Language Hacking German: 10 Hacks to Learn German Faster
It’s heeeeeeere! Ja, baby!
From 27th September, my new book Language Hacking German is available in bookstores all around the world.
So, what’s the fuss all about?
Language hacking is all about looking for the faster, smarter ways to learn languages. I’ve been sharing and developing my ideas on language hacking ever since I launched Fluent in 3 Months in 2009.
In short, language hacking is about learning a language through speaking it from day one.
Now, for the first time, I’ve developed Language Hacking into a series of beginner courses for language learners, published with Teach Yourself.
That’s how Language Hacking German came about.
And it’s all about learning German by speaking German.
Rather than go in-depth on how language hacking works (you can read more about that here), I thought I’d give you a sneak peek inside the new course, so you can try out some of the German hacks for yourself.
I’ve included that page numbers so when you get your own copy of the course (order here) you can look them up for yourself.
Let’s get started!
1. Get a Head Start Learning German with Words You Already Know (page 10)
As an English speaker learning German, you’re in luck. Your English will give you the oberhand (upper hand).
English is a Germanic language, so both English and German have a lot in common. Some of the spellings and pronunciations have diverged over the centuries, but there are still thousands of words that are very similar.
Here are some examples:
- The letters v and f in English sometimes change to b in German: e.g. half → halb, seven → sieben, silver → Silber
- A d in English sometimes changes to a t in German: e.g. bread → Brot, old → alt, hundred → hundert, good → gut
- The k in English sometimes changes to ch in German: e.g. milk → Milch, book → Buch, week → Woche
- Sh in English sometimes changes to sch in German: e.g. English → Englisch, fish → Fisch, sheer → schier
2. Learn German Vocab Faster with Memory Hooks (page 29)
I used to struggle with learning new vocabulary, until I discovered memory hooks.
Memory hooks, also known as mnemonics cement new words into your brain, making it super easy to remember them on a moment’s notice.
Here’s an example of how to use mnemonics in your German studies. Suppose you want to remember that the word “reisen” means “to travel”. This word sounds nothing like “travel” in English, so what can you do? Easy: think of an English word that “reisen” does sound like, and link that to an image in your mind that you associate with traveling.
Reisen sounds a lot like the English word “rising”. So imagine yourself rising early in the morning to go on a journey. Now, anytime you need to say “travel” in your German conversations, this image will come to mind and you’ll instantly remember that it’s “reisen”.
3. Power-learn German Genders with the Word-endings Trick (page 61)
Suppose you’ve never seen the English word “diversify” before. Even if you have no idea what it means, you can still guess instantly that it’s a verb. How? Because of the “-ify” ending. It’s a dead giveaway. You can add -ify to all sorts of English words in order to, well, verbify them 😉
You can use a similar technique for German. Word endings can help you guess noun genders without memorizing the gender of each and every word.
Whenever you’re in conversation and want to use a word whose gender you’re not sure of, look at the ending of the word for clues:
- If a word ends in -er, -ich, -ig, -ling, -us, -ismus, it’s probably masculine.
Examples: der Bäcker (the baker), der Teppich (the carpet), der König (the king), der Feigling (the coward), der Campus (the campus), der Tourismus (the tourism)
- If a word ends in -e, -ie, -ei, -heit, -keit, -tät, -ung, -ur or -schaft in its singular form, it’s probably feminine.
Examples: die Seite (the page), die Familie (the family), die Partei (the (political) party), die Freiheit (the freedom), die Möglichkeit (the possibility), die Universität (the university), die Übung (the exercise), die Kultur (the culture), die Gesellschaft (the company)
- If a word ends in -chen, -lein, -ment, -um or -en (a verb used as a noun) it’s probably neutral.
Examples: das Mädchen (the girl), das Brüderlein (baby brother), das Element (the element), das Museum, das Essen (food – from the verb essen = to eat)
You won’t be correct 100% of the time, but you’re trying to be perfect isn’t the goal. I encourage language hackers to make lots of mistakes and learn as they go.
4. Say Exponentially More in German with These Five Booster Verbs (page 88)
If you wait until you can conjugate every German verb perfectly before you start speaking German, you’ll be waiting an awfully long time.
Instead, learn just five verbs and their conjugations, and you can use them along with any other verb in its dictionary form to express thousands of ideas without getting buried in conjugations.
Whenever you’re struggling in conversation to conjugate a verb on the fly, see if you can rephrase your sentence using one of these verbs:
Ich möchte (I want, I would like)
Anytime you want, plan or intend to do something, try phrasing it with ich möchte, even if that’s not quite how you would express it in English. This will let you use the dictionary form of the main verb of the sentence.
Want to tell your friend that you’re planning to run a marathon but can’t remember how to conjugate planen (“to plan”)? Say “Ich möchte einen Marathon laufen” (“I want to run a marathon”) instead.
Heading to the grocery store and you hope they’re not out of Landjäger? Instead of trying to remember the verb “to hope”, just say “Ich möchte Landjäger kaufen” (“I want to buy Landjäger”).
Ich sollte (I should)
In English, the words “I should”, “I’m supposed to”, or “I ought to” all mean pretty much the same thing. In German, you can use just one phrase to express this: “Ich sollte”.
Use “Ich sollte” plus another verb’s dictionary form to express what you “should” or “are supposed to” do. For example: “Ich sollte mehr Gemüse essen” (“I should eat more vegetables”).
Ich muss (I must)
This one is pretty straightforward, especially since it sounds so close to “I must” in English.
You can use “Ich muss” to express any type of action that you have to do. That action will be a verb in its dictionary form. For example: “Ich muss morgen arbeiten” (“I have to work tomorrow”).
Ich kann (I can)
Once you learn this verb – which should be easy given how much it sounds like “I can” – you’ll be able to describe yourself with a lot more flair.
“I play chess” isn’t as descriptive as “Ich kann gut Schach spielen” (“I can play chess well”). A phrase like “I drive” would do you in a pinch, but what you probably want to say is “Ich kann fahren” (“I can drive”). When stated this way, these phrases have the added bonus of not requiring you to conjugate the verbs “spielen” and “fahren”.
Ich werde (I will)
Even though you can use the present tense to talk about the future in German (“I’m having some people over tomorrow night”), it can be easier to use “Ich werde” plus the dictionary form of the main verb of the sentence. For example: “Ich werde im Sommer nach Frankreich fahren” (“I will go to France in the summer”).
5. Use Clues and Context to Understand More German than You Think You Can (page 112)
Contextese is my favourite “non-language” language. Becoming “fluent” in Contextese is one of the best ways to start having more interesting conversations in German, right away.
Conversations always go a lot more smoothly when you can work out what other people are saying rather than stop every few sentences to ask the speaker to repeat themselves.
If you already know the subject of the conversation (which is pretty likely unless you’ve been accosted by a stranger in the street), then try to pick out key words that will tell you the gist of what the other person is saying. If you ask someone, “Do you like to jog?”, and they reply with enthusiasm, but all you catch from their reply is the phrase “every day!”, you can make a pretty educated guess that they’re no Couch-Kartoffel!
You can also use visual markers (the speaker’s body language, facial expression, and your surroundings) to work out what’s being said. If you’re in a restaurant and have just drunk the last of your water, and the waiter comes around with a pitcher of water and asks you a question while holding out the pitcher, you can be pretty sure he didn’t just ask you to rumba dance!
Connector words can also be a great help when you understand only part of a long sentence. For example, if you ask someone to do you a favour, and all you understand from their reply is “I’d love to help you, but…”, then you don’t really need to understand the rest of the phrase to catch the meaning, do you?
Common connecter words include aber (but), wenn (if) and weil (because).
6. Sound More Fluent with Conversation Connectors (page 134)
When you only give one word answers in a conversation, it quickly becomes awkward.
If you want to say more, but can’t figure out how to expand on your ideas, use conversation connectors. These are “filler phrases” that make you sound more like a native speaker. Here are a few to get you started:
- um ehrlich zu sein (to tell the truth)
- meiner Meinung nach (in my opinion)
- leider (unfortunately)
- zum Beispiel (for example)
- übrigens (by the way)
You’ll find plenty more conversational connectors inside Language Hacking German.
7. Time Travel – Talk About the Past and Future Using the Present (page 158)
If you have a funny or interesting story to tell, but are afraid you’ll get stuck trying to conjugate every single verb of your story into the past tense, don’t worry. Just tell your story in the present tense! People do this in English all the time, and you can do it in German too.
You can also use the present tense to talk about the future. All you have to do is add a time indicator. For example: “In einem Monat spreche ich gut Deutsch!” (“In a month I speak German well”). No need to try to remember how to say “I’m going to” or “I will”.
8. The Rephrasing Technique for Talking Your Way Through Complicated Sentences (page 187)
As a beginner German speaker, you just aren’t going to be able to speak in as eloquent and nuanced a way as you can in English. This is something that you have to accept from the beginning.
Luckily, there’s a simple technique you can use to express your thoughts more painlessly: pare down your ideas to the core concept, and state that instead.
You might have some experience with this already. Have you ever had one of those English exams where you have to read an article then summarise the main idea? You probably groaned about it at the time. But this is an indispensable skill when you’re still a beginner in German and you can’t express complex ideas yet.
As an example, suppose you hear someone speaking German, and you want to approach them to see if they’d be willing to speak with you for a bit. In your native language, you might say something like, “I’m sorry…I just overheard you speaking German…do you mind if I practise a few phrases with you? …I hope I’m not bothering you…”. But if your German isn’t quite at that level yet, think of the main idea. This would be something like, “Sprichst du Deutsch? Ich auch! Sprechen wir!” (“You speak German? Me too! Let’s talk!”)
9. Use Hidden Moments to get German Immersion for the Long-term (page 212)
No matter how manic your life is, you can always find time to learn another language. Next time you’re out and about during the day, pay attention to how much idle time you have. Waiting at a street corner for the pedestrian walk signal, staring out the window on a long bus ride, standing in line at the supermarket trying to make it seem like you’re not looking at the tabloid magazine covers…these are all precious moments that can be spent learning German.
Pull out your phone and do some Anki flashcards. Go onto italki and type in a question about German that’s been nagging at you. Or get out your headphones and listen to a short podcast such as One-Minute German
10. Develop a Cheat Sheet and go into ‘Autopilot’ During Your First Conversation (page 220)
If you’ve never had a conversation with a native German speaker before, you’ll likely feel anxious before your conversation. Because of your nerves, words and phrases that you’re sure you know will escape your mind.. If that happens, you won’t get a chance to practise all the material that you spent time learning.
You can prevent this by preparing a cheat sheet of the most important phrases you’ll need for your conversation. This can include:
- Essentials: “Hello”, “How are you?”, “I’m well, thank you”, “Goodbye”, as well as typical introductory questions like “Where do you work?”, “Where are you from?”, etc.
- Survival phrases: I’m sorry, I don’t understand”, “Could you please repeat that?”, “Could you type that out?” etc.
- Questions you plan to ask: “What do you do in your free time?”, “What’s your city like?”, etc.
- Any material that you want to practise saying: for example, “me-specific” phrases like your hobbies, your job, or any upcoming plans you have.
Want to Speak German – the Faster Way?
Did you find these German hacks helpful?
Language Hacking German takes you step-by-step through learning German with language hacks.
Right from the start, you’ll learn how to speak German in real life situations.
Pick up your copy of Language Hacking German today.