1. Practice, practice, practice
As we’ve seen, there’s no magic way to learn German instantly. You’ll have to work at it a lot.
Obviously, if you’re in a class, you should attend class, do the homework and study as much as you can. Courses are good because they make you more accountable and push you to learn. But even if you’re not in a class, it’s still possible to practice when you have free time.
Fortunately, with the possibilities of the Internet, it’s easier than ever to practice.
You may want to study by yourself. If that’s the case, there are many resources and tips available for you. Or if you prefer more structure, there are quite a few free online German courses that you should consider, either as a supplement to another course or as your main course.
Also, if you haven’t tried FluentU or the FluentU App yet, you really should check it out. It’s entertaining, educational, fun and affordable. You can improve your German skills by watching videos, learning and practicing vocabulary, and taking comprehension quizzes.
2. The more you practice, the better and quicker you’ll learn
Author Malcolm Gladwell proposed that, in order to become an expert at something, you need to practice it for 10,000 hours.
If that sounds like a lot of hours, that’s because it is! So, start putting in the hours as soon as you can.
If you want to work on grammar, start with some solid tips for general grammar learning or do a quick review of some common mistakes.
If you’re struggling with listening skills, you can start with a general overview about listening resources available online, then move on to podcasts or audiobooks. If you prefer to add in a visual aspect, look into movies and TV shows that will help you improve your listening comprehension.
Reading skills are also easy to practice, whether you want to find easy books or check out books that have been made into movies. And even reading this blog right now counts!
Pronunciation and speaking are a bit more difficult to practice if you don’t have a native speaker to talk with, but they’re not impossible to improve. Begin with general speaking practice strategies, some of which you can use even without a partner, then learn more about websites that give online speaking opportunities. Then read some posts about improving your pronunciation.
Last but certainly not least is vocabulary. Maybe you want to learn more idioms or proverbs. Or perhaps you’re tired of sounding like a robot and want to learn more German slang words. Learn which words you thought were okay to use but probably aren’t!
Also, consider increasing your vocabulary related to specific topics, such as colors, sports (specific sports like soccer/football), health and fitness, food or airports. And really, that’s just the beginning!
If it seems like this tip has a lot of links, that’s the point. And don’t forget that all of the links in this section are all from one site—FluentU—and that there are many more language learning websites out there where you can learn more.
3. Find your motivation
Like any goal, learning a language is always easier and more fun if you have a reason to do so. Be sure to remain focused on that reason, since it will help get you through the times when learning seems hard.
For example, do you want to learn German to get a job? To travel? To impress a girl or guy in your class? Or do you want to learn it simply because it isn’t easy, because it’s a challenge? Whatever your motivation is, be sure not to lose sight of that motivation.
You should also recognize that you may have more than one reason for learning German, and that motivations may adapt or change with time.
4. Work hard and play hard
The tips above have hinted at this idea, but it’s important to say it: learning German is so much better if you make it fun. You should try to make a game out of it, whether that means literally playing board games to learn German, or finding ways to include gamification in your German learning.
This is admittedly a strange example, but in the movie “Billy Madison,” Billy is studying with his girlfriend Veronica (don’t worry, that video clip is safe for work). If he gets an answer correct, she takes off an item of clothing. So even though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the “strip studying” method, I do approve of the spirit of the exercise, since Billy found a way to make studying fun and interesting for him!
5. For better future output, get lots of input now
You’ve certainly noticed that in all your language classes, there’s a period of time when you do a lot of listening and some reading. That period usually comes before you start speaking and writing. Well, that’s a natural way of learning something new. Before you can start doing it yourself, you have to see and understand how it’s done.
There’s an idiom for this, too: “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” This means that sometimes you have to do things in the right order. In this case, it means getting as much input as you can first, and not stressing out about your output (which is speaking and writing)—at least not at the beginning.
6. Focus on communication first
German’s vocabulary is enormous, its pronunciation is difficult, and its spelling is a giant mess. To add to that, you’re not perfect, so you’re going to make mistakes when you’re learning German. The sooner your accept this, the better.
Have you accepted this? Good!
Now it will be much easier for you to communicate with others and get your point across. You can work on perfecting things later in the learning process.
So how can you find language partners to communicate with? Well, you can always use your classmates—if you have any—or try to find them using the resources in tips 1 and 2.
You can also find fellow German learners on Facebook or other social sites, use the Internet to find other speakers and learners, or even sign up for a site like CouchSurfing.com, which can give you opportunities to meet new people in person while traveling!
7. Don’t forget structure
Despite everything I just said in tip 6, don’t forget that there are accepted “correct” ways to speak German. At the beginning of your language learning process, it’s usually best to focus on speaking and not worry much about mistakes, but when you get to more advanced levels, things like grammar, spelling and word choice do matter.
Think of language being like a building, and grammar is the structure. If you don’t have a good structure, eventually your building will collapse. Avoid that collapse by reviewing other posts on FluentU that can help improve your German structure and avoid mistakes.
8. Recognize that learning German isn’t a straight line
If you’re in a class, following a textbook or using any kind of curriculum, you’ll likely find that these resources present topics and grammar points in a certain order.
Generally, things move from easier to more difficult as time progresses, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to follow the book.
There will be times that you get bored and want to find new, specific information that’s not in the book. There will also be times that you’ll have to go back and review some material that didn’t make much sense the first time around. That’s good and normal.
You should also understand that there will be some days when you feel like an invincible German-speaking superhero, and there will be days when you feel like you couldn’t complete a sentence to save your life. Those ups and downs are normal, too. Just keep working and be patient, and you’ll surely improve.
9. Don’t translate everything
It used to be hard to look up every word in a dictionary, but with the Internet and Google Translate, it has become easier than ever to get fast “translations.”
Avoid this temptation.
The reason is that if you literally translate every single word of a sentence, it will probably sound terrible to a native speaker. That’s true for every language. Word-for-word translations generally don’t take things like idioms, auxiliaries and preposition changes into account, and as a result it’s nearly always obvious when students are translating every single word.
On the other hand, if you’re reading an English text and trying to translate it into your native language, it might not be as bad. It will probably waste your time and confuse you a bit, but at least it won’t confuse the person you’re speaking to.
10. Keep a language log or journal
Either buy a notebook or dedicate a file on your cell phone or computer to your German learning experience. Every time you learn a new, important word, add it to your log, along with a definition and and example, if possible. You can also write other experiences in German if you want more writing practice.
The benefit of a log like this is that you get to practice a bit of writing, of course, but it’s also good to reinforce new vocabulary. There’s a belief that in order to understand and retain a new vocabulary word, you need to use it in context at least three times. Keeping a log can help.
Additionally, if you look back at earlier entries in your German log, you’ll be able to reflect at how far you’ve progressed—and you’ll probably be surprised and motivated when you compare that to how much you know now!
11. Be consistent and accountable
This is more of a goal-setting tip, as opposed to a strictly German-learning tip.
The fact is, you’re more likely to successfully stick with a goal and complete it if you do it consistently and if you have some form of accountability.
Like in the tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” slow and steady wins the race.
If you can only dedicate 15 minutes a day to studying German—but you do those 15 minutes every day—you’ll probably have better results than if you try to study for 3 hours in one session on a single day. Or how about a plan to learn German in 35 minutes a day?
At the same time, if you have learning partners like classmates or family members who know what you’re doing, they’ll be able to help push you and motivate you to keep studying and to stick to your plan.
12. Be realistic
Sure, it would be great if you could practice for 10 hours a day, but that probably won’t happen. You’ll have to recognize your own limitations, especially in terms of time, and learn to work with those limitations.
As mentioned in tip 11, if you can only dedicate 15 minutes a day to studying, it’s better to acknowledge that and to work with it, than to make grand plans to study 2 hours a day, if those plans never actually happen.
Also, be realistic about your motivations (see tip 3). If you only want to learn English for business meetings, it wouldn’t make sense to buy a German book that focuses on tourism and vacation vocabulary.
13. Know your level to improve your level
This is similar to tip 12, but in order to recognize your limitations, you first need to understand what they are.
Tests are never fun, but sometimes they’re necessary to diagnose what areas you need to improve the most..
Once you’ve determined where your skills really are, it’ll be easier to move forward in the right direction.
14. Pay attention to pronunciation from the beginning
This is basically combining tips 6 and 7 into one piece of concrete advice: Focus on pronunciation starting at the early stages, since these problems are much more difficult to correct later on.
If you correct errors at the beginning, it’s much less likely that they’ll become cemented (last forever)..
15. Technology is your friend, so use it
As you’ve probably noticed from these tips and from the many links that they contain, the Internet is a great tool for language learning. I still love books, but realistically speaking, it’s much more common for people to use the Internet to practice their German skills these days than it is for them to open up a textbook.
I said that there was no magic technique for learning German, but if we imagined one, the Internet would probably be the closest thing to a magic pill or program to learn German quickly.
So keep on using Wikipedia (and even Wikipedia’s Simple German version), keep on using Facebook or Snapchat, keep on sending text messages, keep on listening to music on YouTube, and keep on writing! The truth is, any way that you can practice German can potentially help improve your skills, so take advantage of all the resources that we have available to us in this day and age!
If you follow this tip and the other 14 above it, you won’t instantly be able to speak German perfectly.
But they will help you improve if you follow them.