Learning German and what worked

Struggling to learn German? Here are the methods, the tools & apps that finally worked for me.

Learning German

We don’t all learn the same way. We each have to find the motivation that fires us up.

For some, necessity can do that, especially if you need to learn German for work or to study. My job did not require me to speak German at all, so it took me awhile before that flame was sparked. When it did, I actually started looking forward to learning German.

Methods that weren’t quite as effective for me:

… one-on-one lessons – I found these to be quite boring and lacking in structure. For example, I begged to learn the basics on what to say at the doctor`s office, at the post office, shops, etc. I was determining the lesson plan and not the instructor, which I feel is the wrong way to build a foundation when learning German.

… open ended courses – one of the bigger schools offered A Level classes to small groups. There was no real beginning or end to the term. Students jumped in and out, depending on how many classes they paid for. Also not for me!

… a tandem partner – my first two tandems were just not as serious about practicing a language and canceled our meet-ups most of the time.

What finally worked:

  • The right teacher – I decided to try the Volkshochschule and although my first teacher (A1 level) was not so great, I stuck with it and finished the A through B levels with various teachers. Most were effective, attentive and very professional.
  • A study partner/group gives learning another level of commitment. A little competitive spirit also helps.
  • Setting a goal – finding a job, entering University, dating a local, set an intention to help you stay motivated & committed. It was simple for me… I wanted to never have to ask “Sorry, do you speak English“ ever again.
  • Finding the right tandem partner – I finally found a tandem equally committed to learning English in exchange for learning German. Type in `language tandem partners in Munich´ in Google and you´ll find many sites dedicated to this.
  • Practice – Go out and use what little German you know, no matter how silly you think you sound! I sometime hear myself out loud and know it wasn´t quite right, but next time I say it better!

Helpful Tools

  • Easy Readers – a wonderfully designed series of books by various publishers and editors. They provide an approachable way to reading books like Kafka´s Metamorphosis (die Verwandlung) in simplified German, without losing its essence. Complete with CD´s and exercises, they can be found in city libraries and online.
  • Subscribing to Deutsch Perfekt – a magazine with interesting articles for all levels. Available at libraries as well.
  • Watching Youtube tutorials, such as Learning German with Jenny.
  • Watching silly series on Youtube, such as Extr@(German) where an American is learning German in Berlin with roommates.
  • Watch movies in German with subtitles. That helps me put sounds to words I have only learned on paper.

7 Must have apps:

  1. Memrise – my favorite while traveling
  2. Duolingo
  3. Tinycards
  4. DW – their website is also chock-full of learning materials
  5. LEO Dictionary – is my go-to everyday German app
  6. Google translator – also has an app for translating text
  7. TextGrabber – take a photo of any document and it will translate it for you. It won´t recognize some characters, but you can edit it before translating.

I hear the most helpful tool is a local boyfriend/girlfriend, but my husband wouldn’t agree to this method. Shucks!

So tell us what motivates you to learn German.

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