German for Beginners
Welcome to German, the language of business, beer and all of those long, curiously combined words. If your German knowledge is limited to "ein Bier, bitte" and you've decided to learn German, then we've got the perfect beginner's guide for you.
In this article, we'll take a look at some German and language learning basics to provide you with the strong foundation you need to start learning German.
If you've decided to learn German or are thinking about learning German, here's the helpful information you need to get started as a beginner.
- Why German?
- The Language Learning Basics
- The Four Language Learning Skills
- How to Learn German
1. Why German?
The first question that many language learners ask is why they should learn German. After all, learning a new language requires a lot of dedication, and a little extra motivation goes a long way.
Here are some of the many reasons why you should learn German:
- It's one of the world's 15 most spoken languages. German is the most widely spoken native language in the European Union, where it's spoken in parts of Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg and - of course - Germany. Approximately 90-95 million people speak German throughout the world as either a first of foreign language.
- Germany has the world's 4th strongest economy. If you're looking for a practical business language, look no further than German. From cars to cutting-edge technology and everything in between, German businesses are booming and the country remains Europe's powerhouse. Germany is also one of the countries with the most exports, often even surpassing the United States.
- It's a fantastic career asset. German is very useful in the business world since many multinational companies in a wide range of sectors use German as their working language. It's estimated that German companies account for 700,000 jobs in the United States, and there's no doubt that speaking German can give your resume a great extra boost.
- German is a language of innovation. Germany is a country that's committed to innovation, research and development. From Gutenberg's printing press to Dresden's modern microchip companies, Germany is one of the world's most active centers of innovation. Overall, Germany houses 4 out of 10 of the world's most innovative companies and is home to nearly 13% of the world's patent applications.
- Germans are travelers. Thanks to their comfortable disposable income and ample vacation time, Germans spend more money on foreign travel than any other nation in the world. Believe it or not, Germans spend nearly 3 out of every 4 of their vacations in other countries. They're also the third largest tourist group in the United States. You may not need to travel to German to practice your German; the Germans may come to you!
- It opens the door to a fascinating history and culture. Learning German is your gateway into the intriguing German-speaking world and history. You'll be able to access the great works of German writers in their original versions (after all, 1 in 10 books in the world is published in German!), appreciate the fascinating works of German philosophers and thinkers, and access a truly rich cultural heritage.
- It expands your online world. German is the third most used language on the internet. This means that knowing German can help you find an alternative view of the world through communicating with the millions of German speakers online.
- You won't be alone. German is also one of the top 10 most widely studied foreign languages throughout the world. This means that there are many, many German learning resources out there and you'll have a wide network of other German language learners for support
- It's easier to learn than you think. You may have heard that German is a difficult language for English speakers to learn, but that's not really the case. German is actually considered one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. This is a big benefit if you're hoping to learn German fast!
- Learning a new language is really good for you. Learning a new language like German has some incredible benefits for you mind and body. It can help your brain to grow, become sharper, multitask better and even delay the onset of dementia. Check out all of the benefits of learning a language for even more reasons why it's so great.
Now that you know why you should learn German, let's take a look at some of the things you need to know before getting started.
2. The Language Learning Basics
Before learning German, it's important to know a little bit about the language learning basics.
No, we're not talking about knowing how to say "hello," "thank you," and "one beer, please" (although this is helpful, of course). We're talking about knowing a little bit about how languages work and the basic parts of a language.
One of the first steps in learning a language is to learn a little bit about what makes up a language and the unique aspects of the language you want to learn.
Let's take a look at some of the things you need to know before getting started:
3. The Four Language Learning Skills
So what does learning German really involve?
Basically, learning German involves learning four related skills:
- Reading in German
- Listening in German
- Speaking in German
- Writing in German
German pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are keys to these skills.
The difficulty of each skill depends on the person. For many, reading in German is easier than writing or speaking, but for some, speaking is the easiest. You'll discover what your strong points are as you start to learn the language.
As you can imagine, learning any one of these skills also helps you to learn the others. They're all very important if you want to become fluent in German.
Give it a try!
If you're a German beginner and are new to the language learning scene, we recommend giving our free Rocket German trial a try.
This is a great way to see what it's like to learn German online, get a feel for how the lessons and activities work, and figure out how learning German can fit into your life. You can even try it out as a guest with no email, credit card or obligation required. And did we mention it's free?
Get your feet wet and give learning German online a try.
What do you think? It's kind of fun, isn't it?
If you're hooked on German like we are, it's time to dig and start to learn it!
But where should you even begin?
4. How to Learn German
Here at Rocket Languages, we'd like to help you on your German learning journey by giving you a step-by-step guide on how to learn this fascinating language the best and easiest way possible.
Step 1: Make a Game Plan
No great achievement ever happens overnight, and learning German is no different. The first step to learn German is to make some smart, realistic goals to help yourself organize your time and plan your studies.
Here are a few tips:
Make SMART Goals
Your New Year's Resolution may be to "learn German," but what does that actually mean? After all, how will you know when - and if - this goal is ever achieved? Instead, try making some SMART goals.
SMART goals, as advocated in world of management, are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In order to apply this concept to your German studies, you should first become a little familiar with the European Common Framework that defines the different language levels.
Here's a quick breakdown of the Framework and levels:
|Level Group||Group Name||Level||Level Name|
|Breakthrough of Beginner
Way Stage or Elementary
|Threshold or Intermediate
Vantage or Upper Intermediate
|Effective Operational Proficiency
Mastery or Proficiency
On average, many speakers are considered "fluent" in a language by the time they've reached a B2 level or higher. This is a level that allows them to comfortably interact in almost all social situations.
Aiming for a B2 level of a language is therefore a more specific and results-focused goal. Plus, thanks to the criteria provided by the Common European Framework of Reference, it's also measureable. It's much more attainable than aiming for the vague notion of "fluency" (which seems to elude even fluent speakers!). Finally, you can easily make it time-bound by keeping in mind the criteria needed for each level and making yourself a schedule with your goals in mind.
Make a study plan
Now that you have some realistic goals in mind, it's time to make a study plan. A study plan will help you to organize and maximize your time, keep you motivated, help you set goals, and make sure your brain gets the repetition and structure it needs.
Consider it your very own, personalized game plan.
Before you can make a great plan, however, there are four things you need to keep in mind:
- How much time you can dedicate to learning German. You should ideally set aside a little bit of time to study German every day, although this time may vary. Even just 10 minutes a day is helpful, but keep in mind that the more time you can dedicate, the better.
- Your learning goals. Would you like to dedicate an equal amount of time to all language learning skills? Or are you more interested in speaking and listening than reading and writing? If you plan to prioritize some skills over others, make sure to incorporate this into your plan.
- Your deadlines. This also plays a major role in determining how much time you should dedicate to learning. If you need to learn German as fast as possible for an upcoming trip or move, then you will need to dedicate as much time as possible to learning the language.
- Your resources. What resources do you have available? Fortunately, we have more German learning resources at our fingertips than ever before. Take advantage of as many resources as possible when making your study plan. The more interactive and fun, the better!
With this in mind, you're ready to make your personalized study plan. Here's what it should include:
- A detailed description of each activity.
- Start and stop times for each activity.
- A description of the skill(s) you are practicing.
- As many fun, varied and motivating activities as possible.
Try and make sure your learning time is free of distractions and your workspace is organized. Schedule short breaks to keep yourself motivated when you're in the middle of long study sessions. Most importantly, have fun with it!
Step 2: Start with Sounds
Once you have a realistic plan, it's time to dig in and start to get your hands dirty.
But where should you even start?
The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and spell German sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings.
Unlike English, most German words are pronounced just like they're written. While German grammar is a bit more complicated than English grammar, German pronunciation definitely isn't! Even so, it's always a good idea to learn how to pronounce German sounds before memorizing vocabulary and studying grammar.
The German alphabet is the same as the English alphabet, but with four additional letters: ä, ö, ü and ß.
Strange, right? But don’t worry; you'll learn them faster than you can say "Lebensabschnittpartner!"
The key is to first spend some time focusing on German sounds and spelling so that they are longer foreign to you.
Study the German alphabet, identify the letters and pronounce all of the sounds that differ from English sounds.
Get started with these!
See the whole German alphabet here.
You can also listen to pronunciation guides on YouTube, or watch movies or series with subtitles in German while reading along. All of these are great ways to learn German sounds and set the foundation for a great German accent.
Step 3: Learn Some Basic Vocabulary
The next step is to start recognizing and memorizing vocabulary words. There are several great tips for making the best of your vocabulary learning:
Keep it Practical
Learning German requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it.
Many people use their "bad memory" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but we have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all--or even the majority--of the German words to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half!
Duden's Großes Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache dictionary contains over 200,000 contemporary German words. Do you need to know them all? Of course not!
Don’t waste your time learning words and phrases that you'll never use. Many experts believe that 300 words are enough to carry on everyday conversation in German.
That's right, only 300 words!!
So what does that mean for you as a German learner?
By learning the 300 most common German words first, you'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.
However, it’s highly recommended that you expand your vocabulary at least to the 1,000 most commonly used words in German. With just 1,000 words, you'll be able to understand about 80% of written texts.
Here are some of the most common German words to get you started... (Note that we recommend the Chrome browser for full voice recognition functionality)
Note that you should study German greetings, numbers, basic travel questions, how to tell time, the 6 German pronouns and the most practical German verbs as soon as possible to help get you started.
Your Friends, Cognates
Did you know that you already know plenty of German words before even learning the language? Almost all European languages share many words with English thanks to their shared roots, history, and evolution. These words, known as cognates, make learning German much easier for people who speak a language with similar roots like English.
The words "Buch" (book), "Kaffee" (coffee) and "Restaurant" (restaurant), for example, have the exact same meaning as their English equivalents. They're just pronounced a little differently, of course.
These cognates can make your language learning much easier and faster. Take advantage of them! Here's a handy list of German words that you already know thanks to cognates.
Meanwhile, you can get started with these...
Step 4: Dive into Grammar
Now that you've got the German sounds down as well as some basic vocabulary, it's time to start tackling grammar.
Don't worry! We'll help make it as fun as possible.
Here are a few things that can help:
Learn five modal booster verbs
You need at least two elements to build a sentence: a noun and a verb. That’s why in German, as well as in any other language, learning verbs is a crucial part of learning the language.
German verbs present some challenges for learners because you can conjugate them into different tenses depending on the subject.
However, did you know that with just 5 German booster verbs you won't need to worry about conjugating other verbs? This is an especially handy trick for beginners.
Let's take a look at them in the first person:
1. Ich möchte (I want, I would like)
Any time you'd like to do something or are planning on doing something, try and use "ich möchte." Then, all you'll need to do is use the infinitive form of the following verb.
For example, if you'd like to explain that you're planning on waking up early to catch a train but can't remember how to conjugate "planning" or "waking up," you can simply say “Ich möchte morgen früh aufwachen" (I want to wake up early tomorrow) instead.
2. Ich kann (I can)
This is a great way to easily describe yourself in German. Once you learn this verb, all you need to do is add a second verb in the infinitive, and you're ready to go!
For example, instead of worrying about conjugating the verb "play" to say "I play soccer," you can simply say "ich kann Fußball spielen." Or, if you'd like to lend your hosts a hand, you can just say "ich kann helfen" instead of worrying about translating a complicated sentence like "Let me help you with that."
3. Ich werde (I will)
The present tense in German is a lot like the present tense in English, which means that you can often use it to refer to events in the future. However, if you'd like to make your life easier when it comes to talking about future events, simply use "Ice werde."
For example, instead of trying to translate a tricky sentence like "I'm having a party tomorrow night," all you need to do is say "Ich werde morgen eine Party haben" instead. That way, you don't need to worry about conjugating the tricky "I'm having" form.
4. Ich sollte (I should)
Feeling a little obligated? The words “I should”, “I’m supposed to”, or “I ought to” all mean pretty much the same thing in English.
In German, however, you can use just use “Ich sollte” to express this. Then, all you need to do is say the infinitive form of the following verb. For example: “Ich sollte weniger Bier trinken” (“I should drink less beer”). Pretty handy, right?
5. Ich muss (I must)
This is another easy one, especially since it sounds so similar to its English equivalent.
You can use “Ich muss” to express any type of action that you have to do followed by another verb in the infinitive. For example, “Ich muss morgen arbeiten” (“I have to work tomorrow”).
If you're ever struggling to conjugate a verb on the fly during a conversation, you can simply rephrase your sentence using one of these helpful modal verbs!
Break It Down
Grammar provides the rules for the game in a language. It helps us tell a story. While German grammar may seem complex, it can actually be broken down into three basic operations:
Adding words (You are learning German > Are you learning German?)
Changing existing words (I learn German > I learned German)
Changing the order of words (German is fun> Is German fun?)
That's it. That's not too bad, right?
Keeping this in mind, you can use the grammar explanations you learn to help us break down the rules into easily memorized chunks.
Here's an example of how you can use this for studying verb tenses:
- Practice saying the same sentence using every different pronoun in the same tense.
- Then, practice changing the sentence into a negative sentence and into a question.
- Later, you can \practice saying the same sentence in different tenses with the same pronoun, in the negative form, in the question form, etc.
You can even make your own flash cards to help you with this.
This is a great way to break down rules and make them easier to memorize.
Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, the cliché saying that "practice makes perfect" has never been more true than in the language learning world. Learning German involves a lot of practice, but there are a few great tips to practice without even needing a passport.
Read, Watch, Listen
Movies, music, television series, books, newspapers, magazines and anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning German.
Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to German, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words. Then, it tries to make sense of any new structures.
Basically, you're learning without feeling like you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using German words and constructions that you didn't even study thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book or watching a series.
One word of warning, though: if you really want to get useful grammar and vocabulary, make sure that what you're reading, watching or listening to is modern and in a dialect that you would like to learn.
Interact...Without Needing to Travel
Try to interact in German on a daily basis. This can involve:
- Speaking with a German-speaking friend, family member or neighbor in person
- Writing a letter to a friend, family member, or coworker in German
- Writing a letter in German to yourself or keeping a journal in German
- Visiting a local store or neighborhood where German is spoken and interacting with the locals
- Joining a weekly or monthly German conversation group or starting your own group
- Speaking German online with a friend, family member, coworker, or fellow language learner
- Writing an email in German
- Contributing to a blog or forum in German (Rocket German has some great forums for this!)
- Singing along with German music
- Watching a German movie or series and repeating the character's lines (you can use German subtitles to help)
- Reading a passage from a German book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
- Talking or thinking to yourself in German (this really works!)
Finally, it's important to always remember that it's OK to make mistakes. Actually, it's great!
Unlike other academic subjects, learning German is a continuous, never-ending adventure that requires constant practice. Don't live in fear of making mistakes.
In the language learning world, mistakes are a sign of progress. Mistakes help you to learn faster. Don't worry about upsetting native German speakers for being too "bold" and trying to speak with them in their native language. Don't worry if you say something that sounds a little strange. Just go for it!
Odds are, they'll love it and want to help you. Don't let fear get in your way. Interact in German as much as possible, and you'll be amazed by the results. You can also find some great German learning hacks here to help you out along the way.
No matter what, make sure to keep your studies fresh and fun. You'll stay motivated and learning German will be faster, easier and more fun!