How I’m Learning German by Myself

If you’re anything like me, your German is probably beyond basic. Before dating my Viennese boyfriend or setting foot in a German-speaking country, I knew how to say Gutentag, Gutenmorgen, danke… and my German speaking abilities pretty much ended there.

During the EU wide lockdown in March, I found myself in Vienna with a generous amount of time on my hands. Since my partner is Viennese and that I was going to be in Vienna for a while, I decided to start teaching myself German. Also sometime in the last six months, I heard someone quote Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” So I figured, why not take a crack at it?

Duolingo

I like Duolingo a lot. It has a good concept and it teaches you words, grammar, and phrases through repetition. I know some people who are not fans of Duolingo as a learning resource and I have experienced that some sentence structures are incorrect. Regardless, I still like it because its basic teaching principle is still very helpful. One thing I’ve learned about language learning is that repetition is key!

Duolingo also offers a multitude of stories in German as well, so you can listen to old words and learn new words in a context different from what you’ve been practicing in their main course.

Following a Textbook

After getting started on Duolingo, I started to crave a little more structure to my study regiment so I started looking for a textbook.

I ended up with a copy of Living Language: Ultimate German and so far, I really like it. Each lesson offers a dialogue with English translation, multiple grammar points, phonics, verb conjugations, and vocabulary. Every lesson also has a short exercise with answers so you can check your work and every few lessons there’s a review of all the concepts you’ve learned so far. It’s a lot like learning a language in school, but at your own pace.

I also recommend getting a workbook to continue practicing grammar. There are loads of free workbook resources online.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

The Living Language: Ultimate German textbook offers a lot of vocabulary for each lesson. It’s a little overwhelming to learn 50 new words and then move onto the next lesson and not remember the word for “visit.”

My solution? Flashcards. I started learning and reviewing German words every day through flashcards and it has helped me remember so many words. Grocery list, die Einkaufsliste. Months of the year, die Monate des Jahres. To visit, besuchen.

Did you know that there are several ways to say “the” (der, die, das, den, dem…), seven different noun forms, and three different grammatical cases in German? Vocabulary can get really intense and constant repetition will help with retaining all of these words in your brain!

Keeping a Journal

I started keeping a daily journal in German. I’m not writing my deepest, darkest secrets or what I think about the current political climate in today’s world. I am writing about simple things I am doing in my day to day life. I also take this time to practice some of the vocabulary and grammar that I learned previously.

I find that this is really helpful with solidifying what I’ve learned and it creates an opportunity to practice my language skills. I have always had trouble with new languages when I try to translate my English thoughts into another language’s words because the sentence structure is often different and the exact words you use are sometimes not the same. This exercise helps me think in German which is a crucial step in learning any language.

Start Speaking…Now!

If you’re learning German in a German-speaking country or even have friends who are German-speaking, make anyone and every one your language partner! I speak to the deli guy, the cashier, the shop keeper, the guy asking me to sign his petition, and pretty much everyone in German. I also practice German with my friends who speak German even when I’m drunk: Machst du bitte ein Getränk für mich. If I’m not completely grammatically correct or maybe I’m saying it completely wrong, I’m happy to take the correction (even if I’m drunk).

If you’re not in a German-speaking country and have no German-speaking friends, worry not. There are apps that can help you connect with people who can speak German and are happy to be your language partner. Maybe they need help learning the language you speak too! Make the time and space to speak the language as much as you can.

The important thing is to start speaking and to not be afraid of making mistakes. The most important thing about learning a language is the ability to be understood, not complete accuracy.

Other Simple Hacks to Boost Learning

So we’ve got our apps, textbooks, writing, and speaking practice. What else can we do to practice German?

One thing I’ve done to supplement my German education is actually super simple: changing my phone’s language to German. Before you know it, you’ll be learning all sorts of words that you would have never thought of before!

Another way to supplement learning German is by increasing your audio input. Start with watching a new TV series or movie in German. Maybe you’ll find a new YouTube channel where the creator speaks in German. Whatever it is, the more you hear and attach the meanings to German words and sentences, the easier it will be to mimic those sentiments when you speak! Plus, you can justify spending 6 hours binge watching Netflix as being productive.

Just to finish off: I recommend diversifying your learning strategies. It can get really boring learning something the same way every time. Viel Glück!

Californian living in Prague.

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