Language learning goal: B2 in German by next September

I'm signed up to run the Berlin Marathon on September 25th next year, and will spend a bit of time in Germany before and after. I love that this trip is planned, because it's a huge motivator to round out my German-language skills. So, I want to set a goal of reaching the CEFR B2 level in German before this trip.

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Photo by Adam Vradenburg

Where I'm currently at

I've been studying German since 2015, but the total number of hours I've spent so far is impossible to ballpark. I go through crests and troughs of motivation that last months at a time. I'm in what a lot of language learners refer to as the "intermediate plateau". Essentially, I know the high-frequency vocabulary well enough to get the gist of a lot of content and say simple things. But the long tail of words and grammatical structures that I'm unfamiliar with keep me from relaxed comprehension — what most people would think of as "fluency".

If I had to guess my current CEFR level, I'd say I'm B1 in reading + listening and A2 in speaking + writing. Most of my practice to date has been focused on input (e.g. reading newspaper articles or watching TV shows in German) instead of output (e.g. writing a journal entry or speaking to someone in German).

Why take a test?

I'm planning to take the Goethe-Zertifkat B2 exam. I have a few reasons why:

  1. To give myself a clear goal. I think the lack of a concrete goal is part of the reason why my motivation has ebbed and flowed over the years.
  2. To have some proof-of-work that I know German. Even though I'm not planning on working or studying in Germany, a B2 certificate would allow me to in some cases (depending on the role, it might require C1 or C2 instead).

Why B2?

While I love the idea of trying to pass C1 or C2 on my first try, B2 seems like a more approachable goal. If B2 goes well, I might try to pass the C2 eventually. But my current plan is to put German on the back-burner after this and shift my efforts to French.

From the Goethe Insitut, passing the B2 exam demonstrates that you can:

1) Understand the main contents of complex texts on concrete and abstract topics, as well as technical discussions in your own area of specialization.

2) Communicate so spontaneously and fluently that a normal conversation with native speakers is readily possible without a great deal of effort on either side.

3) Express your opinion on current issues in a clear and detailed manner, explain your position on a current issue and state the benefits and drawbacks of various options.

What am I going to do to study?

  1. Fully complete the Duolingo German tree. I'm 61% through the L1 tree at the moment. I'd love to be 100% through L5.
  2. Complete the Goethe German B1 and 5000 most common words Anki decks. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a B2 deck (the joke is that a B2 deck would be the entire dictionary).
  3. Practice speaking with iTalki. I'll likely start this at the beginning of next year, and ramp up towards the exam. I think 2-3 sessions per week would be ideal.
  4. Journaling in German. When I can, I'll try to take my daily notes in German. Later on, I'll try to write a few practice essays in German.
  5. Taking the Goethe B2 practice exam.