In my previous blog post I discussed whether German is a difficult language to learn or not — and hopefully I was able to convince you it’s really not as bad as many sources try to make it seem.
In this blog post, I’d like to give you a couple of suggestions on how exactly you can learn German in the best and most effective ways. Studying doesn’t always have to be dry, tedious and boring!
Here’s how you can find your very own best way to learn German.
While it’s tempting to jump head in into your new project — in this case, learning German — it is important to remember that sometimes going slower is the best way to go.
Especially with a language that offers more than a few pitfalls, it pays off to start with easier topics and slowly work your way up to the more complicated ones: Maybe learning new vocabulary is a breeze for you, whereas endless hours cramming grammar topics might be difficult and tedious.
I usually try to strike a delicate balance by alternating the hard stuff (for me this is definitely grammar!) and subjects that I have an easier time dealing with (in my case vocabulary).
In my opinion, this offers a bit of variation between challenging yourself but also experiencing plenty of small victories, e.g. seeing how many new words can quickly be memorized.
Put Things into Context (and Don’t Skimp on Studying Vocabulary)
A few people I know have mentioned that they have an easier time learning a language when they put new vocabulary into a specific context. Learning a phrase involving the previously unknown word can help to build memory hooks, making it easier to memorize specific vocabulary as well as how to use the word in a sentence.
|Die Fähigkeit (singular), die Fähigkeiten (plural) — ability, abilities
→ “Ich habe seine Fähigkeiten unterschätzt.” — “I underestimated his abilities.”
This way, you are learning not just the word itself (Fähigkeit — ability), but also the article accompanying the word (in this case, the word “Fähigkeit” is female).
On top of that, since the new word is put into context, you also will see how it is used in the accusative (“I have underestimated what?”). That way, you are also diving into the grammatical aspect of using said word.
Aside from putting vocabulary into context, it is important to broaden your active vocabulary as much as you can. While understanding and using German grammar correctly is important, acing German grammar won’t do you much good if you don’t have a good base when it comes to actual words you have memorized.
Although it is kind of par for the course — every language lives through proper use of vocabulary — I think it is important to mention this once again: the more words you know, the easier it will be for you to maintain a conversation and to actually participate in understanding the actual language, whether it’s through talking to people, watching TV or reading a magazine or a paper.
Easy Ways to Memorize German Vocabulary (and Other Stuff)
If you are struggling to memorize certain words (or if you simply have a hard time memorizing vocabulary, period), you can actively try to build memory hooks by e.g. putting sticky notes around your house on objects around you.
You could, for example, put a note on your fridge that reads “der Kühlschrank” (refrigerator) — providing an easy method to learn a word more or less in passing. The same could be done with other objects in your house.
This provides an especially nifty and effective way to learn nouns, although you could even branch the sticky note method out a bit: if we stay on the example of “der Kühlschrank”, you could also easily memorize associated adjectives, such as “kalt” (cold).
Another great way to memorize important knowledge more or less in passing is to put it out in plain sight. This is a trick I’ve learned from my fifth grade English teacher, and while it is kind of silly, it has been proven to be very effective (at least for me).
If there’s a certain topic you are struggling with — e.g. the conjugation of a certain word — write it down on a piece of paper and put it on your bathroom mirror. This way, you always see whatever is hard for you to memorize when getting ready in the morning or getting ready for bed. While this may seem pretty insignificant (and not like actual “studying”), your brain memorizes more than you’d think!
In other words: Putting this kind of reminder out in plan sight won’t replace “real” studying, but it might help make things a little easier for you.
Speaking of making things a bit easier on you: another great way to sort of “kickstart” your brain is revising before bedtime. I know, taking your study notes to bed with you might seem a little compulsive, but you don’t need to put in a late-night cramming session by any means.
Simply reading over your notes will give your brain a small refresher before sleep (where information is processed and your brain regenerates from your daily activities).
This can help you memorize important information literally in your sleep — and while this is also not a substitute for actual studying, it can be very helpful!
Immerse Yourself in the German Language!
When I started learning Japanese for the first time (at this point I was enrolled in university), there was a small section in our faculty library with children’s books for those who just started out learning the language.
For the longest time, I looked at the various Japanese characters and had absolutely no clue — which was even more frustrating because what I held in my hand were essentially books for small toddlers.
Eventually though, while mindlessly flipping through the thick pages one random day, I saw the picture of two butterflies — a small one and a big one — and read the statement “Mama wa kirei” (“Mom is pretty.”): I just had read my first Japanese sentence, by myself and without any help.
This was the first time I felt like I truly understood the language, and not just only from my professor’s notes or through a textbook.
Whether you do it by starting small — with children’s books, for example — or diving right in with TV shows and German newspaper articles, exposing yourself to a language is highly important.
Especially when listening to spoken words (through podcasts, music, audiobooks or TV programs) you get a feel for the pronunciation, flow and sound of a language — and at the same time you will eventually pick up on certain words, helping you understand more and more.
One very effective way of going about this is watching a movie you are already very familiar with. This way you can easily follow the plot and learn the language without getting frustrated and zoning out.
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to understand much when watching programs you are not familiar with initially — you’ll be surprised how quickly you will make progress if you are consistent in your efforts!
Consider Finding a Tandem Partner (or German Native Speakers)
I probably should give a disclaimer before I go deeper into this topic: Not everyone is a people person, so finding a German-speaking person to communicate with regularly might not really be something you are comfortable with.
However, there are plenty of (online) resources, such as apps and websites that can connect you with German native speakers all over the world. There are also opportunities to find real-life tandem partners, oftentimes through e.g. schools, colleges or universities in your city.
This way, you will be able to learn the ins and outs of the German language firsthand (and have the opportunity to listen to what actual German sounds like apart from the “textbook” version of the language). At the same time, you might be able to teach the other person a little bit about your native language, whether this is English, Spanish or Polish.
As I previously stated, not everyone is comfortable with the prospect of sitting down and learning German from a stranger via Skype or at your local library. But if you are, this might provide you with a great opportunity to not only learn German, but also get a good insight into German culture — and maybe even make a new friend!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
As I said before — learning a language sometimes takes a little bit of discipline and just sticking with a routine of constant revision. Some languages require more of that “routine maintenance” than others, although I’d definitely say that German is one that tends to be on the more work-intense end, especially when factoring in the elaborate grammar with its distinct features (such as the case system).
Don’t let minor setbacks discourage you. The phrase “practice makes perfect” might sound like a horrible cliché, but it holds a lot of truth!
Consider Your Options — and Know Which Way of Studying Works Best for You!
We all have different ways and methods of studying — some of us are visual learners, while some of us prefer to listen to information in order to process it better.
There are numerous ways out there to learn a language. Obviously, the fact that you are reading this blog post makes for an amazing start, because one of the easiest ways to learn a new language and become fluent fast is by practicing with Clozemaster 😉
Another effective way for you to pick up a new language is to have comprehensive charts and tables that explain various aspects of the language, such as its grammar. Maybe you’re a bit like me and actually prefer textbooks over a “modern media only” approach.
The key is to combine these various aspects of studying. Customizing your learning experience will make for even more effective studying and will help you memorize vocabulary, grammar and syntax even faster.
If you are unsure which type of studying works best for you, I highly recommend giving a couple of methods a try. I personally have to write things down on paper in order to fully comprehend them.
I hope I could give you some helpful hints and tips on the best ways to learn German (and maybe even helped you make studying German a little less boring)!
As always, have fun and viel Erfolg in your endeavor to become fluent in German fast!
Learn German in context with Clozemaster
Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in German.