After attaining C1 proficiency in German on his own, Akhil made his mind to study in German speaking Masters program and started his own YouTube channel to give back his fellow students his experiences with the German language. Following is his documentation of how he accomplished learning German and applied for German speaking Masters programs.
Every single person living on this planet has passions, ambitions, aims and goals. Some of them might have the same goals, some of them different. But each person travels a different path to achieve whatever he or she wants. Each person has a separate turning point in his life that made him what he is today or what he is going to become tomorrow. In this article, I would like to share with you my aims, ambitions and most importantly, the path that I travelled to achieve my goals. I would like you to know the hardships I faced and the happiness and joy that I found on the way, hoping that it would help or motivate you.
1. Finding about Masters in Germany:
My name is Akhil. Like most Indians, I joined my B.Tech after my 12th. At the point when I am writing this article, I have already completed by bachelors in production engineering with a final CGPA of 7.64. Today, I got my German C1 examination result: successfully passed the exam with just above 75%. I have already passed the TestDaF exam with 15 points overall and the IELTS with 7.5. I have applied to 8 technical universities and 2 university of applied sciences in Germany and am planning to apply to a few more universities in the next few weeks: but only to courses with a medium of instruction as German. Towards the end of my 2nd year, I was struck with a question: what to do after college? I knew that I did not want to work in a non-core sector. Even though the IT companies did mass recruitment, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to achieve success in that field and decided to sit only for interviews in core companies. I had an ability to think about new ideas and bring up with new designs, which instilled in me a passion towards the research field. Unfortunately, I found that even the so called “core companies” do not provide such opportunity for freshers and one had to gain several years of experience in order to be able to work in R&D. That made me think about an alternate opportunity which would provide me with good opportunities. It was then, that a friend of mine told me about doing masters in Germany. Until that point, I had never even thought about doing masters abroad, taking into consideration the money factor. Spending lacks of rupees and studying was not an option for me. But when I came to know that the education in Germany is almost free, I was excited. I understood that it was a good opportunity to make my passions come true and that I should seize it. This was when I decided that I will do masters in Germany.
2. Research Phase:
Throughout my 3rd year vacation, I did a lot of research in the internet and came to know that the job prospects in Germany are highly dependent on the language skills. But it was about 6 months after the decision that I finally I took the leap and started learning the language. Hence, towards the end of September 2016, I joined a foreign language institute near my college. Me, and 2 of my friends joined the basic German coaching there and this decision was a turning point in my life. The institute, which is run by a single teacher offers English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and Dutch. The faculty, Mr.Ashraf, taught the language in such a way that learning language was not a burden as most people say, but rather a walk through the park. Without using books or study materials of any kind and without teaching grammar, he made us live the language. It was this teaching method that made me love the language.
3. First Impressions:
By the middle November 2016, my A1 coaching there was completed. By this time, I had decided to completely immerse myself in German. I changed my mobile phone language to German so that I would get google news feeds in German language. It was a difficult step for me, as with limited knowledge of the language, it was difficult to navigate through my phone. I received news in German, which was impossible for me to understand at all. Still, I put in the effort of reading news for at least 30 minutes a day. Initially when I started reading, I couldn’t understand a single word. I installed google translate, which helps us to translate the words and sentences without exiting the current application. With its help, I translated each word in a sentence to English and then tried to decipher the meaning of the entire sentence, but in wain. You see, German works in a different way. If you try to translate word by word, and try to understand the meaning of a sentence, you will not get it. After fruitless attempts to understand the meaning, I sought the help of google translate and translated the sentence as a whole, only to understand the pattern hidden there. When you begin to read, it is like marking dots on a piece of paper – there is something hidden there but you don’t know what. The more you read, the more dots you make. But after a specific point of time, you gain the capacity to join these dots and understand the connections, and finally you will be able to make a pattern out of it. This exercise of reading newspaper daily helped me improve my reading skills a lot. I would say that this exercise has been the one that really made me perceive the language properly and understand its essence. At the same time I used to practice speaking. I believe that the objective of a speaking practice should not be to improve the accuracy, rather it should be to improve fluency and to improve the ability to convey your ideas. Unlike most people think, you don’t need a partner to start speaking with. Rather, you are your best speaking partner. Make some virtual conversations in your head and talk to yourself. When I did it, I did not speak out loud. Rather I used to imagine the conversation. Whenever I couldn’t get a German word I replaced it with English words and later checked it up in the dictionary. Another thing I did was to take a particular sentence construction and make several sentences out of it. For example take the sentence “ich weiß nicht, wie ich es tun kann“ which means “I don’t know how I can do it“. After understanding the construction, make several sentences with similar construction like “ich denke nicht, dass es möglich ist“ which means “I don’t think it is possible to do it“. Making several sentences like this will take out the grammar consciousness from you which helps you make the sentences spontaneously without thinking. This exercise helped me write and speak grammatically accurate sentences without thinking about the rules and the virtual conversations improved my fluency by a great factor.
4. Zulassungsfrei Courses:
I had semester break during December 2016 during which I did not attend the language classes. Instead I practised the above mentioned exercises on my own. I tried to watch German movies with both English and German subtitles together (Install Potplayer). During most of the month, I was immersed in the language. In January, I started the A2 coaching at the institute and by mid-February we were only halfway through the A2 course – it was not very easy to manage bachelors along with language classes and we had to shift a lot of classes to make way for the final sem subjects, exams and projects. Without completing the A2 course, I directly took the Goethe Zertifikat A2 and passed with 79% in the last week of February. I referred the book fit furs Goethe-Zertifikat A2. I did not study everyday as I had to do my bachelors, which was more important, but still I used to do the above mentioned exercises daily.
At this point, I realised that it was a bit difficult for me to get admitted into good courses with my 7 point CGPA. I knew that I would get into some random courses, but I did not want that! I wanted to get admitted to automobile engineering specifically, which requires a CGPA of at least 8.5. With a 7 point CGPA and a very normal profile, it was difficult to get admitted to a decent course in a decent university, which demotivated me and hence I almost dropped the plan of going to Germany at all. I had left the application to universities halfway and did not bother to complete it as the courses of my preference were of high profile. It was then, when I had lost the hope and dropped the German plans that I came across Bharat in Germany – which offered guidance to students planning to do their studies in Germany. I came across the words “Zulassungsfrei” and “Zulassungsbeschränkt” for the first time – which means “admission free” and “admission restricted”. Curious about these, I did extensive online search and found out that a large number of courses in Germany including Automobile Engineering belonged to the first category of “admission free” (or without NC if you want to google it). It means that, the number of study places in that particular course is more than the number of applications they receive. In other terms, almost everyone who applies to the course gets admission irrespective of their profile, provided that they prove they have studied the required modules in bachelors – only one problem: most of these courses have a medium of instruction as German and one needs at least an equivalent of C1 level in order to undertake the course. This information motivated me. I knew that if I put in real effort and learned the language to a high level, I could get into any course that I wanted. It was like a clean slate – a device that would wipe your bad records clean. In this case, the bad record was my CGPA and low profile, the disadvantages of which I could completely erase by learning German. I had an opportunity to start afresh, making up for the time I wasted in my Bachelors. And I took that opportunity and decided that I would do whatever necessary to reach the required level. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it because I kept on hearing things like “getting a C1 is really difficult” and that “How are you going to do your complete degree program in German language”. I didn’t know if it was possible, because I knew of no one who tried to do this. I was not at all confident about achieving the levels I required, but decided to give it a shot. In case at a point I understood that it is an impossible task, I would prepare for GATE and try to get into a PSU – this was my plan.
5. Building Up the Vocabulary:
After passing A2, I had completely dropped German because I found it hard to manage my projects, exams, seminars and so on (I did not even read the newspapers). But, after college I started again with German in the second week of May. For about a month, till June 1st week, I continued with the A2 classes at this institute and completed it. Then I started my own preparation. I booked for B1 on the 26th of June. During these 3 weeks of self-preparation, I read and heard a lot of German. I carried out the previously mentioned tasks. Along with that, I created my own personal dictionary – I will tell more about this in the coming paragraph. At this time point, I did not know which level I was in, because I did not study A1, A2, B1, B2 separately. Even my German classes were not level oriented – it was a complete German package as it did not use any books and I was taught almost everything there. It was impossible for me to distinguish between the levels. I successfully passed the B1 exam with 90% overall at the end of June. This was actually a huge motivation booster for me. I had erased all the doubts that I had before – whether I will be able to achieve the level or not. I understood that it is completely possible and I was right back on track. Moreover, there were two people who gave me a lot of motivation – Firstly, the video where Bharat sir talked about him passing the TestDaF with 17 points in 5 months. Secondly my German sir who kept on saying that it is possible to achieve the level if you work hard, because he also did it that way. These two people paved the path for me.
Now, about my personal dictionary. When I was learning the language on my own, I did not want to restrict myself to A1 vocabulary, A2 vocabulary and so on. My aim was not to pass the exams, but rather gain as much knowledge in the language as possible. Hence, instead of referring Kursbuchs and Arbeitsbuchs, my main source of learning was from newspapers. The greatest advantage of newspapers is that it contains terms that we are using in our day to day life – which are most relevant to us. They have no sorting of words or grammar to different levels – it is just pure German, the kind of German that we use every day. I made an excel file with three columns: one for gender, second one for the word and third one for the English translation. Whenever I saw a new unknown word, I would instantly write it in the dictionary, if it were relevant. For eg. The word “gravel” is not very necessary as it is not immediate to our life. Rather the word “stone” is something of importance. Hence I noted down the words like “stone” and let pass the unnecessary words like “gravel”. I made an extensive dictionary with over 800 such words: it was not done in a few days, rather in a course of over 1 month. I will share my experience here: when I started doing this, I thought I was getting nowhere. It seemed like an infinity, the more you read, the more new words started coming up and it seemed to have no end at all! I thought it was a shitty idea because there was no point in learning these words if new words keep on coming up. But to my surprise, at one point I realised that a majority of the words that came up in the newspapers were from my dictionary. This was a sudden realisation for me. I could understand most of the words without having to translate it. This was again a very slow process. At the beginning, you seem to reach nowhere, but at one point, after you have crossed a threshold, you are where you need to be. But after this, I had a downfall…
6. Path to B2:
The success in my B1 exam gave me an over-confidence. I thought that I could easily take on the B2 exam and pass it without any difficulty. I started teaching German online and earned some money from it and slowly from the beginning of July, I lost focus. I would attribute this as one of the major reasons for my failure in the next B2 exam – the one which I took on the 16th of August, 1.5 months after the B1. I managed to score 67% overall, whereas 60% is the pass mark. But you need 45 points in the writing + hearing + reading section together and 15 points in speaking in order to pass. Even though I managed to score 22.5 points in speaking, I got only 44.5 points in the first 3 parts. I was shattered and depressed: failing an exam for 0.5 marks! I started losing all hope and it was then that I decided to shoot the Goethe-Institut Bangalore an e-mail requesting them to show me my answer paper. They agreed to do it. And hence I went to Bangalore where my paper was evaluated and the teacher there discussed my paper in detail. I was told where my weaknesses were and where all I had to improve. I took a serious note of it and thought about plans to overcome those. I joined Goethe-Zentrum Trivandrum for B2 coaching. Considering that I failed the exam for only 0.5 marks and that I had an overall score of 67%, I was directly admitted to B2.2 classes. The coaching there helped me refine my language. I knew where my weaknesses were and with the help of the teachers I managed to rectify all those. I registered for the next B2 exam on the 27th October (which I later passed with 80%).
I would say without doubt that failing B2 exam has been one of the best thing that happened to me while learning German. It helped me bring right back in track, helped me understand my weaknesses and made me realise that you need constant focus to achieve your goals.
At the same time, I had registered for two other exams: the TestDaF on 20th September and Goethe Zertifikat C1 on the 29th. I had booked both the exams believing that I would easily crack the B2. Without much hope, I took both the exams, just over one month after I failed B2 and the results actually surprised me. In TestDaF, I got an overall TDN 15 (the results came 1.5 months later, on the 2nd November), with 4 points in reading, writing and hearing and with 3 points in speaking. I failed C1 exam, but again with an overall score of 60% – 40 points in the first 3 sections and 20 points in speaking. The failure in C1 exam motivated me a lot! I never imagined myself anywhere close to C1 level and I had missed it for a small percentage. I immediately started studying even harder, learning new words, reading and hearing. I understood my greatest weakness: it was hearing. I always scored the lowest in hearing. I understood that my method of preparation was wrong – I used a headphone whenever I heard anything.
7. The TestDaF Hustle:
My next objective was to improve my hearing. For that, I bought a Bluetooth speaker and downloaded an app known as “Radio Garden” from play store. The application streams in live radio from all parts of the world. And why the speaker? Because hearing part in all the German exams are done with speakers in the room and hearing from a speaker is entirely different from hearing with a headphone – with a headphone you can concentrate more and understand what they are saying quickly, but it is not easy with a speaker. So practicing with a headphone and attempting the exam with a speaker is really difficult. Using radio garden, I tuned into German radio channels. Most of them were music, but some of them (especially in the Cologne region) had 24×7 news and discussions. I started hearing that as often as I could and when I wrote the next C1 exam on the 7th of November – just over 1 month after I failed the first C1, I got the highest mark in the hearing part (20.5/25) and passed it overall with a score of 75.5%. A week before the C1 exam (the 27th of October) I had retaken the B2 exam and passed it with 80% overall.
But is this enough? Well no! In order to get admit to German taught courses, many of the universities ask for one of the following exams:
- TestDaF with 4 points in each section (a total of 16 points)
- Goethe Zetifikat C2
- Telc C1 Hochschule (which is mainly available in Germany)
- DSH (which is only available in German universities, just before the start of each sem)
On the 2nd of November, I received my TestDaF result with 15 points. I was depressed as hell as I was under the impression that without 4 points in each section, you wouldn’t get an admit anywhere. I had registered for the next TestDaF too, which was to be conducted on the 16th of November, but by the time the result is published, almost all deadlines will be over. I was under too much stress and thought that all my effort had gone into vain. I came to realise the fact that I may not get admission in the summer 2018. You can imagine, how after such hard work we feel that we have lost everything. And it was in speaking that I lost 1 point – which I couldn’t accept. Exactly 9 days after this TestDaF, I had given my first C1 exam (the one which I failed) and scored 20/25 in speaking – that is 80%, which corresponds to 5 points in TestDaF! I decided not to give anything away and decided to go to Germany and write the Telc C1 Hochschule, pass the exam and apply with it instead of TestDaF.
This exam was conducted almost every day in different parts of Germany. You can take the exam at almost any language institute and if you pay double the fee, you could get the result in 2 weeks (else in 1 month). My plan was to go to Germany, stay there for 2 weeks and take 3 exams in 3 different centres so that in case I fail in one, I could maybe cover up in the remaining. I checked the flights, and the cities that offered the exam. I contacted the language centres and got the details for making payment. I even booked the visa interview with the embassy. But before making the rash decision, I booked a one-on-one session with Bharat sir through his website. In the one hour session, he initially advised me which all cities to travel to and how to book a staying place so that you could do the whole process as cheap as possible. But after that he advised me against this idea as he said that at the time of application, the universities do not need these certificates and a B2 certificate will do. I was astounded. From my research in the university websites, I came to know that we need the TestDaF certificates with 16 points. Bharat sir then showed me some random university websites which asks for TestDaF 16 certificates “bis zur Immatrikulation” – which means at the time of enrolment. I am required to submit the certificate only when I join the university and while applying, the B2 was sufficient. We checked some other unis too, all of them asked for certificate at the time of enrolment (with the exception of a few like TU Berlin and TU Munich). I was relieved that I didn’t had to go. His advice saved me lacks of rupees, which otherwise I would have thrown away. He advised me to write the next TestDaF, clear it and at the same time apply with my current certificates. This was another extreme hardship I faced, because I was ignorant towards some small details such as “bis zur Immatrikulation”. But I was able to overcome this with professional help, from someone who has experienced the same.
The next TestDaF exam, scheduled on the 16th of November was in Malaysia. In India, there are too few seats (sometimes 11, maximum 20) but in Malaysia, they offered around 50 seats. I went to Malaysia to write the TestDaF and had a very bad experience. See, unlike in other exams, the speaking part in TestDaF is done with a computer. There are 7 exercises and each are programmed exactly according to the time allotted to think and to speak. At the exact moment, the recording starts and after an exact amount of time, it stops. When I wrote the exam in India, each person was taken to an isolated room where he/she could speak comfortably. But, due to large number of students in Malaysia, it wasn’t possible – around 20 people were sitting in a single room and speaking at the same time which made it almost impossible for us to hear what we are speaking. I definitely know I messed up the speaking part and am still waiting for the result. But in case I couldn’t crack it, my plan is to go to Germany a couple of weeks before the start of Semester and take the DSH or Telc exams there.
8. Tips for low CGPA Students:
Right now, I have completed all my exams. There are no further exams coming up, at least till I reach Germany. So now, I am thinking about giving the C2 exam a shot – you can actually pass the exam module by module. Since it is a bit of literature level, I have bought an amazon Kindle and have started reading novels ). I will appear for the exam in Goethe Delhi on the 6th of January and I’ll give it my best shot.
This has been a long read, but these were my experiences travelling down the road. I have had setbacks, loss of motivation, decisions to quit but luckily I was able to get up and walk again. Just understand one thing: if you put in effort, anything is possible. There are many who are disappointed the way I was – lower chances of admission due to low CGPA. In terms of CGPA, you can’t do anything. You cannot go back in time and study better to score better. But you can do something now to improve your chances and make your chances of admission equal to that of a 9 pointer: learn German. It is not just about the admission, but rather the job market is highly dependent on the language. Once you do a masters course in German language, you will find no difficulty in finding a job. The only way to do that is to stay motivated and to work hard. Some might find my methods useful, some won’t. But let me tell you this: learning German is like putting drops of water into a bucket and you feel that the water level isn’t rising. But in time, the bucket does fill up. Similarly, after a few days or a week if you look back, you will find no improvement. But in due course of time – say a month or two, you will definitely notice a huge difference. And one more thing: Do not learn for exams, rather learn so that you can work well in the language. Do not restrict yourself to a textbook, rather read, write, hear and speak widely without worrying about the levels. That will get you where you need to be. Whatever difficulties you face in the way, overcome those because if you work hard, you will get results: especially in a country like Germany. There will be people discouraging you telling that doing a course in German is going to be difficult. It is definitely going to be challenging, but not impossible. There are hundreds who go to Germany every year doing a course in German, even though only a few from India – this I understood when I went to write TestDaF in Malaysia, where 44 people were from China and only 3 from India including me.
I hope you can get something out of my experience. Motivation and hard work are the keys to success. Hope you find your success too!