The top 10 German hacks
German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe and one of the three official working languages of the European Union. The German language is your gateway to an economic powerhouse, global market leader companies, world-class higher education and academia.
If that's not enough to make you want to start learning German today, this will be: believe it or not, German is actually one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers because of their many similarities. Plus, learning a foreign language like German provides you with countless health benefits.
If you've decided to give German a try and you're eager to start (or continue) learning the language of long, organized words, here are a few hacks to learn German fast and optimize your efforts.
Hack #1: Get started with sounds
Now that you've decided to learn German, it's time to dig into the language learning process.
But where should you even begin?
The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and spell German sounds is the best place to get started even before you memorize 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.
Hack #2: 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, verbs are a fundamental part of learning the language.
German verbs present some challenges for learners because they can be conjugated 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?
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" to express it. 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 make describing yourself in German much easier. 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."
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”).
5. Ich muss (I must)
This is another pretty 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!
Hack #3: Learn on the go
Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study German. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn German on the go.
A great way to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique.
This language learning technique involves listening to German with earphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors.
There are three main keys to this exercise:
1. Walk outdoors as quickly as possible.
If you feel shy or embarrassed to this in public, find a road or path where you can speak German loudly and proudly without many other people around you.
2. Maintain a perfectly upright posture.
According to Arguelles, maintaining good posture makes this method even more effective.
3. Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice.
This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.
Check out this video for a sample of how this shadowing technique is done with a foreign language (in this case, it's Chinese):
Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense.
This may feel silly at first, but its results will amaze you. By speaking out loud as soon as you hear German sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language is structured and sounds, even if you don't understand everything that's being said.
Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of German.
Try it with the first Interactive Audio lesson from Rocket German. Click here find a free download, save it to your phone and you're ready to go!
Some other great tricks for learning German on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards or listening to German audio or radio stations in the car.
Make learning German a part of your life, and you'll be amazed how much time you have to study when you learn on the go. You'll be speaking German like a native in no time!
Hack #4: Learn the practical words first
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)
Hack #5: Take advantage of what you already know
Believe it or not, you already know some German words even before you even start studying it. 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 "Emotion," "modern," and "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.
And you can get started with these...
Hack #6: Get hooked on Mnemonics
As many who have learned a foreign language already know, repeating vocabulary often just isn't enough. Sometimes, our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.
That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involve telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song, or rhyme to associate with a particular word.
For example, let's say you want to memorize the word "reisen," which means "to travel." You can imagine yourself "rising" early in the morning to go on a trip.
Or, let's say you'd like to memorize the most frequently used prepositions that require the dative case in German. You can sing them to the sound of "The Blue Danube"!
Aus, ausser bei mit....
nach seit, von zu
As you can see, this fun technique isn't limited to vocabulary: you can also use it to memorize grammatical rules, pronunciation rules, and even phrases and idioms.
And remember, if you have troubles memorizing a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always invent your own mnemonic device.
Hack #7. Keep a German Vocabulary Journal
Keep a journal, document, or book with all of the vocabulary you learn in one place. Consider this your own personal "cheat sheet" or dictionary.
Keeping a vocabulary journal help you to keep all of your new words and phrases in one place. More importantly, though, the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it.
Learners who keep vocabulary journals tend to recall vocabulary much faster and progress much more quickly in their learning.
This journal can even be transformed into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like Anki for your phone or computer. You can then use your Anki flashcards on your phone to learn on the go when you're on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.
Hack #8: The Scriptorium Technique
Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of German.
The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:
- Read a sentence out loud.
- Say each word aloud as you write it.
- Read the sentence aloud as you have written it.
The purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down, pay attention to detail, and look up anything you don't know. It's important to be thorough and meticulous. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure to take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar that you're not sure about as you come across it.
The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your German language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels. The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be as detailed and thorough as possible, and remember: practice makes perfect.
Hack #9: Read, watch, and listen to German
Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines... Anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning German.
You've probably already heard cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games, and while these things don't directly teach grammar, they do help learning it significantly.
Reading, watching and listening to German has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you're learning German without knowing that you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using 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, listening to the radio, or watching a series.
Books and movies may be difficult to enjoy at the beginning, but as soon as you learn a few words, you’ll be able to understand a lot more than you imagine. Movies with subtitles and bilingual books can be really helpful for those who want to want to jump into audiovisual arts and literature starting from a very early stage of language learning.
If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite German radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the German language without needing to hit the books.
Hack #10. Interact…without needing a passport
Try to interact in German on a daily basis. Speaking as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn a language fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing, its slower version) as much as possible:
- Speak German with a friend, family member or neighbor in person
- Write a letter or email to a friend, family member, coworker, or even to yourself
- Visit a local store or neighborhood where German is spoken and interact with the locals
- Join a weekly or monthly German conversation group...or start your own group!
- Speak German online with a friend, family member, coworker, or fellow language learner (Skype is great for this)
- Contribute to a blog or forum in German
- Sing along with German music
- Watch a German movie, series, documentary or video and repeat the character's lines
- Read a passage from a German book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
- Talk to yourself in German (this really works!)
- Try to think in German
The key is to interact, speak, and think in German as much as possible. This can be done anywhere and everywhere. Make German a part of your daily life!
By following these ten easy German learning hacks, you'll learn German faster, better, and enjoy doing so.