As advanced as your German skills might be, you will never really outgrow lists.
They are effective because they are so wonderfully simple.
Learning vocabulary in context is important. It is a more fun and natural process. However, it’s easy to forget new words from one lesson to the next. Luckily, we have vocabulary lists, which can greatly help memorization.
Lists are important because some expressions are virtually impossible to learn through immersion or oral communication. They are used so seldom and constructed in such complex ways, that no matter how much we may bust our heads trying to figure them out, we can never break the code without a key.
How Advanced Word Lists Lead to Advanced Thoughts
Why do we need so much advanced vocabulary in any language, anyway?
Can you not reach a certain point where extra vocabulary is no longer necessary?
Well, I like to tell my students what George Orwell used to say, that a simplified version of language can only serve to express simple and basic thoughts.
In order to express complex ideas in German, as in any other language, advanced vocabulary is essential. Whether you are learning German for business, social life or academia, advanced German vocabulary can greatly enrich your life and work experience.
When I learned English vocabulary, the Latin roots of many advanced words were a great help to me, as they are present in my native language (Spanish) as well.
In German, the obscure Germanic roots of many advanced words made it virtually impossible for me to guess their meanings, even with context. Thus, while native English speakers do have a slight advantage in this regard, learning advanced German vocabulary requires much training and practice.
When I started learning advanced German vocabulary, all I had to help me in my quest was a tiny pocket dictionary. Fortunately, there are many great tools to learn vocabulary today like apps, games and online quizzes. Thanks to them, learning vocabulary can be more fun than it has ever been.
However, just like in the old days, you will still want to start with a list.
Before we get into list-making recommendations, let’s look at a few steps you can take to practice all the vocabulary you compile in lists.
The Best Ways to Commit Your German Vocab Lists to Memory
I have tried many different tools to expand my German vocabulary.
These are the best among them in terms of ease of use, scope and word selection. I have also chosen the tools within each category that make it easier for learners to memorize new vocabulary.
- Learning Platform: FluentU is a multifunctional, multimedia, multi-device language learning platform. What I love about FluentU is that it teaches you words in context using real-life videos and offers quizzes to assess your learning afterwards.
It will keep track of all the vocabulary you learn and let you know when it is time to brush up on certain words using a smart SRS (Spaced Repetition System). It will even show you what percentage of vocabulary you have learned and mastered in every video you watch.
However, it is the absolute best tool for memorizing German vocabulary lists because you can simply type all your German vocabulary into separate lists here, and FluentU will track down videos that show your vocabulary in action.
Then you can click the word—or any word that you don’t recognize—in the interactive subtitles for an instant definition, isolated pronunciation, memorable picture and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word bereit, this is what you’ll see:
You can also practice all the vocabulary you’re learned with multimedia flashcards and more active learning tools. Wow!
Best of all, you can take FluentU anywhere with the mobile apps for iOS and Android.
- Games: These games on the Digital Dialects website are simply great. They are nothing short of addictive. My favorites are the ones that give you four English words and prompt you to place the correct German words next to them. The good thing is that you may sometimes not know the word, but you can still match German and English words by discarding some of the options.
- Books: “Wort für Wort.” This is a great book full of truly advanced vocabulary organized by themes, covering everything you need from menschliche Beziehungen (human relationships) and Freizeit und Sport (leisure and sport) to Kulturleben (cultural life) and Politik (politics). It begins by proposing a simple study technique that really worked for me: Just read the German words out loud twice, read the translations and then cover the English translation column on each page and try to remember the meanings of the new words.
- Flashcards: Memrise. Create your own personal flashcard decks here, and take advantage of the learning tools available. These digital flashcards present a word in German, give you time to think about its meaning and then allow you to uncover the translation when you think you know the answer. After memorizing your words, you can test what you have learned through tests and games.
- Apps: Goethe Institut Vocabulary Trainer. This is a great app that allows users to upload and download multiple vocabulary lists. It uses a system by which a word is considered to be “learned” after you have marked it as “known” five times.
This is, in fact, only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of online and offline resources available for practicing and improving your vocabulary. Once you have picked up new vocabulary, add it to your set of vocabulary lists.
How to Build Your Own Vocabulary Lists
Now, you’ve got all these great tools for picking up new vocabulary words, why even bother with vocabulary lists?
Why must you begin and end with lists?
How can lists make a difference?
Well, vocabulary lists are a great tool, and can serve as the basis of your learning. They allow you to keep track of what you are learning and the progress you have made. They give you a record of vocabulary you have learned to look back on, and welcome you to revisit and refresh your knowledge as you keep advancing. They give you a place to start before you even begin using one of your nifty memorization tools from the list of recommendations above.
So, with this in mind, I strongly encourage you to build and maintain your own lists on paper or in a document on your computer (or favorite device). After that, you can think about importing them into a digital tool.
To start creating these vocabulary lists, look to the Internet for inspiration. The web offers many great resources to find vocabularies organized by theme and language level, and you can tack these onto your existing lists or start new lists for different themes.
My favorite tool for viewing vocabularies are actually vocabulary lists taken from books, as they can make vocabulary come alive in a unique way. If you want to learn vocabulary and enjoy literature at the same time, check out these vocabularies for “Momo” by Michael Ende and “Der Vorleser” by Bernard Schlink, among many other fabulous books.
However, this is just my own personal suggestion. If literature is not your thing, blaze your own path.
No matter what, you should start building your own lists by deciding what kind of German vocabulary is most important to you and your life. For example, if you want to travel, you may opt for lists of vocabulary and advanced phrases for social interaction. If your goal is to be able to read great works by famous German authors, your vocabulary lists will be quite different.
So, without further ado, here are some recommendations for essential vocabulary lists that nearly everyone can find useful. Take these, learn from them and build on them—or, at the very least, use them as a guiding light for creating your own new lists.
6 Essential Advanced German Vocabulary Lists
1. Writing Vocabulary
Writing great essays requires specific advanced vocabulary. Many German learners will need to write in German at some point in their lives, whether they end up writing work reports, academic essays, scientific literature, creative works, diary entries or emails.
Here are some useful words and phrases you can use to introduce your ideas in various forms of writing.
- Einleitend muss man sagen_____. — By way of introduction, one must say_____.
- Man muss_____in Betracht ziehen — One needs to take_____into consideration
- Erstens — Firstly
- Zweitens — Secondly
- Drittens — Thirdly
- Ein wichtiger Aspekt von_____ist_____. — An important aspect of_____is_____.
- Man muss erwähnen, dass_____. — One must mention that_____.
- Im Gegensatz zu_____. — In contrast to_____.
- Dieses Beispiel illustriert_____. — This example illustrates_____.
You can expand your writing vocabulary using Quizlet’s comprehensive list.
2. Business Vocabulary
- Zuordnung — Assignment
- Bilanzprüfung — Audit
- Bilanz — Balance
- Vorstand — Board
- Im Vorstand sitzen/sein — To be on the board
- Steuerbar — Taxable
- Handelskrieg — Trade war
- Betriebswirtschaft — Business administration
- Gewerkschaft — Trade union
Find an extended business vocabulary list at About.com and some great business German tips and vocabulary on the FluentU German Language and Culture Blog.
3. Literary Vocabulary
Advanced German courses often involve analyzing literary texts. I will never forget my reading of the novel “Brigitta” during my last year of formal German study. I will probably never forget how hard it was to find the right vocabulary to discuss literature when the time came to converse and write about it.
I put together a list for my own purposes, and it is one that many of you may enjoy picking up and building on.
- Kurzgeschichte — Short story
- Erzählung — Tale
- Novelle — Novella
- Kriminalroman — Crime novel
- Tragödie — Tragedy
- Komödie — Comedy
- Lustspiel — Comedy
- Aufbau — Structure
- Charakterisierung — Characterization
The University of Washington offers a great literary terms glossary which can be of great help if you plan to write literary essays at the advanced level.
4. Social Issues and Law Vocabulary
Maybe you are studying law or sociology at a German University, or maybe you have to deal with bureaucracy at a German-speaking country. Either way, this vocabulary can come in very handy.
- Sozialdienst — Social services
- Sozialarbeit — Social work
- Unterstützung — Assistance, aid
- Behinderung — Disability
- Behindert — Disabled
- Einbrechen — To break in
- Einbrecher — Burglar
- Einbruch — Breaking and entering
- Verbrecher — Criminal
- Streiten — To fight
For more like this, check out this comprehensive German-English legal glossary.
5. Personality Vocabulary
Describing people can be as useful for essays as for real life. A command of the right vocabulary can go a long way to boosting interpersonal relationships and improving your writing and speaking skills alike.
- Eigenschaft — Quality, characteristic
- Korrekt — Decent
- Streng — Strict
- Strenge — Strictness, rigor
- Anstand — Decency
- Unanständig — Immoral
- Aggressiv — Aggressive
- Aktiv — Active
- Ängstlich — Anxious
Expand this list using this great glossary of personality types and traits.
6. Political Vocabulary
If you enjoy reading the news in German—a great way to practice the language—some political vocabulary can be of great help.
- An die Macht kommen — To come to power
- Politisch (un)korrekt — Politically (in)correct
- Autonom — Autonomous
- Verfolgen — To persecute
- Unterdrücken — To repress
- Zensieren — To censor
Complement this vocabulary with this excellent glossary of German vocabulary used in the news.
How to Keep Moving Forward with German Vocabulary Lists
Vocabulary lists can greatly boost your German speaking and writing.
Try to keep a handy book or app that can help you learn new advanced words and phrases regularly. Keeping a file or a notebook with all the new interesting vocabulary you pick up is also a good idea.
Focusing a bit on memorizing vocabulary lists can truly go a long way when trying to master advanced German. It is also important to try to use the words often to keep them “alive” in your memory. And remember, if you recalled the meaning of a word five times, you can say you “know” the word. How hard can that be?
For starters, I propose an exercise. Try to come up with a sentence using at least three of the words/phrases in the vocabulary lists above. Pick expressions you didn’t know before. After you are done, go through the whole set of lists and check how many of the words you used in sentences you still remember.
In German as in life, practice makes perfect!
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