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How to learn German efficiently

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

You must have experienced it before - you hear someone speaking in German and you immediately get a chill down your spine. Whether it's because it's a language that twists the tongue and breaks the teeth, or whether it has to do with the history of Germany or you're someone who really loves the German language, we can all agree on one thing: German is a challenging language.

For someone like me, who has learned the language before and after moving to Germany and who likes to learn new things constantly, the process will always look something like this:

Yes, learning a new language is something that can push you to the edge; but you will see that, step by step, the content comes in and in a reasonably short time, you will start speaking German!

So let's start with the question -

Why should I learn a new language? Doesn't everyone speak English there?

So... no. But it would be easier, wouldn't it?

What's more, learning a new language (especially that of a place you are moving to or spending a lot of time in) helps with many things! Including

- brain improvement and that of other abilities;

- comfort in trips, getting to know new people and cultures;

- expanding career options.

This is surely enough to make you want to begin, isn't it?

How long does it take to feel comfortable talking?

This is a somewhat complex question and it depends on the nature of your learning and the amount of practice. There are "easies" languages such as English and Spanish, whose learning time is shorter, about 650 hours in the classroom. German is a little more complex and can take about 900 hours in a class, but don't let it frighten you, since there are many similarities to English, and the number of grammar rules can actually help with the structure.

So I gathered some tips for you to try to get below the aforementioned 900 hours, and even have fun along the way:

1. Determine your goals

Want to learn just to learn? For work? To talk to cashiers in the supermarket? Being prepared in advance will help set your goal, give you a clear direction, and boost your motivation, confidence, and self-esteem, With the help of a clear goal, you can reach other aims on the way to it. Start with short, medium, and long-term aims so you can track your steps. A long-term goal would be to have an actual conversation with a German speaker. For this, you need medium-term targets like passing a test or understanding a few episodes in a series. To get there, you need short-term targets like understanding words related to certain topics.

2. Learn as many useful words as possible

The rules of the German language are not easy at all. There are "trennbare" words, the accusative and dative, words that change the structure of a sentence, and lots of other strange rules, but learning how they work will come with time. They say that 1,000 words are enough to know how to communicate comfortably in a foreign language - and from personal experience, this is true. You have tons of great apps for learning words, like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Fluent Forever, Memrise, Babble, and the list goes on. I recommend using one program (personally I liked Memrise and Babble) and downloading something called Flashcards, which allows you to write the word on a card and its meaning on the other side. It is recommended to add a sentence to the interpretation of the word that will help you remember the meaning more easily. For example, der Tisch - "table" - My husband (der) placed the fish (similar-sounding word) on the table.

Sounds funny and convoluted but really works!

3. Watch as much German content as possible

As a non-native English speaker, how did I learn and improve my English? By watching series and movies, playing computer games, talking with people, and watching social media posts. That's an easy way of learning new words and phrases, and we also had a hard time with it at first, until we start getting it. It's a process that can take years, but the more you get used to hearing the language (Playing games and watching videos all day ain't that bad all of a sudden, huh?) the more your brain will know how to connect the dots. I also learned Spanish from telenovelas by just watching them as a child. I don't recommend German telenovelas that much, but they have series and movies that aren't bad at all! In general, there is a really excellent dubbing culture in Germany, and every movie released in the cinema is also dubbed into German, so take some movies you know well and watch them in German without subtitles! It will be very difficult, but you will start to understand the discourse more and more.

4. Don't try to find the logic too much

This is something my husband experienced with maximum intensity. He likes to study topics related to psychology, science, and physics, behind which there is usually a logical explanation as to "why" something happens. In language studies, it is the complete opposite!

Languages were invented by people and their rules were rooted in dialects for thousands of years while taking inspiration from other languages. So trying to find the logic behind something like,

"Why, when you use the word weil, does the verb move to the end of the sentence?!"

...won't really help you too much and will create frustration. The best method is to understand that this is how it works, internalize it, and move on. You can try asking the same questions about the English language, and there the answer will usually be, "that's the way it is".

5. Try reading books out loud

I recommend starting with children's books. Reading aloud will help you feel more comfortable with the language and get to know lots of new words that are written in logical sentences, as opposed to single words in apps. Don't try to translate everything in the beginning, and try to look for things that repeat themselves and how they connect to other phrases. Everything will be easier the more you continue, and you will see that in a short time you will start reading even more complex things. In addition to books, change your smartphone and computer language to German. I promise you, you will pull out your hair at first, but this is the fastest way to get to know complex and useful words! The most important thing is not to give up and return to your comfort zone. I believe in you!

6. Make as many mistakes as possible and let people correct you

We all make mistakes, especially when learning a new subject. Like riding a bicycle, language is like a muscle, and it needs to be strengthened by falls and mistakes. When we call a German business, our first question is: "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" (Do you speak English?), and even if they answer "yes," we continue to speak in German; that way, the other party understands that it is not our main language, and now we can make mistakes without feeling like we're being judged!

However, it is important to note that the more mistakes are repeated, the more they remain in your vocabulary. Therefore, at the beginning of the studies, the German teachers will correct you, and you should also ask native speakers to correct you when they notice mistakes. Making a mistake is good, as long as you learn something from it.

7. Find the good things in the language

German is not that complex a language when you think about it deeply. Many of the words are similar to each other with a different opening for other meanings, there are no complex tenses like in English, and you read and write it exactly as you hear it (unlike English, with words like "knee," "know," "knock," for German words like Knie ("knee"), they will say "k-nee" with the "k" sound). Every language has a special beauty and advantages, and if you look for them while learning, it will help you a lot!

8. Learn with a good teacher

There is no better first impression than an excellent teacher who conveys the material in a friendly and intelligent manner, although class size is also important. We studied in a class of 15 people when we arrived and we were with an excellent teacher, but working with textbooks and a lot of people made the experience a little difficult. Because I want to help you as much as possible, I teamed up with a teacher who speaks German as a mother tongue, and together with her, we created a course for you that will really teach you how to speak German in your everyday life, without books, with a small group and not every day. We made sure to give you the most affordable price possible, and you can start online even before you move. For more details or to register, click here.

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