Using The World Around You To Build Your Vocabulary

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Using The World Around You To Build Your Vocabulary

We hear it a lot: it’s difficult to learn German or Swiss German in Switzerland, because everybody answers in English, everybody speaks English, the jobs are in English and often also the private network. While this is helpful in the beginning, it might be rather frustrating when actually wanting to learn German or Swiss German.

That’s true, it is a lot harder to learn a new language without enough input (that’s actually one of the 5 principles of our Golden Formula!). To learn anything, your brain needs to see and hear the language a lot in the beginning. And then of course ‘output’ - speaking it.

You can think of this the same way as a muscle… if you don’t put the effort into developing it, there will be no growth.

So how do you overcome this challenge?

One of the easiest ways to start getting more exposure is to change your currently mental perspective and realise that you are already receiving a whole bunch of input from various sources!

When you’re in a new country, you are surrounded by all kinds of examples of the language you are trying to learn:

  • Advertising poster
  • Product labels in shops
  • Overheard conversations
  • Public announcements on trains or trams
  • Menus in bars or restaurants
  • Free newspapers at train stations
  • ATM machine
  • Switching your phone to German
  • Your gym
  • People on the street, e.g. at the bus stop
  • People in front of you at the cashier

I take advantage of these as often as I can. Whenever I get the train into Zurich, I grab a copy of 20 Minuten (a free newspaper) and flick through it during my journey. I try to use a combination of the few German words I know with the contextual pictures to work out what the article might be about. From that understanding, some of the other words I never knew before, become obvious from context.

The same thing applies to adverts. While I’m on a tram or walking around town, I’ll notice adverts and look at the words and pics to find out what is being sold.

I remember seeing an advert for some kind of drink: the word was “Ananassaft”… I know that “saft” is juice, and there was a picture of a pineapple so I was easy to see that “Ananas” is German for pineapple!

Another handy benefit of living in Switzerland is that, because there are 4 national languages, all products legally must display the ingredients in German, French and Italian. If you have any previous understanding of French or Italian, you can use that knowledge to work out what the German words are for particular ingredients.

These are just a few things you can try for yourself, and I’m sure you can become aware of other circumstances you’ll be able to get more German language exposure. Once you decide to start noticing other ways to expand your input, your subconscious will help you out with this goal.

Something I don’t do very often (but am starting to thanks to my girlfriend’s encouragement) is watch TV or listen to radio. The other day I saw David Attenborough’s Blue Planet dubbed with German, which was really enjoyable to watch even though I didn’t understand very much!

Remember that it’s not always about learning new words… you also need to get your ear accustomed to hearing how the language sounds. You can notice the tone and inflection to better understand how to say the words once you’ve learned them. And your brain creates new connections through just hearing the language.

I suggest next time you go outside, you set yourself the task of noticing something in your environment that you can learn from. You don’t have to do it perfect, you don’t even have to get it right… You just have to try!

If you'd like some guidance to speed up this process even more, feel free to delve deeper into our site here.