German Language, Studying in Germany

TestDAF vs. DSH: Which German Language Exam Should You Take?

If you want to study at a German university (and not all of your courses are in English) then you will have to pass a German fluency exam. At most universities, you will have two exams to choose between: TestDAF or DSH.

So, if you are like me when I was applying to German universities, then the question you are asking yourself is: “Which German language exam is easier? DSH or TestDAF?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. With so many differences between these exams, figuring out which one will be easiest for you depends on your personal strengths and learning style. So, to figure out which test is right for you, I have outlined the unique pros and cons of the TestDAF and the DSH.

 

TestDAF

Pros:

1. Standardized Worldwide

The TestDAF is a completely standardized test. That means that it always follows the same format and has the same difficulty no matter where in the world you are. For studying purposes, this is a huge bonus, as you know exactly what types of what questions to expect and in which order.

If you choose the TestDAF, you can also utilize my TestDAF Study Guide, including specific tips for each of the sections: Hörverstehen, Leseverstehen, Schriftlicher Ausdruck, and Mündlicher Ausdruck.

2. No Grammar Section

Grammar is the absolute worst part of the German language. So, not having to answer questions about German grammar rules is an obvious bonus! Of course, you do still need to know the rules for the TestDAF writing exam and the TestDAF speaking exam, but what you don’t have to remember is which rule is called Konjuktiv I and which is Konjunktiv II.

3. 4 Hours in 1 Day

Whether this is actually a pro or con will depend on what kind of test-taker you are, but I like it. It’s like ripping off a bandage in one go. The TestDAF is four section, each of which takes 30-60 minutes, and you get short breaks between each section. After about 4 hours, you are completely done and can go home.

4. Take the Exam Anywhere in the World

There are TestDAF exam locations all around the world. This is very important for foreign applicants that are waiting for their acceptance to a German university before actually moving to Germany.

 

Cons:

1. Cost

Taking the TestDAF costs a standard fee of 175€. Not exactly cheap, but there’s no way to get around it. However, the DSH is a little bit less expensive, depending on where you take it…

2. Speaking to a Computer

The speaking exam is the worst part of the TestDAF. Not just because it is (at least for me) the most nerve-wracking — but because you have to talk to a computer. Just picture it: you are sitting in a room with 20 other people, each sitting at their own terminal, with headphones on, screaming into a microphone. You click a play button to start the section, but clicking any button after that moment will ruin your entire exam. So, you better be careful, and you better start and stop talking at the right moments. Ugh.

3. Waiting for Results

After you are finished with the TestDAF, the exam gets shipped off to a grading center somewhere where a minion of German grammar experts evaluate your language proficiency. This process takes 6 six, and you receive your final results as a letter in the mail. Unless you enjoy having your heart beat out of your chest as you check the mailbox each day for a month, then this is a definite con.

 

DSH

Pros:

1. Human Connection

The DSH is given at German universities, which means the exam is usually conducted by and graded by the university’s German teacher. By taking preparatory courses at the same university where you will take the exam, then you will have contact with this person – and they will serve as a valuable resource in ensuring that you are well-prepared for the exam.

Another facet of the human connection advantage is the oral exam. Unlike with the TestDaF, where responses are simply recorded by a computer, the DSH oral exam is a face-to-face conversation with your examiner. This makes the DSH oral exam much more forgiving, as you can build upon your responses, read the examiners’ response, correct mistakes, and explain yourself more naturally without such strict time restraints.

2. Fast Turnaround

Since the exam is graded right at the university where you took it, the turnaround can be very efficient. The actual time it takes to get your results will depend on how many people took the exam and the examiner’s schedule, but the DSH does generally boast a much faster turnaround than the TestDaF.

3. Less Expensive (Usually)

Once again, this one depends on where you are taking the exam, but the DSH can vary from as little as 50€ up to 170€ (about the price of the TestDaF).

 

Cons:

1. Grammar Section

Grammar is by far the worst part about learning German. So, the fact that the DSH includes a grammar section all about those tricky little language rules is a pretty serious disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is important to have a good grasp on grammar rules no matter what, as poor grammar will result in a low grade on the writing and speaking portions of both the TestDaF and DSH.

2. Listening Section

In the TestDaF listening exam, you have the questions in front of you while you listen to a recording. For DSH, you have to listen to the recording while taking notes, after which you receive the questions. This can make the listening section of the DSH much more difficult than that of the TestDaF.

3. Subjectivity & Uncertainty

I am sure that the majority of DSH examiners perform their job with the utmost professionalism; however, it is often just a single person giving these exams, and it is entirely possible that their bad mood (or other subjective factors) could affect your grade – especially on the oral exam, as you literally have to have a conversation with that person.

The format and difficulty of the DSH can also vary depending on the university. In fact, some German universities are known for giving easy DSH exams, while others are known for their difficulty. So, if you do choose the DSH, I suggest doing some research to see what past test-takers say about the universities you are considering.

TestDaF vs. DSH - German language exams

 

Which exam are you planning to take (or have taken)? What are your reasons for picking it over the other exam?

German Language, Mistranslation Monday

One afternoon, not too long ago, I was browsing Pinterest with my girlfriend from Lithuania (as stereotypical ladies do). And as you can imagine (and as evidenced by my other Mistranslation Monday posts), mistranslations are quite common when us two non-German women spend the day speaking German with each other.
Floating candles, schwebende Kerzen, schwimmende Kerzen
Anyways, as we were browsing Pinterest, my friend found a lovely centerpiece that we thought would be perfect for a winter wedding. It looked something like this:

After thinking about all the different flowers and greenery we could put in the water, we starting talking about where we could buy the floating candles – except we were speaking German, so we were saying schwebende Kerzen – the literal translation of “floating candles.”
After typing schwebende Kerzen into Amazon, however, we couldn’t find what we were looking for. Do floating candles not exist in Germany? Are they just unpopular? Are they illegal?!
About 15 minutes later, Marco (the German) came into the room, and I asked him, “Do you know where we can buy floating candles?” – except we were speaking German, so I asked, “Weißt du, wo man schwebende Kerzen kaufen kann?
He looked at us both, obviously confused. then replied “Like in Harry Potter? Do you those really exist?”
Floating candles / schwebende Kerzen
These are the kind of floating candles Marco was picturing
Like with most mistranslations, his confusion only caused us to become even more confused. After showing him some pictures of what we were talking about, however, the confusion was solved.
Schweben does mean “to float,” but unlike English floating, schweben can only happen in the air. Maybe a more accurate translation would be “levitating.”
Things don’t “float” on water in German. They swim. So, the candles we wanted weren’t schwebende Kerzen, they were schwimmende Kerzen (or just Schwimmkerzen). Lesson learned!
Floating candles

These are the candles we ended up buying, and like many things sold in Germany, the German word for the item isn’t even on the package. Instead, there is just English and French. The Germans are just left to figure it out, I guess (and foreigners are left to wonder).

German Language, Mistranslation Monday

After almost a month of internet silence, I am back with everyone’s favorite type of post: Mistranslation Monday! Today’s Mistranslation Monday is brought to you a single seemingly simple word, balls.

Mistranslation Monday: Balls

Over Christmas and New Year’s, we rented a big house in Germany where both Marco and my families would spend the holidays together. This included both of our parents, both of our brothers, my sister-in-law, and Marco’s practically-step-brother. It was a full house, and of the 8 residents…
1 was English/German bilingual
1 could speak German and very limited English
2 could only speak German
and
4 could only speak English.

With such a mix, conversations at the dinner table each evening were… interesting, to say the least. One of the best mistanslations that came out of this linguistic mess occurred on the second day of Christmas (that’s right – Germans call December 26th “second Christmas”).

On Second Christmas, Marco’s practically-step-mother made a traditional Fränkisch meal, including venison with lingonberries, red cabbage, and pretzel dumplings. This story is about those dumplings, which look like this:

Brezelknödel/Pretzel Dumplings

Since Marco’s step-mother speaks very limited English, the way she translated the various components of this meal to my family was as follows.

Reh = Bambi (yes, she kept telling us throughout the meal that we were eating Bambi)
Blaukraut = Blue cabbage
Brezelknödel = Balls

“Balls” as a translation of Knödel was acceptable at first. She was obviously always referring to the food, and my family was all thankful that she was was putting the effort into speaking English at all. The issue was that Marco’s father was picking up on the English that she used and would then repeat her peculiar word choices.

So during our Second Christmas meal, Marco’s father was telling us all about how where he comes from (Bodensee-Region), noodles are the standard side dish for meals. Now that he lives in Nuremberg with his Fränkisch partner, however, (and I quote):

“Only balls!”

His delivery of this sentence made me burst out laughing, much to his confusion. And as I kept laughing, poor Marco was left with the task of explaining to his father that “balls” can also refer to a particular male body part.

German Language

Being enrolled in a German master’s program, I do my fair share of reading and writing [in both English and German]. I also do a lot of translation work for my student job at the university. So, I would consider myself quite knowledgeable when it comes to online translation tools and websites.

best translation websites for english to german

If you have taken a German class, then your teacher probably told you to never use a translation website. Instead, you should use a German dictionary.

Sure, that is a good tip for gaining a deeper understanding of the German language, but translation dictionaries are quick, easy, and the best (or only) option for certain situations. So, whether you are also a student in Germany, do translation work, or just enjoy watching German YouTube videos, here are my top 5 favorite online translation tools.

LEO
For translating single words between English and German, Leo is my go-to. The article (der, die, das) and plural form of German nouns are always provided on the main results page (which is normally what I am looking for when I search for a German word). Also, by clicking on the table next to (most) words, you can see how to properly declinate/conjugate that word. To check pronunciation, just click the play button in front of the word.

LEO translation dictionary

dict.cc
If LEO fails me, then I turn to dict.cc. This is another standard, quality translation service. However, instead of writing [der, die, das] in front of the German nouns, they write [m, n, f] after it. It achieves the same purpose, but I prefer LEO’s presentation.

dict.cc translation dictionary

Linguee
Linguee is the translation tool that I spend the most time using by far. Unlike LEO and dict.cc, which are just English<>German dictionaries, Linguee is a search engine that provides translation examples from translated texts and websites throughout the Internet. This makes Linguee really helpful for translating idioms and other non-literal phrases.

linguee translation dictionary

Google Translate
You should always be cautious when translating more than just a single word or phrase. But in times of absolute need, Google Translate can be pretty helpful for quickly getting a general understanding of what a longer text is about.

But, like I said, be careful…

google translate

Duden
Okay, Duden isn’t a translation dictionary, but I had to include it. If you ever forget how to conjugate a verb or aren’t sure of the correct spelling of a noun (darn Germans and their dialects), then Duden is the #1 resource. Also, you will make your German teacher proud by turning to a proper German dictionary instead of just typing it all into Google Translate.

Duden German dictionary

Let me know if you use any German/English translation websites that I didn’t include!

German Language, Mistranslation Monday

Mistranslation Monday has been missing from the blog lately. Unfortunately, this is not because my German is getting better. It’s more likely due to the fact that I took a vacation to the U.S. and have been speaking a lot of English lately.

So, today’s Mistranslation Monday doesn’t come from myself, but my lovely friend Adele from Lithuania.

As you may know, the German fiancé and I are currently planning our wedding. Since we will only have about 30 guests, we have been discussing whether or not there should be dancing at the reception. When Adele came over last week for coffee, I asked her what she thought.

[Note: we speak German with each other, so this is a translated version of our conversation]

“I would dance!” she told me.

“Really? You would feel comfortable dancing in front of our families, even if nobody else was dancing?” I asked.

“Sure, but of course I would bring my boyfriend on the dance floor with me, then we could dance as a team.” She replied.

Or, at least that is what I heard. Marco, on the other hand, heard something else:

“Sure, but of course I would bring my boyfriend on the dance floor with me, then we could dance intimately.”

“You’re going to dance intimately in front of our families?” Marco yelled from the other room, trying to hold back his laughter.

For my German-speaking readers, here is what Adele really said: “…dann können wir in Team tanzen.

But due to her small grammatical error (in Team instead of im Team), what she said sounded the same as the German word for “intimate” (intim).

So, I apologize to all of our wedding guests in advance if Adele and her boyfriend make you feel uncomfortable with their intimate dancing at our wedding reception. 😀

German Language, Mistranslation Monday

I recently started tutoring two female German high school students in English. Seeing as I have no experience in talking to teenagers or teaching English, this has been an interesting experience to say the least.

Sexy sponge man

During our sessions, I discuss all kinds of things with the girls, from dream vacations to embarrassing school stories. Since we only speak English, they occasionally come across words for which they don’t know the English translation. So, after saying the German word, they will pause, waiting for me to say it in English before they continue with their story.

My German is good enough that this method works 99% of the time.

One day, as we were talking about boys (oooo la la), one of my students got caught up in telling me about a particular boy from her school.

“He can speak Russian and is just so cute. He is my… my… Schwamm!” she exclaimed. Or at least that is what I heard.

“Sponge? He’s your sponge?” I asked, quite confused.

“No! Not Schwamm, Schwarm!”

I still didn’t understand. Although I knew that Schwarm means “swarm” (as in a swarm of bees), it made no sense to me in this context.

“You know… I like him, and I go crazy whenever I see him!” she explained.

Aha! Suddenly I knew what she meant, and it made sense that I had never heard this word used before.

“Your crush?” I asked.

“YES! He’s my CRUSH!!”

I guess I’ve reached that point in my life where I am more likely to discuss sponges than crushes. At least I have these girls to teach me all the German teenage vocabulary I am missing out on!

German Language

The most common questions I received after posting my Top 5 German TV Shows was whether the shows were available online. Unfortunately, many German shows are not available online (Germany is a little slow to the digital party). But do you know where you can always find free German-language content? YouTube!

Best German YouTube Channels

If you regularly watch YouTubers, then you know that the platform has largely turned into a lot of attention-seeking 20-somethings creating video content for 13-year-olds. The German YouTube-sphere is very much the same. There are, however, some great channels with funny and original creators that are worth checking out for anyone that knows or is looking to improve German.

Kurzgesagt 

Similar to channels such as Vsauce and Minute Physics, Kurzgesagt produces thought-provoking videos about a wide range of scientific and philsophical topics from space exploration to Ebola. They also have an English-language channel with the exact same videos. So, if you are leaning German and want to check your comprehension level, you can watch a video in German, and then watch the same exact video in English directly afterwards.

Here’s their video about fracking (and here is the English version):

Doktor Allwissend

This is my favorite German YouTube channel. The German fiance has actually gotten so used to me watching it, whenever he hears me listening to a video, he will immediately ask, “Wie geht’s Doktor Allwissend?”

Doktor Allwissend translates to Dr. Know-it-all, and he makes informational videos in response to viewer questions. This is one of his more skit-like videos, which does not follow his normal format, but I find it hilarious (mainly because no German understands the name Courtney):

Die Klugscheisserin

Literally “the smart-shitter,” die Klugscheisserin (Lisa) is a German woman from Berlin that takes on a stern German persona as she explains various … things quite in depth. Oh, she is also the blonde woman from the video with Doktor Allwissend (above), which is how I found her.

Here is one of her videos explaining the 5 Nobel Prizes:

Nilam

As a woman, I do enjoy occasionally watching beauty videos. When this mood hits, I turn to Nilam, a beauty/lifestyle vlogger in Berlin.

Nilam does do some make-up and hair tutorials, however, she also creates a lot of recipe videos, travel videos, vlogs of her life in Berlin, and DIYs. Here is one of her recent vlogs in Northern Sweden:

If you are into the typical challenge/collaborations/storytime videos that are so popular on YouTube these days, then you should also check out Sami Slimani. If you live in Germany, then you have probably already seen Sami on TV at some point.

Here’s a video of Sami testing out some “life hacks”:

Honorable Mention: Flula

Since most of his content isn’t in German, and he doesn’t live in Germany anymore, I couldn’t technically include Flula in this list. But he’s too good not to include him.

If anyone is interesting in learning the strangest of strange German insults, swear words, and phrases, make sure to check out his “German with a German” series. Here is one of those videos, where he teaches you the term scheißfreundlich:

Is there anyone you think I should check out? Who is your favorite German YouTuber?

German Language, German Problems

I dressed up for Halloween this past weekend for the first time in at least 4 years. I was Little Red Riding Hood, and Marco was my wolf. Since Germans stick to scary costumes (luckily the “sexy” costume trend has not made it over here yet), I used liquid latex and fake blood to make scratches along the side of my face.

We had to travel by train and subway to get to the Halloween party, and Marco had not yet put in his fangs and contacts. So, our friends kept commenting on how “cute” he looked, which is not what he was going for.

“Watch out,” he said, “I’m a wolf with rapies!”

Yikes. Not sure what rapies are, but let’s hope you don’t have that! (Obviously he meant rabies.)

Oh, the difference one letter makes…

Since the party started early, we brought some Halloween snacks along too. I made spider cupcakes and jello [vodka] worms (complete with Oreo dirt and served in a flower pot). I was pretty proud of them (even though my spiders were missing 2 legs each).

Spider Cupcakes
Jello shot worms

The next language mistake of the night came a few hours into the party, when I was striking up a conversation with a guy that I had never met before, but who also goes to my university.

The details are fuzzy, but I wanted to ask him if he “had friends [somewhere or something].”

Unfortunately, my question started with the words, “Hast du Freunden…”

Before I could finish me was giving me a weird look and telling me, “Ja… ich habe eine Freundin.”

Oh no. Oh no no no. I made the word friend (Freund) plural by adding an “en” instead of just an “e.” So when I meant to say “friends,” he heard “girlfriend.” He thinks I asked him if he has a girlfriend, and now he is trying to end this conversation as quickly as possible.

Oh the difference one letter makes…

How was your Halloween this year?

German Language, Mistranslation Monday

While in the U.S. last month, the German boyfriend saw his very first hummingbird! Hummingbirds only live in the Americas, so this was something he was quite excited about. Since my parents have a hummingbird feeder, we continued to watch a group of hummingbirds fly all over the backyard for our entire two-week stay.

As we were watching the hummingbirds from my parent’s patio one morning, I tried to strike up a German conversation with Marco by saying the German word for hummingbird.

Kohlrabi!”

Kohlrabi or Kolibri
I think this is what Marco imagined when I said that.

After a confused pause, Marco replied, “I think you mean Kolibri.

Oh yeah. Kolibri. Although, had there been a flying cabbage drinking sugar water in my parent’s backyard, then that would have a been a first for all of us.

German Language, Mistranslation Monday

haft is a German adjective suffix. Examples of words with this suffix include dauerhaft (permanent; long-lasting), herzhaft (hearty), and grauenhaft (atrocious; morbid).  Today, however, I want to talk about the German word fabelhaft, which I always missheard as farbehaft.

fabelhaft oder farbehaft?



Fabelhaft means fabulous or mavelous. It comes from the word Fabel (fable). Add on the suffix –haft, and it becomes an adjective which basically means “like a fairy tale.”

Silly me has always understood the word fabelhaft as farbehaft, which is not a real word. To me, however, it meant “colorful” (Farbe = color).

I am pretty sure that I have been understanding the word as fabelhaft as farbehaft for years. Instead of using a word like “marvelous,” I simply thought that Germans used the word “colorful” to describe wonderful things. It made sense to me!

This mistranslation was brought to my attention recently when the German boyfriend was proofreading one of my term papers. The paper was about a research project I did on food fotography in Hamburg. Wanting to describe a group of pictures as colorful, I used the word farbehaft in my paper.

As he was proofreading the paper, Marco called me over to ask “What is this word supposed to be? Do you mean farbenfroh?”

Farbehaft. Colorful. Yeah, farbenfroh means the same thing,” I replied, thinking that farbehaft was a synonym for farbenfroh.

“Ok. But farbehaft isn’t a word. Are you thinking of fabelhaft?!”

Then he kindly explained to me the correct spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of fabelhaft, and I was left pondering all of the times I thought Germans were describing things as colorful.