What’s the best method to learn German?
There’s a German expression that can help you answer that question: auf jeden Topf passt ein Deckel (for every pot, there is a lid).
It’s up to you to identify what type of pot you are, and what kind of lid will fit you best.
Here’s my own story, for example. (Spoiler: it’s a bit romantic.)
I started learning after watching Wim Wenders’ “Der Himmel über Berlin“ (“Wings of Desire”).
Basically, this amazing film shifted my idea of German from the harsh language of WWII hate speeches to the sweet voice of Bruno Ganz reciting, “Als das Kind Kind war, wusste es nicht, dass es Kind war.” (“When the child was a child, he didn’t know he was a child.”)
That’s how I decided to start tackling German study by watching tons of films, shows and other video or audio content. I supplemented this with more formal German for beginners courses, to teach me the intricate structures and details I’d need to indulge my artistic tendencies.
Whatever your own motivation and interests may be, there’s a wide array of German learning methods to choose from.
You can go the formal way, like I did, and stick to Goethe Institut courses—no regrets there (more on those below).
Then again, I learned German in the ’90s. Back then, there was no worldwide web to speak of, and access to audiovisual and self-study learning materials were quite limited. I was just borrowing Spiegel and Patrick Süskind audio tapes from the Goethe Library and hoping for the best.
Today, you can easily find the best apps to learn German, not to mention books, videos, virtual instructors… the list goes on. You can choose your favorite learning methods and resources, mix and match, shake things up when you get bored—the sky’s the limit.
The best part is, prices start at free, and some of the greatest methods available are surprisingly affordable.
We’ll show you all the best options from apps to courses to books to find your personal best method to learn German.
How to Choose the Best Method to Learn German
Choices, when they abound, can be a blessing and a curse. When I decided to study German, Goethe Institut was it. Well, actually, I could choose to learn with the Eastern Germans at Bertolt Brecht House, but it seemed the Western Germans had way more resources to offer.
Today, you can create your own path from German for beginners all the way to fluency, and there’s a lot to consider when designing it. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for the best ways to learn German.
- Choosing the best method depending on the learner. No mystery here. If you are literarily inclined, you may seek out German fiction books for language learners and grammar textbooks. If you prefer more modern resources, perhaps you want a video-based method or a user-friendly app.
Some methods are designed for busy businesspeople, with lessons that can be as short as a few minutes, while others require much more time and concentration. The most important element in your learning process is You.
Keep that in mind, and you shall be sipping Liebfraumilch and chatting away with the locals at Potsdamer Platz in no time.
- Choosing the best method based on goals and expectations. There are quick methods for tourists planning a visit to Germany and more thorough methods that may take years. German grammar is no piece of cake, and if you need to improve your fluency fast, it’s really important to decide what you want to focus on.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, focus on your personal goals and keep moving.
- Choosing free vs. paid methods. Everyone loves free things, but sometimes paying a few dollars can make a big difference. If you want to be able to order coffee and a meal in Köln or Zürich, a free online learning method is probably enough.
If you’re looking for an efficient method that’ll take you all the way to proficiency, you may have to put your money where your mouth is.
What’s Your Best Method to Learn German? Find It in These 12 Incredible Resources to Learn German Online
Mix them, match them, alternate them, try them, buy them, binge on them—it’s all good as long as your German is the better for it. Here are our top choices to find your best way to learn German.
German Language Institute Courses
1. Goethe Institute
The Goethe Institute has long been considered one of the best ways to learn German. It is still as big as it was in the 90s, but it has gotten some fierce competition from language learning centers offering more dynamic and less culture-centered methods. With Goethe Institut, you get internationally-recognized certificates, access to great libraries, extracurricular activities and a true German cultural experience.
Culture is key, so this is the best choice if that’s interesting to you. The institutes are often burgeoning cultural centers, hosting German cinema screenings, art shows and conferences. When I attended the Goethe in Montevideo, I was even able to take an acting class in German.
Berlitz, the ubiquitous learn-any-language center is one of Goethe Institut’s main competitors. Native teachers, small groups and an emphasis on oral communication is what they have to offer. If you want to fully grasp the complex grammar of Goethe’s and Rilke’s language, this is probably not the place for you.
If you want to get off the ground and start conversing more quickly, then this is the place to be. Some of the more formal elements of the German language are glossed over until you reach a higher level of proficiency, so it will take you longer to be able to tackle more advanced (read: more artistic and complex) reading and listening material.
However, you’ll be chit-chatting like a boss in no time, and develop a great ear for casual German.
3. Language School Stays in Germany
This is one of the best ways to learn German if you can afford to travel. One of the most popular destinations is Berlin, one of Europe’s most interesting and affordable cities. I spent the Summer there in 2014, and I can really vouch for this.
Berlin offers some great immersion programs, but so do many other towns all over Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. Some great choices are GLS, Eurocentres, and Sprachenatelier.
Online German Courses and Lessons
FluentU is one of the best websites and apps for learning German the way native speakers really use it. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Watch authentic media to simultaneously immerse yourself in the German language and build an understanding of the German culture.
By using real-life videos, the content is kept fresh and current. Topics cover a lot of ground as you can see here:
Vocabulary and phrases are learned with the help of interactive subtitles and full transcripts.
Hovering over or tapping on any word in the subtitles will automatically pause the video and instantly display its meaning. Interesting words you don’t know yet can be added to a to-learn list for later.
For every lesson, a list of vocabulary is provided for easy reference and bolstered with plenty of examples of how each word is used in a sentence.
Your existing knowledge is tested with the help of adaptive quizzes in which words are learned in context.
FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
This way, you have a truly personalized learning experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or practice anytime, anywhere on the mobile app for iOS and Android.
5. Free BYKI
Free BYKI is a free downloadable vocabulary training method. Designed to track progress and foster vocabulary recall, BYKI has the added advantage of being completely free, with no time or session limits.
Memrise uses a simple flashcard design to build basic German vocabulary, among other German topics. The method relies largely on the spaced repetition system (SRS) to help memorization.
It’s a handy tool to learn German online with lots of unique lesson options. There are “official” German courses from the Memrise team, as well as user-generated content.
Babbel is another multi-language learning platform. It offers a variety of complete interactive courses, from Grammar to Business German. You’ll also find Basic, Intermediate and Advanced courses here, so it can carry you for a long time.
It’s free to try, but a subscription is necessary to get full access. Start by trying the free trial here!
Livemocha is Rosetta Stone's free online learning platform. Its concept of language “as a performing art” is based on language demonstration through an audio or video exchange between native speakers, deconstruction of the vocabulary and grammar used, and finally practice with feedback from native speakers.
While this learning method is offered free of charge for German and 34 other languages, you have to contribute feedback in your own native language to unlock certain types of content.
Books and Audio CD Sets for German Learners
9. Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone is a popular, mainly audio-based, method which boasts many years of development and popular praise. As such, it costs a pretty penny. However, when you think of spending a couple of hundred dollars for a full language course, you might want to consider that the same amount of dough will only buy you one or two months of live lessons at a language Institute.
The program will last you much longer, but only you can decide which route will be more effective for you. Rosetta Stone offers online learning by subscription, audio downloads and physical CDs.
Luckily, these days you can start with Rosetta Stone by getting the free trial.
10. “The Everything Learning German Book”
This is the best method to learn German for beginners who want a book around that they can keep coming back to when in need. Featuring useful vocabularies, a workbook section and pronunciation guides, it’s a great self-study resource for people who are just getting started with German.
German Learning Apps
Duolingo is a PC Magazine editor’s choice for language learning apps. It’s frequently cited as a top choice for learning German and a host of other languages. It’s absolutely free, fun and offers lots of quality content. This is a highly interactive learning method with multiple customization options that make it very easy to use.
Interesting features include a placement test for learners who already possess some knowledge of German, routine practice reminders and efficient progress tracking. You also earn points and rewards for your progress.
12. iStart German
iStartGerman offers a “premium beginner language course” in 20 lessons, featuring over three hours of audio and video content. If you want something fast and simple, it’s a great choice. The app costs a few dollars on iTunes and Google Play.
There is a best method to learn German for everyone, and none of the ones listed here will break the bank. With these incredible options to learn German online or in person, you can easily discover the best way to learn German for you.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.