Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture

Course No. 2846
Professor James Pfrehm, PhD
Ithaca College
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Course No. 2846
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What Will You Learn?

  • Discover the beauty of the German language and the rigor of its grammar.
  • Explore major cities and tourist destinations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
  • Encounter German native speakers and gain insights into their culture.
  • Learn tricks for mastering German case endings and irregular verb forms.
  • Get tips on the hottest German pop stars and must-see German films.
  • Hear a gruesome fairy tale with a happy ending-in German.

Course Overview

Learning a new language is an adventure like no other. Sounds that were once gibberish start to make sense. Words and cultures come alive. And visions of foreign travel begin to take shape.

And yet, the first step in learning a new language can be daunting. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself into believing, “I’m just not good at languages,” or “My days of learning are behind me.” Or maybe you’ve decided that, “It’s just too much work to start from scratch.”

While it’s true that there is no effortless route to learning a language, an inspiring teacher makes all the difference. With the right instructor to guide you, these doubts and hesitations disappear. And what can be an ordeal of memorization and drills turns into an accessible and entertaining adventure!

Consider German. It’s one of the world’s most important conversational, commercial, and literary languages—and also one of the most challenging to master, which makes a superb teacher truly vital. On the one hand, German and English are both Germanic languages and share a lot of vocabulary: Mutter, Vater, Hund, and Katze are probably words you already recognize. On the other hand, unlike the Romance languages, German has case endings, three grammatical genders, and very particular rules for its word order.

German, you might say, has gotten a reputation for being difficult.

But Keine Panik! (Don’t panic!) says award-winning Professor James Pfrehm in Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture. With crystal-clear explanations and a cache of insider tricks, he conducts you through a full year of college-level German in 30 delightful, half-hour lessons. And with Professor Pfrehm’s engaging and entertaining teaching style, you will actually want to repeat each lesson!

You’ll learn all the skills needed to understand and speak basic German: from its sounds and vocabulary to its wondrously challenging grammar. You’ll be able to engage with films, literature, and other media in German. And most important, you’ll be ready to travel to any German-speaking country—whether it’s Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or others. The signs, menus, greetings, and customs will be more meaningful to you, and you’ll be equipped to converse at an elementary level.

In short, you’ll be well on your way to forging your very own “journey” through the German language!

Learner-Friendly Features

An Associate Professor of German and Linguistics at Ithaca College in Upstate New York, Professor Pfrehm enlivens his presentation with learner-friendly features, such as these:

  • Take It Slowly: Rather than just throwing you into the deep end with an overwhelming “full immersion experience,” Professor Pfrehm mixes authentic examples of German with straightforward explanations in English. As the course proceeds, the examples get longer, the vocabulary richer, and the grammar more complex, but he never leaves you floundering or feeling lost.
  • Travel Tips: Many lessons in this course include a short dialogue starring two animated German tourists, Ralf and Mia, voiced by German actors whose accents can help you develop your own. You’ll get to know new grammar, along with Rolf and Mia’s foibles, as they take in urban, natural, and cultural attractions in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, giving you a preview of popular points of interest for your own travels.
  • Learning Should Be Fun: Professor Pfrehm has perfected the art of educating through entertainment. He dresses up as Father Christmas and sings a carol to demonstrate a new type of dependent clause; delivers a newscast on current events featuring genitive case constructions; and in a pair of lessons, he narrates a thrilling animated fairy tale to drive home the simple past tense.
  • Workbook: To get the most out of the course, you’ll want to use the accompanying workbook. Each lesson has a grammar summary, grammar exercises, vocabulary, vocabulary exercises, answer keys, and the German text of the dialogues along with translations. The workbook also includes a resources section with recommended German dictionaries, cultural books, and language apps.

Throughout Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture, vocabulary and grammar examples appear on-screen in German with translations, allowing you to pause the video to review new material and let it sink in. An especially valuable feature is that the listening-comprehension element—a standard component of most language courses—is “baked in,” meaning that it’s integrated directly into the lessons. As a result, you hear increasingly long extracts of spoken German via the dialogues, stories, skits, and other pieces, always with Professor Pfrehm’s explanations in English before and after.

A Cultural and Linguistic Journey

Professor Pfrehm is an American who fell in love with the German language in college and has visited German-speaking countries repeatedly ever since. Impressively fluent, he has absorbed the culture with enthusiasm and understanding. And since he remembers the frustrations of being a beginner, he tailors his lessons to anticipate the most frequent pitfalls and trouble spots, doing this with a teaching approach that echoes the exciting experience of learning German in a natural setting.

For example, you start the course with the all-purpose greeting, Guten Tag (Good Day), paying attention to German’s pure u tone, which is unlike the “yew” sound in English. But let’s say you’re in southern Germany or Austria. There, the usual salutation is Grüß Gott, which has ü (u with an umlaut). Professor Pfrehm demonstrates how to move your lips and tongue to make this very distinctive German sound. Accordingly, you proceed through the alphabet, learning useful vocabulary and how to pronounce it like a native speaker. And if you know nothing else, a simple Guten Tag or Grüß Gott is a surefire way to break the ice during your travels in the German-speaking world.

Of course, you go much, much farther in Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture. You’ll plunge deep into the fascinating grammar and sentence structure of the language, along the way picking up cultural pointers such as these:

  • Berlin, City of Contrasts: Devasted during World War II and divided by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin is now the glittering capital of a reunited Germany. In the course of a lesson on the subjunctive mood, Professor Pfrehm gives you detailed suggestions on what to do in this endlessly interesting city.
  • Out on the Town: Other cities you visit include Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Salzburg, and Zürich. Your lessons in urban adventure include ordering drinks and coffee; toasting your new friends at Munich’s Oktoberfest; visiting a Swiss chocolate factory; listening to popular German recording artists; and previewing three, must-see German films.
  • Practical Skills: Professor Pfrehm instructs you in Germany’s many typical civic duties and activities. Your vocabulary lessons also feature shopping for clothes, names for parts of the body, how to tell a doctor what’s ailing you, giving directions and understanding them, telling time, and counting up to a billion.
  • A Remarkable Walk: When you visit Germany’s North Sea coast, you’ll want to take off your shoes, roll up your trousers, and venture out into a vast intertidal zone called the Wattenmeer. Butseid bitte vorsichtig (please be careful)—an imperative instruction you learn in this lesson—since you don’t want to get caught by the rising tide!

Professor Pfrehm refers to these 30 lessons as a “journey” rather than a “course” or “class.” That’s because learning a foreign language really is a journey. A journey has twists and turns. Milestones and mistakes. And most of all, journeys are full of surprises. Your biggest surprise with Learning German: A Journey through Language and Culture may be that the language is easier and more rewarding than you ever imagined.

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30 lectures
 |  Average 27 minutes each
  • 1
    Willkommen!
    Guten Tag! Your first lesson in German introduces you to useful expressions and some of the distinctive sounds of the language. Professor Pfrehm shows how to turn u into u (u with an umlaut) and how to transform ch, spoken in the front part of the mouth (as in ich, meaning I"), into German's back-of-the-throat ch (as in the composer Bach). And, you'll discover why German is worth learning." x
  • 2
    Definite Articles, Gender, and Nouns
    Meet German's three definite articles-der, die, and das-which correspond to masculine, feminine, and neuter grammatical genders. Get tips on how to predict the gender of nouns. Learn the names of the letters of the alphabet and their pronunciations. Survey the countries where German is an official language. And add to your growing vocabulary-from der Arm (arm) to die Zeit (time). x
  • 3
    Personal Pronouns and the Verb sein
    Warm up with Zungenbrecher (literally, tongue-breakers"). These are phrases that add fun to learning German pronunciation. Then study the singular and plural forms of the personal pronouns. Practice conjugating the most important verb in the German language, sein (to be). Finally, discover how to make singular nouns plural, looking for patterns that will aid memorization." x
  • 4
    Regular Verbs in the Present Tense
    Begin with the greeting, Wie geht's? (more formally, Wie geht es Ihnen?) Rehearse responses, such as, Es geht mir gut and Es geht mir Ausgezeichnet. Practice conjugating present-tense regular verbs, and discover the wonderful utility of the indefinite pronoun man. Finally, learn the German names and nationalities for European countries. Along the way, encounter a new sound: the a-umlaut, a. x
  • 5
    Indefinite Articles and Numbers to 100
    Indulge your appetite for German by learning the protocol for ordering drinks in a pub and treats in a bakery. Dip into the relevant vocabulary, focusing on the indefinite articles and the numbers from 0 to 100, which are pleasingly like numbers in English. Get a taste of German's famous system of word endings, known as inflections, which are packed with useful grammatical information. x
  • 6
    Eine Reise nach Wien und Salzburg
    Travel to two cities in Austria, Vienna (called Wien) and Salzburg, to practice your fundamental skills in German. Learn useful expressions for giving directions. Then investigate the beautifully simple word gern, which expresses approval or enjoyment. Find out how to negate a statement with a well-placed nicht. And along the way, you'll drool over Vienna's multitude of delicious coffee libations! x
  • 7
    Asking Questions and Numbers above 100
    Start with another satisfying Zungenbrecher. Then get acquainted with the different ways of asking questions-both open-ended and close-ended questions. Survey the interrogative pronouns, focusing on the special uses of wo, wohin, and woher, which all mean where," but with distinct implications regarding motion and place. Finally, learn to count to a billion! (Without saying every single number on the way.)" x
  • 8
    The Nominative and Accusative Cases, and kein-
    Plunge into German's grammatical case system, covering the nominative and accusative cases, which correspond to the subject and direct object. View a declension table of nominative and accusative endings for articles, and practice them in a tour of a typical house, learning household words. And discover how to negate a noun phrase with kein, and the supreme utility of the expression, es gibt. x
  • 9
    Time in German and Possessive Pronouns
    Wie viel Uhr ist es? (What time is it?) Learn to tell time and how to read a railway timetable. Rehearse using the prepositions um, von, and bis in a temporal context. Also discover that German has three distinct words that cover our English term, time." Then dive into possessive pronouns-in singular and plural, as well as nominative and accusative-picking up new vocabulary along the way." x
  • 10
    Coordinating Conjunctions and der- Words
    Coordinating conjunctions-such as aber, denn, oder, sondern, and und-allow you to link two dependent clauses in expressive ways. Get the hang of these simple words that let you say complex things. Then unlock the secret of German syntax with the Word Position Model. Finally, study a handy class of noun modifiers, called der-words, that have endings patterned after the definite article. x
  • 11
    Modal Verbs and More Accusative
    Use the public service messages on German Bierdeckeln (beer coasters) to launch into modal verbs-a two-part verb construction that expresses desire, necessity, or possibility, as in Ich mochte Deutsch lernen (I would like to learn German). Review the months, seasons, and days of the week. Also, see how the accusative case is used with certain expressions of time and after specific prepositions. x
  • 12
    Eine Reise nach Munchen und Rothenburg ob der Tauber
    Prost! Open with toasting customs at Oktoberfest in Munchen (Munich). Your visit to this vibrant city and to charming Rothenburg ob der Tauber introduce you to stem-vowel changing irregular verbs-those that undergo a simple vowel change in the present tense, second-person familiar, and third-person forms. These verbs are generally so common that the irregular forms are quickly memorized. x
  • 13
    Present Perfect and da- and wo- Compounds
    Learn to form compounds with da- and wo- plus a preposition, as in dahin (to there) and wohin (to where?). Then leave the present tense to meet your first past-tense form, confusingly called the present perfect. Concentrating on verbs classified as weak, discover that their present perfect forms are satisfyingly regular. Finally, practice getting these syntactic elements in the right order. x
  • 14
    Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren
    Via a love story, encounter irregular strong verbs in the present perfect tense. Along the way, find out where the terms weak and strong come from (hint: the same scholar who compiled a famous collection of German fairy tales). Then explore vowel changes, known as ablaut, which characterize strong verbs. Cover all seven ablaut classes. Also, learn about model verbs and mixed-class verbs. x
  • 15
    Separable-Prefix Verbs
    Open with a tutorial on the refuse recycling system in Germany, leading to final pointers on the present perfect, which for native speakers is the most widely used tense for expressing past events in everyday speech. Then tackle another widely used grammatical feature, separable-prefix verbs, seeing how they fit into the Word Position Model introduced in Lesson 10. Finally, go clothes shopping! x
  • 16
    Subordinate and Infinitive Clauses
    Meet two German superstars-singers Herbert Gronemeyer and Annemarie Eilfeld-in a dialogue that covers subordinate and infinitive clauses. Together with indirect questions, which are formed just like subordinate clauses, these constructions take your German fluency to a new level. Then, use the Word Position Model, plus fresh insights into word order, to build a classic long sentence in German. x
  • 17
    More Infinitive Clauses and the Dative Case
    Sankt Nikolaus (Father Christmas) sings a holiday song and introduces the useful dependent clause, um...zu + infinitive. Also learn how to deal with the dative-the case used for indirect objects and that answers the question, to whom or for whom?" Practice fitting this form between the subject and direct object, and see how it relates to the case forms you've already learned." x
  • 18
    Eine Reise nach Zurich und Zermatt
    Visit two attractions in German-speaking Switzerland: the charming city Zurich and the Alpine resort Zermatt. Featuring a chocolate factory and other delights, the dialogue brings up the dative forms of possessive pronouns, which follow the pattern of ein-words. Next, learn the dative endings for der-words. Finally, discover an interesting exception to word order rules presented earlier. x
  • 19
    Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns
    Learn parts of the human body from two unusual experts: male and female Schaufensterpuppen (mannequins). Then, visit a German doctor in a dialogue that introduces reflexive verbs and pronouns. These verbs involve actions that refer back to the subject of the clause, such as sich fuhlen (to feel; or literally, to feel oneself). The examples you cover take pronouns in the accusative case. x
  • 20
    More Dative and Subordinating Conjunctions
    Continue your study of reflexive verbs and pronouns by looking at constructions that require the pronoun in the dative case. One example is the very useful sentence Das ist mir egal (I don't care). Then step back and consider the four major uses of the dative. Also learn how "The Blue Danube" waltz by Johann Strauss II is the key to learning some of the most common prepositions with dative objects. x
  • 21
    The Simple Past
    Delve into the checkered past of Professor Pfrehm as you learn about ... the past-the simple past, that is. This tense is different in form from the present perfect you learned in Lessons 13-15, but its meaning is the same, though it is mostly used in formal writing. Cover the simple past forms of the verbs sein, haben, and geben, and the modal verbs mussen, konnen, mogen, durfen, wollen, and sollen. x
  • 22
    Bauerin Barbel und die drei rotbartigen Zwerge
    Enter the world of fantasy with a Marchen (fairy tale) designed especially for this course to present verbs in the simple past tense. Featuring a widow in distress, strange little men with red beards, and a gruesome plot twist, the story is so thrilling that the seven classes of simple past endings for strong verbs, plus the much less complicated paradigms for weak verbs, will go down like candy. x
  • 23
    More Simple Past and Relative Pronouns
    Reach the exciting conclusion of the fairy tale from the previous lesson, while finishing your exploration of the simple past. Then turn to vocabulary for professions and the workplace, using it to construct sentences that present a new grammatical element: relative pronouns. Learn 12 of the 16 relative pronouns, which happen to be identical to the definite articles (with one exception). x
  • 24
    Eine Reise nach Hamburg und Cuxhaven
    Travel to two more intriguing destinations in the German-speaking world: the bustling German port of Hamburg and the quaint seaside town of Cuxhaven. Hear about die Wattwanderung, a remarkable walk across an extensive mudflat near Cuxhaven. Meanwhile, learn to form the imperative mood, which is used to issue commands, and practice constructing relative clauses with prepositions. x
  • 25
    Two-Way Prepositions and Verbs That Use Them
    So far, you have studied prepositions that always take the dative case (bei, mit, von, etc.) or the accusative (durch, bis, fur, etc.). Now, look at those that can take either case, depending on the context. These two-way" prepositions include an, auf, and in. Study the verbs that often accompany them, expressing either location (and, therefore, dative) or placement/destination (hence accusative)." x
  • 26
    Comparative/Superlative and Adjective Endings
    Professor Pfrehm introduces his three favorite German-language movies-a war film, a spy drama, and a sci-fi thriller-giving tips on the best way to watch them to improve your German comprehension, all while being entertained! His goal is not film criticism, but rather teaching you how to construct comparative and superlative sentences. After that, he tackles the three sets of adjectival endings. x
  • 27
    The Genitive Case and the Passive Voice
    Practice your first joke in German. Then meet the fourth and final German case-the genitive-completing your study of the case system. See how von + a dative construction performs the same function as the genitive. Then turn to prepositions that take the genitive, such as wegen, trotz, and laut. Finally, plunge into the passive voice, learning how to turn the object of a sentence into the subject. x
  • 28
    The Subjunctive Mood
    So far, you have been using mostly the indicative mood-the verbal form used to express reality and facts-with a brief foray into the imperative mood used to express commands (in Lesson 24). Now, learn the mood for expressing contrary-to-fact or hypothetical situations: the subjunctive. The dialogue centers around the frustrations and second thoughts attending the purchase of a new smartphone. x
  • 29
    Eine Reise nach Wittenberg und Berlin
    Dig deeper into the subjunctive by learning to express hypotheticals in the past tense. The dialogue takes you through eastern Germany via the famous Autobahn: first to Wittenberg, site of Martin Luther's historic challenge to the Catholic Church, and then on to Berlin, where you survey some of the many monuments and museums, including sites commemorating the Berlin Wall and the Holocaust. x
  • 30
    Our Journey: The End or Just the Beginning?
    Finish with a series of unaided dialogues of increasing difficulty, covering grammar you have studied in the course. You'll be surprised at how much you understand! Looking ahead, Professor Pfrehm offers tips and strategies for improving your German, from getting a German-speaking, video-chat pal to subscribing to German language podcasts. And so, viel Gluck, auf Wiedersehen, und bis gleich! x

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Your professor

James Pfrehm

About Your Professor

James Pfrehm, PhD
Ithaca College
James Pfrehm is an Associate Professor of German and Linguistics at Ithaca College. He received a master’s degree in German Literature from the University of Washington and a doctorate in Germanic Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dr. Pfrehm’s teaching and research areas include the German language; the literature and culture of German-speaking countries; and several subfields of linguistics,...
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