Fun times at Cologne Carnival with my German friends singing schlager German songs all day! Alaaf!


My story and plans on how to be fluent in German in 3 months with italki. I’m making it public. Join me on my progress and do your own language challenge too!

A major part of the experience of living in a foreign country is that child-like happiness when you are able to communicate with a local…through hand gestures. You know what I mean. You miming words and making guttural sounds to be understood because you don’t speak the language.

“Eat eat eat eat,” you say while moving your hands to your open mouth and repeating the word as many times as possible, convinced that the local who can’t speak your language actually understands the word “eat” through repetition.

And then you learn a few foreign words and you use them to talk to locals and you feel immensely proud and happy when your message gets across.

Talking to locals who can’t speak your language is a perfect setup for misadventures and comedy. I bet you have a bajillion fun stories about your language mishaps on your travels.

I sure have loads! I have lived in big cities and random places in Poland, Sweden and Germany in the last 5 years. It’s a roller coaster ride of happiness, difficulty and frustration. Think applying for your residency ID in Polish! The stuff of horror!

Let me tell you something frustrating: I have been learning German for the last 5 years and I’m still not fluent!

Shocking, I know.

Or not.

German IS a difficult language.

Well the truth is that I might be too hard on my self.


My Five-Year Affair with German

I started learning German not because I wanted to but because I was required. I had like BELOW ZERO interest in learning this language. But as an Erasmus Mundus scholar of the Master in International Business course at University of Warsaw in 2009, I had to take 3 semesters of German as a requirement to graduate.

This did not go down without a fight.

Listen to this: I actually wrote the Dean of the Faculty of Management a two-page letter pleading my case to allow me to take the Spanish language track instead. (I already speak 10,000+ Spanish words as a Filipino! Half of my classmates is Spanish! The cute boys in class are Spanish who can’t speak English!)

Yes, me, the new kid on the block on the first day of university, already asking the Dean to make an exception for me. Of course he said “NIE!” (No in Polish).

And so they had to drag me kicking and screaming to German class twice a week. We had 3 hours of German every week. It wasn’t that much. So we were expected to only finish and pass the A1 level at the end of our Masters program.

I was so disinterested in learning German and so was everyone in our class. Poor Ms Brezinska, our German language teacher, had to deal with us for 3 semesters.

I have never set foot in Germany at this time, although I have a lot of German friends back in the Philippines and in Warsaw. And then there was this German guy who was obsessed with me (if you’re reading this, Hi Steffen!). I was still not that into the language. I mean it didn’t help that I was living in Poland at that time. You’d think they would offer us Polish language course instead!

Little did I know that going to Cologne in February 2010 on my one-month winter-break eurotrip would be pivotal in my life. Cologne was the first city I visited in Germany. Contrary to what everyone thought, I did not visit Cologne because it’s the gay capital of Germany, I visited Cologne because I wanted to catch Vampire Weekend’s concert.

It was great. And I fell in love with the city, and the country. And the boys. Oh those tall, hot Germans.

In spring, I went to Berlin to visit friends and did a lot of crazy things. As you do. And then I traveled to Hamburg and did even crazier things. I was falling in love with Germany and I realized that this country is kinda cool and kinda my place. (Don’t worry Sweden, you’re still my favorite.)

But I still wasn’t so much into my German class. I was not in the mood to learn German in Poland.

Later that year, I moved to my dream city, Stockholm, to work at the Philippine Embassy in Stockholm. I’ve always imagined that I will catch me a Swedish boyfriend. I did catch me a boyfriend alright. But he wasn’t Swedish. He’s German and he’s from Cologne. His name is Michael, pronounced as Mi-sha-el like a French would.

I don’t exactly remember the time when I was actually interested in learning German. But at some point, I did. It must have been when I moved to Cologne after graduation and I got a job in Berlin. The idea of living in Germany and speaking German excited me to no end.

So we went back to the Philippines and I fixed my paperwork for my move to Berlin in 2011. I enrolled for intensive A1 and A2 classes at Goethe Insitute in Manila to improve my German. But then Berlin didn’t happen so in 2012 I split my time in the Philippines, Germany, Sweden and traveling around Europe and Asia.

When I moved to Essen, Germany last year, I enrolled at Volkshochschule for intensive German classes and took A2 and B1 for 6 months. I told myself that this is it. I’ll be in Germany for at least 3 years. This is my chance to be fluent in German. I eventually finished and passed the B1 exam with flying colors last April.

See? I might be too hard on my self.

My reading, listening and writing skills are okay. But my speaking skill is not that great. That’s because I actually don’t use German outside of the classroom unless I absolutely have to. Of course this didn’t help my cause.

In short I feel like I still don’t speak German.

So I wanted to do one-on-one lessons instead so I can improve my speaking skills more. I enrolled in the Sprachtandem (tandem speaking) in the university here but that didn’t go anywhere. I tried another online tandem speaking website called TandemExchange but their site is ugly and it’s always down so it was kind of useless. I did meet Aaron though who I talked to in German twice a week for 30 minutes or so and I taught him English.

But the universe always has a way of giving you what you really want in life if you have the patience to wait for it. One day I got introduced to italki language learning online and I knew it was what I was looking for.

Considering how weird my travel schedule is, I know I could not take traditional classroom type courses anymore. I needed a way to learn German wherever I am so I don’t have to skip classes like I always did for most of my German classes.

And I also know that I needed a one-on-one approach so I can learn faster. It’s true what they say, you are only as good as the slowest learner in class. The big classes are usually filled with people who are taking the class not because they are really interested but because they need it as part of bureaucratic requirements for this or that.

So I have decided to get back to learning German through italki and be conversational in this language. Even Benny from Fluent in 3 months uses and endorses italki!


Why do I want to learn German in the first place?

I want to be like Jason Bourne. Polyglot extraordinaire. Ha, I wish it’s that easy!

Ok, first, I don’t want to learn French or Spanish or Italian like everyone else. It’s so cliche although I really wanna learn Spanish after I become fluent in German. Oh the contradictions!

The truth is that I actually find German very hot. It’s sounds very authoritative, dominant and exact. And it’s definitely one of the richest languages in the world. What do you call someone who is forgettable, ugly and has a superiority complex? I’m sure the Germans have a word for that.

I have to be very honest with you. I wanted to learn the language so I can gossip in German. That’s the truth. Or at least use it when I don’t want people to understand us when we are abroad. It’s kind of like our secret language.

I want to flirt in German. Ach ja, genau!

Ok seriously, I just want to be fluent in a European language seeing that I have been learning German for the last 5 years. I’ve always imagined myself as a polyglot. I actually am. I speak English, Filipino and 3 other Filipino languages except that these languages are pretty useless in the general scheme of things.

German, meanwhile, is a pretty useful language in Europe. You can’t imagine how many times I had to speak German to Italians, Poles or Slovakians because they can’t speak English but they speak German. It reminds me why it’s great to be able to speak a European language.

But since I am only doing this for 3 months, what are my achievable goals and how will I do it?


My Goals for this German Language Challenge

I will be learning with a professional German teacher via italki for 2 hours everyday, 5 days a week. My achievable goals are the following:

1. Hold a conversation for 3 minutes or so and be understood by a local. Why only 3 minutes? Well, I want to convince a German that I am a German! The longer the conversation is, the easier it becomes to detect that I’m not a local. For example, I would call the customer support of Apple Germany and setup an appointment, call my doctor, talk to a friend, order stuff in a restaurant etc.

2. Expand my German vocabulary – I’ll try to document new words that I will learn as I progress. I’ll probably have to use flashcards and such to review new words everyday. Do you know an app that does that?

3. Learn vernacular German – This is probably my favorite part of the challenge. I love slang and vernacular words because they are very useful in day-to-day conversations. I’ll document new vernacular words or expressions I will learn and use them more often.

This will be really really fun. I am so excited!


Learn any language too! Join me!

You can also join me and do your own little language challenge in whatever target language you wish. Sign up at italki, it’s FREE! Here is my profile, you can follow me and I can follow you too.

You can find tandem partners, professional teachers and join the group forums. I will be posting about my progress at least once a week here and use the hashtag #dreamlanguage on social media. Use it so I can stalk your challenge too. If you have a blog and you’re writing about it, let me know so I can feature you as well on future updates.

Wish me luck!

It’s all happening!


DJ Yabis is the poster boy of Dream Euro Trip and a modern day renaissance man. Originally from the Philippines, he loves throwing dinner parties and stalking rock stars in music festivals. Subscribe or follow his adventures LIVE on Facebook or Instagram. Learn how to plan your own eurotrip.

What do YOU think?

7 Responses to “Kill Me Now: The 3-Month German Language Challenge with italki” Subscribe

  1. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer January 28, 2015 at 12:21 AM #

    Sounds like it is going to be an adventure! I am still barely speaking Korean after having lived there two years, returning to the States and taking a semester of Korean grammar classes (painful), and watching Korean dramas to this day non-stop.

    Good luck on your language journey!

  2. Cat November 20, 2014 at 8:23 AM #

    Hi DJ! For flashcard apps, I use Anki and Brainscape. The Anki app is free for Android but costs USD20. But you can use the PC version for free too. I also use Duolingo and Memrise but just the web-based versions. Good luck and have fun!

    • Sergio November 23, 2014 at 3:07 PM #

      I agree about Duolingo. That app is awesome!
      Although I haven’t yet had the chance to go abroad, so I am not quite sure whether my language skills are applicable in real life..

  3. Max November 19, 2014 at 8:35 PM #

    HAHA I love the story about you writing to the dean! I’m also learning German and I hope to be fluent soon too! Thanks for recommending italki.

    • DJ Yabis November 20, 2014 at 7:16 AM #

      You’re welcome! What’s your level in German?

  4. Dale November 14, 2014 at 6:11 PM #

    Flirting in German? Now if that’s not a great reason to start, I don’t know what is.

    But don’t tell Franca that 😉 Jokes!

    • DJ Yabis November 19, 2014 at 9:43 AM #

      Always haha. I mean that’s the second thing you learn after the curse words right? 😀

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