How to learn German with the U3A

EDIT 2024: The links may or may not work at the moment, as u3a is moving to a different website and not every branch has moved yet. Once it’s done I will check the links again.

A few weeks ago somebody suggested I should write a blog post about pensioners learning German in a U3A group. I know Devizes has a U3A and I vaguely remember that they have or had a German group, but that was basically what I knew. So I googled U3A.
U3A stands for University of the Third Age. According to their website “u3a gives members local and national opportunities to learn a wide range of things at low cost. You can share your skills with others, take up something new and develop your interests in a friendly atmosphere.
Over 40,000 u3a interest groups meet in the UK every week, face to face and more recently, online. The choice is endless, and reflects local interests: from cookery to creative writing, philosophy to films, maths to mindfulness. The decisions about what to do are made by local members.”

There is a little drawback, you have to be beyond middle age and no longer work full time. Ah well, that means I still have to wait a little ☺

But if you are of ‘a certain age’ there are lots of opportunities, including learning German.

So I got hold of Alastair Sharp, who is keeping an eye on all the German groups, and asked him a few questions.

Why German? How did you become the German advisor for the u3a?

I personally started learning German in 1974, using the BBC series “Kontakte” Some seven years later, I went to live and work in Munich for 3 years, which made a phenomenal difference to my ability in the language, although I fear I didn’t really learn the dialect! Since then, I’ve worked hard to retain my German and in the last 15 years of my working life, I had a company representing German companies in the UK for sales and service. After retiring, I joined U3A to maintain my ability and soon started some local groups – I only meant to start one, but wanted it mostly to be people around or near to my ability level, however, I found so many beginners that I started two lower level groups as well. A couple of years later, I looked for a language adviser to see if I could improve my offering, found there wasn’t one and was asked to do the job! A bit of a surprise for someone whose German is a second language!

So German seems to be quite a demand then. Are there many u3a German groups?

Over the years, I have found around 200 German language groups in the UK, of widely varying abilities, and widely varying learning methods. Some definitely run as teaching groups, often with a native German with teaching experience leading the group. Others fit better to the U3A ethos of “learn together”, quite often with no native German speaker at all. And most of everything in between!

How do you keep on top of all that work, especially considering your suprise of being in charge despite not being a native speaker?

I run a Group Leaders’ E-mail Forum (personally, not organised by the U3A movement) to which around 120 Group Leaders belong. This enables exchange of good ideas for language practice, suggestions for learning material and books, and help for newly started groups (that is my remit, but I am of the opinion that 120 heads are much better than one, especially when the one isn’t a native German speaker).

I have, very occasionally, produced a newsletter for all the groups with whom I have contact, and have twice run language learning trips to Munich, which seemed to go down well and as a result, I have good contact to Munich University and Munich Volkshochschule.

Thank you, Alastair, for taking the time to tell me about your involvement with the u3a, it has been most interesting!

If this has whetted your appetite to learn or improve your German with the u3a, here is their page with all current German groups.

The membership costs vary from branch to branch but seem to be in the region of £15 and generally go from April to March. So, if you join in January, you have the chance to try u3a for 3 months at very cheap pro rata cost.

6 thoughts on “How to learn German with the U3A”

  1. I’ve used U3A for French and it was really good but German is harder to come by! There is only one local group I can find and it’s full.

    It’s a reminder to keep my eyes open though. When Covid is more under control, things may change!

  2. Dear Angelika (and Alastair), thank you for an inspiring post. I am a teacher of Beginners German in our local U3A in Bowral in the Southern Highlands region of New South Wales in Australia. We are about 135 km outside the Sydney CBD. It is a favourite retirement destination, so our demographic is significantly older than in many areas. We have over 1000 members in our U3A, and courses cover everything from sports (golf, tennis, table tennis), history, current affairs, arts, and languages. Currently, Spanish, French, Latin, Japanese and of course German are on offer.

    I had been teaching German for nearly 5 years prior to COVID, but the enforced break gave me an opportunity to reflect on my mistakes. We came back to face to face sessions in the last quarter of this year, as the situation is more or less under control here, with few cases and contact tracing able to keep things under control.

    This time around, I’m taking things much more slowly with my new class. I’m using the DW course Nicos Weg, making sure to cover all the exercises in detail. I augment important points raised in each episode with additional PowerPoint material that I prepare. This time, it’s all about conversation, and although I wanted to speak only in German from day one, I have had to back off just a little. Next term, there will be no English spoken in class!

    I first started learning German 50 years ago, when I was recruited to be on the start-up crew of a new alumina refinery in the Northern Territory of Australia. Our team of technologists were sent to train on the company’s refinery near Köln, and a Berlitz teacher was supplied to help us. I returned to this plant a few years later for advanced training. Later, I accepted a transfer to the company’s HQ in Zürich, and later a promotion to their R&D facility in Schaffhausen. Although I understand some Schwiizerdütsch (mainly Züridütsch), I don’t speak it, as I was always scared that I would sound false, rather like many who attempt an Australian accent.

    I would love to be in contact with other U3A German teachers, as I would like to learn from their experiences, and improve my own teaching. I’l leave it to Angelika to pass on any contacts.

  3. Hi Angelika. Interesting post but there are far more local u3a organisations and more German classes than the linked map shows. I learn German with the Huddersfield u3a, a thriving group but absent from the map. I think this is because it is not formally affiliated with national u3a and there are other u3as in West Yorkhire not represented nationally – perhaps many more in other regions. Anyone interested in u3a German should inquire locally rather than rely on the national website.
    Kevin Thomas


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