Language learning goal – 2018

Sup d00ds?

A belated Happy New Year to you all.

Well, assuming that you have all been waiting with bated breath for my language learning announcement, here it is:

I want to improve my German reading and comprehension.

Essentially no talking. Only understanding.

Primarily, I’m interested in what the German speaking press have to say about Brexit. Personally I think it is a huge, huge, huge mistake for the UK diminishing us both as a country and individually.

I am going to spend 30 minutes a day listening and reading using Lingq as my primary learning source.

No days off. No excuses.

BTW. I’m not an affiliate for Lingq but think it’s worth the $10 a month for access to so much audio at different levels. Lingq is a bit like marmite (if you are from the UK, you will know where I am coming from, but for the rest of you), you will either love or hate using it. There is no middle ground.

My current German knowledge is limited to the number of Assimil lessons that I completed.

I will also learn a few dozen German phrases that I think I will have an opportunity to use. These are very specific to a situation, I occasionally find myself in.

So, my objective is SMART, Specific, Measurable, Achievable etc, and I am intrigued as to what I can achieve in this timeframe – 30mins a day for a year.

A secondary minor objective is to improve my Italian, which I will do whenever the opportunity arises.

Last year was a semi-success as I conquered my fear of speaking French and reached an (albeit low) B1 level in speaking (according to my iTalki teacher).

My French accent was and remains appalling.



And we approach the end of 2017

Sup all?

It’s been a while for one reason or another. Time maybe. Surface Languages is a site a run in my spare time in between my day job,  other sites and interests.

I also have to admit that my interest in languages and Surface languages has waned slightly this year, so whereas before I’d have made time for both, this year I haven’t.

SL because there are many more language related sites nowadays , such as duolingo and so on,  and it seems less relevant.

Time will tell. It is after all a hobby site.

And as to languages, my J O B has nothing to do with languages, and so I must squeeze any learning into a fairly constrained period.

And the difficulty I have found is that if I want to maintain my Spanish and Italian (and hopefully improve just a bit), I don’t have spare capacity to attempt to learn another language. It’s been hard enough maintaining my language exchanges.

This year I had grand plans to finish Assimil Romanian and German …

… which predictably have come to nought.

I also planned to focus on French. I succeeded in the sense that I reached a spoken level of around B1 (albeit with a horrendous accent), but ran out of steam when a planned trip was canned.

So, what next?

I have three possible plans for 2018.

The first is two learn to read basic German. No speaking.

The second is too learn a few words of Portuguese, before visiting Lisbon?

The third is to learn to read Romanian. No speaking.

We will see …

Besos and Baci,




Rain, wet paws, chilli plants and Assimil German

Sup d00ds and d00desses,

I hope you are all keeping well on this disgustingly wet July day. It is extremely wet, and our furry monster is essentially a wet rug on legs with sponges for paws.


As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, I’m also concerned about what the biblical torrents of rain will do to my chilli crop.

Yes. I grow (or rather nurture) a few chilli plants. For curries, chillies and well hot foods.

I’m not much of a gardener, and I don’t know much about plantin ‘n stuff, but I’m pretty sure that these plants are not designed to be rained on by  cold, cold west country rain for 24 hours in mid summer.

There also appear to be holes in the leaves that weren’t there when it was sunny. There are in my garden nasty slimy things which come out at night. They crawl, slither, attack, munch and feast especially when it is wet. Slugs! Snails. Why???????

Interestingly, they never ever touch the chillies once they get to a certain size. Maybe slithering things don’t like hot food.

Enough said, and time to update you on my Slow Language Learning project using Assimil German, which as you may imagine or possibly remember is all about me learning German … slowly.

I last wrote about this on the 15th of June (at which point I had reached lesson 15) and now I have just completed  lesson 17. This means I am doing a lesson every two weeks, as opposed to the daily lesson recommended by Assimil. My progress is thus fourteen times slower than suggested, and the book will last me about four years (instead of three months).

The slow part of the progress is an unqualified success, and I will metaphorically pat myself on the back. It is always good to celebrate success – although not too vigorously. Moderation in all things. Etc.

But what about the learning German part of the project? I am slowly (duh!) but surely remembering words and perhaps phrases. The last time I met my German speaking victim (an event that happens infrequently), I managed to bust out “Ich gehe nach England heute Abend” (much too his amusement) and was understood.

Progress therefore is being made, as previously all I could say was “Ich lerne Deutsche” and no more.

If you are in a hurry this might not be the method for you. Natch. Obi. Like duh … undsoweiter …

Besos and baci.

Your one and only.



Assimil German … again!

Sup all?

Writing a blog is like writing a diary except it is public (duh!) and there is a very effective search function.

Every know and then, I use the search function, and this demonstrates conclusively to me that I go around in circles when it comes to learning languages.

Admittedly, neither language learning nor Surface Languages is my day job (both are hobbies conducted on a sporadic basis), but it is still galling to be reminded of this so forcefully.

And so it is that I reached lesson 34 of  Assimil German and then started doing other things. The difficulty, as ever, is finding time to learn a new skill, in between everything else that I either do or have to do, both willingly and unwillingly.

And so, I have been experimenting with Slow language learning, and I am trying this with Assimil German. Instead of using Assimil as recommended (far too intense for me), I’m learning more or less all of it as I go along, but in chunks of ten words (or sentences) per day. No more. No less.

I work through each dialog, revision exercise and so on in the same way. Here is a (strange) example from the lesson I am on:

Vorsicht, das sind die Krabben. Careful, they are crabs.

I would break this down into:

Vorsicht careful

die Krabbe the crab

die Krabben the crabs

I add each word into the spaced repition app I am using, and over the day learn them. I haven’t added  sind (they are), as it has featured previously.

The above (including the entire sentence) would count as four entries. The process is slow, but I am making progress and am now on Lesson 14.

Happy days.



Three romances, one germanic and one slavic language?

Sup all?

There was a brief interlude of blue sky this morning which coincided in a lifting of my mood – also brief. Confidence or causally related? I tend towards the latter.

So, that’s me, but how are you? I’ve been busy on other projects recently, and far away (metaphorically) speaking from Surface Languages apart from adding common words in German, which is a work in progress. There is no audio currently.

Even though French is my main focus this year, I’m also hooked on German which is ironic really, as after years of not learning any languages at all, I’m now trying to learn two.

I have an admission to make. On several of my various posts about using Assimil German,  I have sworn that I would not spend more than thirty minutes a day on the language, in part to see how far I can get with using the Assimil recommended time period.

Today I will do lesson 40 of Assimil German. The increase of new words and grammatical constructions is threatening to overwhelm me. I’m not retaining the new information. It is too much for me to do in thirty minutes!

And my admission?

In addition to Assimil I’m watching episodes of the Easy German series (great fun and subtitled) when I have a spare moment.

I only understand about one word in ten, but I’m fairly sure that reading the subtitles in conjunction with the German is re-inforcing some of the new words/constructions in Assimil.

So, I am in fact, according to my rules … cheating 🙁

Three romances etc

I gave this post the title of the three romances, a germanic and one slavic language because some time back, I wondered how many languages that I could learn to speak to a reasonable standard.

My somewhat arbitrary number was five including French, Spanish, Italian, German and an as yet undecided fifth language.

I can only learn languages that I use or have opportunities to use for some reason, otherwise the motivation isn’t there for me (no matter how cool the language may be).  I have opportunities to use French, Spanish, Italian and  sometimes German.

My fifth is likely to be Russian, although I’m not entirely sure as yet.

I have no need to speak (or am ever likely to need to speak) Russian, but what I am interested in doing is reading.In particular, I’m interested in reading Russian media, especially with the political changes currently underway in both America and Europe.

I would therefore learn only to read, rather than speak and understand Russian.

We shall see.

I haven’t actually given this much thought as yet. And Romanian still appeals …




Assimil German. Lesson 34


The icy blast of winter is apparently about to hit the UK.  In the West Country (my part of the world), it is five degrees and raining heavily, so it is totally miserable with no redeeming features whatsoever.

Grump. Grump. Grump.

I’m now on Assimil German Lesson 34, and since my previous post on the subject have done a lesson day, regular as clockwork for thirty minutes.

In my rules for using Assimil German, my first rule was that I was going to study German for thirty minutes a day.

No more than thirty minutes. No less than thirty minutes. This wasn’t an arbitrary time period,  and is as I understand it  the length of daily study recommended for the Assimil courses.

I have stuck to this, and it is hard, hard, hard.

It is hard because each lesson is detailed. There is new vocabulary, a dialog to be studied, grammar notes to be pored over and exercises to be done.

Thirty minutes is it must be said, a bit of a rush. I remember this as being a problem with Assimil Polish.

But, I’m sticking to the thirty minute rule for these reasons:

Lack of time. I live my life, see friends, have a family, job and so on. In short, I am quite busy.

I am establishing a habit. I am establishing the habit of learning German, and I can always find thirty minutes a day to study the language.

My style of language learning is slow and steady, and I’ll tell you why this matters with German below.

My primary focus (this year) is French. My primary focus is French at least until the end of the year, so German can’t encroach too much onto the time I’ve put aside for French.

Curiosity. Assimil courses indicate that you can reach a B2 level (see below) once you have completed the course. I don’t believe this for a minute, but  am intrigued to see how much I can learn using the Assimil method properly.

How long does it take to learn German?

On the cover of Assimil German, there is a little sticker with a B2 on it. The B2 refers to a level within the Common European Framework of Languages (CEFR), and for all intents and purposes means conversationally fluent.

Assimil German with Ease is designed to be completed in one hundred and fifty days.

So, in approximately one hundred and fifteen days, I will be  conversationally fluent in German.



There is NO WAY IS THAT POSSIBLE with half and hour of studying a day.

I really don’t want to sound negative about Assimil German as I love it. I love the book. I love the audio. I like the explanations. Yadder.  Yadder. Yadder.

I don’t know why language courses feel the need to inflate the level of competence that you will have reached after completion.

My current guess, is that after finishing the course, and having had some conversation practice, that I might be able to have reached a high A1 or low A2 on the CEFR framework.

I would consider A2 a great achievement after six months of half an hour a day studying.

We shall see.

Slow and steady

As promised a few lines ago, I’ll tell you why slow and steady matters for me with German, and that is because …

German is going to be one of my languages.

I want to reach a B2 level in five languages.

German is a good choice for me, as apart from the inherent coolness of a language with insanely long compound words, and a great literature, I have the opportunity to hear and probably practice on a semi-regular basis.

I have discovered before (with Polish), that if a language doesn’t feature in my life in some way, I can only dabble, which is often ultimately unsatisfactory.

I’d thought that Afrikaans would be my fourth language, but that is not to be as  German (my latest flirt)  Ich liebe dich 🙂

In case you are wondering:

I’ll update you on my progress in two weeks, shortly before the dreaded Assimil active phase!

And I know what my fifth and final language is going to be.  I’ll tell you next time, but I’ll give you a clue, it is romantic …

Besos and baci,


Using Assimil German effectively

Sup Puppies?

I was woken early this morning, as the Q of My H had to leave early. In consequence, I’ve been rather more productive than normal this morning. I’ve already completed the next lesson in Assimil German, walked my hound (SWP), had breakfast (muesli and yoghurt if you must know) and listened to several French podcasts.

As you can tell from todays weather picture, Jack Frost came out to play during the night. According to my father, Jack Frost is the man responsible for leaving frosty, fern-like patterns on windows on cold winter mornings.

Luckily we now have double glazing. Progress has its merits.

As it happens , I love frosty mornings (especially with double glazing) and so does SWP, so we both bounded out (him literally and me metaphorically) and started our day with a satisfying woof, bark and snuffle though the ice and cold.

But I digress, I am now on lesson 25 of  Assimil German (after a brief hiatus over Christmas and New Year),  and thought it was time for an update as to my progress, and some thoughts on how to use Assimil effectively.

If you’ve read my blog before, you will already know that several years ago, I battled with Polish without much success and I also used Assimil Polish in that particular skirmish.

Although on balance, I like Assimil Polish, I wasn’t totally wowed by the product, and had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it.

In contrast, I’m having much more success, and I am loving Assimil German. I think is to do with how I am using it, rather than with the course itself.

These are my thoughts on how to obtain the best results from German with Ease.

Four rules for using Assimil German effectively

1. Spend thirty minutes a day using Assimil and no more.

This is slightly counterintuitive,  but one of several areas where I went astray when using Assimil Polish. I spent longer on each lesson than I should have, resulting in burn-out and discouragement.

The course lasts one hundred and fifty days, and you need to maintain your motivation during this time period. An easy way to do this is too keep your aims manageable, and thirty minutes a day of learning isn’t much. There are very few people who can’t find thirty minutes a day to do something that they want to do.

If you commit do studying for half an hour and no more, regardless to whether you have fully learnt the days lesson or not, you will make progress.

2. Focus absolutely when using Assimil German

An advantage of only spending thirty minutes studying is that you can concentrate absolutely during this period.

There is no excuse for letting your mind wander, for looking at your emails, for checking the news, sending texts, and all those other, oh so crucial things that we do all through the day.

3. Do the exercises and take them seriously.

The exercises reinforce not only what you have learnt during the lesson, but also in previous lessons.

4. Read the notes with care and attention.

The notes explain the grammatical structures used in the lesson. The idea is that bit by bit you will absorb (assimilate) the various grammatical structures needed to speak the language.

5. A possible fifth rule

I know the title was four rules to using Assimil German effectively, but my ideas, change, evolve and possible improve (like a fine wine) with time.

I’m going use the Assimil Romanian with ease course later this year, and have a fifth rule which I’m going to try when I do so, but with German I’m sticking with these four.

What have I learnt so far?

I know now that Montag (Monday) in German literally means the day of the moon, from  Mond (Moon) and Tag (day).

I look at German words with more care and curiosity. Often learning one word gives you two. Die Wochentage (days of the week) is composed of Woche (week) and Tag (day) or Das Geburtstagfest (birthday celebration) is made up of Geburt (birth), Tag (day) and Fest (celebration).

I’m starting to understand some  basic German grammar, in particular how German articles change in the accusative.

An example would be: Der Student sieht den Professor (The student sees the professor), where the masculine definite article der  changes to den in the accusative.

Grammar is explained bit by bit and chunk by chunk in the notes to each lesson, which is why Rule 4 is so important.

I’m starting to become familiar with some basic German constructions.

Of course, and this should always be emphasised, for passive knowledge to become active, you have to use it!

I’m not doing this with my German for now, as my spare speaking time (as it were) is taken up with French.

Who is Assimil German suitable for?

I am really enjoying German with Ease, but it is not for everyone.

If you don’t like self-study then it is not for you.

If Grammar isn’t your thing, then the Assimil German with ease is not for you. The notes and explanations are grammar heavy.

If you can’t commit to thirty minutes study a day, it is not for you.

Assimil German is, as are so many things in life, what you choose to make of it.

And finally:

Completely at a tangent, I thought that the ending to the New Years Day special of Sherlock Holmes (the Six Thatchers) was a bit brutal. No spoilers in case you haven’t seen it, but I wonder if the plot arc is now heading in the wrong direction.

I’ve always been a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and the way that the new BBC series has updated the original and made it relevant to today is pretty splooshy. However, you can’t beat the originals,  which you can read at the Gutenberg archive for free.

Just so you know, if you click the links and purchase these products, I get paid a commission. Thanks. It keeps Surfacelanguages alive and growing.



Assimil German


Some time back I wrote that I was keen to learn start learning German in the near future for a trip around parts of Europe, along with the queen of my heart.

Well, the time to begin has now arrived, or to be more precise arrived six days ago, when I bought, received and started Assimil German.

I am a more or less total beginner having spent a month using the rather turgid barons FSI course before buying the Assimil German course.

I am completely intrigued to see how much it is possible to learn in 30 minutes a day. This is the amount of time recommended at the start of the book.

I will according to page VII:

gain a conversational knowledge of German within a few months

Excellent. That seems like a good time investment.

I have previously used Assimil Polish with patchy results.

Thirty minutes a day wasn’t enough for me to learn each Polish lesson and I spent much longer. Now it is possible that this was my mistake.  The beginning of the book warns sternly against spending too long studying.

I was using the French version of Asimil Polish which suggests not doing to much in case you:

surcharger voter mémoire

overload your memory. I don’t know if this is a particularly French concept but the same advice isn’t given in the English version of Assimil German:)

I must have been overly diligent and spend too much time using Assimil Polish.

Well I’m not going to make the same mistake again, and will only spend a maximum of thirty minutes a day studying Assimil German.

I might also have learnt something from my Polish experience. I am just going to use Assimil over the next 150 days and see where it takes me.

There are 100 lessons in all.

Each day you do one lesson after which where you aim to understand the German without looking at the English. After day fifty, you not only do lesson 51 but also  return to lesson 1 in the ‘so called’ active phase. At this point, you try and translate each lesson from English to German.

Und so weiter.

The active phrases was where I struggled with Polish.

Updates every ten days or so.