A slightly more advanced speaking technique - The Secretary Technique

Microphone and wooden human-shaped statuette. Title in the center:
May 13, 2021

There are quite a few methods out there that promise to help you improve your German-speaking skills. Not all of them are suitable for beginners or for German learners to begin with. How would one know which method is the best to work with?

I’ve been asking myself this question since 1999 and have recently developed a technique that is challenging but at the same time a very gentle approach to improving one’s free-speaking skills. I called this technique the Secretary Technique.

As it can be quite demanding to speak freely. I introduce this technique only after my learners have reached the 50% waymark in my online German course. The Secretary Technique helps to leave the tight structure of the Preaching or a simple read out loud exercise. It motivates the learner to create their own sentences and to be creative, spontaneous, and intuitive. Don’t worry if you think that you might not be too creative when it comes to the language, all it takes is proper (!) training and some persistence. SmarterGerman’s courses will always take you by the hand and guide you through every step of the way at your own speed. There’s never a need to rush.

Just speaking out loud does not do much to your skills as you’d have to get some solid feedback on whether you said things properly. To make sure you learn proper German all you need is a smartphone or a web browser and open the page speechnotes.co, a free transcription tool that can handle the German language. The Secretary Technique combines essential elements of dictations, writing exercises, and the Preaching technique.

So how exactly does the secretary technique work?

First, pick a topic you are interested in and could speak about freely in German for a maximum of two minutes. Even one minute can be enough as you might realize soon enough. Write down up to 10 keywords in German or English to help jog your memory while using this technique.

Don’t be too anxious about picking the “right” topic. It could be anything such as describing a birthday party, a summary of your favorite TV program or even the weather if that rocks your boat. You could also relate to something in your personal life or just be general, as long as you let your fantasy roam freely. 

Do not write out any sentences for this exercise. This is neither a writing nor a reading out loud exercise. You need to think on the spot and create every sentence from scratch.

Next, you will speak out loud on the topic of your choice. If you’re familiar with our equally-wonderful Preaching Technique, then this step should be something you are already used to. Just that now you don’t have to follow a given pattern. Speak or brabble with the help of those 10 keywords you noted down earlier and have speechnotes.co transcribe your words for you. This is where the name “Secretary Technique” came from: you will be dictating your ideas to a virtual secretary, i.e. the transcription app. 

Once you have spoken, take a look at the transcription and correct your text. Correcting one’s own work is always a bit tricky as we tend to have many blind spots. But with the help of tools like DUDEN mentor or languagetoolplus you’ll be able to hunt down 3-5 mistakes at a time. Over time this adds up and you’ll find your speech improves without putting in any extra effort. 

Where can I learn more about this technique?

If you work with my Everyday German course or my B2 German Mastery course you’ll be introduced to a very efficient and effective way to improve your writing skills. I mention that as with that writing exercise you’ll also learn how to correct your own mistakes reliably with a simple two-step approach.

As with anything else in language, learning repetition is the mother of all learning. Therefore the Secretary Technique should not take you longer than 30-45 minutes initially. If it takes you longer than that you are not following my instructions correctly. In that case, contact me immediately via the sG Community and I’ll get you back on track with a few simple steps.

The Secretary Technique is your chance to prepare simple talks, presentations or conversations about topics that are simple but interesting enough to feel free about your German-speaking. Of course, this requires training. Don’t expect to become fluent after just a couple of hours of Secretary work. Patience, my dear Padawan, Patience. Stay with me and you’ll get to fluency eventually. 

The Secretary Technique is a wonderfully flexible tool that encourages learners to feel free with their speaking abilities. Although it might be difficult at first, you will surely come to realize how valuable it is in the end. And always remember: Never try to achieve perfection as it will kill your motivation in a very short time. Stick with the Pareto Principle which says that 20% of your work is responsible for 80% of the outcome. Trying to master the remaining 20% until perfection will cost you an immense amount of energy and time. You can invest that once you have mastered your B2 level. 


Written by Michael Schmitz