The best way to learn how to swim is to jump into the water.
This is an equally good strategy for many other situations, including learning German.
If you’re trying to learn German, one of the most effective methods for learning is to surround yourself with the language. Just like when you’re learning how to swim, you’ll struggle a little at first, but soon you’ll find that you already know most of the skills you need to survive.
Once you realize that you can survive, you’ll learn even more—and before you know it, you’ll be understanding everything and speaking German like a native.
There’s a name for this method: The immersion method.
The immersion method of language learning believes you should immerse yourself (that is, surround yourself) with German—even when you’re not studying. You should do as much as you can in German. In German immersion classrooms, even other subjects are taught in German.
The best way to get this kind of complete immersion is to study or live abroad, but with a bit of effort you can find ways to bring immersion to your home. Surround yourself with German in your own home, and you’ll be learning German even faster.
The Benefits of German Immersion at Home
German immersion has many benefits. Bringing them home just makes them even more effective! Some reasons immersion is effective include:
It makes you practice more: When you can only speak German, it gives you lots of real-world practice.
It makes you practice passively: This means that even when you’re not sitting and studying, you’re getting the benefits since the language is all around you.
It reinforces what you’ve learned: In other words, it has you use the things you’ve learned in conversation.
It’s a natural way to learn: Children learn to speak by being surrounded by the language. They learn words and grammar structures by just listening to the speech around them. By using immersion, you’ll be learning in this way—without even realizing how much you’re actually learning.
Having an immersion environment at home means you don’t have to go anywhere to learn; you’re always surrounded by the German language when you’re home. It’s a fantastic way to get more German practice. But how do you turn your home into an immersion environment?
How to Create an German Immersion Environment at Home
1. Start with your devices.
What language is your Facebook set to? What about your phone?
Our Internet connection might come with us wherever we go, but it’s also become an important part of our home. So to create an German immersion environment at home, you need to start with your online presence.
It’s time to change your phone, browser and social media account languages to German. Doing so will keep the language always in front of you, and it’s a good way to learn some new words: you already know all the words in your language, and now you’ll see them in German.
Here are a few links to get you started:
Change your display language on an Apple device and an Android device
Change the language in Firefox or Chrome
Change the Google search results language to German
Change the language on Facebook and Twitter
Change the language for individual apps you use from within the apps
Congratulations, you’ve just taken the first step towards immersing yourself in German!
2. Use a German-to-German dictionary.
If you’ve been using a German dictionary with translations in your native language, switch to an German-to-German dictionary instead. These are the dictionaries that German speakers use to look up new words. Your goal is to use German all the time, and translating back and forth to a different language will hold you back.
We know some dictionaries use difficult words in the definitions, but there are plenty of excellent, German-learner friendly dictionaries for you to choose from.
3. Designate a “German only” space or time.
Are you planning to turn your entire house into a German immersion experience? Or can you only change a section of it?
The more space you have filled with German things, the more effective this learning method is. If your whole house can be filled with German books, movies, music and other materials, that’s the best possible situation.
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of being constantly surrounded by German, you can choose a certain room in your house to turn into your learning area. Any time you enter that room, your brain will know that it’s time to switch to German.
You can also choose a certain time to switch to German instead of (or along with) a physical space. Choose one or two hours every day to immerse yourself in German. Then actually do it! That means for that hour or two, you can only speak, read and write in German.
It will be tough at first, but you’ll get used to it!
4. Fill your house with German reading materials.
What do you read in your spare time?
You might be in the middle of a good book. During quiet moments you might pick up a magazine you have lying around.
Now imagine how much German practice you would get if each of these books and magazines were in German! Go around your house and make a few changes:
Replace some books and magazines with their German equivalents. You can check if a book has a German translation on Amazon. Some excellent books to have around your house are children’s books and recent bestselling novels. Some examples of excellent German books to have are “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Hunger Games.” Both are popular book series that you might have even read in your native language!
Get a subscription to a new magazine or newspaper in German. You can find some great ideas for German magazines for any interest in this article. If you can, get German products and brands, too! Even simple items like instant oatmeal or cereal are excellent because they use easy-to-understand instructions and other writing. You might not think something like the back of a cereal box will help you learn German, but many childhood mornings in German households are spent reading them.
Change your home (or a special area of your home) into a German household. Your goal is to see German all around you!
5. Turn off the native language subtitles on German shows.
We have so many movie and TV show that there’s no end to the fantastic German media you can watch. But the best way to really learn from all of these is to turn off the subtitles in your native language.
Instead, use German subtitles. Or better yet—use no subtitles!
It takes different parts of the brain to process written and spoken German, and by removing the subtitles altogether you’ll be giving your brain a workout. After all, there are no subtitles in real life. This will prepare you to understand real conversations.
6. Find friends to learn with you.
Learning alone is fine, but learning with someone else is even better.
Get a friend or two to work with you on your new German immersion project, and you’ll all benefit. You’ll help each other follow the rules (like pointing out when you cheated and used your native language for a word you don’t remember!) and make the learning process more fun.
If none of your friends are learning German, you can find someone online to speak with through a language exchange program. Find an online German tutor and ask them to only speak German with you.
The more people you have working with you on your German immersion, the easier it will become.
7. Make notes in German.
What language do you use to make notes? If you usually write your notes in your native language, it’s time to change that, too.
Use German when you’re writing anything down, from your shopping list to your learning notes. Define vocabulary words in German (remember to use those German to German dictionaries).
Any time you write anything down, try to do it in German. Since you’re already using your speaking skills with learning partners and your reading skills with the items around your house and your digital devices, making notes in German will use your writing skills.
You don’t need to write essays or paragraphs. You’d be surprised at how effective just making one-word or two-word notes can be for learning German.
8. Label everything.
Speaking of notes, make a few and stick them around your house!
Label household appliances and furniture if you have trouble remembering their names in German. Put a note that says “toilet” on the toilet, or a note that says “mirror” on your bedroom mirror. Tape a list of vocabulary words on your bathroom door so you can study them whenever you have a few minutes.
Put a list of room-related words in each room. Or just leave random vocabulary words in places you’ll see them, like above your coffee machine. Even if you don’t read these words, you’ll see them and your brain will remember “Oh yeah, we’re using German now.”
9. Think in German.
The final step is up to you. Once your house is prepared, your goal is to start thinking in German. This isn’t always easy, and it will take some extra effort on your part. Instead of translating everything in your mind, try to use German.
If you have trouble with this, start with a few minutes a day. Spend some time every morning planning your day in German, or spend some time in the evening thinking about how your day went.
The more time you spend inside your German-only space, the easier it will get to think in German. And once you’re thinking in German, you’ve made one huge step towards speaking like a native.