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How I went from complete failure and despair to enjoying the best German class in Vienna.
Leaning comfortably on the door frame, the friendliest postman in Vienna was chattering to me in rapid-fire Deutsch, asking about my day, (or possibly my job?) and had the expectant expression I’ve seen so often that meant it was my turn to reply.
My throat closed over, mind racing, trying to piece together the scramble of words I’d just barely understood. Covering the awkward silence with a light laugh and the go-to-move of every desperately confused non-German speaker, I replied with an uncertain ‘Uhhh, Ja! Genau!’ and hoped it was sufficient to whatever he had just said.
Closing the door behind him, I gripped the handle tightly, trying to quell the familiar feeling of frustration and annoyance at myself that I still didn’t know enough Deutsch to have a 5-minute friendly chat with a stranger. Even after 4 years and countless courses.
I’d almost resigned myself to being misunderstood, to forever feeling a stab of fearful panic in my chest in these situations. I have tried so many times to find a way into speaking naturally in German. Online, free courses, conversation, self-training, flash cards, you name it.
But the cases seemed to slip through my fingers, the grammar rules were impenetrable – tiny words needed 7 minutes to calculate if you should say ‘dem’ or ‘der’. By the time I’d figured out the correct case and 3 letter word, conversation had long moved on without me. None of the classes I took were teaching me how to exist, how to function and express myself naturally in a German-speaking environment. I was stilted, my personality hushed by frustration and incomprehension.
Then I found Pizzera Sprachakademie. And I’m gunna warn you now guys – the rest of the post is pretty much just me gushing about how wonderful it is, because I am genuinely so so excited about this course I can’t help myself.
Holly had first recommended Johanna’s courses, and conversations in expat groups kept dropping the link to her site as an ‘alternative’ German learning style. Her website promised to focus on ‘personality and the individual’ with an emphasis on learning to enjoy the language. Having tried everything else, it seemed like this was worth a chance, and it being winter (which is prime time for learning German, no sunshine to lure you into skipping class) I signed up to give it one last shot.
The first time I entered for my evening class, I knew I had found my kind of place and people.
The classrooms are more like living rooms, or the interior of your favourite hipster cafe – bright furniture, cute quotes and photos of past students goofing about in costumes. There was jazz music playing lightly in the background and colourful lights festooned the entrance. This was not your average Deutschkurs with bare white walls and scary grammar charts surrounding plastic tables.
The class itself is smaller than average too – with just 8 of us in the conversation course it felt more like a small group of friends getting together than a classroom. I’ve had other friendly German classes, and met some of my longer term Vienna mates through German school (hey Aleks!) but the guaranteed small group size of Pizzera Sprachakademie makes a difference – you don’t feel like ‘just another student’ but part of a small community. With a small group you also feel guilty if you skip a class (just me?) so I was much more likely to attend my twice a week 2-hour class after work.
There was never a reason to skip classes, though – Johanna offers the best paths to learning a new language I could have hoped for.
Instead of rote learning and repeating back sentences ad nauseam, each new vocabulary block and grammar session became a fun game.
Instead of endless handouts and ‘exceptions to rules’ lists, we had the best summary of multiple exercise books and applied what we learned to practical examples.
Instead of trying to pull apart the language and explain each step, we had easy to remember shortcuts to explain grammar rules.
It finally felt like I was getting the cheat codes to German.
No more listening to awkwardly phrased CD recordings with cringe storylines, we learnt by getting to know our classmates or reading then re-enacting a murder-mystery. Johanna herself is constantly full of energy, dancing and performing vocabulary so you don’t forget its meaning. During class, you’ll be offered chocolates, lollies or schnapps if you get a question right. She keeps the classes on topic, but never ignores a practical question, leading to more discussions on real-life uses of the words we were learning.
At €10 per teaching unit (one 45 minute class) I learnt more and was more motivated than I had been in 4 years to actually use the German I was learning in my everyday interactions. Our very first session, I learnt two phrases that I’ve used almost daily since – ‘Meine meinung nach’ (my opinion is) and ‘es hängt davon ab’ (it depends.) These small but important kind of phrases are the things you need to survive everyday life in a foreign country, and Johanna’s courses are built around exactly that idea.
She teaches so you can live, not so you can tick a box and pass a grammar test. Her attention to the little details – from snacks on the table for 6pm classes, to personalised feedback on your strengths and weaknesses – means you barely notice how much progress you’re making because you’re having too much fun.
I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. But yes, this is a fun German class.
If you’re planning on upping your German game for 2017, and realised (like I did) that you need strict class times to truly commit, then I’m going to insist you try Pizzera Sprachakademie. Here’s why:
Her style may not be for everyone – if you’re an introvert or a stickler for rules and processes, or have progressed too far along in learning German the traditional way, this free flowing, game-playing creative learning style may not be your jam. But if you’re sick of sitting in boring classrooms, working through exercise books that don’t give you any practical help when it comes to chatting with your nosy next door neighbour, this is the course you want.
Intakes for January are open now, check out all the details here.
As for me, I’m thrilled to have progressed so much further in my German, in a group that was so fun and supportive. Mostly I’m relieved that I’ve finally found a course that works, that keeps me motivated, that makes German a lot less intimidating. After a year of heartache, failures and beating myself up about being sucky at German, this course was the happy ending I’ve been waiting for, unlocking access to this language in ways I didn’t think possible.
I’m returning for B1.1 in summer (having over-committed myself into a stress induced hell in November, I need to pull the brakes for January) and have raved about these classes to anyone who will listen. That includes you, my friend – you should take this course.
And the next time our favourite postman comes around? I’ll be listening, more relaxed and hopefully able to offer up ‘meine mahnung nach’ with easy confidence…or at least without making an utter idiot of myself!
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