The Hottest German Lesson in Town: Deutschland 83 and Major Tom (PLUS Free Lyric & Vocab Sheet)

One of the most wonderful things about learning a foreign language is to get to know the country behind that language. What is beyond the flashcards? What makes that place? It's awesome to dive into history and geography, cook a few recipes (like Shannon from Eurolinguiste) and of course discover what they watch and listen to.

If you're a regular listener of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, you may have already noticed that there is a new German language TV show on the block. Deutschland 83 is a spy drama set in one of my favourite periods of German history: the 1980s, right in the cold war. You can catch it on iTunes, on Amazon, or currently on Channel 4 in the UK.

german lesson deutschland 83

German History: Spies, Terror and Economic Miracles

So here's the world at the time of Deutschland 83: Germany lost a world war and then the Eastern part of the country was made into a Socialist republic. The West started a kick-ass economy that went so well it became known for its Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the 1950s. In the 1960s, youth rebellion and peace movement shook our society, and Western Germany even struggled with its own terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. All the while, the Eastern part of Germany was locked away behind a wall and involved in the hottest army race of the 20th century: the Cold War.

Plenty going on at the time of Deutschland 83 then! The show's premise places a young Eastern German soldier into the West, where he's given a new identity and a bunch of adventurous spy tasks. It shows society in the West and East, the big fear of atom bombs laying waste to all of Europe, and a few hilarious scenes where a confused bunch of high-level spies stare at a floppy disc, wondering what it does.

Discover Germany's Answer to David Bowie

One of the unmissable things about Deutschland 83 is its awesome soundtrack. Let me introduce you to its theme song "Major Tom", Germany's synth driven response to the wonderful David Bowie. I've prepared a lyric sheet for German learners which you can download below.

Major Tom, written by Peter Schilling, was inspired by Bowie's song "Space Oddity", which tells the story of an astronaut abandoning his mission, decoupling from base and going off to live in space.  In Germany, the song became a huge hit and one of the flagship sounds of Neue Deutsche Welle, the biggest 1980s pop music trend which also included Nena and her famous song "99 Luftballons". In fact, if you pay attention in episode one of Deutschland 83, you'll hear the song playing in the background at a party in East Germany (where playing Western music would have been an offence!).

Germans have never stopped loving Major Tom, and today there is no good beerfest without everyone shouting völlig schwerelos (completely weightless) and waving their hands about.

Bonus: Major Tom in French

Major Tom's fame was all over Europe in the 80s, so if you're a French learner you can use the same song for study. Here's the cover by Belgian synthmeister Plastic Bertrand (of Ça plane pour moi fame) will make sure that you don't miss out.

If you're listening to this song and can't shake the feeling that you know it from somewhere, it might be because Deutschland 83 is not the first show to feature Major Tom. If you're a fan of AMC's "Breaking Bad", you might remember the Gale Boetticher version - are those Thai subtitles?

Share Your Playlist

I'd love to hear from you about your own favourite 1980s tunes. Do you love pop music like Major Tom? Tell me about your playlist in the comments.

If you love the sound of Major Tom, don't forget to download your free Vocab & Lyric Sheet. 

You can also check out this article to get a step-by-step guide to using music for language learning.

 

Tips from the Tutors: How to be a better language learner

When I was researching a recent talk called "Getting Started in Any Language", I had the pleasure of gathering ideas and tips from many local tutors and instructors. From experienced German teachers to truly engaging Zumba instructors, these are some of their best pieces of advice for staying a happy learner.

Think positive

That glass is half full!

That glass is half full!

Remember that old myth about children being the better language learners? There's something in it which stems entirely from attitude and can make the world of difference.

Successful learners refuse to be frustrated by the things they can't do. They are too excited about learning a language, about picking up new words and having fun with them. Don't scold yourself for mistakes and forgotten words! Positive thoughts like "Yes! I'm doing it! I'm still going after months of learning!" will spur you on and keep you motivated.

Study little and often, not a lot before your next lesson

This one is all about getting a little routine going. If you attend a class, make sure you do your homework as soon after the class as you can. This will consolidate the new knowledge in your mind and help you put it to use. If you are a self-taught learner, try and write yourself a weekly schedule including an exercise one day, a few sentences another, a video another and some speaking practice too.

Use good reference materials

And know how to use them. A great grammar book, dictionary, verb table and an orderly set of online resources will be worth their weight in gold. You don't have to memorise everything straight away, but you have got to know where to look for it. Carry a small dictionary everywhere. Start seeing patterns in your verb tables. Don't let things go unexplained. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, if you've got 6 hours to fell trees, spend one of them sharpening the axe.

 

Map out some goals

We know goals, society is full of them! In Weight Watchers you set up to lose 5% of your current weight, and in formal education you work towards tests. So why not put a structure into your language learning and set yourself small goals? You may want to ask your tutor, teacher or a friend to help you with the goals.

I set myself quite a few goals for the next 3 months back at New Year's. I want to become a tutor and blogger inspiring everyone to learn a new language, and obviously this isn't going to happen overnight. So instead I focus on what can be achieved in 3 months. After the end of March, I can sit down and write it down, have a think about what I want and what a small step towards it will be. I risk being over-ambitious, but the 3 month deadline means I can review things regularly and it's not the end if I don't get to all of my goals.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr

Mens sana in corpore sano

That phrase is in Latin and means "a healthy mind in a healthy body", and you can interpret it in your own personal way. The message is this: You can't always just sit around and work and study. Be kind to yourself for the healthy mind, and make sure you get some fresh air and healthy food for the healthy body. If you're feeling happy in yourself, your brain will be a lot more accepting of the new stuff you're trying to put in there.

Have you got any other tips that help you learn? Share them with everyone in the comments. And if you enjoyed this article, please do sign up for my monthly Language Learning Newsletter!

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Should I Learn more than one Language at the same time?

Have you ever wondered...why not revive that new subject passion by picking up a second foreign language?

I don't think that double language acquisition is an impossible task at all. I learnt up to three languages at the same time between the ages of 14 and 21 and found it keeps things interesting over years. It's not unheard of to study whole groups of very similar languages together, such as the Romance languages (French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish..) or Arabic dialects. But double language learning should be handled with care. Here are some golden rules to help you put it all together successfully.

1) COMMIT

Commitment is one of the essential ingredients to any success in language learning. You have got to keep the study of language going for some time before you understand its structures and build up a nice comfortable level. Luca from polyglot dream calls this establishing a language core. Build up this core in foreign language 1, then avoid getting rusty through daily practice while you focus on foreign language 2.

For example, if you have studied German for some years and feel comfortable having a chat now, you may want to start putting energy into learning Italian. While you build up the core in Italian, make sure your German doesn't get neglected completely with podcasts, simple articles or songs.

2) ORGANISE

Transient

This project is bound to demand a significant time commitment, and you will do well if you make yourself aware of this before you run out of steam. My tip is this: Think school curriculum! Draw yourself up a timetable. Schedule in every day's commitment load, whether it's a lesson with the tutor, an hour at college or even just 10 minutes of podcast listening.

This way, you can check back to what you assigned yourself on the days where you just feel stuck. The upshot of double language learning is double pride, so do put in that necessary discipline.

3) IMMERSE

Immersion learning is the way to go for speed and progress in my eyes. You need to practice to acquire fluency, and through fluency your core becomes a lot more valuable. If you are learning more than one language at the same time, however, be careful not to overdo it. You don't want to gorge yourself on too many different languages. Instead, keep it simple. Not more than you can handle at the same time, unless you're in the business for inventing the latest Esperanto-style creole version of whatever you're targeting. Unfocused learning is just a waste of time.

4) BREATHE

Always important to hold on to balance.

Always important to hold on to balance.

You're setting yourself a great goal like "be fluent in two foreign languages by Christmas", but are you making sure your goals are realistic? Easy milestones are important. Time is on your side here, and please remember not to go into rushing the progress. I presume you're still going to work? Seeing your family? anguage learning can be achieved at incredible speeds, but people put their life on hold for this. Get the balance right before your ambition becomes a stress factor.

One final secret tip?

Revisit your own language! It's the one you know best and the one you can get to know in your own time, all without scrambling for a single word of vocabulary. With this and the first foreign language, you will develop your own way of understanding the structures that pop up again and again, and this logic is language learning gold. Getting the hang of what concept is to be put into words is half the battle won. Grammar rocks, remember?

For more detailed advice on how to build a really solid language learning system, try a Fluent Language Guide -- there's an audiobook and a set of ebooks for you on my book page. 

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