In my travels around the world and my conversations with language learners I’ve noticed that German is often seen as a difficult language.
Yes, German vocabulary is gendered. Yes, there are some really long words to learn. And yes, the grammar isn’t always intuitive.
But there’s plenty about German that is easy too.
I’d like to share six steps to help you learn how to speak German. This is the language hacker’s approach to learning German, so give these steps a try and you’ll be speaking German faster than you ever thought possible.
Step 1: Find Your Big Why for Learning German
Even before you think about which materials to study, or your method for learning German, you need to take a step back and understand your underlying reason for wanting to speak German. This is your Big Why.
My “Big Why” is an unquantifiable passion for languages. It isn’t something measurable like “So I can speak to X number of people in the world”, but it has to do with enriching my life with friendships and experiences, which you can’t really measure.
Here are some reasons for learning German that could be your Big Why:
- To have conversations with German speaking family members
- To find a job in a German company (Germany is one of the biggest economies in the world)
- To speak with natives as you travel in the heart of Europe
- To read the classics of German literature (think Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Herman Hesse and Franz Kafka)
- To get an inside view of German culture
Find your Big Why and you’ll discover that learning German becomes a challenge you’ll love.
Step 2: Create a Mini-Germany in Your Home
You don’t need to live in Germany to immerse yourself in the German language. There are many ways to plunge yourself headfirst into German wherever you live. Here are a few of my top ways to bring Germany to your hometown:
- Make Your Computer Multilingual. Why not turn your computer into a German-only system?
- Find the German Speakers in Your City. Believe it or not, there are many communities of German speakers around the world. You may be near one and not even realize it!
- Watch German Television and Movies. Force yourself to focus by watching without subtitles.
Step 3: Use Language Hacks to Learn German Fast
Language hacks are shortcuts that help you learn a language faster.
Here are a few of my favourite language hacks that can help you learn German fast:
- Use Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS). SRS is a great method for memorizing vocabulary and phrases. It is probably the most effective hack you can use to pick up new vocabulary.
- Use Mnemonics. Mnemonics help you create associations to easily recall German words. The key to mnemonics? Use your imagination.
- Focus Your Study with the Pomodoro Technique. This technique allows you to break up your study sessions into smaller chunks of time resulting in better focus and a more effective learning experience.
Step 4: Use Conversational Connectors – How Beginners Can Get their Flow
Like most languages, German uses a set of call and response phrases that I call conversational connectors. These are crucial to everyday conversations, but they aren’t usually found in phrasebooks.
When my friend Anthony Lauder introduced me to conversational connectors a few years ago, they blew my mind. They’re a great technique for sounding more like a native speaker, for removing the awkwardness from conversations, and for giving yourself time to recall vocabularly.
Here’s an example of how they work. When someone asks you “How is your hotel room?” instead of answering with “um … good”, which pretty much ends things right on the spot, you might add in phrases and expressions to create a more organic feel to what you are saying. You could say: “To tell the truth, that is a good question. The hotel room is good. Thanks for asking. How is your hotel room?” . This is exactly the same answer with conversational connectors added in.
Conversational connectors are extremely helpful because you can use them in a variety of situations such as agreeing with someone, sharing your opinion, or changing the subject.
Step 5: Find Native Speakers and Speak from Day One
To improve your German quickly, you must speak from the very first day you start learning German. This speak from day one approach is the fastest and most efficient way to learn German – especially if you speak with native German speakers.
How can you find native speakers to practice with? It’s actually much easier than you’d think.
No matter where you live you can still find people, either online or offline, to speak with in German. I connect with German speakers by:
- Browsing italki. italki is my go-to place to find native German speakers. The prices are reasonable (especially compared to private, face-to-face lessons) and you can meet in the comfort of your own home.
- Meeting Up With German Learners. On MeetUp.com you can find weekly German meetups in many major cities around the world. I’ve also been successful using CouchSurfing to connect with German learners and native speakers.
- Installing the HelloTalk App on my smartphone. This handy language-learning app helps you connect with other language learners around the world and is a great place to practise speaking German.
You may also like to join my Speak in a Week crash course to give yourself a huge boost in confidence at speaking German after just seven days. It’s free!
Step 6: Focus on the Easy Parts of German
Lots of people think German is a really difficult language to learn. I don’t buy that point of view.
In fact, German has a lot of things going for it that make it considerably easier than many other languages. When learning German, the trick is to focus on those parts of German that are easy to pick up. Alongside that, you can find hacks to help you get around the parts that are perceived as more difficult.
German is an easy language to learn because it has:
- No tones, as there are in Chinese or Thai
- No liaisons between words, as there are in French
- Many of the same letters as English, unlike Japanese or Korean
- No postposition or preposition suffixes, like in Hungarian or Turkish
- No strings of difficult-to-pronounce consonants like in Czech.
Plus, German is a phonetic language. This means that (with very few exceptions) you know exactly how to pronounce a word when you see it spelled. Likewise, when you hear a word you can almost always write it out. English, by contrast, has all sorts of funky issues with pronunciation. “Corpse, corps, horse and worse” all sound different despite having the same “or” in the middle of them.
On top of that, many parts of German grammar are the same as English since they are both part of the Germanic family of languages. Older Anglo-Saxon texts are particularly close to the German language. Even more recent classics, such as Shakespeare, are closer to the German roots of English.
Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself, “How would Shakespeare have said it?” For example, “thou” is not far from German’s “du”. Likewise, “thine”, is very similar to “dein” in German.
There are many more ways that German is actually really easy, so be sure to check out my guide Why German is Easy where I explore this in a lot more detail.
Become a Confident German Speaker, Fast
There are many ways to study of German that accelerate your learning.
Just remember these important steps:
- Find your Big Why for learning German
- Immerse yourself in the German language by creating a Mini-Germany in your home
- Make smart use of language hacks
- Use conversational connectors to sound fluent and buy yourself time
- Speak from day one – especially with native speakers
- Realise that German is much easier than you think
Conversational fluency in German is just around the corner! And now you have the tools to help you make the most of your German studies.
P.S. My friend Nomadic Matt has just launched a charity to help schools send economically disadvantaged students overseas. Check it out!