I passed the ÖSD Deutsch als Fremdsprache Niveau C1 in June this year with a score of 90, which gave me the rating of “Sehr Gut Bestanden”–the highest rating one could get in the exam. This is an excellent result for anybody who wants to learn the language and to settle down in a German speaking country.
This weekend I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Austria with some Sturm and Spare Ribs.
It seems fitting to continue my blog series on learning German on such a special weekend. This is the third post, dedicated to my experience of learning at the C1 level. You can find the previous posts here:
- Zero to B1: How to Pass German Language Exam C1 in 10 Years (1) — From Zero to B1
- B2: How to Pass German Language Exam C1 in 10 Years (2) — B2
(For those who prefer TL;DR, there will be a set of takeaway messages at the end of each post.)
Goal and pace
Passing B2 was the most significant milestone in my years of language learning. It was enough for me to feel mentally integrated in the country. But it was far from enough in terms of language proficiency. I could at best understand 90% of the details in meetings, and with some efforts, make people understand what I wanted to express. From my employer’s perspective I was qualified, which means they wouldn’t pay for my German course anymore. So I asked my German teacher if I could continue the private course with her on C1 level if I paid by myself. At that time I had already developed a good working relationship with her. We agreed on the terms quickly and started in May 2016.
My goal this time was first of all to further improve my language skills. C1 certificate was not a legal or professional prerequisite for anything I would like to achieve. The course was therefore completely voluntary. We didn’t even set a finish time. The general agreement was 1 session per week and 2 units every session. In reality with all the vacations, business trips and other interruptions we actually only had 37 sessions in 1.5 years, or 74 units until we finished the C1 book. Besides, I have to admit that I was under less pressure to learn German now. The intensity was much lower than the B2 level and this actually made the learning more enjoyable.
Learning for C1
In my experience there wasn’t much of a learning method to speak of at C1. It’s just a matter of more practice, more topics, and broader vocabulary. From my German teacher there was one suggestion that worked very well during my C1 course: the whole learning process should be guided by me rather than by the teacher. At B2 level I knew what I had to improve and what I wanted to learn. Now I could also control my pace. I focused on the vocabulary and writing because I had enough listening comprehension and speaking at work. During the week, when I was in the mood, I would work on vocabulary in the morning and other homework in the evening. Weekends were reserved for writing. Every time we met she asked me to first tell an interesting story that happened since our last session. She would also tell me some interesting events from her side. This would usually lead to random chat. Sometimes when I was too tired or the topics were interesting we could even talk for more than an hour without opening the book. I have always valued this kind of chat with the teacher because it required a significantly broader vocabulary than what I usually use at work. Since I could finish most of the homework by myself, the actual course part was a chance to get feedbacks and understand the difficult grammatical phenomena and nuances in expressions. We would discuss the questions I collected from the homework and read selected texts laud. If I wrote something I would also read it so that she could spot the errors and suggest possible improvements. She would bring extra materials from time to time. Sometimes just fun articles, sometimes upon my request targeted exercises like Konjunktiv I.
Although I was not in a hurry this time, I could still get frustrated because it seemed impossible to get everything right. Once I asked the teacher when and how I could master the verb + prep. combinations. She said, 30 years. It was obviously not very encouraging. Then she said it’s normal. And I have been learning with her for more than a year, I will need only 29 years from now. I take this as the second most important piece of advice on my journey with the language. It’s a life long quest I have willingly accepted.
As the course progressed slowly but steadily, there were noticeable signs of improvement at work. Half a year into the course I have started to work with some colleagues in Germany, who had no idea of my history with the German language. We have communicated in German since the beginning. Once I was having a conversation with a German colleague and an English-speaking colleague. When the English-speaking colleague left the conversation briefly, the German guy almost immediately switched to German because only two of us were in the conversation. I regard this as a sure-fire sign of accepting me as a German speaker.
The takeaways for C1 level
- Language learning is a lifelong mission. At any stage there is always a chance to improve. With things like preposition, word genders, and Konjunktiv I, the only way to really master them is years of observation and reflection.
- Do your homework. There is always more. I usually finish 10-15 pages of homework between two sessions. I used Erkundungen Deutsch als Fremdsprache C1: Integriertes Kurs- und Arbeitsbuch.
- Get a good teacher and build a good relationship. Private teacher is probably the best choice for C1. I say probably as I don’t have experience with group courses at C1 level. But it’s hard to imagine getting enough individual feedbacks from group courses.
The course was finished in November 2017 and I was very inclined to do the C1 exam. In the next post I will present a thorough analysis of the ÖSD C1 exam.
Update 1: For discussion you can also check the Reddit discussion thread.