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.
Resources for further reading:
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:
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.
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:
So what does learning German really involve?
Basically, learning German involves learning four related skills:
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?
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.
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 brief breakdown of the framework and levels:
|Level Group||Group Name||Level||Level Name|
|A1||Breakthrough or Beginner|
|A2||Way Stage or Elementary|
|B1||Threshold or Intermediate|
|B2||Vantage or Upper Intermediate|
|C1||Effective Operational Proficiency|
|C2||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.
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:
With this in mind, you're ready to make your personalized study plan. Here's what it should include:
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!
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.
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:
Rocket Record lets you perfect your German pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
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.
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:
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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Try to interact in German on a daily basis. This can involve:
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!
Paul Weber: Rocket German
Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities!