How I learned to speak German in 3 Months

Learning German doesn’t have to be hard.

Back in 2010, I went from a beginner level to near mastery in German in just 3 months. But I’m not a language genius, or a natural with languages.

If languages came “naturally” to me, then I would have aced German the first time round. I didn’t. I spent five years studying German at high school, and I got a C as my final grade. I couldn’t even order a train ticket in German when I visited Munich a few years ago.

After I became fluent in my first 4 languages, I decided to give German a second attempt. I aimed to be a fluent German speaker in just three months.

After just three months of living in Germany, I passed four out of five sections of Goethe Institut’s Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung (German mastery exam).

What changed? I stopped telling myself how hard German was and started focusing on the positive. Creating a positive filter made the language easy for me.

Yes, you read that right. German can be easy.

This isn’t about fooling yourself with empty mantras or willing the universe to make it easy for you. There are very logical and systematic ways of looking at German to make sure that you keep this positive feedback loop up and make swift progress in the language.

I’ve decided to reveal these techniques in my in-depth guide Why German is Easy.

To create this guide, I took the “hardest” grammar and vocabulary points and presented them in a new way that shows you how you can learn German as quickly as possible.

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s inside.

THE EASY WAY TO PLURALISE WORDS IN GERMAN

Why can’t German just add ‘s’ for plurals like in English?

This question comes up a lot, but it ignores the many irregular plurals we have in English, too.

By far the most common plural ending for feminine nouns in German (and occasionally for some masculine or neuter ones) is -n or -en. This sounds familiar when you look at certain English words, like “ox/en” and “child/ren”.

In English we actually did this quite a lot in the past! The archaic/poetic word brethren, now used in fraternal order, actually used to be the standard plural form of “brother” (initially written brether).

This is even more evident in word root changes. For example, English has “foot”/”feet”, “(wo)man”/”men”, “tooth”/”teeth”, “mouse”/”mice”, “goose”/”geese”. This is actually more complicated than the German equivalent of adding an umlaut and no ending or -e/-er endings in words like Hand/Hände, Wand/Wände, Nacht/Nächte, Apfel/Äpfel, Vater/Väter.

Once again, it’s ordinarily suggested that you simply learn the plural as you learn the word (so theoretically, every time you meet a new word you’d have to learn the gender, the plural, and the word itself, as well as any special case declensions – phew, sounds exhausting!)

This is not a practical solution, especially for beginner to intermediate learners who have many other things to worry about. So once again, I recommend you use some short cuts!

9 SIMPLE SHORTCUTS FOR GERMAN PLURALS

One of the books for German learners that I highly recommend Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage by Martin Durrell, and in the book the author shares some very helpful statistics. I’ll share the most important ones below, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t try to memorise these right now, just use them for reference to help you understand the simple rule of thumb I’ll introduce.

Masculine:

  • Most masculine nouns have a plural in -e or ¨e. The umlaut goes over about half of the nouns where it would be possible (i.e. not over i or e), g. Arm/Arm(e), Hund/Hund(e), Fuß/Füß(e), Stuhl/Stühl(e).
  • Most masculine nouns ending in -el, -en, or -er form their plural without an ending or umlaut, g. Onkel, Bäcker, Computer (same in singular and plural).
  • A small number of masculine nouns have the plural -en or -n, especially “weak nouns” (see any grammar book explanation for what this means).

Feminine:

  • Over 90% of all feminine nouns have the plural -en/-n, g. Arbeit(en), Regel(n), Studentin(nen) (the last n gets doubled for -in ending nouns).
  • About a quarter of feminine monosyllables have a plural in ¨e, g. Hand/Händ(e), Nacht/Nächt(e), Stadt/Städt(e), etc.

Neuter:

  • About three quarters of neuter nouns have the plural -e, e.g. Bein(e), Jahr(e).
  • Slightly less than a quarter of neuter nouns have the plural ¨er/-er. The umlaut is used if possible and the majority are either mon- osyllabic, e.g. Dorf/Dörf(er), Kind/Kind(er), or start with ‘Ge’, e.g. Gesicht(er), Gehalt(er), Geschlecht(er).
  • Neuter nouns ending in -el, -en, -er (note that this is the same as for masculine); diminutives ending in -chen, -lein; and words formed with ..e all have the same plural as the singular form, e.g. Mädchen, Gebäude, Messer, Kissen.
  • -s is used with many recent loan-words from English or French: Chef(s), Hotel(s), Restaurant(s), Team(s), Tunnel(s), and for abbreviations like LKW(s) and for most words ending in a vowel other than unstressed -e: Auto(s), Genie(s)

There are other possibilities and very occasional exceptions, but these rules cover the vast majority of the nouns you will ever come across in German.

Ideally, you would learn the proper plural of nouns as you come across them, but since this may not be practical if your priority is to communicate as much as possible in a short time, you will, once again, be better off guessing.

HOW TO USE THESE RULES-OF-THUMB FOR GUESSING GERMAN PLURALS

Learning off precise plurals should also be low priority when compared to learning new vocabulary or more important aspects of grammar.

This is another situation where I can confirm from personal experience that Germans will understand you perfectly well if you use the wrong plural. Just like if a beginner English learner said to you that he saw six “mouses”, it would sound a little weird, but you would understand it no problem.

In an academic examination you would lose points for writing down the wrong plural; however, with human beings you will gain points for actually saying something, rather than keeping your mouth shut for fear of saying it wrong.

Based on the statistics above, you have a pretty decent chance at guessing the correct plural! The most common ending is -e, so try this one first. If the singular already ends in -e, it is slightly more likely to be feminine so add an -n.

Use this rule of thumb, then try to learn the above list, and finally get feedback from natives and spend more time reading, and you will quickly see the exceptions.

As always, this is not a perfect solution, but saying a word in what sounds like plural will get you further. The context and use of numbers or die (genderless plural article, even though it’s the same as the feminine article) will make it much clearer that you mean plural.
——-

To find out more about Why German is Easy (including the bonus resources I’ve thrown in) and to see if it’s right for you, you can find out more here.

 

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  • Polly

    Benny, thank you.

    I’m sick and tired of people telling me everything is difficult and really hard before I start something, even the teachers of the classes I’m starting now are telling us how difficult it’s going to be. Not really a great thing to motivate students. Now, I know it’s not going to be smooth sailings, but it’s not insurmountable.

    So thank you for being the one that constantly tells us it can be done!

    • niloofar

      dont listen to other. you achieve every thing you want. impossible is impossible

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Try taking on Hungarian! Almost every single native, learner, teacher, student and random person I’ve met has told me it’s the hardest language in the world :) If I didn’t have years of enthusiasm and confidence behind me I’d actually believe them! It’s a pity because it’s a vicious circle. The myth propagates itself!

    Hopefully I can help people out of that circle with a different perspective ;)

  • Anders Carlos

    Hi Benny,

    Thanks for the German tips. I would like to ask something. With your experience in short time to achieve fluency or high level in a language, could a person with intermediary~advanced English (like B2 level in European system) stay one month in US or Canada, fully immersed, become fluent in English in this time?

  • http://findalanguageteacher.com Find A Language Teacher

    Similarities are very important. I approached learning Spanish and Portuguese the same time by looking at the similarities, which helped a lot on the long run.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    That’s definitely possible, but it would be HARD – you’d have to be totally devoted to getting corrections and focusing all the time to make sure you are constantly improving. Why just one month? You could do work in advance and meet English speakers no matter where you are in the world.
    It would be possible in a month but you’d have to expose yourself mostly to the type of people who would nitpick your differences away and you’d have to be extremely passionate about it. This would leave less time for checking out sites etc.
    This also depends on how you define fluency. I have my definition, but maybe you have your own?
    If I were you I’d aim to greatly improve your level, but enjoy yourself and keep it up before and after. English is the easiest language of all to work on outside of an English speaking country. I have met people with C2 English who have never in their life been to an English speaking country.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks for the comment – in future please use your NAME, rather than your company name. I’ve had to remove this comment because it seems more like spam because of that.

  • M.C.

    Hi, Benny,
    I haven’t received the email you mentioned in your last post. I’d like to get the German guide, and I purchased your language hacking guide last month. Please advise… Thanks! :)

  • Lisa

    Hello Benny,
    I just read the free chapter of “Why German is easy” to check if it could help my friend who is learning German and complains about these grammar problems. I think it is really helpful for people who want to speak German without struggling so much with grammar, so well done! I really like it! It is even interesting for me as a German to see some sort of system in my own language that I did not notice until now. I just have to say that you made one small mistake: The plural of “Gehalt” is “Gehälter”, not “Gehalter”.

    OK, I don’t want to hold you up any longer!
    Good luck with your new mission!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Hi MC, please e-mail me from the e-mail you used to purchase the LHG. I searched for the e-mail associated with this comment and it didn’t come up, so maybe your paypal or purchase e-mail is different. It’s likely you didn’t confirm the e-mail to receive updates and I can fix that, but it’s better to e-mail me about it ;) (Use contact-me form on the website)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I ran my guide through a native speaker already and she corrected my other minor mistakes – strange that she missed this one. I’ll fix this for future updates. Thanks! :) Glad you enjoyed the free chapter!

  • M.C.

    Thanks… you’re right, they’re different… will do right now.

    • Toby

      Dude……just shut up.

  • kim

    Benny, I got a problem downloading the sneakpeak version. I use IE and know it won’t be a problem with Firefox, but I got a problem with my computer right now and won’t have firefox for another month. Is there any other way you can send me that version?

    Kim

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    IE, what a crap browser!! Trying to natively open the file leads to some problems, but just right click and save as to your desktop and open it separately ;)

  • Yuzhou

    I totally agree that being motivated makes learning a language much easier. However, with the same amount of motivation and time a learner will progress much faster in one language vs another. At least that has been my experience after learning more than 7 languages. Acknowledging the difficulty of a task does not need to be demotivating, in fact it can be extremely motivating. Sometimes we do things not because they are easy but because they are challenging. People don’t climb Mt. Everest because it’s easy.

  • Yuzhou

    I totally agree that being motivated makes learning a language much easier. However, with the same amount of motivation and time a learner will progress much faster in one language vs another. At least that has been my experience. Acknowledging the difficulty of a task does not need to be demotivating, in fact it can be extremely motivating. Sometimes we do things not because they are easy but because they are challenging. People don’t climb Mt. Everest because it’s easy.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I disagree with the “same amount of motivation and time” because this is impossible to replicate precisely for all languages. Someone putting the same amount of work into each language would likely just be studying them and not living through them or socialising or at least talking to people online. I maintain that Hungarian is easier than Spanish for me. I was “motivated” to learn Spanish and put more time into it, but motivation is extremely hard to quantify and compare so easily. I learn quicker now because of a better attitude and learning strategy.
    I do agree that the challenge in itself motivates many people to learn. Every time someone tells me Hungarian is the hardest language in the world (perhaps 5 times a day?) it’s extra motivation to prove them wrong ;) Some polyglots pick languages from different families simply because of the challenge (that is definitely not my reason for learning languages, which makes me “less impressive” to people who think that I learned Spanish and Italian out of laziness rather than cultural curiosity).
    These kinds of extra language learning challenges are fine for people who already speak several languages, but for beginner learners being reminded how hard it is is very demotivating.

  • Yuzhou

    For some language A vs. B scenarios you will progress much faster in A even if you put in much less blood, sweat and tears. There are some languages I almost got for free. Don’t get me wrong here, I think your self motivating techniques are great and go a long way. But according to my experience, positivity alone won’t make all languages equal in terms of the challenge they present.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Of course some languages are easier and they come “for free”, and I’m not suggesting at all that positivity ever makes “all languages equal”. I’m suggesting that this entire comparison is bogus and never helps anyone but linguists who like speculating on grammar and vocabulary difficulties. It’s a pointless comparison for people who only have one language to learn. In an empty box with no context, Spanish vs Hungarian is harder for a native English speaker, but people aren’t empty boxes.
    I write mostly to people struggling with their first language rather than for polyglots. People who choose a language based on difficulty levels have little emotional or practical investment in the language. I’m not learning Hungarian for the challenge for example. I want to use it with people. That makes it way easier than my five years of German schooling and no context did, regardless of how many cases or common vocabulary it has.
    I don’t talk in As and Bs myself. There is usually just one language someone reading this blog would actually ever be interested in ;)

  • Anders Carlos

    Well, I know there are many people that speak English in my country, but there are two problems, as I live in a region in Brazil with not so many English speakers, that are only a few people I could talk and also being 14 years old allows me only to go out with friends and their English is not good enough to talk for 2 minutes, so I could spend my vacation in Canada/US or Germany (so I could improve English and German), but as many people are telling me it was almost impossible any improvement, saying I could only improve after 6 months (even if I tried to immerse myself and forget about thinking/speaking Portuguese), I am starting to see no advantages in spending vacation abroad (1~2 months). I was thinking in getting books in English and German (Assimil), and after finishing the book, spend vacation using what I learned, even people saying I could improve nothing.

  • Kim

    Got it! And I really like what I saw. The way you put it really fit with how I learn new stuff. Awesome!

  • Ron

    Great post, very encouraging and well said Benny! “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet , Wm. Shakespeare; Act II, scene ii

  • Vessy

    Dankeee danke dankeee :) This is something that allways annoys me about people who talk about German, they allways say how German is much harder than English.

  • http://yourholiday.kablog.com http://www.allinclusive.co.uk

    German is quite easy to pick up, I think most languages are apart from those who use completely different typography and alphabets like mandarin.

  • http://yourholiday.kablog.com http://www.allinclusive.co.uk

    German is quite easy to pick up, I think most languages are apart from those who use completely different typography and alphabets like mandarin.

  • Anonymous

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    Yet when you reach a certain level of consciousness (and age!), if you neglect your basics, you notice the fallout a lot faster and you realize you have a lot less leeway to stray from what is essential to you. cheap coach bag
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    Weekly:- Pay bills and balance checking account- Date with my entire family doing something fun- My women’s group- Kitchen desk organized and kitchen medium deep cleaned
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    Yearly:- A spiritual retreat of some kind especially in nature- Time with my extended family, especially my sisters
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  • Dóra Kartali

    Hello Benny,

    I’m a native speaker of Hungarian, I speak English, lived in the Czech Republic for 6 months and now getting acquainted with German. Your post has opened up my eyes, since both in the cases of German and Czech I tended to focus on their difficulty.

    Being an English major and a teacher of English as a foreign language, I find linguistics very important to understand the logic of a language. I’m no good at memorizing words but gaining a deeper insight to the ‘whys’ helped me enormously.

    I’m looking forward to follow your posts!

    Dora

  • German

    ICH HASSE DICH DORA! DO HAßT JAH KEENE ANUNG DU OPFA.

    VESSY DICH HASSE ICH AUCH ! ICH HASSE EUCH ALLÉE

  • German

    Wooohoooo, Soviel zum them,a Dutsch is a beautifool luangage ! VOM ARSCH IHR ZWERGEN KÖPFE. HALT DIE FRESSE.

  • Lee derbyshire

    No language is easy to learn.FACT. Fluent in three moths? utter BULLSHIT .
    .

  • bu falah Sabre

    what is the best way to be fluent in english?

    • Toby

      You are seriously handicapped.

  • Colleen Sahlas

    I totally agree. I was terrible at learning French in high school. I now realize it all boils down to the method. If you present a language with charts and verb conjugation and grammar, it becomes very intimidating and difficult to learn. I enjoy learning via the Pimsleur audio CDs. I have now learned a great deal of Greek, French, and German, and even a bit of Italian. I hope to become fluent in Greek and German as I am getting close. But the Pimsleur method is all phrases – listen and repeat and then try to say something with what you’ve learned. After 4 months of listening to Pimsleur in my car, I spoke only German on our recent trip to Vienna. Having never had a conversation with anyone in German prior to going, I was astonished when everyone readily spoke back to me in German and understood me without problems. Grammar can be learned by listening to conversation, phrases, and seeing the patterns. Exactly as you said. Thanks for your post!

  • Kendrick

    Danke, Benny. I’m now galvanized to learn German. A while ago I used to live in Germany and according to my parents I was quite good at it. When I decided to pick up other languages other than Mandarin, I convinced myself there was no need for me to learn German. But then I realized this is the closest thing to a heritage language for me as I’ve got, just like you have Irish. This is my biggest reason for pursuing German. So you can bet I will keep at it till beyond passing any test.
    P.S. Ich liebte deine Buch.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Hudson, I just checked and I have no record of you ordering the book. Maybe you used a different name? Whenever you get it, I hope it helps :)