German has a reputation for being difficult to learn. And that doesn’t come from just a few unflattering but hilarious remarks by Mark Twain in his essay “The Awful German Language.” Even the Germans say “Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache,” which translates to “German language, difficult language.”
It’s not a language of love like French or Italian. Still, what it lacks in romantic melody, it tries to compensate for through a bewildering ability to put together endless words. Oh, did we also mention that there are 16 ways to say “the”?
But we’re not here to make you lose your motivation. Quite the opposite. We’re here to show you that there are ways to learn German without torturing yourself. By the end of this article, you’ll see that learning German really isn’t that hard, and it can even be (dare we say it?) fun.
Write Down Your “Why?”
The best way to start your journey is to write down why you want to learn German. Perhaps you want to find a job in Germany, Austra or Switzerland. German-speaking countries offer great career prospects, so it can be a highly motivating reason.
Or maybe you want to learn German because you married a native-speaker and not everyone in their family speaks English. This will be very helpful because you’ll have someone to practice with.
It might even be that you want to learn German because you want to read classics like Goethe and Herman Hesse in their original language, or you just have a fascination with German culture.
Even if our tips will make learning German easier, it doesn’t mean it will happen in a few weeks. It will take at least a few months, which means you have more than enough time to get bored. On some days, you just won’t feel like it. But it’s important to stay consistent (more on that later). On those days, having your reasons written down will be a tremendous help.
As you write them down, try to visualize yourself after you’ve achieved your goal and you’ve become fluent. Imagine yourself having that job or having interesting conversations with native speakers. Later on, when you want to skip a day or two or a week, these images will pop into your mind and get you back on track.
No matter what language you’re learning, you have to start with the basics. Even though you imagine yourself talking about intricate topics and impressing everyone with your vocabulary, realistically speaking, it will take you a couple of weeks to learn how to say “Hello,” “How are you?” and be able to order a cup of coffee as long as the barista isn’t too keen on small talk.
That’s ok. A little boring, we admit, but that’s how it is with learning a new language. In the beginning, it’s really easy and, therefore, not exactly intellectually stimulating. The good news is that, if you get with the program, after about three months, you’ll be able to have basic conversations without breaking into a sweat. You only need to know about a thousand words to understand 80% of conversations. Well, not if your conversations are about Herman Hesse. We mean everyday conversations. If you learn ten words per day, that’s your three months.
Now, let’s discuss grammar. Although German grammar is complex, it’s not the mind-bending mess that people make it out to be. Let’s take the 16 ways of saying “the” as an example. This is because the articles change according to gender and case.
46% of German nouns are feminine, and you can recognize them by looking at the ending. If the noun ends in –in, -ie, -sion, -ur, – tät, -heit, -kei, -ung, and –schaft they’re feminine.
The days of the week, months of the year and seasons are all masculine and so are nouns that end in –ig, -ling, and –ich. Masculine nouns make up 34% of German nouns.
The other 20% are neutral, which usually end in –lein, -chen, -und and –ment.
As for the cases, there are certain prepositions that only take one case, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time pondering the case before you say something. For example, gegen (against) and für (for) always go with accusative while mit (with) and von (for) always go with the dative case. There are also two-way prepositions like über (above) and unter (beneath), but there aren’t that many, and it’s pretty easy to figure out which case it is from the context. If you’re talking strictly about location, then it’s dative, and if you’re describing a motion related to a location (where to?) then it’s accusative.
There you go. This is something that’s often used as proof that German is impossible to learn, and the explanation took less than half a page to write.
Take It Easy
Long are the days when learning a language meant reading grammar books and solving the exercises at the end of each lesson. Now we’re living in the digital age, so you have a lot more options. If you’re like most of us, you probably don’t go for more than an hour without using your phone. Then why not download an app like Babbel or Duolingo to help you learn German? The lessons typically take less than 5 minutes to complete so you can fit in some language learning no matter how busy your day gets. The lessons are also gamified, so you’ll be chasing virtual coins and rewards while unlocking levels. You’ll reach those one thousand words in no time.
And what about those nights when you come home tired from work and even using an app is a bit too much? Well, then how about watching a movie or TV-show while you have dinner? Netflix has a ton of German-made content, and there are also lots of American shows with German voice-over. You can rewatch one of your favorite shows in German. Or maybe you like sports. In that case, you can use a VPN to get access to DAZN outside Germany. Since it’s something you enjoy watching anyway, it won’t feel like a chore, and you’ll expand your vocabulary on a topic you’ll most likely want to talk about.
Make Learning German a Part of Your Routine
Since there are so many ways to make learning German enjoyable, you can take advantage of this to make it part of your daily routine. You could listen to German music or podcasts in the car on your way to work, watch a TV show while having dinner, or while relaxing before going to bed, and on the weekend, you can use a language exchange app to talk to native-speakers.
On those days when you’re well-rested and in a good mood, you can study German grammar. The point is to be consistent. When learning a new language, it’s better to do a little bit every day than study for several hours on one day and then not do anything for a week or longer.