QUOTE One thing I am starting to miss is not being able to speak conversational German to any great depth
Yes Reddo, this is a very useful skill. I think you should start by getting a picture-rich monthly, like the Eisenbahn Journal, and at least begin to understand some of the captions, translating them with a dictionary if necessary.
EJ is a lovely magazine and has all sorts of articles covering Epochs 1-6, the final third is all about modelling developments, so this should also resonate. If you are interested in the subject material the urge to understand is greater.
Secondly, it helps to listen to Schubert, I heartily recommend listening to his three song-cycles, with the words in front of you. You will begin to understand what a lovely, lyrical and poetic language German can be, and the German grammar is really good throughout, it helped me greatly in making the transition.
When you are visiting places like the Deutsche Museum or Verkehrsmuseum, tack on to a tour being conducted in German and connect the words with the things around you..
Go walking in the countryside, like I do, visit hostelries in small villages for lunch, eat local specialities, order in German.
Conversationally, I first realised I had made the transition to being a reasonably fluent speaker, ironically enough in the Bahnhofsgataette on Gleis 1 at Ingolstadt Hbf in April 2005, I had an hour between trains, this ultimately turned into a 3-hour lunchtime session with the locals who were eager to know who I was, what I was doing there and all that kind of stuff. When I had them in stitches laughing at a couple of stories, I realised I had made the transition.
You'll also know when you have arrived. These days I have no fear, I travel alone, vacation alone, I'm happy to sit on the Stammtisch and really like meeting the locals and getting their stories. I know I still make lots of grammatical errors, but invariably after 30 minutes to an hour, someone will invariably say 'and how do you come to speak such good German?', and this is always pleasing when you hear it.
Have a crack, Reddo.