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If you are just starting to learn German, the best way to begin is by listening to spoken German and learning simple every-day vocabulary in context. Don't worry too much about proper grammar yet (it will come later!), but get a feel of how the language sounds and how the basic phrases are used in context. For English speakers, learning German can come quite easily because so much vocabulary is the same or similar in both languages, but grammar and spelling of German words can scare off new learners, so let's worry about these later on! Resources below will be a good place to start for you - pick two or three of them (your learning will progress much faster if you tackle German from different angles), and try to spend at least an hour a day working on them! Many of these tools can be used on the go, making it easier for you to fit language learning into your schedule.
Pimsleur is probably the best tool for beginner language learners I've found so far. The Pimsleur method is based on 30-minute audio lessons (best done daily) that get the learner to listen to simple conversations and repeat acquired phrases at specific intervals after being prompted by the instructor. Without even noticing, you are learning and retaining full sentences that you can use pretty much from Day 1. Instead of simply memorizing words and phrases, you become truly engaged in the lessons and can never be a passive listener. By regularly repeating what you are hearing (before even seeing how the words are written), you also learn proper pronunciation (a huge plus!). Quizzes and short exercises at the end of each lesson help you visualize the material learned and practice it. Their mobile app works great on the go, and you can easily do your daily lesson when exercising, doing housework, taking a walk, or traveling to the office. I've found this to be an excellent app to start conversing in a language very fast, and a great first step in your language-learning journey. Try if this tool is right for you through a 7-day free trial!
Rocket Languages is a recent discovery for me, and I LOVE it! In addition to 20-25 minute audio lessons (somewhat similar to Pimsleur) that you can listen to hands-free, they have intensive pronunciation training (forcing you to pronounce all words and phrases until the voice-recognition software confirms that your pronunciation is 100% accurate), a series of exercises to test your memory and spelling, and a solid grammar section. I like that it forces your active participation and has interactive leaderboards putting you in competition with other users (this speaks to my competitive side and motivates me not to lose my streak). This app is a bit costly, but they have regular promotions that can be as much as 60% off, allowing you to get the full course (from beginner to advanced) for less than US$ 180 and less than US$60 for just Level 1. This is way less than you would pay for in-person classes to reach the same level. If you actually stick to daily lessons with Rocket, you can make impressive progress in as little as 2-3 months.
GermanPod101 (available through a mobile app Innovative 101) is one of the more comprehensive online options for German learners that I've come across. They offer short video and audio lessons organized in "pathways" that are easy to follow and progressively guide the learner through different aspects of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. The lessons are mostly 5-10 minutes in length (easy to complete on a short break or during daily commute), and offer real, applicable language that you will be able to use in your daily life. Besides audio and video lessons (quite entertaining and engaging), this resource offers flashcards, quizzes, vocabulary lists, and various pathways to take the learner to the desired level. It's also good at breaking down grammar, ensuring that the learner gets a comprehensive overview of the language (instead of memorizing long vocabulary lists). The lessons are narrated by native German speakers and can be played at varying speeds, giving you an extra bonus of hearing different accents and slowing down the dialogues if you find the narrators to speak too fast!
Learn German with podcasts
Podcasts are another great way to learn and improve a language. Their main advantage is that you can listen to them on the go - when you are doing chores around the house, exercising, driving, or going to work. Some of them are really entertaining! Another great thing about podcasts is that you get to hear real people have actual conversations on different topics, training your ear to a variety of accents and introducing you to vocabulary on many different topics. I usually listen to podcasts on Castbox.fm (a free podcast player that has a good mobile app), but you can listen to podcasts on many other platforms (e.g. iTunes, Spotify, etc.)
Learn German through stories
The German Uncovered course from Olly Richards, a world-renowned polyglot, is probably the most fun way for a beginner to learn German (even though it does require a bit more discipline than a mobile app like Memrise or Busuu). It works by immersing the learner in German by reading and listening to an engaging story. Learning words, phrases & grammar happens almost on its own with the help of instructional videos that bring the story to life. It may feel more challenging than other courses (since this course doesn't spend weeks on teaching you "hallo" and "danke", but jumps right into the subject matter), and from lesson 1 you are presented with a 2-3 page story - all in German! - but the way the instructors break down the text and guide you through it makes the task more than doable. I also find that by challenging your brain to more complex tasks from the very start, you actually pick up the material much faster (it's like learning to swim by being thrown in the water), and you progress very fast indeed. While it would be best to complement this resource with a few others (especially for phonetics and vocabulary), this can definitely be your core tool for starting to learn German.
Master German pronunciation
One of the trickiest things about German is probably its pronunciation. All those harsh sounds could deter even the bravest learners, and it can be incredibly frustrating for both you and the German-speakers listening to you to battle with a thick accent from your native language. This is why it's so important to start proper pronunciation from the very start. The Mimic Method is the absolute best resource I've found to master the flow of German. It helps you train your ear and vocal cords to German sounds through music and targeted exercises, and highlights the most common pronunciation mistakes that English speakers make.
Recommended books for learning German
As much as the new technologies are fun for learning a language, good old traditional books are still a necessary and valuable resource for any language learner. If you want to solidify your knowledge and progress, you should have:
A good grammar book (I recommend Joseph Rosenberg's "German: How to Speak and Write It" and Martin Durriel's "Hammer's German Grammar and Usage")
A good phrasebook (a good one is "Lonely Planet German Phrasebook" by Guenter Muehl)
Frequency Dictionary showing the most frequently used words in German, so you can focus on learning the words that are most frequently used ("A Frequency Dictionary of German" by Randall Jones)
Fiction in German: you can start from kids' books (such as “Das Märchen”), but there are also lots of short stories in German available on Amazon and from Olly Richards mentioned above, such as "Short Stories in German for Beginners"
My favorite place to get German books is BookDepository.com - an excellent online bookstore that has a great selection and free shipping!
Recommended mobile apps
Memrise is my preferred app for expanding vocabulary in the early stages of learning a language. They use the spaced repetition method to get you to repeat words before you are likely to forget them. Their app feels like a game, as you are prompted to choose the right answer from multiple choices, translate words from English to German and back, and do speed rounds of vocab tests. You also compete with other users for top scores (making it easier to stick with the app and encouraging you to do more every day). Memrise has a free version, but even their annual subscription is very affordable (if you get the right deal, it can be as low as US$ 30).
Busuu is a great app for learning German grammar in addition to useful vocab, and I prefer this app to the giants like Rosetta Stone or Babbel. The lessons are structured around levels (from A1 to B2) and a daily lesson can take as little as 5 minutes. Another cool feature is the opportunity to have your exercises checked and corrected by native speakers. This can be intimidating in the beginning, but once you get over the initial shyness, it's quite a great feature. And it's also very affordable! A yearly subscription would cost you less than $50 (and promotions are regularly available), but a free version gets you quite far as well.
Mondly German is another good app that can as an excellent study aid for reinforcing basic words and concepts that you learned elsewhere. While it would not be sufficient or effective to be used on its own or as an only tool, it can be a good complement to other tools described earlier. It can help you practice simple dialogues, learn new vocabulary, and see words and phrases in context. There's a limited free version, so you can try it out for yourself without the risk or heavy investment.
Recommended resources for intermediate learners
Beelinguapp - This fun app helps you learn Languages with Audiobooks and Music. The app shows the exact same text in two languages, side by side, so you can compare the two and learn the language in context. At the same time, it is an audiobook, and with its unique karaoke reading, you follow the audio in the text on both sides. The texts go from fairy tales and news to science papers and novels, and new ones are added every week. You can listen to a native speaker narrate at your preferred speed (even with your phone locked or while offline) and take tests to assess your comprehension. This is definitely one of the more fun apps, and it makes learning entertaining as you are reading and hearing real stories and songs.
Rocket Languages (described above in the section for beginners) is also a great choice for intermediate learners (go straight for Level 2 on their site)! As mentioned above, in addition to 20-25 minute audio lessons (somewhat similar to Pimsleur) that you can listen to hands-free, they have intensive pronunciation training (forcing you to pronounce all words and phrases until the voice-recognition software confirms that your pronunciation is 100% accurate), a series of exercises to test your memory and spelling, and a solid grammar section. I like that it forces your active participation and has interactive leaderboards putting you in competition with other users (this speaks to my competitive side and motivates me not to lose my streak). This app is a bit costly, but they have regular promotions that can be as much as 60% off, allowing you to get the full course (from beginner to advanced) for less than US$ 180 and less than US$60 for just Level 1. This is way less than you would pay for in-person classes to reach the same level. If you actually stick to daily lessons with Rocket, you can make impressive progress in as little as 2-3 months.
Language Learning with Netflix - this Chrome extension lets you watch shows with two subtitles on at the same time, so you can visually pair translations with dialogue and learn new vocabulary in the process. It’s a clever service that makes use of Netflix’s massive catalog and all of the major languages in which it already offers subtitles, including German (but also Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and many others).
The tool works best as a supplement for people who already have some basic understanding of the language they’re learning. There’s a vocabulary-highlighting feature that grays out less common words, which is adjustable to match your vocabulary level. Hovering over a word produces a pop-up dictionary, and clicking the word lets you hear it. You can also slow down the dialogue or automatically pause playback at the end of every subtitle, so you can learn line by line. There’s even a catalog of recommendations for movies and shows that are good to study.
Grammar Hero - this course from Olly Richards (creator of the incredible "Uncovered" courses) is aimed at intermediate learners who are tired of translating in their head when they speak German. It makes learning grammar much more fun (and so much easier) than what you may remember about grammar learning from those boring language classes you had in school. Here Olly invites you to learn grammar through immersion in a story. You will be surprised how quickly you will master grammar in German when you are enjoying reading and listening through "controlled immersion". This method will help you internalize German grammar, speak with authenticity, and communicate with freedom!
italki - this site has hundreds of online tutors available for private one-on-one classes at a time convenient to you, and starting from as low as US$ 5 for a 30-minute session. You can test a few different teachers before you find the one you love! At this level, it's really important that you start speaking with native speakers, and an iTalki tutor will be a great option for your conversation practice, explanation of tricky grammar points, and pronunciation training. Scheduling regular classes with a tutor will also help with accountability and will force you to stay on track and be prepared for classes!
Recommended resources for advanced learners
If you've made it to the advanced level in German - CONGRATULATIONS!!! This must not have been easy, and you should be proud of yourself! Many people who reach this stage, however, feel frustrated by struggling to achieve even marginal progress. They feel that they are stagnating, going in circles and sometimes even regressing, losing some of the language skills they've learned over the previous months and years. If you feel that way too - that's perfectly normal. This often happens because you may still be using the tools and techniques you've been using earlier - at beginner and intermediate levels. These tools, however, are usually not well adapted for advanced learners. So what can you do to take your language skills to the next level and get closer to near-native fluency? Let us give you some ideas...
One of the best ways to rapidly improve your language skills is taking an immersion course in a country where the language is spoken. Even if you do just a two-week immersion where you take advanced classes, speak the language during the day with locals and classmates, and experience the life lived entirely in a foreign language, you'll discover that you will start thinking in the language, stop translating it in your head, pick up lots of local expressions and feel so much more comfortable speaking the language. This is something that is very hard to do when you take lessons in your home country and are surrounded by temptations to switch back to your stronger language(s). So why not spend your next holiday actively learning a language instead of lounging by the pool?
LanguageCourse.net is the best site I've come across to find a good language school in your country of choice. It allows you to search for German-language schools in German-speaking countries and filter your search by cost, city, type of classes, and type of living arrangements (e.g. you can seek family-stay or live in a student housing). It also offers school reviews from former students, so you can see for yourself what other learners had to say about their experiences. Many of the schools suggested on this site also offer extracurricular activities (always in your target language), such as cooking, dancing, or sports, and that is another great way to practice the language in context, beyond classroom walls.
Deutsch im Fokus / Alltagsdeutsch: The free "Alltagsdeutsch" website from Deutschen Welle (DW) includes entertaining audios on a variety of topics from everyday life. It is designed for advanced learners (C1 and C2 levels). Manuscripts and comprehension questions accompany the audios. There's a large archive of videos and audios, and the topics covered are very practical and have loads of everyday vocabulary.