A Typical Language Learning Scenario
There are four core skills involved in language learning: listening, speaking, reading and writing—and they’re the same for any language, including your native tongue.
Those skills aren’t learned overnight—or even in three months—so it’s not realistic to expect to be fully fluent or completely competent in all four skills within the twelve-week timeframe. But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a level of competency that will suit many needs.
There are all sorts of opinions on exactly “how long” it takes to learn a language, but that’s all pretty subjective. Individuality and determination are factors these studies leave out so for the sake of this post, let’s say three months is a realistic framework for learning to speak German.
After all, it’s what you’ve got, isn’t it?
If you had longer you’d probably be reading a post about learning German in three years, right?
Don’t worry, though—I’m here to help you with the process. First, we’ll look at five concrete steps you need to take in order to make this happen.
Then I’ll give you a “Battle Plan” to help you organize the topics and areas you need to study and when you should study them, as well as pointing out some things you don’t need to worry about, at least not in those three months.
Three months—yikes! Let’s get moving!
On Your Mark, Get Set, Learn! How to Learn German in 3 Months
Okay, it’s time to get down to the five best tips for learning German in three months. If you follow these closely and put in the time and effort, this lofty goal can become your reality.
Here we go…
1. Set SMART Goals
Formulating a plan using SMART goals is an almost fail-proof method for learning anything.
What are SMART goals? A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
Let’s break it down and apply it to this challenge. I’ll give you an example of each of these aspects of SMART goals.
Specific means not vague. There is no gray area in this facet of the goal-setting plan. Fortunately, this one’s already halfway done for you!
“I want to speak and understand German in three months. I should be able to speak enough to…”
Like I said, this one’s only halfway done. You need to decide what exactly you’re trying to accomplish.
Measurable is your action plan. How do you intend to attain the goal? It’s your blueprint for success. It should be easy to see whether or not you’re meeting your goals.
“I only have three months to learn Spanish, so I’ll devote six hours a day, minimum, to studying.”
Attainable is the place where you hold the power. Honestly, the learner is the one in charge of this.
Is this goal attainable? Theoretically, yes.
But that’s also partially a personal issue and depends on the learner. Many people may want something, but not all are willing to work to attain it. So hopefully your goal looks like this:
“Learning German in three months is attainable because I want it and am willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen.”
Relevant is the “why?” of things. Why do you want or need to learn German in three months? This is also up to you, and it connects to the “Specific” point above.
“I want to learn German in a short period of time because…”
Timely is the part of SMART goal setting that indicates the timeframe for achieving a goal.
You’ve already done that—three months is the time goal.
2. Assemble Materials That Facilitate the Way You Learn
Everyone learns differently. Some people a need hands-on approach while others excel at book learning. Others seem to inhale knowledge just by being around it. They’re rare, but they do exist.
Most of us? We work to learn. Some work harder than others, but we each have a style that best suits our learning personality.
You know what works best for you. So for this first step, determine how you learn best, then pull together whatever materials you need to help you learn in your unique way.
Are you a classroom learner? Enroll in a class. Colleges offer language classes. Lots of local adult education programs, libraries and cultural clubs offer them, too.
Don’t like to be forced into a schedule? Then buy a German language course and learn the language DIY-style. Make sure it’s mobile so you can learn on the go. That way, you determine your best times for study—and your materials will be right at hand.
Some other materials to consider:
Crack open a nice, cold textbook (with or without “the boys”). They’re time-tested and help get the job done.
Graded readers are helpful, too. In the beginning you won’t know all the words, but that’s normal. Expected, even. You’ll learn them. As you do, grab the next graded reader in the series and watch your progress pick up speed.
A dictionary is essential. It just is. Fortunately, there are lots of free ones available online and/or as apps.
Get a journal for new words and phrases. You can start off recording vocabulary but eventually (maybe after the first three months, when you’re hopefully under less pressure to learn essentials), you might even consider journaling in German. It’s a terrific way to practice and learn the language. Journaling encourages thinking in a target language and is a big step forward on the language learning journey.
Practice, practice, practice—every chance you get!
This sounds so simple it’s almost a “non-tip,” but think about it. If you don’t practice, you won’t improve, so the importance of this step can’t be stressed enough.
Stopped at a traffic light? Conjugate verbs in your mind.
Jogging around the neighborhood? Name the items you see as you pass them. Use your newly-acquired vocabulary non-stop.
Bump into someone on the subway? In the park? At the grocery store? Apologize in German.
If someone holds the door open for you at the market, thank them in German.
The point is to speak. A lot. As in all the time.
Don’t be self-conscious about practicing!
Making mistakes is fine—everyone makes them! As you learn, your pronunciation will improve. Words that initially seemed difficult to pronounce will begin to roll off your tongue.
Remember, too, that mistakes are opportunities for learning. You’ll remember what you got wrong last time, and incorporate that lesson the next time you use the phrase.
4. If You Can’t Go to a German-speaking Country, Bring One to You
No, I don’t mean that you should somehow decorate your neighborhood like Germany or Austria—although that might actually be pretty cool!
Instead, I’m talking about cultural immersion, which is recognized as one of the best ways to learn any language.
If you’re unable to actually go to a German-speaking country, set yourself up in an environment that as closely resembles one as possible. It’s easier than you think.
The cultural aspects of a country can be brought into your home on so many levels.
Music is probably the easiest way to surround yourself with the language. The fact that German is spoken by so many people living in many countries means that there’s a huge assortment of great German-language music.
Learning German through movies lets you bring language into your life with minimal effort. You don’t have to buy, rent, borrow or download anything—although if you want to do that, it’s fine. But the truth is, most streaming services and DVDs have options for viewing movies in a few different languages. You can check out some excellent flicks in German or, if you’d like to stick with familiar cinematic territory, just adjust your settings and view your favorite films—in German!
People who live in German-speaking countries watch television, too, so why not try a German television series?
Cultural immersion in the home environment doesn’t mean you have to stay at home. There may be many cultural events in your area that are aimed at German speakers.
Look for clubs or organizations that speak German. If possible, join one.
And nothing says cultural immersion like a chat between friends.
If you prefer one-on-one activities to hanging out in groups, then find a German language partner and meet for coffee—doing that is also more likely to give you a chance to chat and practice speaking even more German.
5. Bend Technology to Suit Your Needs
The technology that we use every day gives us many exciting possibilities to learn German. The world is at our fingertips, so put those fingers to work towards learning!
Most of us never leave home without our phone. There are some fantastic apps that bring German right to our cellphones, which means we’re good to practice and learn, wherever and whenever!
YouTube is good for more than crazy snow drivers, silly cats and dance videos. There are some awesome channels that teach German so definitely check them out.
If you can’t find a language buddy in your area, look for a Skype partner. Technology can make someone on the other side of the globe feel as close as your living room, so talk—and learn!
SMLL, or Social Media Language Learning, is another way to bring German to your fingertips. Several times each day, most of us look at social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat…you get the idea. We check social media sites a lot. Why not tap into them and use those sites to get you closer to your goal?
Making a Battle Plan
So now you know what to do. You’ve got goals, tips and all the necessary “stuff” assembled.
You’re all set.
But wait up. I bet you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of this, aren’t you? You’re probably wondering how to break this down into, say, twelve weeks’ worth of smaller, more manageable goals.
And you may even want to know what to expect as you progress through the weeks.
Okay, here’s the answer to that niggling question What happens next?
Next, we formulate a battle plan and break the whole what-to-do, what-to-expect business into smaller bites.
Do these things first
First, learn the alphabet and begin a list of common vocabulary words. The size of the list is up to you but remember: you’ve got twelve weeks. At this point, learn the words but don’t worry about tenses or much other grammar yet. You’ll feel overwhelmed but hopefully you’re still riding high on the excitement that comes from beginning a new adventure.
Every day, add new words to your word list. But don’t just write the words. Say the words. Use technology to show you how to pronounce things. Expect to make mistakes but don’t let them deter you. Practice until you sound like the person you’re modeling your vocabulary after.
Now’s also the time to learn numbers. If your plan is to go to a German-speaking country, you’ll want to know how to pay for a meal or a cab. Even if it’s not, you still need to be able to count and say numbers for all kinds of different common interactions.
As your vocabulary grows, so will your confidence. You can do this. Just keep mimicking, translating and doing the work. There will be hard moments when you wonder if you’re loco (crazy) but keep at it.
You’re getting there…
By around the six-week mark, you should be getting the hang of learning this new language. Don’t slack, though. Now’s the time to intensify your plan. How about those grammar lessons you’ve been avoiding? Tackle them now. It’s a good time to start paying more attention to verb conjugations and different tenses, especially for common, irregular verbs.
Every week, add to your plan. It’s a tight schedule so you’ve got to increase the vocabulary list, reading practice and speaking sessions.
Proficiency in anything comes with confidence, knowledge and time. The time thing is already set, but if you aim for small-ish goals and work persistently towards them, you’re pretty much assured you’ll make progress.
German in Three Months Is Possible
It is possible to learn to speak German in three months.
However, as we agreed earlier, it’s not going to be easy, and you won’t be perfect at the end.
But if you approach this challenge with the right mindset, dedicate plenty of time and keep your goals in sight, you can be reading, writing, speaking and listening—and comprehending!—German within twelve weeks. Using these five tips, it certainly can become your reality.
You’ve set the goal. Now, start hustling and achieve it!