Hi there, my name’s Sam and I am a 27-year-old designer, writer, foodie and language lover. I recently purchased The Mimic Method’s German Elemental Sounds course and wanted to share my experience with you all.
Where it all began…
Like most teenagers in England, I was forced to study two languages at school and I chose French and German.
I was terrible!
I used to hide at the back of the class and dread the day the teacher would point me out and ask me to say something.
After 4 years of study, I was pleasantly surprised to receive decent grades but had no real useable knowledge or language skills. I wasn’t even able to order food in Germany on our school trip… embarrassing!
After leaving college and heading to university I gave German another try as I was offered a free language course alongside my degree. After two weeks I had given up and resigned myself to that fact I would never be able to speak a second language.
That all changed when I decided to book a surprise trip to Rome for my fiancèe’s birthday and I thought it would be an even better surprise if I could speak Italian when we went. I wasn’t aiming for anything fancy, just to be able to order a coffee. At the time I worked away from home so filled my hour drive to work with Italian podcasts, hoping that if I sat talking to myself for long enough something would stick…and it did!
I checked in to the hotel, ordered food and even gave Italian’s directions to the Vatican. A new world of possibilities opened to me and I have never looked back.
Five years on and I have now reached an intermediate level in Italian and dabbled in French, Icelandic and now German.
Why I chose The Mimic Method’s Elemental Sounds course
Through my many attempts at learning languages, both good and bad, I have always found one area to be a constant struggle… conversations.
I can quickly read and write but as soon as someone starts speaking to me I completely freeze and I stand there looking like a blubbering idiot.
It felt like talking to a mermaid with her head underwater.
I knew they were saying something but it just sounded like a garbled mess. Then when I finally plucked up the courage to speak, I just got confused looks… Did I not say it right? Did they just not hear me? As soon as they responding to me in English, it was like the battle was already lost and I should just give up.
Before our recent road trip in Bavaria, Germany, I spent a couple of months with podcasts to get some basic travel phrases and had the exact same problem I have had with all the languages before. That is why I finally decided to find someone that could help me improve my listening and speaking skills so I could have confident and natural conversations in the languages I am learning.
After many hours of searching, I came across a video with Idahosa explaining the Mimic Method and the Elemental Sounds course; it was like a light bulb had switched on. He managed to clearly explain all my problems along with a solution for fixing them… as if he was a mind reader! Needless to say, I signed up for the course the next day.
The first step of the course wasn’t actually related to German at all, but focused on training my tongue. I can assure you, that is not a sentence I ever thought I would write!
The idea is to understand what your tongue and mouth are doing so you can control them to create new sounds accurately. While watching the video about static unrounded vowels, I found the perfect way to do this. I even created my own audio trainer to help. By cropping the individual sounds and ordering them moving anti-clockwise around my mouth I could listen, recognise the differences between them, and the pronounce each in turn with dextrous control on my tongue.
For the first week, I listened to this trainer over and over, jabbering away to myself trying to perfect my pronunciation and recognise the differences between the sounds. I often got very strange looks from the fiancèe while I sat in bed at night repeating random vowel sounds to myself, but it definitely did the trick.
Two weeks quickly passed and I had finally gotten to grips with all the individual sounds, so it was time to try putting them together into the scary little things called… words.
You are provided with recordings of the 500 most common words in the language along with transcripts in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) which I used as my stepping stone towards being able to hear full phrases. I often sat down and listened to one group, containing 25 words, and tried to transcribe them into IPA, comparing them against Idahosa’s list to see where I made mistakes. I made a handy little reference chart in my notepad of all the German sounds so I could quickly flick back to them while listening to see which symbol I should be using.
This is when the technical knowledge of phonetics came into it’s own. I have read about it in the past from other language learners and teachers but it always seemed really complicated and I couldn’t understand why it was necessary. But with a little understanding of how I technically created the sounds has actually really helped me to understand what I was doing wrong and how to correct it.
Without this knowledge, it always felt like stabbing in the dark and hoping for the best. I found the explanations on the videos very clear and simple which made it a lot easier to digest it and then apply myself.
After working my way through the word list, I finally felt it was time to move on to the final stage—phrases (from music).
As I did with the individual words, I listened to the song excerpt and then tried my best to transcribe it in IPA before checking to see what I needed to adjust or correct.
This is when I made the biggest revelation to my language learning, not just for German but for all languages.
Native speakers don’t say all the sounds!
It might sound simple but it was something I had never even considered before and wish I had known earlier. Just because the sounds is “officially” in a word doesn’t mean you say it in sentences.
Sounds are squashed, changed or even removed in speech so that it flows properly in conversation. This is one of the reasons I struggled in the past. I would listen to someone and not understand what they were saying because the sounds they had said didn’t match what I had learnt or expected.
Then, I would try to speak using all of the “official” sounds and I could never keep up in conversation because I was being slowed down by all the additions that just aren’t necessary. Once I started listening to, and repeating, what was actually being said I felt like I could hear the words better and speak at a much more natural speed. Eureka!
How I fit it in
I have a full-time job (9am to 5pm), write my own travel and language blog, enjoy running, and have a new house and fiancèe to keep me occupied, so my language learning needs to fit around everything else.
When I was searching for a course it was vital that it could be adjusted to fit my lifestyle. This course worked perfectly.
I found it really helpful that the sounds were broken down into categories so I could focus on small groups at a time rather than trying to learn everything in one big chunk.
As I had more time on the weekends, I would watch the full tutorial videos so I understood all the technical information and then I would regularly practice hearing and producing the sounds, using the audio files provided, during the week when time was tight.
This worked really well as I felt like I made progress every day but didn’t have to spend hours at night after a long day at work trying to get my head around things like rounded moving vowels and voiceless fricatives.
After completing the course, I have a different approach to how I learn new languages.
Breaking the language down into individual sounds has not only given me a much better accent, for which I have received many compliments, but also a lot more confidence when speaking because people can actually understand what I am trying to say.
While I didn’t spend hours pouring over German vocabulary and grammar, I am able to use the tools to quickly understand new words and use them confidently in conversation. Now, I can listen to new words and phrases, learning them better and faster than I did before.
It isn’t over yet! I am now spending time flow-verlapping (see Idahosa’s explanation of that here) with German songs, to train my ears and fine tune my pronunciation further with new vocabulary and phrases.
The idea is to listen, learn, repeat… and it seems to be working well so far. I am also going to apply this approach to my language exchanges with my German friend. I now record our conversations so I can pull out any words of phrases I struggled to understand and then break it down so I know it for next time.
The only difference with this is that instead of having Idahosa’s IPA notes, I use an automatic German IPA transcription website. As with other similar software, like google translate, it won’t be 100% accurate, but I can use it to make an educated guess for any sounds I have heard incorrectly and what sounds have been changed or removed by native speakers.
This means I can focus my learning on useful information and phrases I will actually use rather than random words that are churned out by language apps. So I create my own curriculum that’s perfect for me.