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Lessons for topic Grammar

The Mouse is Out!

Idiomatic expressions can be difficult, because even if you know what all of the words mean, it can sometimes be nearly impossible to understand what the phrase means. Just think about how some standard English idioms sound if you try to understand them literally: "It's raining cats and dogs," or "Don't spill the beans." Neither cats, nor dogs, nor beans have anything to do with what is really being expressed! This week's new Yabla video, the film trailer from "Frau Müller muss weg," contains a number of colorful German idioms:

 

Das ist die Realität. Aus die Maus.
That is the reality. The mouse is out [idiom: It's over and done].

 

Although German idioms often don’t have a direct English equivalent, a more literal translation might be: “The game is up."

 

Fassen Sie sich gefälligst an Ihre eigenen Nasen.
Kindly grab your own noses [idiom: mind your own concerns], please.

 

The English idioms "keep your nose out of my business" and "mind your own business" have similar meanings.

 

Wenn's um Konflikte geht, wird das hier immer unterirdisch.
Whenever it's about conflicts, it always ends up underground [idiom: things become abysmal] here.

 

Yabla German always provides you with a direct word-for-word translation as well as the direct meaning of the phrase to help you better understand these idiomatic expressions.

 

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Two-way Prepositions

Most commonly spoken German prepositions take the accusative or dative case (the genitive case is used more often in the written form). Some prepositions, such as bis, durch, für, gegen, je, ohne, um and wider, take only the accusative case. Others, like aus, außer, bei, gegenüber, mit, nach, seit, von and zu, take only the dative case.

 

There are, however, certain prepositions that can take either the accusative or the dative case, depending on the context: an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor and zwischen. Even experienced German speakers can get it wrong sometimes, so although you've probably learned this before, this may be a good time to review these two-way (or dual) prepositions.

 

The general rule to remember: if the preposition is dealing with "where" something is in a static sense, it takes the dative case; if it is dealing with motion or destination ("where to" or "what about") in an active sense, then it takes the accusative case.

 

Der Spiegel hängt an der Wand.
The mirror is hanging on the wall.
Caption 34, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Mehr Wechselpräpositionen

 

Since the wall is where the mirror is statically hanging, the feminine noun die Wand takes the dative case in this context.

 

Sie gehen an die Arbeit wieder.
They're going to work again.
Caption 29, Der Struwwelpeter: Hans Guck-in-die-Luft

 

Since work is where they are actively going to, the feminine noun die Arbeit takes the accusative case. Note that the word wieder above has an unusual placement in the sentence; this is because it is part of an old-fashioned poem and needed to rhyme!

 

Wie war das Konzert auf dem Mond?
How was the concert on the moon?
Caption 8, Undertube: Peer erzählt einen Witz

 

Since where they statically are is on the moon, the masculine noun der Mond takes the dative case.

 

Wir gehen auf die Straßen.
We’re going on the streets.
Caption 34, Blumio, Rappen für gute Unterhaltung

 

Since their destination is actively towards the streets, the plural feminine noun die Straßen takes the accusative case.

 

Further Learning
Look on Yabla German for other examples of the two-way prepositions an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor and zwischen and discover the different contexts in which they take the dative or the accusative case.

 

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Common German Mistakes: Wie or Als?

German speakers sometimes make the mistake of using wie (as, like, how) instead of als (than), an error that is a bit puzzling for native English speakers. It is hard for us to imagine saying, for example: "I am taller as you" instead of "I am taller than you," but in German this is a fairly common error. The following Yabla English translations reflect the corrections to als:

Also wir geben hier mehr her, wie [sic, als] die Lufthansa da in der... in der Businessclass.
So we deliver more here than Lufthansa there in the… in the business class.
Captions 45-16, Fluglinien: Niki Air

wie [sic, als] wenn man einfach sagt: „Ich hab' dir 'nen ganz gesunden Salat gemacht“.
than if you simply say, “I’ve made ​​you a very healthy salad.”
Captions 32-33, Kochhaus Berlin: Kochen mit Kindern

The German als should be used like the English "than" when showing contrast, as a function word to indicate an inequality between two things:

Ich sage immer, eher mehr Selbstvertrauen als Talent.
I always say, rather more confidence than talent.
Caption 19, Cassandra Steen: Interview

Wobei man hier eher vom Fallen als vom Fliegen sprechen muss.     
Although in this case it would be more accurate to speak of falling rather than of flying.
Caption 5, Abenteuer und Sport: Fallschirmspringen

Whereas wie is used to relate things that are similar in some way, or to give an example:

Wir haben ein Programm mit Ikonen der Musikgeschichte wie Foreigner oder den Simple Minds.
We have a program with icons of music history like Foreigner or Simple Minds.
Captions 7-8, Das Tollwood-Festival: Bap und Clueso in der Musik-Arena

Da sind die besten Firmen der Welt dabei wie Siemens und andere.
The best companies in the world are there, like Siemens and others.
Caption 40, Berlins regierender Bürgermeister: Pläne für 2014

Further Learning:

Search on Yabla German for the words als and wie to find more of the ways these expressions are used in context.
 

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The "weak masculine" or n-declination

If a German noun ends in an "e," it's usually feminine, but there are also masculine nouns that end with "e" that require special "n" or "-en" endings in all singular non-nominative cases. To complicate things further, there are also masculine nouns not ending in "e" that require the special endings too!

Basically, the n-declination only occurs with masculine nouns, never with feminine or neuter nouns, and only a small percentage of masculine nouns are weak. Besides the rule of masculine nouns ending with -e, there is no hard and fast rule to classify them — they just have to be learned! It's helpful to know that many are professions, animals, and nationalities. Here are a few examples of weak masculine nouns to remember that you will commonly encounter in everyday usage.

Der Junge is a weak masculine noun, which you know because of the masculine der and the -e ending. Note that the -e ending changes to -en:

Der Zauberer sah zu dem zitternden Jungen hinab.
The sorcerer looked down at the trembling boy.
Caption 80, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Der Zauberlehrling

However, der Nachbar is also a weak masculine noun, despite the -r ending. Note that the -r ending changes to -rn:

Du könntest einfach zum Nachbarn gehen.
You could simply go to the neighbor.
Caption 25, Fine: sucht einen Hammer

Der Student is a very common weak masculine noun that takes the -en ending in non-nominative singular:

Ich habe einen spanischen Studenten eingestellt.
I've hired a Spanish student.
Caption 22, Barbara Schöneberger: Bambi-Verleihung Backstage

Der Herr is a weak masculine noun when it's translated as "lord"

Sofort rannte er zu seinem Herrn.
Immediately, he ran to his lord.
Caption 47, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Der gestiefelte Kater

and in its more common form as the honorific "Mr." or "Mister"

Das war eine Idee von Herrn Singer.
That was an idea of Mister Singer's.
Caption 35, Modedesignerin Nina Hollein: Floria Prinzessin von Hessen

Further Learning
Here are some examples of weak masculine nouns requiring the -n or -en endings in non-nominative singular (all of them have the masculine article der): Architekt, Astronaut, Bär, Bauer, Diplomat, Elefant, Emigrant, Held, Idiot, Kamerad, Kandidat, Kapitalist, Kommunist, Kunde, Löwe, Mensch, Neffe, Pilot, Präsident, Rabe, Russe, Schimpanse, Schwede, and Soziologe. See if you can find some examples of them in context with -n or -en endings on Yabla German. For more reading about this topic, check out the article Tricky Masculine Nouns in German.

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The placement of nicht in a sentence

Nicht (not) is an adverb, and as a verb modifier will fall easily into place if you observe a few basic rules. It usually comes before another adverb or adjective, but unlike the English "not," usually comes after verbs.

Ich mag es nicht, Lebensmittel zu verschwenden.
I do not like to waste food.
Caption 50, Werbung gegen Realität: Kunstprojekt Fertigprodukte

The German sentence above states literally: "I like it not..."

Declarative sentences and questions requiring simple yes or no answers usually have nicht falling at the end of the sentence, also unlike English:

Den brauchen wir nicht.
We do not need that.
Caption 24, Cannelloni: mit Jenny

Du weißt auch nicht?
You do not know either?
Caption 6, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren: Der Relativsatz

Nicht falls before the last part of a separable verb and before the infinitive in a sentence with a compound verb:

Aber die Dortmunder müssen und wollen sich nicht verstecken.
But the Dortmund team does not have or want to hide.
Caption 12, Der Pott ist da: Der DFB-Pokal

Nicht is placed after adverbs of chronological time such as früher (earlier), gestern (yesterday), heute (today), morgen (tomorrow), and später (later).

Rock 'n' Roll ist heute nicht mehr so seins.
Rock 'n' roll today is no longer really his thing.
Caption 39, Andreas Bourani: startet durch

In contrast, non-chronological adverbs are usually preceded by nicht.

Das muss nicht sofort funktionieren.
This does not have to work immediately.
Caption 11, Yoga: Sonnengruß als Aufwärmung

Further Learning:

Just remember that nicht only comes after chronological adverbs, otherwise nicht precedes all other adverbs, verb infinitives, adjectives, and prepositional phrases. See the wonderful examples of the placement of nicht at Grimm Grammar (scroll down to the bottom of the page, don't forget to hit the Play button!), then search Yabla videos to find nicht used in different contexts!

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Same word, different gender!

Arme haben Arme
Arme haben Beine
Beine haben keine Arme
Arme Beine!

There are two versions of Arme in the above saying, one meaning "poor people" and the other meaning "arms." Actually, German has many homonyms: words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but have different meanings. These are called homonyms. It is especially important to know the genders of German homonyms, since you may wind up saying or writing something entirely different than you intend, merely because you got the gender wrong!

Die Band ist eingespielt; die Models wissen, wie sie laufen müssen.
The band has warmed up; the models know how they must walk.
Caption 29, Mode: Backstage auf der Modenschau

Allerdings ist es für die Fraport AG nicht das erste Band, das in diesem Jahr feierlich durchtrennt wurde.
However, this is not the first ribbon that was ceremoniously cut for the Fraport AG this year.
Caption 22, Rund um den Flughafen: Direktflug Frankfurt-Houston

In addition to die Band (the band, or musical group) and das Band (the ribbon), there is also a third meaning: der Band (the volume of a book). Be careful with your genders so that you don't wind up reading a rock band, cutting the volume of a book, or listening to a ribbon!

Der damalige Leiter des Museums Wiesbaden tauscht Kunst.
The former director of the Museum Wiesbaden trades art.
Caption 9, Restituierung von Raubkunst: aus der Nazi-Zeit

Der Herbst steht auf der Leiter [dative case of die Leiter] und malt die Blätter an.
Fall stands on the ladder and paints the leaves.
Caption 11, Sabine und Ivana: Gedichte im Bus

Der Leiter is the leader, director, or head of an organization, and die Leiter is a ladder. Here too, with the wrong gender you may wind up following the ladder or climbing up a director!

Further Learning:

Browse through Yabla videos and find the correct genders of some German homonyms. Here are some examples of homonyms with different genders: Erbe (inheritance vs. inheritor), Gehalt (salary vs. content), Junge (boy vs. young one), Heide (moor vs. heathen), Hut (hat vs. protection), Kiefer (pine tree vs. jaw), Lama (llama vs. Tibetan religious leader), Marsch (march vs. marsh), Messer (knife vs. measuring device), Pony (hairstyle vs. pony), Schild (sign vs. shield), See (sea vs. lake), Steuer (tax vs. steering wheel), Stift (pencil vs. monastery), Tau (rope vs. dew), Taube (pigeon vs. blind person), Titan (giant vs. titanium), Tor (goal vs. fool), Verdienst (income vs. merit), and Weise (manner vs. wise person). The next lesson will be about German homonyms with the same gender, so put your learning caps on!

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False Friends ("Falsche Freunde") Part III

In our last lesson on false friends, we discussed a few false cognates that begin with the letter B. Today, we're moving one stop further down the alphabet to learn about some falsche Freunde starting with C and D:

der Chef / die Chefin: the boss or departmental head
False English friend: chef, the head cook (German: der Chefkoch / die Chefköchin, der Küchenchef / die Küchenchefin)

Ich werde morgen mit meinem Chef reden.
I will talk with my boss tomorrow.
Caption 53, Lektionen: Morgen

dezent: discreet, discreetly, low-key, unobtrusive
False English friend: decent, appropriate, fitting (German: anständig, ordentlich)

Normalerweise sind die Tuaregs ja auch eher dezent gekleidet.
Normally the Tuaregs are indeed dressed rather discreetly.
Caption 46, Rat für nachhaltige Entwicklung: Mode gegen Armut

Dose: can, tin
False English friend: dose, a quantity of medicine (German: die Dosis)

… denn über den Schaumwein in Dosen geht ihr nichts.
… because for her, there's nothing like the sparkling wine in cans.
Caption 17, Paris Hilton: in Frankfurt

Further Learning:

Try to find more words in German and English that sound similar but have different meanings. For a thorough list of German false friends, take a look at this extensive chart and then search Yabla videos to find the words used in context!

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False Friends ("Falsche Freunde") Part II

In our last lesson on false friends, we discussed a few false cognates that begin with the letter A. Today, we're moving one stop further down the alphabet to learn about some falsche Freunde starting with B:

das Bad: the bath or bathroom (room with a bath, not the toilet!)
False friend: bad: of low quality or poor standard (German: schlecht)

Jetzt packe ich die Sachen vom Bad in den Koffer.
Now I'll pack the things from the bathroom into the suitcase.
Caption 18, Christiane: fährt in den Urlaub

bekommen: to get or receive
False friend: become: to begin to be, to develop into (German: werden)

Ich hab' noch nie einen Preis bekommen in Deutschland.    
I've never received an award in Germany.
Caption 17, DIVA-Verleihung: Schauspieler des Jahres

brav: good, well-behaved

False friend: brave: possessing or exhibiting courage (German: tapfer, mutig)

Und wer nicht brav war, der soll auch noch darum bitten.    
And those who were not good, they should even beg for it.
Caption 14, Jan Wittmer: Weihnachtslied

Further Learning:

Try to find more words in German and English that sound similar but have different meanings. For a thorough list of German false friends, take a look at this extensive chart.

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False Friends ("Falsche Freunde") Part I

Many words in German look like words in English, but can be tricky because they actually have different meanings. These paired words are called false friends or false cognates and can be the source of many difficulties when starting to learn a new language. Here are a few examples from Yabla, all starting with the letter A:

absolvieren: to finish a course of study or exam
False friend: absolve: to declare (someone) free from guilt, obligation, or punishment (German: entlasten)

Auch wenn man ein Studium absolviert hat...
Even after finishing a study...
Caption 63, Lokalhelden: Art House

aktuell: current, latest
False friend: actual: existing in fact; real. (German: eigentlich, wirklich)

Neunundsechzig ist die aktuelle Diskussion. 
Sixty-nine is the current debate. 
Caption 46, Kurzfilm-Festival: Shorts at Moonlight 

die Argumentation: the reasoning, process of reasoning
False friend: argument: an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one (German: der Streit)

Das hessische Ministerium hat kein Verständnis für diese Argumentation.    
The Hessian Ministry has no understanding for this reasoning.
Captions 28-29, Deutsche Autobahnen: Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzungen

Further Learning:
Try to find more words in German and English that sound similar but have different meanings. For a very funny commentary in German containing false friends, read this dialog on Grimm GrammarBis bald! (No, this is not about hair loss…)

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Funktionsverben: German Light Verbs

A light verb (Funktionsverb, also called vector verb or empty verb) is a verb that has very little intrinsic meaning on its own and requires an additional expression, usually a noun, to give it meaning. Some light verb expressions in German are similar to English, and therefore easy to understand, such as Einfluss ausüben (to exert infuence), zu Ende sein (to be at an end, to be over) or in Sicht bleiben (to remain in view). But many other German light verbs do not have direct parallels in English and are somewhat more difficult to understand. Let's look to some Yabla videos for some examples!

in Angriff nehmen (to attack, to tackle, to proceed with):

Und dann mal schauen, ob wir eventuell irgendwas Live-Mäßiges in Angriff nehmen.

And then see if we perhaps take on something live.

Caption 16, RheinMain Szene: Selig

unter Druck stehen (to be under pressure):

Ich denke, dass die Russen natürlich genauso unter Druck stehen.    

I think that the Russians are certainly under an equal amount of pressure.

Caption 13, Fußball: Die deutsche Nationalmannschaft

auf etwas Rücksicht nehmen (to show consideration for):

Wenn die Menschen doch nur mehr Rücksicht aufeinander nehmen würden.

If only people would show more consideration for one another.

Caption 10, Rücksicht im Verkehr: Christophorus, Die Mission

Learning Suggestions:

See if you can find out the proper English meanings for the following German expressions containing light verbs: eine Anwendung finden, in Verlegenheit geraten, eine Mitteilung machen, eine Wahl treffen, unter Beobachtung stehen, zu Ansehen gelangen, in Druck geben, sich in Abhängigkeit befinden, in Erfahrung bringen, in Auftrag geben, in Frage stellen. If you would like to go deeper into the finer distinctions between active and passive light verbs, look here!

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Inseparable Prefixes

Inseparable Verbs: verbs with an unstressed prefix that are not separated when used in a sentence, e.g. beschreiben, erfinden, entspannen.

As Piggeldy and Frederick stroll down country roads in Das Fernweh (the yen for faraway places) Piggeldy gushes at the way his brother Frederick has aptly described this unknown concept.

So schön kann nur mein lieber Bruder Frederick 'Fernweh' beschreiben.

So beautifully can only my dear brother Frederick describe "fernweh".

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Fernweh

Beschreiben (to describe) is the inseparable verb in our example and if we subtract the prefix be- it becomes schreiben (to write).

Different prefixes alter or change the meaning of their respective unadorned infinitives or root words, which may even be other parts of speech. See this list:

Be-: often makes a transitive verb from an intransitive verb, e.g. siegen (to win) vs. besiegen (to defeat)

Er-: tends to relate to creative processes, e.g. erfinden (to invent), erörtern (to discuss)

Ent-: usually describes processes of removing, e.g. entfernen (to remove), entführen (to kidnap)

Zer-: is used for destructive actions, e.g. zerstören (to destroy), zerdrücken (to crush, to mash)

To put this rough rubric into practice, let's look at another inseparable verb in one of our clips. Reporter Raudy, from the trendy magazine RheinMain Szene, tells recording artist "Der Graf" (the Count) to relax, when the Count admits that at times he still experiences stage fright.

Echt? Entspann dich doch! Ich bitt' dich!

Really? Hey, relax! I'm asking you!

Caption 7, RheinMain Szene: Unheilig - "Der Graf" - Part 3

As we can see from the list above, the inseparable prefix ent- reverses a process in place. In this last example, it "loosens the strings" of the Count’s tightly strung psyche, hence entspannen means “to relax.

Further practice

Review the lesson Separable or not separable... that is the question!, and then test yourself with this exercise on separable and inseparable verbs.

Learning Tip

Pick out a troublesome German phoneme, like the pesky R-sound. Create a word set by selecting only words that have this phoneme, whether in the initial or intermediate position. Then go back to the newly created word set and practice those words. Don’t be discouraged if you find progress slow in coming. It takes time, effort, continuous monitoring, and even trial and error, before you get it all right. When you meet a German who can no longer immediately peg your land of origin you’ll be glad you made the effort!

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Separable or not separable... that is the question!

Separable Verbs: verbs with a stressed prefix, that are separated when used in a sentence
i.e. mitkommen, mitfeiern, einladen

In each and every episode, we've all come to almost know by heart Frederick's blustery invitation to his younger brother, spoken as our beloved porcine brothers embark upon another stroll in the country. Let's all chime in with Frederick…

Komm mit."

"Come with [me]."

Caption 5, Piggeldy und Frederick: Langeweil

Mitkommen means "to come" or "to come along." The prefix mit- is stressed which indicates that it is a separable prefix verb. Notice in this present tense construction: the verb is in the second position and the separable prefix is at the end. Here the German appears benignly analogous to our English. However, Vorsicht! Don't be lulled to sleep.

In this next clip that reports the celebration of World Pi Day, notice what happens when additional information is included in the predicate.

Da feierst du jetz' auch nich' mit beim Welt-Pi-Tag, oder?

Now you also don't celebrate along on World Pi Day or [do you]?

Caption 67, Welt-Pi-Tag: Unser Leben mit der Kreiszah

Where does the additional information, (namely... jetzt, auch, nicht) appear? Richtig! It is sandwiched between the conjugated verb and the prefix.

This is also the case for einladen (to invite):

Heute lade ich alle meine Freunde zu mir nach Hause ein.
Today I will invite all of my friends to my home.

Note:

The prefixes of separable verbs are, by and large, prepositions or adverbs, but sometimes even verbs or nouns, all meaning that they are independent words. And, since no one is born a master, you can learn more about separable verbs here and here.

Learning Tip

To practise recognizing separable verbs, select 3 clips. Watch each with both captions on. Pause and analyze the sentences which you think might contain a separable verb. Pay close attention to the correct pronunciation of the verb. Use the loop function of the Yabla Player to listen to it repeatedly and say the infinitive out loud, stressing the prefix, until you get it right. Do this exercise for all 3 clips (add more if necessary)! This will help you differentiate between stressed and unstressed prefixes and any remaining "separation anxiety" will end in smoke.

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Pesky Prepositions

Pesky Prepositions:

At Easter time in (in) Germany, außer (aside from) the popular Easter egg hunt, there are also old Easter customs. My grandmother always used to tell me that young women would go to a brook am (on the) Eve of Easter Sunday and trickle water über (over) themselves. Durch (By) this practice they hoped to attain and preserve beauty. The catch was that they were not allowed to utter a single word auf (on) their journey. Whether or not it is true remains a mystery. I hope you all had a Happy Easter!

Now for something completely different. What comes to mind when you hear words like construction waste, scrap iron, sheet metal, etc.? ...Scrapyard!

Swiss musicians Bubble Beatz recycle and collect such items and incorporate them in (into) their so called "Trash Machine." Going unter (by) the name of "most attractive scrap heap von der (of) Switzerland", Bubble Beatz jump herum (around) and deliver a wild, sweat-inducing performance mit (with) elements of house, industrial and drum 'n bass auf (on) said Machine.

So prepositions are on the menu today! Those essential little words that usually introduce prepositional phrases to indicate the relation between things in a sentence.

Take a look at a few examples:

im Augenblick mit ihrer "Trash Machine" auf Deutschland-Tour.  
at the moment with their "Trash Machine" on Germany tour.
Caption 4, Bubble Beatz: Supertalente vom Schrottplatz

Some prepositions are identical in German and in English. But others just make us want to tear our hair out.

Ich hab' gesucht und gesucht

I've searched and searched

Nach Augen, die mich interessieren

For eyes that interest me

Caption 30, Frida Gold: Wovon sollen wir träum

Das Tier um die Beine geschlungen und dann Kopf an Kopf posieren.

The animal looped around the legs and then posing head to head.
Caption 22, Summer Cheergirl 2010: Fotoshooting mit Riesenschlangen - Part 1 of 2

If prepositions seem difficult, don't despair! As you know, practice makes perfect. So test yourself with these fun exercises here and here

Learning Tip

Choose a clip according to your level of proficiency. While watching it, click on the words whose meaning you’re unsure of. After watching the clip, access your flashcards by clicking the Flashcard tab. All the words that you clicked have been compiled into sets. Review your flashcard set. Now watch the clip again. Has your listening comprehension improved? Finally, speaking aloud in German, recount what you saw and heard in the clip. Summarize the gist. Try using words you’ve just learned. At first, this will seem difficult. But over time you’ll be amazed at your increased fluency!

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