September 26, 2012
I received word that I passed my German oral exam yesterday with flying colors. How do I feel? Thrilled and elated. It was all I could do to keep myself from running through the streets of Munich and leaping for joy. Thank you all for your prayers and encouragements along the way. All credit goes to Jesus; my life verse these past weeks has been: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (including passing this German test). I’ve prayed that over and over again.
The test yesterday lasted about 15 or 20 minutes. First I had to read a short theological essay. Once I was finished, I was called into an office where two examiners were seated. Our conversation began with small talk: where are you from, how did you learn German, what are you studying, what are your goals, etc. Then I was asked to summarize the essay I had read, and finally to share my opinions about it.
I was expecting to feel quite nervous, but was surprised that I felt quite at ease–that was a big answer to prayer. I knew I had made a few mistakes (grammatical and stumbling over a word or two), but I just kept going and did not let it slow me down.
As far as the actual grades are concerned, I passed both the written and the oral tests. That means I can now matriculate and begin my studies. I was surprised how high my marks were on the oral test; they graded me at a solid C2 level. The Goethe Institute explains what this C2 language level means:
extremely advanced language skills and documents the sixth and highest level; understand everything in German that you read and hear, effortlessly summarize information presented to you from a variety of sources, written and spoken, and, in doing so, synthesize correlating arguments as well as explanations organically express yourself in a fluent and precise manner and articulate the finer nuances of complex arguments.
We were told in our preparation class last week that C2 means one can speak independently, has little to no foreign accent (i.e., sounds German), makes little to no mistakes, does not noticeably search for words, etc.
With that being sad, I also found out that I only received a C1 grade on last week’s written test. C1 is all that is required by the University; with that score one passes the test and may take the oral exam. Thankfully I got C1, but just barely. If I had missed one more point, I would not have passed.
My wife is just as thrilled as I am about the test. Now we will be able to begin exploring our new city more, instead of me always having to practice my German. She has been so encouraging in this process. Now it is her turn to learn the language!
For those of you who may also be interested in learning German, I thought I would summarize my own journey with this language, and then end with a few helpful suggestions. First of all, my own experience:
- June 2009: I began with a grammar that taught one how to read German. This was not a very helpful beginning for me personally.
- Sept 2009: I found a conversational grammar in a used book store. This book (written in the 1950′s) had English on one page and German on the other. This book was a good resource, especially since it emphasized correct pronunciation.
- Oct 2009: I meet a German and try to speak some, all that came out of my mouth was Spanish.
- 2010: I am working on my master’s and not finding much time for German.
- Dec 2010: I have improved my ability to read the language, especially theological German; with difficulty am able to read scholarly theological German.
- Feb 2011: I join a German conversation club in Raleigh, NC. My ability to speak in German is so poor that Germans will only speak to me in English. They recommend several grammars to help me get a better feel of the language. I realize just how different it is to read a language than to speak it. I go home and begin working on mastering the German grammar.
- March 2011: I visit Germany and meet a professor who is eager for me to study with him in Munich. I find it very difficult on this trip to understand the German I hear and next to impossible to communicate in German.
- April 2011: I meet a German woman near Raleigh, NC, who agrees to meet weekly with me to help improve my German. She points out to me that I have spent too much time reading theological German and do not know much German for “around the house.”
- July 2011: I purchase Rosetta Stone German and find it to be a wonderful review of the grammar, it also helps me learn modern-day vocabulary, instead of just theological. Continue meeting weekly with German tutor.
- Jan 2012: I hit a wall in my German, find it hard to make any progress, find myself lacking motivation. Busy myself instead with the biblical languages.
- March 2012: I find out I was not awarded a DAAD grant, which would have included an intensive German course. If I’m going to really learn German, I better get busy.
- April 2012: I find tons of useful German podcasts online. Every free moment I have is spent working on German. I continue meeting weekly with my German tutor, she begins giving me compliments on my rapid improvement, instead of just critiques.
- May 2012: We decide we will move to Germany so I can begin my doctorate in the fall. I purchase an online intensive course that offers practice with writing in German.
- June 2012: We sell most of our stuff and finalize our moving plans; more podcasts and weekly meetings with my tutor
- July 2012: We spend the month of July with family before our move. I spend a couple of hours a day with my online course. I meet a very old German woman near my folks house. We have a 2 hour conversation in German. She tells me what it was like to live through WWII in Germany. I also have my first ever conversation in German on the telephone
- August 2012: We move to Germany–a month and a half before my proficiency test. Germans speak to me very comfortably and without reverting to English. I continue working daily on my online preparation course. I meet with my professor, our first conversation is in English.
- September 2012: A friend lends me his workbooks from 2 different intensive courses, which he attended at the University. These are IMMENSLY helpful to me. I take every opportunity that comes my way to speak German. My professor and I begin speaking in German with each other. I feel at ease and no longer feel self-conscious when I speak German. I occasionally dream in German.
- Today (Sept 26, 2012) I officially pass my German tests and can begin at the University.
Although I have passed these tests, I by no means consider myself to have “arrived” when it comes to German. Quite the contrary! I still mess up the grammar sometimes, I still find myself searching for the words, there are still words in the newspaper I do not know. So my German is by no means done. Instead it is only beginning, now I can simply work on learning it at a more casual pace–through day in and day out usage and experience. In other words, German no longer has to be my hobby, now it can be a tool I simply get to use every day.
Finally, I want to point out that over the last months and even years I have occasionally linked to helpful resources for German. This is particularly true for this spring, when I linked to just about all the podcasts that I found useful. These are accessible in the archives of my blog, or if you have an apple device, like an Ipad, simply begin searching on itunes for German resources, such as those offered by Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institute, and the podcast Slow German by Annic Ruben.