German is one of the 10 most difficult languages in the world, according to UNESCO. But DW's new free online language course follows in the footsteps of newcomer Nico Gonzalez to make learning German a lot of fun.
Nico Gonzalez is a newcomer to Germany, to the local language and the country's many different customs. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people who come to Germany and want to become part of the society share Nico's experience. And now Nico has become an important ally since they can now learn German with his help.
Nico is the protagonist in "Nicos Weg – German made easy," the new self-study German language program DW devised in cooperation with the Federal Employment Agency.
"This online course is definitely more entertaining than any school book, and perhaps even any other standard e-learning or online class on the market," says André Moeller, head of DW's educational programs.
Learning as a fun distraction
It's based on an innovative concept, a video novela with more than 200 episodes that show Nico's everyday life in Germany. In every episode, the program offers interactive exercises to practice and improve language skills. The lessons – the equivalent of about three textbooks – include 14,000 exercises, 12,000 words and 19,000 audios.
What sounds like a lot of work doesn't feel like work at all, says Florian Wünsche, the young man who portrays Nico.
"This is the best way to learn a language because we use diversion as a stylistic device," he says, adding that students will be distracted by a nice film or a good article, whereas in reality, these elements are the program, allowing students to learn German in a playful way.
The learning method also promises to be successful from a scientific point of view.
Hermann Funk, a professor at the Institute for German as a Foreign Language at Jena University, advised the makers of "Nicos Weg" and he believes in the concept. "The story of the friendly role model Nico is a very good basis for students to stay involved and be motivated to learn the complex rules and structures of the German language," he says.
Suitable for any level – on any device
"Nicos Weg" is suitable for anyone who wants to learn German.
"The program is aimed at letting people who don't know German participate in social life in Germany," André Moeller says. But it's just as useful for people with an advanced knowledge of German – an initial entry-level test will help students determine their language skills, and where to start the course that covers language levels A1 to B1. A personalized login records the individual student's progress.
Using "Nicos Weg" on a smartphone makes a lot of sense – it's always on hand, and students can complete a quick language session on the bus or the train using either German, English or Arabic as the basic language. The episodes mainly focus on work-related issues and the job market, but also include insights into Nico's day-to-day life.
"Leise" is the German word for quiet/hushed and Widenka took this photo in Arnstadt, Germany on the river Gera, about 20 kilometers south of Erfurt. The architecture and colors play a central role in this photo; the blue of the building seems to match the blue of the sky.
"Diesel" is also the German word for diesel in English. Widenka photographed this motorbike at a gas station in Arnstadt, Germany. The motorbike and German word are centered in the composition and the red and white colors of both add matching contrast.
"Vergissmeinnicht" is the German word for flowers known as forget-me-nots. Widenka found this German cafe bistro in Taipei, Taiwan, and photographed a typical German “Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake) setting next to the menu which had the German word printed on it.
"Erholung" is the German word for rest/recovery. Minimalist in composition with contrast accents of dark colors against a pastel pink building and a cloudy sky, the photo captures the meaning of the term.
Germans have two words for "you." "Du" is the familiar form, while the formal "Sie" is used to be more polite with strangers or in a professional context. Widenka photographed this word on a building in San Francisco, California. The shades of pink provide bold contrast against the olive greenish background.
"Rummel" is the old German word for a fair with rides and games. It can also mean hype or drawing attention to something with a lot of people. Widenka took this photo on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada.
"Einfahrt freihalten" is a common sign seen all over the German-speaking world, which indicates to keep the driveway or entryway clear. Despite two signs on both doors, someone is blocking the way with a bicycle.
Stadt für alle
"Stadt für alle" literally means a city for everyone. The sky here is atop the German words, which have been painted against a black-tiled wall. Widenka took this photo in his current city of Frankfurt, Germany.
"Parken" is the German word for parking. It can also be the German verb to park. Widenka took this photo on the streets of Frankfurt, Germany, against the backdrop of what is known as "Mainhattan," the central business district of the city.
"Wandel" is the German word for change or alteration. Part of the word, Wandel, also contains the word "Wand" which means wall. Widenka took a photo of this artistic rendering of the word in Frankfurt, Germany
"Kontrolle" is the German word for control or monitoring or surveillance. This mixed medium of street art, which Widenka photographed in Frankfurt, Germany, shows the essence of the word with the cartoonish policeman eyeing the blurred pedestrian.
Here is another rendering of the words "Einfahrt freihalten" (keep the driveway clear), seen on the streets of Cologne, Germany. Though nothing is blocking the entryway in this image, the words are framed with natural greenery and graffiti tags.
"Bitte jetzt" are the German words for now, please. Widenka set up this shot in Cologne, Germany, with a model to show some perspective and angle of the words, which seemingly come from the sky, with a strong yellow contrasting against a darker blue.
"Das Hochhaus" is the German word for a high-rise building. Seen on the streets of Cologne, Germany, the words centrally anchor the composition with brick on top and colorful posters below.
"Ausfahrt" is the German word for exit. Widenka shot this monotone grey photo in Berlin, Germany, where the actual German word appears to blend into the different shades.