How I got from B1 to B2+ in German

I have been speaking German since I was four, largely because my parents put a great emphasis on learning this foreign language. But due to the incompetence of the school system of the country in which I live, I started to move away from German more and more. When I was in the eighth grade, I started to even hate this language, because of the frequent quarrels I had with the teacher.
One year ago, I realized one thing: to progress from a career point of view, I need to (re)learn German quickly. I was on a B1- (I took the Lesen from the Goethe B1 exam only on the second attempt, after failing the first attempt with a wonderful score of 40). So I started learning, determined to get from B1- to B2+ in a year. I had no well-established plan, and it took me a while to figure out what method(s) and resources work for me and for my purpose. During 8 months, I did between one and three hours a day of German.

1. Textbook: EM Neu B2. For me it was very important to read and translate as many texts as possible, given my failure at the Lesen section of the Goethe B1 exam. That’s why I worked on this textbook, which contains in a chapter about 4-5 fairly long texts (about the size of an average article in a newspaper), often on strange topics (the history of Beatle cars, or the abduction of a cigar factory owner). Also, at the beginning of each chapter, on Arbeitsbuch, there is a page with the vocabulary of the lesson. I went through it all and noted my unknown words. From this textbook I worked with a personal tutor, an hour and a half per week plus homework, which usually takes me about an hour. EM Neu B2 is made by Hueber Verlag and published in 2008. Yes, it is an old textbook, but I don’t think that German has changed in the last 12 years. Hueber is pretty much the best German textbook publisher, especially with books made about 10-12 years ago, which are still used worldwide.

2. Anki. Anki is a Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) system, an open-source flashcard program, very popular and important among the language learners community. Anki (暗記) is the Japanese word for memorization. You can see how to interpret the Anki statistics here. I find it relatively important in my learning process, and although I prefer Memrise, I use both. I’m not making my own decks, but importing them from the Ankiweb site. I used the Aspekte B1, Aspekte B2 and Lesetraining B2 decks. Bypassing certain card writing errors, there are some good decks.

3. Memrise. Memrise is, like Anki, a flashcard platform designed on the same SRS system. Although it costs money, unlike Anki (Memrise costs about 28 euros a year, as far as I remember), I like their UI and the gamification system, and the ease with which I can add my own words. And speaking of adding words, I write in Memrise the unknown words from EM Neu and Assimil Perfectionnement Allemand. I find it more intuitive than Anki, although I don’t like that I can’t see detailed statistics on how I learn.

By the way, this is what the database of a Memrise deck looks like:

4. Glossika. As I said before, Glossika is a wonderful and very underrated resource, probably because of the relatively high price (30$ a month or 298$ a year, unless it’s Christmas or Black Friday discounts). Glossika is based on reps, meaning repetition of sentences. A session has 5 new sentences, each repeated 5 times, so 25 reps. There is also a daily session to review previously learned sentences. Glossika is structured on levels according to CEFR levels (for example, there is B1 low, B1 high, B2 low and so on). I started using Glossika five months ago, in December 2019, and since then I have done 12,858 reps, ie 803 sentences or 41 hours of learning. This is how Glossika looks like:

Although this article is intended for relatively advanced German speakers, I will assume that this article will also be read by absolute beginners, so I must emphasize something: Glossika is not for beginners. Period. No matter what you are told, Glossika should not be used as the first resource when you start to learn a foreign language. You need to know some aspects of language grammar and at least 4-500 words before you subscribe to Glossika.

5. GermanPod101. I used it for two or three months, going through the last level. I did not find it very useful in my learning process, although I can admit that it helped me on the listening side. I took the Premium package (the one that costs about 30$ per month), because I wanted to have access to the Word Bank and their Flashcard system. Looking back, considering how little I used the Word Bank, I should have taken the Basic package (much cheaper, about 8$ a month). However, I can recommend it to some extent to those who know they have problems with the listening part.

6. Mock Tests. I recommend you do as many mock tests as you can, especially for the exam you want to take. When you finish those on the Goethe site, look for others on ThePirateBay. After you finish them, you can also do the mock tests for TELC, OSD and TestDaF. You can also make a chart with your monthly progress. I do about two mock tests a month.

7. Listen to German radio. I usually listen to news radio stations, because I don’t really appreciate commercial music, but you can listen to any kind of German radio station. However, for the learning process you will be most interested in the news. I recommend Bayern 3, NDR Info, hr iNFO, MDR Aktuell, SWR Aktuell, Radio Gong 96.3.

8. Change your phone language. It may seem insignificant, but I found it interesting. The funny thing is that the translation of the different settings into German is so long that it occupies the entire phone screen.

9. Readlang and reading various articles. For those who do not know, Readlang is a system for translating and memorizing unknown words while reading articles in the target language. Readlang has the same structure as Lingq, only that it has a much better UI and is much better organized. I usually read Vice Deutschland, Bild.de, 20min.ch and other news sites. It’s a wonderful way to learn new words, but also to do language immersion online (or at least that’s how it seems to me). A, and most importantly, it is completely free. You can use software like Readlang or Lingq or you can go the classic way, read the article on the site where it was written and look for the unknown words you encountered on Translate or Duden.

10. Assimil Perfectionnement Allemand. I only did 14 lessons, but it seems to be an interesting resource. It says on the cover that after completing the 100 lessons you will be at C1, but you can be sure that you’ll not be at that level.

11. Other resources. Dict.cc, Duden.de are sites I use daily when learning. I also use a dictionary from time to time, especially for words with a complex translation or multiple meanings.

12. Tips&Tricks:

  1. When learning, do it on your desktop, never on your mobile phone/tablet. When you sit at the computer you are much more focused than sitting in bed, with your cell phone in hand.
  2. Make full use of the trial options. Don’t forget to cancel them if you don’t like the resource.
  3. Try not to spend a lot of money. At one point I paid 130$ a month.
  4. Don’t use Busuu. Their German course is divided on CEFR levels, and, even if they have a B2 level, their course do not align at that level.
  5. Use Time management systems, such as Clockify and TimeCamp.
  6. Listen to music in German. Well, it also depends on what music you listen to. Rock is pretty much the same regardless of the origin of the artists, but if you listen to rap you can apply this advice. I listen to Bonez MC, Kontra K, RAF Camora, 187 Strassenbande and LX. This especially helps you to immerse yourself in the ‘street’ language, the Umgangssprache.
  7. Have fun!

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