The Best Way To Learn German – 12 Effective Tips
Do you want to find the best way to learn German quickly? Look no further. This comprehensive guide shows you everything you need to know along with 12 pro tips.
- Why learn German?
- Is German hard to learn?
- How long does it take to learn German?
- Best way to learn German – Top 12 tips
- Set an end goal
- Make time to practice every day
- Find ways to stay motivated
- Master how German sounds
- Pick up useful German vocabulary
- Focus on the basics of German grammar
- Pick up everyday German phrases and expressions
- Consume German media
- Practice with native speakers
- Consider full immersion
- Learn with a language tutor
- Try language learning apps and software
- German learning resources
- Learn German with the best all-in-one method out there
Why learn German?
If you’re looking for the best way to learn German, you’re probably aware of all the great reasons to learn this European language. If not, here’s a quick rundown of why you should learn German.
Hint: If you don’t need any more convincing, and you’re ready to find out the best way to learn German, jump straight to our 12 effective tips to start learning it.
- Travel – German is spoken by 130+ million people around the world. Besides Germany, it’s spoken in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, parts of Italy, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein. By learning German, you’ll be able to travel more comfortably to these places and immerse yourself in their culture. Trust us, it’ll make your time at Oktoberfest a thousand times more fun.
- Global economy – There’s little doubt that Germany is one of the biggest players in the world economy. First, it’s the largest economy of the EU. Second, it’s the third most important exporting country behind the US and China. Lastly, international brands like Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes, Deutsche Bank, and Bayern are all based in Germany. Learning this European language gives you a better shot at working at or with one of the most important economic powerhouses worldwide.
- Culture – German culture has had an enormous impact on Western culture and civilization. Consider Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzche and their contributions to philosophy. Or think about the music that composers like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Strauss shared with the world. Lastly, literature wouldn’t be the same without the works of authors like Herman Hesse and Thomas Mann. Learning German gives you a chance to explore, enjoy, and understand the works and lives of these individuals in a deeper way.
Is German hard to learn?
German is known for its rigid sentence structure and lengthy words. However, considering that it belongs to the same linguistic family as English, German is not significantly hard to learn for English speakers.
As a matter of fact, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) classifies it as a Category II language, which makes it just a bit harder to learn than Spanish, Italian, or Dutch. On the other hand, compared to Arabic or Chinese, which have entirely different alphabets, German is not as difficult to pick up. Additionally, German is considered a highly phonetic language, which means that, with few exceptions, you’ll know how to pronounce words based on their spelling.
That being said, there are some tricky bits of German worth noting.
German gendered nouns – First, German’s infamous gendered nouns have caused more than one headache for its learners. And while there are certain rules that will tell you which gender a certain word belongs to, memorizing some of these is inevitable.
Separable verbs – Second, as in the Dutch language, there are some verbs in German with prefixes that need to be ‘chopped off’ in certain cases. For example, aufstehen (to get up), becomes Ich stehe um 8 Uhr auf (I get up at 8 o’clock). At the same time, some prefixes cannot be separated, depending on the word.
Modal verbs – Third, modal verbs have the habit of pushing the main verbs of a sentence to the end. For example, you say Ich möchte ein Bier trinken (I would like to drink a beer). Literally, it would read “I would like a beer to drink.”
Dialects – Lastly, to make matters more interesting, German has over 15 regional dialect groups. Interestingly, even within Germany, native speakers may have a hard time understanding someone who comes from a different part of the country.
Now, if you’re feeling discouraged, don’t! In a way, the best way to learn German is to keep these tricky elements in mind during the learning process. Besides, there’s an easy way to overcome some of these issues.
The Fluent Forever app incorporates flashcards with mnemonic elements, along with our patented spaced repetition system (SRS) algorithm, to help you learn and retain German vocabulary and grammar for the longest possible time. This includes its complex bits, like gendered nouns and sentence structure.
By combining easy-to-make flashcards with the SRS algorithm, the app allows you to review new words and sentences at the precise moment you need to in order to maximize your learning and retention time.
How long does it take to learn German?
If you’ve often wondered about the best way to learn German, you’ve probably also wondered how long it takes to learn it. Well, going back to the FSI, the institute mentions that it takes native English speakers 36 weeks, or 900 hours, of dedicated study time to learn German. Again, thanks to English’s closeness to German, it doesn’t take long to learn compared to languages in other linguistic families.
That being said, the FSI bases its assessment on its study method and courses, not on someone learning German on their own. Furthermore, it fails to consider variables like motivation, the quality of learning resources available, and if the person is busy learning another language besides German.
Additionally, the FSI’s evaluation only takes into account native English speakers. Depending on the person’s native language, German might be harder or easier to learn. For example, German will be harder for a native Chinese speaker than it would be for a native English speaker.
Best way to learn German – top 12 tips
Create a plan and stick to it
1. Set an end goal
Setting out to learn a new language without a big goal at the end makes learning harder in the long run. At first, you might feel pumped up and eager to learn every word and sentence that comes your way. However, along the way, you might face hurdles and bad days that may discourage you and hinder your progress.
The best way to learn German – or any other language – is to have an end goal to work towards. Ideally, it should be a personal reason for learning German, something that keeps the motivation train going. Here are some examples that could be your end goal:
- Have conversations with a relative or friend who speaks German
- Find a better job opportunity in Germany
- Enjoy German TV shows with your special someone who’s a native speaker
- Engage more fully with native speakers in your local community
- Study or live abroad in a German-speaking country
Whatever your end goal, make sure you write it down and keep it somewhere you can constantly see it.
2. Make time to practice every day
The best way to learn German – or to develop any other good habit, for that matter – is to practice every day. There are several ways to develop a consistent learning habit and study on a daily basis.
Second, commit to the allotted time and F-O-C-U-S. That means no distractions: social media, your phone, those incessant email notifications should all be turned off. German should be your priority during that time.
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a study session. We all know everyone’s life is different, and things will get in the way of your studying. So, catch up if you can, but don’t beat yourself up about it.
Hint: Check out this list of handy time management tools for language learners to help you stay focused during your study hours.
3. Find ways to stay motivated
Finding ways to stay motivated is the best way to learn German in the long term, especially if you’re learning the language on your own. Think about it: you’re more likely to stick to your German studies if you’re stoked to continue learning. Additionally, motivation will help you push through bad days.
There are several ways to find constant motivation while you’re learning German. Try rewarding yourself every time you reach a personally set milestone. Learned 20 German travel phrases? Buy yourself a delicious ice cream. Had a conversation with a native speaker and they didn’t correct you? Go enjoy that German Netflix you like so much. Add bonus points if you can make your rewards German-related.
Additionally, you can find a learning buddy to share your language journey with. A learning partner can help you stay accountable for your progress and make the process of learning feel less lonesome.
If you’ve already purchased a Fluent Forever product – be it the app, book, tools and resources from our Language Shop, Live Coaching, or all of these – you can check out Fluent Forever’s Learning Community on Facebook and find a buddy today!
Familiarize yourself with the language
4. Master how German sounds
Mastering sounds is the best way to learn German from the get-go. Becoming used to a foreign language’s sounds makes it easier to pick vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. Additionally, it will help you get to speaking sooner.
If you’re a native English speaker, you’ll be pleased to know that German shares the same Latin Alphabet as English, with a few funky-looking letters here and there. And because German is a highly phonetic language, you’ll usually know how to pronounce words depending on their spelling.
|Vowel or consonant||What it sounds like in English|
|ö||worm (but without the r)|
|ü||tea (with rounded lips)|
|eu or äu||boy|
|sp and st||shp and sht|
Lastly, the most effective, proven way to learn German sounds is through minimal pair testing. Minimal pairs are almost-identical-sounding words (think “mass” and “moss”). Minimal pair testing involves hearing one of the two words and trying to identify which one it is. By doing this, you rewire your brain to learn German vocabulary more easily and speak with proper pronunciation.
You can make your own minimal pairs using digital flashcards, or you can simply use the hundreds of ready-to-use tests in the Fluent Forever app. Sign up today!
5. Pick up useful German vocabulary
Once you’ve learned how German sounds, it’s time to pick up some essential vocab. However, the best way to learn German vocabulary is not to learn every random word you come across, but to focus on frequently used ones instead!
In other words, you should spend your time acquiring nouns, verbs, and adjectives that you’ll actually encounter and make use of in conversation and readings. Enter frequency lists!
Frequency lists, which are compilations of commonly occurring words in a specific language, are available online – German included. By learning from these lists, you’ll be able to understand a bigger chunk of the German you encounter in, say, daily interactions and the newspaper.
Another valuable option is The Most Awesome Word List You’ve Ever Seen. This compilation of 625 nouns, adjectives, and verbs is a fantastic base vocabulary bank created by Fluent Forever’s founder Gabriel Wyner for numerous different languages. It’s great for anyone looking to learn the most important words in a specific language, and to get speaking it quickly.
6. Focus on the basics of German grammar
Regardless of the language, grammar is an extremely important, albeit often intimidating, linguistic element to master. And German is no exception.
- The article for plural nouns is Die
- There are German 3 genders: feminine (die), masculine (der), and neuter (das)
- Because German has 3 genders, articles, adjectives, and pronouns need to be conjugated to fit each noun
- German has four cases. Each identifies the function of a word in a phrase or sentence:
- Dative: the word is the indirect object
- Accusative: the word is the direct object
- Nominative: the word is the subject
- Genitive: the word shows the relationship between 2 people or things
- German nouns are always capitalized
- Word order changes depend on the intention of the sentence. Darthmouth’s German department has a thorough explanation of it.
The best way to learn German grammar is to face it head-on. The sooner you do, the faster you’ll be speaking and writing in full, complete sentences. Also, don’t worry too much about making a few mistakes here and there; odds are people will still understand you. Always remember: being understood trumps being a grammar wiz.
7. Pick up everyday German phrases and expressions
One of the best ways to learn German fast is to pick up everyday expressions. Now that you have some essential vocabulary under your belt, and you know how to build sentences, you can learn useful, daily phrases.
You can start by learning the phrases that you find the most interesting or handy. For example, if you’re a coffee lover, learn how to order an espresso. If you’re more of a beer person, why don’t you find out how to say cheers in German?
Choose whatever you think will be the most helpful and fun to learn! If you’re a globetrotter, here’s a thorough list of 101 useful German phrases for travel you can start with.
8. Consume German media
Do you know what the best way to learn German while sitting on your couch happens to be? With German movies, music, and podcasts, of course! With some basic German in your linguistic arsenal, you can start consuming German media to bolster your learning.
Listening to German podcasts, reading German books, or watching German series and movies are all great ways to strengthen and accelerate your learning. Additionally, most of these resources are either free or a subscription away.
At first, in the case of movies and series, you may want to turn on subtitles to get your bearings and make this easier. However, as you make progress, these sorts of resources will become easier to understand and more enjoyable to watch.
Alternatively, there are loads of free German YouTube channels about different subjects. There is bound to be something you can enjoy and benefit from. Here’s a fun list of German YouTubers that we recommend.
Make steady progress
9. Practice with native speakers
The best way to learn the German language undoubtedly involves practicing with native speakers. Native speakers are an invaluable resource for language learners as they provide immediate feedback on mistakes and proper pronunciation. Additionally, it’s a fun and engaging way of actually speaking the language.
MeetUp and My Language Exchange are two great places to find a language exchange partner. Alternatively, you can try and find people in your community who speak German and are interested in learning another language.
10. Consider full immersion
Some linguistic experts consider full immersion as the best way to learn German or any other language. Immersion means being surrounded by your target language as much as possible. This can mean moving to a country where they speak said language, taking a full immersion course, or exposing yourself to the language as much as humanly possible.
It’s definitely one of the most intense methods to learn German, and it’s incredibly effective. Think about it: the more you are exposed to German, the faster you’re bound to learn it. After all, that’s how German toddlers learn their native tongue.
Obviously, the most straightforward way to go about this is to travel to a German-speaking country for the longest period of time possible. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford such a luxury.
- First, change the language settings on your electronics (smartphone, tablet, and laptop)
- Second, create flashcards in German for everyday objects around the house
- Third, find and hang out with native speakers online and in your local community (See tip #9)
- Lastly, consume as much German media as possible (See tip #8)
Additionally, if you have the time and money, there are some great full-immersion courses out there. We compiled a neat list of schools that offer these courses in the US and abroad.
Accelerate your journey
11. Learn with a language tutor
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the best way to learn German is to actually speak the language. After all, that’s why you’re learning it, right? While speaking with native speakers is fantastic, working with a language tutor is also an excellent resource, complete with a few extra bonuses.
Besides usually being native speakers, tutors are frequently certified or trained in language teaching. Plus, 1-on-1 sessions are focused on helping you reach your fluency goals. That means the tutor will create conversations based on your specific goals, interests, and improvement areas.
Whether you do it online or in person, language tutoring usually costs money. Consequently, a tutor will not miss a session or stand you up in a café unless there’s a very good reason for that.
Fluent Forever’s Live Coaching can put you in touch with your very own native speaker certified in our language teaching method. Besides, getting individual language tutoring, you get the added benefit of co-creating sessions based on your interests, passions, and goals.
Additionally, our tutors are referred to as language coaches. That’s because they cover the extra role of keeping you stoked and accountable for your lessons. Learn more about our Live Coaching program here.
12. Try language learning apps and software
Language apps and software are the best way to learn German for people who need a flexible, on-the-go learning resource. Such tools allow you to learn at your own pace and from the comfort of your home. Plus, they are often gamified to create a more engaging and fun learning experience. We’ve put together a list of the best language learning games and apps you can check out here.
While most apps and software teach you grammar and vocabulary, they won’t give you a chance to improve your pronunciation and practice with actual conversations. Additionally, these resources often cost a monthly or yearly fee. In other words, you’ll be paying for an incomplete learning experience.
Access to top-notch quality language resources will give you the right tools for the best way to learn German. So, to that end, our certified polyglot Gabe compiled a list of German-learning resources. Below, you’ll find tools for your German pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Use these resources as part of your learning journey, and to complement your progress in the Fluent Forever app.
First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English – the video tutorials here should help. Once you understand that, start working on German.
Modern German pronunciation seems to be the best book on the topic now. Use internet resources to give you some audio input, too, which is essential. If you want to jump to free internet resources, check out Wikipedia’s German Phonology page and this pronunciation guide with recordings.
Overall, most of German’s trickiness comes in the form of vowels. I did a whole survey of this back in 2012, and you can see the results over here. Still, there are a few “Achs” and “Ichs” that might be tricky in the beginning. In terms of consonants, you’ll need the [ç] (“Ich”), [x] (“Bach”), and the uvular R [ʁ] (“Rache”).
If you want to really polish your accent, then get a good clean [l] (“Last”), where the back of your tongue stays down and only the front comes up. Vowels, as mentioned above, are a bit of a disaster. German has 15 vowels, many of which are brand-new for an English speaker. You’ll get most of them from the French pronunciation video, and my German pronunciation trainer is available right here.
There are also some Anki flashcards for German to improve your pronunciation, such as the German alphabet, German IPA Pronunciation, German minimal pairs, and other useful goodies.
We’ve made a base vocabulary list of 400 words to start you off! We find it easiest to translate those words using the short dictionaries at the end of a Lonely Planet phrasebook: they’re cheap, short, and they give you good, standard translations for your words (just ignore the ridiculous pronunciation guides).
You can access Anki decks to boost up your German vocab, like the German alphabet, German Top 2000 Words, and many more. Later, when you’re ready for sentences, you can go back to your phrasebook and grab some. After that, try these:
The Routledge Frequency Dictionaries series is excellent, with example uses and everything. Get this at the beginning to direct your vocabulary work!
The Mastering Vocabulary series is a wonderful set of books that contain core vocab for just about any field/topic you can think of. They’re great for adding to your vocab once you get your first 1,000 or 2,000 words from a frequency list.
Then, you can graduate to a monolingual dictionary.
The Duden Band 2 Stilwörterbuch has great descriptions of the differences between related words, like the difference between anhören, zuhören, and plain old hören, all in simple German with a bunch of examples. It’s my dictionary of choice. Be absolutely sure you memorize the gender of each noun from the beginning, or you’re going to be running into problems for the rest of your German studies!
Another word frequency resource
If you search around on the web, you can also find a neat set of sentences that are ranked based upon how frequently the words within those sentences show up within the language, then create Anki decks to store them, with Text-to-Speech recordings of each sentence and translations. They’re a nice resource to mine for useful content. We’d suggest finishing the 625, then looking through them in order for new words or new grammatical constructions, and then learning those new chunks via New Word cards, New Word Form cards, and Word Order cards.
We’ve never seen a grammar book with better reviews than Hammer’s book. Get it with the workbook.
If you’re a real beginner, then you might like Rosenberg’s German: How to Speak and Write It beginner guide to start out, then move on to Hammer’s books.
Intermediate students might prefer Rankin’s Handbuch zur Deutschen Grammatik. Each section is a self-contained grammar workshop on a single theme, so you can spend a week focusing on just a single chunk of your German. Also, it sounds like they haven’t changed much between the 4th and 5th version, and the 4th version is easier to find used, so I linked it here.
You can read anything that you enjoy. We’re big fans of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading. The German ones are actually affordable on Amazon.
No German resource list would really be complete without dict.cc and dict.leo, a pair of pretty phenomenal bilingual dictionaries. For monolingual dictionaries, go with the Duden Band 2, mentioned above, or try Duden’s online offerings. Linguee is a lovely dictionary resource, in that it shows you multiple example sentences for each word and tells you about each word’s relative frequency in the language.
If you have more questions about Anki and learning German, there’s also the Anki language learners community on Reddit. You can even check out this Anki language learning blog for other Anki tips and tricks for learning German.
The Assimil series is a sort of special language learning resource that we’ve discussed in the past. It doesn’t quite t into any of the categories above, and we think it works best as a sort of supplemental source of German input. Here’s the beginner German version with CDs.
A reader has suggested a great resource for minimal pairs that could easily be used in Anki.
Lastly, Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages including German.
Learn German with the best all-in-one method out there
Without a doubt, the best way to learn German is by downloading Fluent Forever’s app and joining its popular Live Coaching program.
Through the app, you’ll learn the basics of German following our 4-step, scientifically backed method as follows:
Step 1 – First, the app will rewire your ears to understand German pronunciation via 1,500+ ready-to-use minimal pair tests.
Step 2 – Second, you’ll learn essential German vocabulary through the awesome power of personalized flashcards and our patented spaced repetition system (SRS) algorithm. Our app will show you how to create simple yet effective custom flashcards with images, videos, or drawings to help you learn and retain words longer.
Additionally, our SRS algorithm will create review sessions based on your performance in past reviews, helping you learn words faster and more efficiently.
Step 3 – Third, after learning some basic German vocab, you’ll learn Deutsche’s grammar-building sentences with words you already know. Plus, you can create your own sentences using words, phrases, or expressions you find useful.
Step 4 – Lastly, to consolidate all of the above, it’s time to work with your very own language coach. Our coaches are 100% native speakers trained in our 4-step method. Additionally, your sessions are fully customizable to your interests and fluency goals.