Improving Spoken German
Spoken German is fun because it allows you to communicate directly with other German speakers. It is also challenging! German pronunciation is very different from other languages, plus there are many words pronounced in a unique way! So how do you improve then?
1. Practice letter combinations that are giving you trouble.
When a long word includes a letter combo that you cannot pronounce, you will stumble. One way to improve is to get into the habit of practicing these letter combinations separately.
Any sound or letter pair could give you trouble since it is a very individual thing. The key is to recognize them and give yourself a little time to get used to them. This guide lists other tricky letter combinations found in the German language to help you with pronunciation.
2. Repeat difficult words out loud. Then repeat again.
To improve the likelihood of pronouncing German words correctly, you need to say them out loud many times. Choose a few words to focus on at a time and repeat them slowly as many times as you need.
Repeating words out loud to yourself is also important in order to get used to hearing yourself say them. It may not sound right at first, but soon you will get accustomed to even the most difficult German words.
Practice is the only thing that helps. This is best done in private so that you do not worry about how you sound!
3. Use Google Translate Listen for unknown words.
When it comes to words you do not recognize at all, Google Translate is your best friend! Even if you do not need the word translated, type it into the Google Translate box on the left. You will see a sound sign appear at the bottom, along with a microphone and a keyboard sign. Hit the sound sign and you will hear the automatic voice say the word for you.
4. Listen to how others pronounce unfamiliar words.
If you have no idea how to pronounce a certain word, but there is a chance that someone else might say it in conversation, listen very carefully to them. In fact, listening carefully is guaranteed to help you improve your German comprehension and speaking skills.
Once you hear the word said out loud, do not be afraid to repeat after them. If you think about it, this is actually how you learn to pronounce every word in German!
5. If you do not know how to pronounce something, take a guess!
Have you ever been in a situation where you just had to say something, but you had no idea how to pronounce it? It is common! You could be asked to read something in class. Maybe you need to ask for directions to a place with an unfamiliar name.
It can be an uncomfortable situation, for sure. Be brave and take a guess! If you pronounce it wrong, someone is likely to correct you. If not, you can always make a note of that word and practice it later in private. This is how you keep improving.
Enunciating means pronouncing your words clearly and articulately with the intention of being understood by your audience. Enunciation plays the most important role in being a successful German speaker despite what your accent may be/
Sometimes even native German speakers don’t enunciate enough. It takes a bit of practice. When you speak, breathe evenly, project your voice and take your time to pronounce every syllable of the words that you know give you trouble. Not rushing will help you speak naturally and without effort.
7. Stop worrying about your accent!
Quite possibly the most important tip for improving your spoken German is to stop thinking about your accent! Everyone has one. Even native speakers have one!
You may mispronounce something. You may stumble. It makes no difference and no one minds. As long as you follow tip seven and enunciate, you will be absolutely fine! Your accent will become more and more German the more you improve, and you can only improve by speaking more, so just go for it.
Tips for Improving Written German
8. Refresh your grammar periodically.
Unfortunately, German grammar rules are just like any other knowledge you obtain: if you do not refresh that knowledge from time to time, you forget it. If you write in German often, many grammar rules are always in your head. Some others may not be. This is completely normal! All you need to do is to go back to your preferred grammar textbook and flip through it every two weeks or every month.
Unlike German vocabulary or slang, German grammar rules do not change. This makes it so much easier for you to improve your grasp of grammar gradually and to improve the quality of your German writing in general.
9. Study your past writing to identify common errors.
If you are unsure what kind of grammar rules you need to look at, check your past writing. It could be your German homework, essays that you wrote, letters or messages to your friends.
Pretend that you are someone else reading this work and look for grammar mistakes and errors. You will likely find at least some. Again, this is normal! Work with them. Correct the errors and identify the corresponding grammar rule. These areas of grammar could use your attention. Very likely you will not make the same mistake again no matter what you write!
10. Practice writing in German every day, the fun way!
Think of all the fun technology and mobile apps that allow you to stay connected to your friends and family. Why not use emailing, messaging, texting to improve your written German?
The way to improve with technology is to practice, practice, practice. Focus on the short and fun stuff that it allows you to do:
email your German-speaking friends
send a text or two to your closest friends in German
tweet in German
ask for feedback on your work if you want, or review what you wrote after a few days to work on your grammar by yourself
You will not even notice that you are getting regular writing practice!
11. Do not give up on handwriting!
Yes, all this technology that we have access to these days is amazing! Its advantage—being able to type and send a message of any length very quickly—is also its downside. Many people just do not write anything in their own hand anymore. It is unfortunate: handwriting has a lot of benefits!
Writing something by hand improves the amount of information you recall, helps you be more creative, spell better and memorize difficult things more easily. So use it!
Write handwritten notes to your friends. Make a habit out of writing something in greeting cards (in German, of course). Take notes in class by writing them down instead of typing on your laptop. It is a great exercise that you can do anywhere at any time.
12. Read more in German.
Reading to improve writing? Really?
As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It is also one of the great ways to improve your language skills. Read in German. Read as much as you can and pay attention while you read!
Choose German authors whose writing style you like and notice how they write. You can learn a lot by analyzing sentence structure, word choices, even the length of paragraphs. Do not be afraid to imitate what you observe in your own writing.
Tips for Improving English Listening Comprehension
Listening as a language skill is hard. It is almost as hard as speaking. In fact, listening is one of the key skills to improve your speaking. When you understand what is being said around you, you can contribute to the conversation in a productive and competent way. There are many ways you can improve your German comprehension!
13. Watch German programs weekly.
Choose at least one audio or video program in German to watch or listen to every week. It should be at least one hour long to give you a good amount of practice. Doing it weekly is perfect because you will be able to find time for it and not feel overwhelmed by it at the same time.
It does not matter what you watch or listen to. It could be a movie, a documentary, a lecture or even an online course. All that matters is that you are getting exposure to German speech and learning to improve your understanding of it, step by step!
14. Play German programs in the background.
It may sound silly to suggest to have a TV on when you work or study, but the idea is this: when you hear background noises in German without actively paying attention to them, you are actually learning to be comfortable with them. You may not understand what is being said, and you do not have to. What you are doing is training your ears to easily tune into German conversations when you need. Your brain still processes background chatter even when you are busy doing something else.
German news channels work best for this kind of exercise. You can also switch on German radio!
15. Work on expanding your vocabulary.
Improving German comprehension goes hand in hand with expanding your vocabulary. The more words you know, the easier you will be able to understand what is being said around you! Expanding your vocabulary will also assist with improving the quality of your pronunciation.
The easiest way to expand your vocabulary is to take note of the unfamiliar words you encounter (meet) and to work with them when you have the time. You can:
pronounce them out loud
put them in context
make sentences with them
You can also make vocabulary cards to go back to the new words in the future!
16. Practice with strangers!
Since your goal is to improve German comprehension, it is very important that you practice with people you do not know as often as you can. Listening to your German teacher or your German friends is great, for sure. However, you are probably very used to the way they speak already. You are used to their accents!
To improve, you need to listen to strangers whose accents are unfamiliar to you, whose pace of speech may be very fast or very slow. Generally speaking, you can get that kind of practice by only following tip 14, but it is no substitute for face-to-face conversations.
Local German conversation circles and meetups are great for this. College lectures in German could also be very helpful. You may also consider attending events in German schools other than yours to get German conversation exposure in a beginner-friendly environment.