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Excuse me... could you repeat that please?

Hi fellow travelers. This is just a general question in regard to learning foreign languages. I'm currently learning (ummm, well attempting to learn anyway) German (though this applies to any language I assume) and though I am definitely making progress I still find it difficult to follow an entire conversation when spoken at a "regular" conversational speed. Obviously, part of it is simply that I'm still building my vocabulary and if someone uses words I don't know yet I am not going to be able to follow the entire conversation. I'm using a "mix" of tools, from flashcards to build vocabulary, a textbok for the grammer and the Pimsleur tape series to improve my speaking. I actually find Pimsleur to be quite good but even if I know how to say all the phrases and sentences on a particular tape (or CD), when an entire conversation is repeated back to me it still sounds too fast to comprehend all of it. I do pick up some of the conversation and can often times get the main idea of the conversation but I still miss a lot. Any ideas on how to improve listenig comprehension (without needing to translate)?

Posted by
852 posts

Hi Steve -
We suggest you listen carefully to everything a German speaker is saying, even if there are words you did not, exactly, catch. Obviously, if you stop listening in order to search your mind for the meaning of a word or phrase, you miss much more. Sometimes, speakers are not aware of your learning stage and speak too quickly. You could ask: Bitte, Mein Herr (Gnädige Frau), langsam sprechen. Jetzt lerne ich Deutsch. Happy touring... P

Posted by
2935 posts

Hi Steve,

I've been doing the same for a number of years (off and on). It takes a long time (for me at least).

I took (and still take from time to time) German language classes at the local high school (night classes/adult school). Check with your local schools. They usually hold classes in the spring and fall. You learn to speak German better, comprehend better and meet new friends who are also learning German.

A very useful phrase when traveling...

sprechen Sie bitte langsam

Ich spreche nicht Deutsches sehr gut

Ich spreche nicht sehr gut Deutsche

I find that being able to pick out some key words gives me the general idea or point.

I'll keep at it though.


Posted by
12040 posts

A useful adjunct I found while learning Dutch is to flood yourself with the language in question. Meaning, find a German internet radio station and have it playing in the background, watch German news programs on the internet, watch German movies (ever seen "Das Boot" or "Die Untergang"?), watch German news broadcasts on the internet, etc. At first, you'll only "hear" the words you recognize, but as your brain adjusts to hearing the constant flow of certain words, you'll start to recognize patterns. Eventually, even if you don't understand every word, you'll at least mentally register everyword. I'm a firm believer that although it takes a concentrated effort to actively learn a language, you can help encode the language through passive listening.

Posted by
524 posts

I think it just takes immersion and practice practice practice.

I can speak "survival French" and always make an attempt to speak French at a market or wherever when in France. But too often the reply comes too quickly for me to catch. So I say (in French, of course) something like "pardon me" or "please repeat" and every single time they respond by immediately switching to English. Which doesn't help me learn at all.

So then I either finish up in English or ask, in French, for them to repeat the answer in French but more slowly so that I can understand. They appreciate the effort and the respect for their language.

You will find that English is widely spoken in Germany and you might get a similar switch-right-away-to-English interaction. Learn how to politely ask that they repeat in German and I'm sure you'll find that they are all too willing to oblige.

Posted by
914 posts

As part of our attempts to learn French, we are watching our Simpsons DVDs with the French dubbing turned on. We know the Simpsons programs so well (can quote from them at will) that we are able to more or less follow the French. The one major drawback is that it's animated, so we're not getting the facial expressions and mouth movements along with the sound of the words. If you have a live action DVD of a show or movie that you are very familiar with, you might check the "Languages" section of the DVD menu to see if you can listen to it in German.

Posted by
638 posts

How's this for an idea. See if there are any ESL schools in your area and if so if there are any German language students here learning English. Do a trade off, see if they will be willing to teach you German if you assist them in learning English. With the trade off there are some great advantages, no cost to either of you since you are helping each other, each is working with a native speaker, and what I think is the best part of the deal, you make a new friend(s). A couple of years ago a friend of mine that teaches at an ESL school here in San Diego introduced me to someone, we had a great 6 month friendship!

Posted by
12197 posts

I only like to use the verbal language courses to augment an interactive computer course. I find I do better if I can see the words while I'm learning them. On the tapes, I'm wondering how it's spelled so I know what they are trying to say rather than just trying to mimmick the sounds. This also helps me to recognize written words so I understand signage and menus.

Try this course through the BBC, it's free:

My first trip to Germany came after three years of high school and college German courses and three months of cramming on a computer course. I was amazed how much I didn't know. I didn't know all the proper nouns that were being used (mostly local place names) and I didn't know all the business and technical terms that were being used (I was there on business).

My accent also gave me away as an American. When I went into a shop, I greeted the shopkeeper in German and they would reply in English. After a couple of weeks up North, I was able to converse in German without the other person automatically switching to English although I was still far behind on proper nouns, technical terms and colloquial words.

I would say, "Can you speak slower, please?" as "Konnen Sie (Zee) langsammer sprechen, bitte?" (I don't have umlauts on my computer, sorry).

If you want to know how to say a word, ask "Wie (Vee) sagt mann _____?" Use the English word and they'll tell you the German word.

I think anywhere you go an effort to speak the language is really appreciated because so few make the effort. In Germany, most people speak such good English, they are happy to have someone to practice with.

One thing you can't get from tapes or computer courses is some basics on culture. In my school courses I learned as much about how Germans do things as I did about the language.

I saw an article (I think NY Times) about being a good guest in France. It would be good to have more of that available.

Posted by
12197 posts

For those of you with a sense of humor, check out this site. It has every phrase an ugly American would ever need translated into French, Spanish and German (i.e. "Don't you have any jails that aren't rat infested?"). It's not potty humor or bad words.

I can read the German translations, some of them were really funny too (not exactly literal translations).

Posted by
1158 posts

Yes Steve, listening comprehension is one of the problems people face when they learn a foreign language.
Get a German movie and use closed captioning.

Posted by
7727 posts

Perhaps with learning the language to a greater degree you will not run into what I do, but often I have to inform others that I really do not know the language well. I always try to learn key phrases and have a reasonable vocanbulary in several languages, especially reading comprehension, but I find when I use them, say in a restaurant, the immediate response is a fluent and rapid discourse. Even just responding, in english or broken local dialect is usually enough to get the message across, slowing down the conversation, them helping me with Italian/German/French; and I helping them with English and getting what I want to eat in the end.

Posted by
1294 posts

I had this same problem last time I went to Italy. I would confidently ask my question only to be overwhelmed by a response I could not even begin to understand. I also sense that your are like me in that it is not so much that we "have" to speak the language to get by, but that we "want" to speak the language and have an opportunity to improve. I am returning in September and I am determined to do better. I first went to my library and checked out or ordered a variety of language learning courses. Then I went through and found the ones that have whole conversations to listen to without interruption. (versus the one line then they translate kind) I just am trying to listen to as much conversation as I can to adjust to the Italian way of speaking and it has been helpful. In addition, I found some books that had whole conversations written in Italian, and I spend time everyday reading through some of these. Will it work? I'll let you know in October 2008.

Last time I was there, I learned the phrase "Please repeat slowly" and it was helpful. People immediately slowed down there speech and spoke more simply.

My favorite experience was making a reservation for a remote agritourismo in Baschi (Umbira). The lady "spoke" some English and I spoke "some" Italian. However, I could not understand her when she spoke in Italian and she could not understand me when I spoke in English. So we stumbled on a solution. I spoke my limited Italian and she answered in her limited English and we got on quite well. Obviously, my three night stay with her was a lot of fun as we helped each other with our language skills.

For learning the language, I prefer the Michel Thomas course. It teaches your how to formulate sentences versus memorizing specific lines that you will hopefully be able to pull up and use in situations. I supplement with other travel language tapes and vocabulary exercises. Everything I use I got at my local library so cost was not a factor

Buono Fortuna!!

Posted by
17 posts

Check out "How to Learn Any Language" by Barry M. Farber, it's a great resourse for learning all kinds of different methods. Though it sounds like you are well on your way. The multiple track approach works best. Get some German language movies, ones that you really like, and watch them a lot. I would give Michel Thomas a try as well. Out of everything I have used (and I have used everything) I like that series the most.

Posted by
2 posts

My cousin lived in Germany a number of years ago and became quite fluent. He keeps his skills up listening to German Public Radio. Says he hears much interesting info on there, too, as you can imagine.

Posted by
445 posts

It is really helpful to watch/listen to any of the
foreign language broacasts on cable or the internet.
What is available on canble will obviously vay by geographic areas. In the NY area, there is a NY CIty cable station that shows France 2 news every night and well as the Italian News from RAI (think that is correct). Watching these programs is a challenge but it is amzing how much the pictures helo you to comprehend if you know a bit of the language.(I think they also hae the news on in Polish as well). These programs must be available in other areas as well so I suggest you do a litle research. Of course you can always subscribe to European TV via dish networks. My brother gets a German station this way.

As someone else suggested, you can alaso listen a the internet to various European news stations in the local language. All of these things help to attune your ear to the language you are learning.

WHEn I studied French in high school a very long time ago part of our testing was listening to a passage in French and then answering questions posed in French about the reading. This method of teaching really gets your brain thinking in the language instead of translating. Have no idea of how they teach languages these days as I am out of touch.
But I do like the series French In Action that is often on a PBS was developed at Yale and I have found it very helpful. You may find the videos at your library.

All of this has to to with French, not German, but the principles are the same. You want, as much as possible, to listen to conversation in the language you are trying to learn. Eventually it will all stop sounding like "Greek"!

Posted by
15723 posts

"French in Action" "Destinos" (spanish) and Fokus Deutsch (German) are three college level courses offered at variouis times on PBS.

However, you can watch each of these online for free at the following website:


Posted by
808 posts


I know where you're coming from. I find myself in this situation on a daily basis.

Translation is a major part of my role as an In-Charge Flight Attendant. It is often a great challenge especially when it comes to dealing with complaints and safety issues. It's always difficult when there is no whatever "Language Qualified Speaker F/A" on board the Aircraft. We often look for a native speaker to assit us if need be.

Learning additional languages is always a lot of work. All I can suggest is that you keep at it. Totally immerse yourself in it. Watch German TV Programs, movies, read the Newspaper in German, Internet News, books, Books/tapes on CD while you drive, join a German club or volunteer for a German Organization.

Stick with it. The pay off is just around the corner!