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Tips for German Language Learners

In daily life, many busy expats manage to get by without fluency in German. However, if you are interested in getting to know the language a little bit better, this guide is just the thing for you. It provides an intro to German as well as practical tips for language students.
If you are trying to learn German, there are various tips and tricks to help you with your studies.

If you are trying to learn German, there are various tips and tricks to help you with your studies.

According to Germany’s most famous poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “all theory is grey, and green the golden tree of life”. Or, to put it in more prosaic words, after so much theoretical information on learning German on the previous page, a few practical tips would be great.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The basic rule for learning German – or any other language – is simple: Practice, practice, practice. All four aspects of your language skills need regular training, or you’ll soon forget everything you have learned before.

Therefore, try to make some space in your busy schedule for two things: language lessons where you hear new words, and homework or repetition to memorize the content of your latest class. Both the language course and your own studies should include exercises for passive knowledge (listening and reading) as well as active skills (speaking and writing).

Vocabulary and Grammar

To memorize new words, try to learn vocabulary in context:

  • Form example sentences (e.g. Die Sonne scheint am Himmel. – The sun is shining in the sky.).
  • Categorize words into thematic groups (e.g. das Wetter – the weather).
  • Try to find similar words in other languages you may know (Sonne – sun - zon).
  • Use notecards for your repetition sessions.

Both abstract overview tables (like this one for German verb tenses) and concrete example sentences (e.g. Der Junge sagte, “Hallo!” – ‘The boy said, “Hello!”’) are important parts of grammar training.

If you’d like to practice your writing skills, find a native speaker, a German teacher, or an advanced student to be your e-mail pal. You can keep them up-to-date on your daily activities at work, in school, and at home, and ask them to correct your most common mistakes.

Reading and Listening

The Internet in general is a veritable heaven for language students. Since about 10% of all websites are written in German, it should be easy to find something you’re interested in.

Stick to a topic you are passionate about: This helps you keep your attention focused on a site or article. No matter whether it’s economics, German pop music, celebrity gossip, or international politics, search for German-language information on your hobbies and interests. It will help you expand your topical vocabulary and improve your reading skills.

In order to practice reading comprehension, it’s also useful to develop a special reading strategy for foreign languages:

  • Don’t try to understand every single word. 
  • Pre-read the text (i.e. check who wrote it, when it was written, which kind of audience it was written for, what the title means). 
  • Concentrate on important words to parse the meaning of a sentence: verbs, nouns, but also some little words like nicht or niemals (‘not’ or ‘never’)
  • Try to guess unknown words from the context before looking them up in a dictionary.
  • Focus on getting the gist of the text, instead of the details. It’s important to know that Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel talked to US President Obama about foreign policy, but not that important what they had for lunch at the White House. 
  • If you are able to summarize a German text in one to three sentences of your own language, congratulations!

To brush up your listening comprehension, give German radio and TV a try. The German broadcasting station Radio Deutsche Welle is a great place to start. They have dedicated an entire section of their webpage to students of the German language. They offer world news in slowly spoken German as well as video clips (plus transcripts) on topical issues.

Various Types of Language Learners

Your personal language exercises also depend on the learning type you identify as:

  • visual (seeing information)
  • auditory (hearing information)
  • kinesthetic (learning through doing, moving, touching).

Visual learners benefit greatly from textbooks, grammar books, and vocabulary trainers. They often take detailed notes and use color codes (e.g. to distinguish between the three genders for German nouns). Pictorial dictionaries with numerous illustrations and diagrams delight them, and they like using language software with video clips.

Auditory types, on the other hand, learn more quickly when listening to the language. They make great use of web radio stations and German pop songs, and they enjoy watching easy-to-comprehend German daytime TV (e.g. soap operas) as well as their favorite movies from German cinema. Listening comprehension and pronunciation exercises for their mp3 player or smartphone are an ideal match for auditory learners, too.

The kinesthetic learning type is probably the most difficult to accommodate. They prefer a “learning-by-doing” approach with very concrete situations.

An interactive software where language learning is part of a detailed simulation would be near-perfect for them. A language class with conversational role-playing games (“in the supermarket”, “how to conduct a job interview in German”) is even better. A kinesthetic learner might also enjoy combining language studies with a favorite activity, e.g. by taking a cooking class in German.

Viel Spaß beim Deutschlernen! – Have fun learning German!


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