The Pukka Story (uncut)

My journey to German “fluency”
and the birth of Pukka German

  • Why I wanted to learn German
    Soon after I arrived in Germany to be with Lisa, it was clear to me that I would have to learn German to enjoy living here. I realized that I would miss out on many opportunities if I didn't. Not just work opportunities but also social opportunities. I wanted to be included in conversation, connect with people and make new friends.

    Initially I was very grateful when Lisa's friends took time to speak with me in English. This was fine for one-on-one conversations but unfortunately in group scenarios, I could not always selfishly expect everyone in the room to speak English just for my benefit. Although many Germans do speak English fairly well, many others are less confident and therefore become less communicative when forced to speak English. I noticed that the German conversations were more expressive and resulted in much more debate and laughter and I wanted to be part of the fun.

    Another important reason for me wanting to learn German was to be accepted in Lisa's circle of friends based on my own merits and not just for being her exotic, foreign boyfriend. I knew that the novelty of being a foreigner would soon wear off and I wanted to feel accepted based on the strengths of my personality and be able to express and share my opinions.

  • Nose to the grindstone
    There was little time to waste. I quickly devoted a lot of energy to learning the German basics as quickly as possible. I literally devoured all sorts of German learning material including German language software, CDs, books, online resources and I even took some German language classes. Luckily Lisa was also very patient with me and spoke with me a lot in German. This took some getting used to and resulted in some tense moments but it was definitely very helpful in improving my vocabulary and listening skills.

    Lisa was in fact quite taken aback by my determination and at times I suspect she worried that I had some kind of compulsive study disorder that she'd failed to pick up on earlier. I became passionate about discovering and exploring the German language.

  • Being stubborn reaps rewards
    The rewards of my efforts were huge. Within six months I felt confident enough to go for job interviews in German and soon landed a great job at a multi-national company across the border in Basel, Switzerland. Prior to this I'd been scraping a living teaching English part-time.

    People regularly commended me on my quick and steady progress in the language. Although I knew I still had a long way to go, it certainly gave me a kick to take part in German conversations.

    Of course some Germans still chose to speak to me in English. Perhaps because they thought they were doing me a favor but often just because they wanted to practice their English on me. I learnt that in order to keep improving I had to be stubborn and continue to speak German even when my conversation partner's English skills were clearly better than my German. I admit that this is not always easy and I still have my "can't be arsed - kein Bock" days just like everyone else. You know how it is.

    I do believe though that a lot of English native speakers have a hard time learning German. This is not because the language is especially difficult - in fact it has loads of similarities with English. They very often just don't get enough practice as it's sometimes just too easy to get by with English. I assure you however that it's definitely worth persevering.

    English skills are very highly regarded in Germany and so English native speakers who are also able to master German have excellent employment opportunities. You will also soon realize that although many Germans are quite proficient in English, they much prefer to do business in German whenever possible. Considering that Germany is one of the worlds biggest exporters this means plenty of work opportunities for those who persevere.

  • Unexpected roadblock
    Planning to be here indefinitely and loving life in Freiburg, I had every reason to persevere with my German. Unfortunately I soon encountered an unexpected hurdle that knocked my confidence and took some time for me to overcome. I started noticing that although I could handle one-on-one conversations fairly well, I was often lost when trying to follow everyday casual conversations between German natives. This was especially noticeable when I was out at bars and parties. It seemed to me that the language people were speaking with each other was not the same language that they used when speaking with me.

    The German that I was hearing socially was much more colorful, colloquial and idiomatic than any of the language that I'd been exposed to in my private study. It frustrated me that despite all the time and energy I'd invested to improve my German, I still battled to understand what seemed to be the most entertaining conversations. You know the feeling when a whole group burst into simultaneous laughter and you're left looking around with a confused half grin on your face thinking, "I didn't get it". Right - not cool. On top of that, I still felt cramped in my ability to express my true personality and sense of humor in German conversation.

  • Follow the northern star
    At least now I knew what needed to be done. I needed to focus on learning colloquial German, slang, idioms and everyday lingo. I needed to find learning material that gave a stiff middle finger to boring, dry, traditional German language and concentrated on the hip, fun and colorful language that was being used everyday by real Germans around me. I soon discovered that was easier said than done.

  • All that glitters is not gold
    The challenge was finding reliable and high quality colloquial German resources. That's not to say that there is not a lot of material available on the subject. In fact I soon discovered that literature is a dime a dozen and as I write this now I have 15 - 20 related books scattered across my bedroom floor. The problem is that many of these books contain outdated or very regional expressions. Some others are good for a chuckle but in reality are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Others concentrate almost exclusively on school slang and need to be updated each year as the language changes so quickly. Although amusing, this language is not helpful for most German learners because in many cases it can only be understood by a very small portion of the population and mostly by kids with whom you'd probably not have much to do. A few other books are outright useless, which of course bugs me because it means I wasted good money on rubbish.

    Rare is the resource that reliably teaches widely used and practical German lingo and if you're anything like me, you don't want to be wasting your time, money and energy learning German expressions that nobody but you will understand.

    A difficulty that I encountered very often with online resources was their lack of context. Sure I could find lists of idioms and colloquial language of varying quality but these were only helpful when I knew how to use the expressions in context. This is especially important in the area of slang and colloquial German because sure, - hip expressions used in the correct context can gain you popularity, status and even sex appeal but use them in the wrong context and you risk looking like a numbwit. A word of advice: if you do screw it up just be prepared to laugh at your mistake. As a German learner you will almost certainly be forgiven but I don't encourage going out of your way to put yourself in this position.

    What this all boils down to is that I found I needed Lisa's help to identify the gold nuggets in the mountain of ballast. Most of my books are now filled with ticks and crosses to help me avoid wasting time learning expressions that won't be useful to me. I'm aware that not all German learners are in my fortunate position to have a German native speaker close at hand and willing to help separate the good eggs from the bad. Even those that do would soon discover that this can be a very time intensive process.

  • This shit is the bizniz!
    Time intensive but well worth the effort. After learning new colloquial expressions, I was often amazed to discover how often I began to notice these same expressions being used in real life conversations, on the radio and on TV. I found it incredible that I'd missed out so long on all this exciting new content. It really brought the language alive for me and now I was truly understanding as opposed to just guess filling the gaps from what I could make of the context. Even Lisa suddenly became aware how often many of these expressions are used and just how important they are.

    I knew I was onto a good thing and slowly started spicing up my own language with sprinklings of colloquial expressions together with an occasional splash of slang and was overwhelmed by how positively it was received. Almost immediately conversations felt much more relaxed and more natural. Ironically the often humorous colloquialisms and slang resulted in Germans taking me more seriously and treating me like an insider. It started to feel much easier to bond with people and to get German girls to smile in my direction - an unexpected bonus!

    Equipped with a growing knowledge of insider lingo my German was perceived as being more fluent and indeed I started to feel lost for words far less often. I also discovered the power of a well timed idiom in enabling me to capture and package fairly complex ideas into a single memorized phrase. This always made me feel like quite the smarty-pants. Very slick indeed!

  • (Drum roll!) Pukka German is born
    Now I'm hooked and my passion for this "real German lingo" is what inspired the Pukka German Podcast. I was convinced that this exciting language that I was exploring would also be of value to other German learners. In the podcast format I saw a wonderful opportunity to share my new discoveries and help people like you to also get ahead and have more success with your German. I liked the idea of working with audio because it allows listeners to hear new vocabulary in context and spoken by a native speaker. This in my humble opinion makes it considerably more valuable than a book and for me brings the language alive.

    Lisa agreed that this was a good idea and realized that these "Pukka" expressions are exactly the kind of language that she and many other Germans would do well learning the English equivalent of. With this in mind we decided on our mixed English and German podcast format so that as many people as possible could benefit. In addition we liked the idea because we figured it would make it easier for people at an intermediate level of either language to also follow along and help them start picking up some fairly advanced expressions. What is rather amusing is that nowadays when I'm alone with Lisa, I do mostly speak in English and she answers in German so in fact the podcast feels quite natural to us.

    Pukka German is determined to challenge the misconception of German being a dull language because it really doesn't have to be. I've learnt that it can be as colorful and fun as the speaker chooses to make it. Of course we are not quite as philanthropic and selfless as I make it sound. I suspected that creating Pukka German would be a fun way for me to maintain my motivation and continue improving my own German and this is definitely proving to be true.

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