, but, please (begging with tears in her eyes) – Do you have any suggestions on how to make it less miserable?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh gosh! I’m sure there are people out there far more qualified to answer that than me! I also have some language interference from French and Latvian, but it’s probably nowhere near as extreme as yours 😉 I guess just keep trying to make it as fun for yourself as possible. Don’t just stick to one method – watch TV shows or cartoons, read kids’ books, try some of the language websites, listen to songs, buy Dutch for Dummies if it exists – the German version is great! Stick post-its all over your flat with Dutch words on them – read that on another expat in Germany blog but I can’t find the link now – dammit…

      The guy who runs this course is actually going to Amsterdam this month so maybe there will be a Dutch course released at some point! Stay strong in the meantime! You’ll get there in the end!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It does, doesn’t it? So logical yet so underused! And most of the workshops are free as well! When he feels like he has the course down pat, there will be an online version available for download (free) so you can check that out 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve had a training course ages ago on similarities and differences between Lithuanian, Latvian and now extinct Prussian, and the lecturer took a rather similar approach to teaching. He did not try to teach us Latvian or Prussian, but rather introduced us to these tricks that could be handy in simplifying things a bit. Like Lithuanian ‘g’ would often become ‘dz’ in Latvian as in gintaras = dzintars (amber), ‘k’ would be ‘c’ as in kelias = celi (road), etc. so that after a while I could and to some degree still can understand some of Latvian.
    Talking of German-English language relations, since both of the languages has come from the same roots and only later branched out, it’s not surprising to learn about such simple differences that make the difference 😉 And if this works, than even greater.
    Ah, and seems you’re fast becoming a celeb in Berlin. Soon you won’t be able to commute without some one looking over your shoulder to see what you’re up to next 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha, I don’t think so – this was a pretty big coincidence! She’d just happened to read the article, showed up and recognised me – doubt that would have happened on the street! And also don’t think I want it to 😉
      And yes, that approach sounds really similar – very useful as well I think! You still remember some Latvian, which you probably wouldn’t if he’d just given you a list of words or phrases to memorise 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Blown my mind is 🙂
      It was so cool! I’d mainly been learning set phrases, but this was such an interesting way to actually THINK about the language and how it’s constructed – and far more useful in the long run!

      Liked by 1 person

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