German Learning Tips


logo-with-duoIf you don’t know where to begin learning German and feel like you have no time for it, start with Duolingo. This fun resource is great for absolute beginners through B1 learners. You progress by unlocking lessons and earning points by doing short reading, listening, and speaking exercises.

The best feature of Duolingo is that it helps you establish a German-learning habit by gamifying the process. When I was doing Duolingo together with a couple of friends, we all upped our game when the app showed us each others’ scores. I also got my mom hooked (she kept it up the longest – go mom!)

Once you have that secret ingredient – the German-learning mindset, consider studying grammar and writing more seriously. In-person classes can be great and I have tested several of them in the Zurich area, but in the end I prefer the the flexibility of online learning.

German Online Institute

goi-logoGerman Online Institute (GOI) is a high-quality, convenient, and affordable service for scheduling online German classes. The prices range from 25 to 33€/hour for individual lessons. I have not tried their group lessons but this could be a great option – more accountability and fun, lower cost if you get a few friends to study together.

GOI offers a free trial lesson, where you meet your teacher and they go through a series of questions with you to put together a list of learning objectives and your personal study plan. This way, both you and your teacher are clear on your preferences and priorities, again creating more accountability to help you achieve your goals. GOI is flexible when it comes to scheduling your classes, which books and other materials you’d like to use, and whether you want to focus on speaking, writing, or grammar. They have a convenient online scheduling system and use Google Classroom for organizing the study notes.

The Schubert Verlag books

I love the Erkundungen books from Schubert Verlag, and I always recommend this series to my friends. I have the Erkundungen C1 and Erkundungen C2, as well as the C Grammatik sitting on my shelf, and I’ve flipped through the beginner and intermediate books, and they are just as excellent.

The books integrate theory and practical assignments, so it is probably enough to buy just one book for your level (e.g. B1 if that’s where you are at) and if needed, supplement it with the corresponding grammar book. Topics are contemporary and exciting, making it easy to have interesting conversations while you are absorbing the new vocabulary and grammar: for example, smart homes as part of the “progress and environment” chapter or doping in sports as part of the “success and failure” theme.

Books are nicely produced and durable, they’ve been with me on trips, buses, and in cafes. An online version with all the audio files and automatically corrected exercises would also have been nice, but engaging with the paper version, writing in hand, and correcting your own mistakes you’ll learn deeper.


When learning German, you are in it for a long haul, so buckle up and remember to have fun whatever books, tools, or classes you use!

Winter Designs with Fusible Beads

I wanted a low maintenance activity to keep kids productively busy and relatively quiet. It totally fulfilled the promise, but the side effect was that I, too, got addicted!

The winter feeling: still going strong in our household.


  • share the contents of your bead tub with friends or your kids’ daycare — one tub goes a long way!
  • get a set with a couple of simple but interesting shapes (a heart or a flower)
  • search online for patterns to reproduce, then go crazy with your own ideas


  • buy elaborate templates with directions to recreate — chances are, the kids will want to make up something from scratch
  • heat up your iron too much — you might damage the peg boards!
Get beads on Amazon

I’ve seen fusible beads in every daycare and after school care that my kids have attended. Do you or your kids play with fusible beads, too?

Online-Karrieretag in Zürich

I went to Online-Karrieretag in Zürich today, which is a networking/conference/career expo event. The event took place at Papiersaal, which is a venue right next to Sihlcity. The event had a full program of talks and panels, had booths of sponsoring companies, and was geared towards recent graduates, young professionals, and career shifters. I spent three informative and productive hours there and would highly recommend this event!

This was the first job fair I remember attending, and I found myself rather nervous on the way there. Will I have to awkwardly hand out resumes? Will I look and feel very different from young, fresh-faced Swiss students? Will everything happen in Swiss German? My anxiety quickly dissolved once I realized that the venue was cozy and comfortable, talks were held either in High German or English, and company reps very friendly and happy to answer all questions.

In addition to listening to talks and chatting at the booths to interesting companies (and getting more relevant and actionable insights for applying than I would have from online research only – win!), I also stopped by the booths of two education providers, IAB Academy and Hamburg Media School and thought it was notable that both schools offer primarily offline courses. There is something to be said for IRL after all!

If you are looking to learn more about digital careers and expand your network in Zürich, I highly recommend you sign up for the newsletter and go next time this event is happening near you!

Besuchmorgen: A Visit to a Swiss Public School

Last week, I went to the open doors day/parent visiting day at our local Swiss public school in Rüschlikon. As I don’t have children there, I asked for permission from the school secretariat in advance. In most classes the teachers acted as if the parents were not there, so I suppose you could just go after finding out the date at your local school from the neighbors or by emailing/phoning the secretariat (Schulverwaltung).

In 1.5 hours, I was able to pop into the Kindergarten classes, and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades.

Things that stood out for me:

  • Language of instruction: in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, the teachers were speaking mostly German, with an audible Swiss accent though. Sometimes I overheard them giving students quick explanations in Swiss German. In Kindergarten, the language spoken was Swiss German.
  • Reading class where all the students were using iPads or MacBooks to read short texts and solve puzzles based on what they read. I was surprised to see books to be completely replaced by EdTech in the 2nd grade classroom. Exercises seemed personalized to the students’ levels: some were reading single sentences in large font, while others worked on short texts of 4-6 sentences.
  • Math: just like in the reading class, every student was working on its own level. In the 2nd grade, some were working with two-digit numbers while others performed operations on thousands. In the 3rd grade, the students were working in pairs: rolling dice, writing down the numbers, telling each other what operations to perform, the pair had to jointly arrive at 555.
  • Music lesson was my favorite: the music teacher personally greeted every adult coming in, involved us in activities, and commented on the goal behind every activity. Apart from singing, there were exercises when you had to strike various beats, observing a colored sequence, kids solved super-sized Sudokus on the floor, played a circle game where you had to pass objects using both hands while following the beat and singing (most adults struggled with it, too!)
  • Kindergarten: I popped in after the gym class (which I would have loved to see), when the kids were having a snack and then starting the self-guided play. The more organized activities are earlier in the morning. Many options to suit all tastes: art, worksheets (mostly abstract focusing on colors, patterns, shapes), magic castle area with costumes, a huge table for lego construction. A Montessori classroom looks tidier and more organized, but the kids seemed quite happy and busy in this one, too.
  • 1st/2nd/3rd grade: lots of breaks and quick change of activity during class time. 15 minutes of math, submit your worksheets, sing a song, go get some water, fresh air, take a bathroom break. Switch to reading, return your devices after 15 minutes, remember the homework (20 minutes of reading), sing a song, longer break outside with a snack. This is in contrast to what I’m used to seeing in the Montessori school where children have an opportunity to devote a longer chunk of time to a project (to be fair, I saw “Projekt” on the weekly plan, scheduled for another day).

If you live in Switzerland and your child is in a private kindergarten or school, or has not yet reached the school age, I highly recommend arranging for a visit, it is very interesting and helps you decide if you consider public vs. private, or prepare for the future if you know your child will go to the public school.

If you went to a Besuchmorgen recently, please share your observations!

German Learning Adventures

The Migros Klubschule thinks I am at the beginning of C1 (which is the “advanced” level). Which is very flattering — but also does not seem entirely accurate. On May 30th, I did another “Einstufungstest” (placement test) and it came back as end of B1/beginning of B2. So it’s a big jump/improvement in 3 months, and that’s why I’m wondering whether I have not noticed a big improvement, or the results are off.

Estimating the effort: I did 9 hours of private lessons in the past 3 months, somewhere between 5 and 10 hours of homework (grammar/writing), one movie entirely in German, more listening and speaking than usual (thanks to MuKi Treff meetings and travel during school holidays) — let’s say 5 hours, about the same amount of reading (childcare and financial paperwork). So that’s at least 25 (fairly intensive) hours, which is almost equivalent to a semester of studying, if I was attending a course at school.

Cool, so it seems like there’s been progress and all that chipping away at German has been adding up. The exact “level” does not matter as much — keeping it up does!


Before: B1-B2


After: C1