What do you do if you’ve got B1 and you still can’t speak?

Considering private tutors, Skype tutors, language exchange and more

First of all, what do we mean by ‘can’t’? Do we mean ‘won’t’? And in the end does it matter?

One problem is being shy. Related to that problem is the problem of being a perfectionist. The more of a perfectionist, the less you’re going to speak because you are GOING to make mistakes. (And mistakes are ‘bad’ — in our minds anyway).

Although everybody knows that ‘mistakes are the only way, It’s one thing to ‘know’ something and another thing to feel it. (You probably don’t want to make mistakes — right?). So, when you do speak, you’re not speaking in COMPLETE sentences.

If you’ve already done lessons up to B1 and don’t want to do B2 — what are you supposed to do if you want to keep learning? The problem is wanting to SPEAK not wanting more grammar.

Face to face private tutor (old school…)

It’s hard to find somebody unless the person is recommended to you. If the person is going to teach you face to face it’s going to be expensive and it can be intimidating. It is always going to be better with at least 2 students if somehow this can be organised.


‘Skype’ private tutor (distance school)

You could do private lessons online and there are lots of digital nomads where you can find a German national to talk to you for an hour for 25€/hour or so. You still have the problem of knowing which person to use. You are going to want to ask for recommendations, then schedule a ‘trial’ lesson. This has to be for free. If in the trial lesson you learn something and it’s fun, then keep doing it. The question might be ‘how much do you learn for every hour invested? The ‘teacher’ might be a real teacher or a talented amateur. It doesn’t really matter if you spend the time speaking in German. If you’re speaking in English (or some other language) — don’t do it. If they want to sign you up for 10 lessons right away — you should push back. Only commit to one paid for lesson if the free lesson goes well. Then make a decision after that.

Either way — in my experience private tutors don’t do much planning before your lesson. It’s never been clear to me that they fundamentally identify the errors you are making and create a series of lessons to correct these habitual mistakes. In German, most likely this is around (der, das, die, den, dem). I’m not talking about telling you it’s ‘dative’ or ‘accusative’ and then wondering why you don’t seem to be ‘getting it’ (private grump…)


Language Exchange (Austausch)

You could be lucky. It depends on what you want and what you can offer. You need to get over the problem of making small talk with a stranger that you have normally when you meet someone new. i.e. it can be boring. On the flip side, it looks like it operates a bit like a singles club. You might not learn the language but you could find a member of the opposite sex. Anyway, you can advertise privately for a language exchange, and that’s a very good thing to do. If you decide to do it, you should insist on some fundamental ground rules about how it’s going to be structured. You can get some ideas on how to do that here.


If you want to take everything you ‘know’ already and want to go over it and order it properly in your brain, then you can try Language Gym. Language Gym is an alternative language program that’s very short and intensive. It’s German grammar taught in English through patterns. Typically it takes 4 weeks (2 x week) to cover A1-B1). This will get the patterns in your head. When you have the patterns in your head, you can speak grammatically. If you know you’re not making ‘beginner’ mistakes, you get a lot more confidence. Each session is self-contained and is styled on university seminars.

Deep German Grammar for Speakers of English