German Refresher: 12 Tips to Brush Up on German

After taking a break from learning German it can feel like you’ve forgotten almost everything. But you don’t need to start over again from scratch, you just need some ways of jogging your memory: a refresher. 

I’ve done it myself, and here I’ll be sharing some of the best ways you can brush up on your German skills. 


1. Know Where to Start as a Relearner

Of course, not all relearners will start relearning from the same place. Some need to work on their vocabulary, while others need to brush up on their grammar. Still others may want to target one or more of the vital language skills—reading, writing, listening and speaking.

If you’re not quite sure what you need to work on, you can take a sample/mock version of the Goethe-Zertifikat. If you’re short on time, any of these quick German quizzes will do. Based on the results, you can figure out what you need to focus on. 

Aside from identifying your strengths and weaknesses with the German language, you might also want to set specific learning goals. For example, do you want to achieve native-level proficiency within a year or so? Or do you want to learn just enough German to get by during your upcoming 90-day stay in Deutschland? In any case, your goals are up to you.

2. Play German Movies with Subtitles

What better way to jog your memory of your rusty German than by seeing (and hearing) the words you know (and the words you don’t know) in action via movies?

Since you’re at the refresher stage, I suggest loading up on German movies with English subtitles. Not only will subtitles help you understand what’s happening on the screen, but they can give you valuable language lessons, too.

In case you can’t sit through a couple of hours of pure German yet, you could also play shorter movie clips for now. You can find plenty of authentic, subtitled German clips on the language learning platform FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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3. Get into German News

Reading the news won’t only give you lots of things to talk about with native German speakers. They can also serve as excellent German refreshers.

For starters, news items are short and to the point, so you don’t have to worry about sifting through complex literary devices in another language. News items also answer the “5 Ws, one H”—the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why” and “how” of a newsworthy event—meaning you can easily identify the German parts of speech within them thanks to the nature of the info provided. 

Start with some learner-friendly German news sites, like Der Spiegel, Die Welt and Die Zeit. When reading the articles on these sites, try to understand as much as you can. Take note of anything giving you trouble in particular, then look those up in your trusty German-English dictionary.

4. Try Kinderbücher (Children’s Books)

If you’re looking for something longer than a news article but still easy on your less-than-confident German skills, Kinderbücher might just fit the bill.

The thing with children’s books is that they tend to use simple, easy-to-understand words and sentence structures. As a relearner, you can probably see how this sort of thing would be helpful for you.

When you read any of these German children’s books, as with news articles, try to understand as much as you can on your own (i.e., without the help of a dictionary or translator). If you come across anything you don’t quite grasp, write it down in your notebook and look it up later.

Of course, you don’t have to stick to Kinderbücher to get started with your German reading practice. You could also branch out into easy German reads that even beginners can get into.

5. Immerse Yourself in German Audio

Is your schedule so packed to the gills that you can’t even squeeze in a few minutes of meaningful German study?

No problem. If you want to target your listening skills in particular, just queue up the following in your player of choice and listen to them as you do chores or any other activity that doesn’t require your full attention:

  • Podcasts. Luckily, there are tons of podcasts aimed at German learners. Off the top of my head, I recommend Slow German for beginners, which (true to its name) is narrated completely in German, but at a slower speed than normal. If you’re at a higher level, you’ll want to look up the topic you want in German on your preferred podcast platform instead—for example, if you like history, search geschichte. You could also change your language settings for better results.
  • Radio. In Germany, hörspiel (audio/radio dramas) are commonplace, so you should definitely check out our German audio drama recommendations. If you prefer a more traditional radio format, head over to these German radio stations instead.
  • Audiobooks. Start with German audiobooks with clear audio and a single narrator to keep you absorbed in the story. You could also choose German translations of books that you already know. That way, you can concentrate on testing your German vocabulary and grammar instead of getting fixated on the plot twist that you already know anyway.

6. Use Your Gadgets in German

Instead of using your electronic devices or online accounts in English, why not switch them to German?

For example, Google Chrome allows you to translate webpages into German and change your browser’s language settings. Just follow this guide for the device you’re using right now.

If it’s your computer’s operating system (OS) you want to set entirely to Deutsch, check out this guide for Windows users or this guide for Mac users.

And if it’s your socials you want to set to German, just take a look at your “Settings” and you’re bound to find an option to switch to Deutsch there.

7. Get into German Humor

German humor won’t only make your refresher course more enjoyable—it can also be a gold mine of puns, cultural tidbits and linguistic lessons you won’t find anywhere else.

For example, some German expressions are absolute gems when it comes to tickling your funny bone, such as Tomaten auf den Augen haben (lit. “Having tomatoes on one’s eyes” or missing the obvious) and Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer (lit. “That’s where the rabbit is in the pepper” or “that’s where the problem is”).

They even have a ton of punny jokes, like mixing up Du hast (You have) and Du hasst (You hate) and Wie nennt man eine Gruppe von Wolfen? Wolfgang (What do you call a group of wolves? Wolfgang)—which, incidentally, would also make sense in English. After all, English and German are from the same language family.

And let’s not forget the German tongue twisters that are just absolute riots, like Hottentottenpotentatentantenattentat (Assassination of a Hottentot potentate’s aunt.).

If satire is your jam, check out Titanic or any other German spoof sites. There’s also the comedy web show Walulis sieht fern, which you can watch on YouTube for free. 

8. Record and Listen to Yourself Speaking

Ideally, you’ll want to have a native speaker with you to help you correct your pronunciation and grammar as you speak. But if that’s not an option, you can always record yourself instead and play back the audio later.

For example, you could record German vocab words and their definitions, verb conjugations and anything else you specifically want to remember and go over again. You could also just record yourself talking about your day entirely in German.

Don’t forget to set aside time for reviewing your recordings. Can you pick out where you stumbled? After thinking about what you tried to say, is there a better way to express the same thing? Evaluate your response and incorporate what you learn.

9. Label Your Items in German

You may already be familiar with the language learning technique of labeling household items, but there’s no need to be so restrictive about what you put where.

Tape the past tense of verbs to the broom, stick slang phrases inside cupboards or fold papers containing idioms inside glasses. (Just remember to take them out before you drink your favorite wine.) You can even put an adjective chart on the bathroom wall in front of the toilet.

Make it so you can’t escape the language anywhere. Break the language down into manageable pieces and get exposed to it while doing everyday tasks without taking too much time out of your schedule.

10. Have a German Journal

You may have also heard about how a language journal can help keep your writing skills in shape. Well, a German journal isn’t just a tool for writing practice—it also gives you an excuse to communicate spontaneously in German every day. The more you force your brain to access those stored-away language skills, the easier it’ll be to relearn German you think you’ve forgotten.

To start, you can write small paragraphs in German about your day. As much as possible, try to use the words, expressions, idioms and complex grammar you’ve learned or relearned thus far.

Most people who keep a journal like to look back at what they’ve written and reflect—and you can do this with your German journal, too. Once a month has gone by, compare your first and latest entry. What do you remember, or what’s been refreshed in your memory, that you didn’t recall when you first began relearning German? Do you feel that you’ve made progress?

If you’ve been studying and working hard to relearn German, you should see your skills improving.

11. Talk to a German Speaker

Even if you don’t live in a German-speaking country, you can still find plenty of opportunities to speak German.

For example, you can go on language exchange apps like (which has a complete review here). You could also get a professional German-speaking tutor on italki who can give you more in-depth, technical feedback on the areas you need to work on. (By the way, we’ve also reviewed italki here.)

Not sure what to talk about with your German-speaking friend? Check out this extensive list of language exchange topics.

12. Quiz Yourself Now and Then

Remember our first tip about testing yourself to see how much you know and don’t know about German? Well, this time around, you should quiz yourself to see how much your knowledge has progressed since you first decided to relearn German.

You could try testing yourself again with the quizzes we suggested earlier. Alternatively, you could use daily mini-quizzes like:

Also, refreshing your German can be exhausting, so don’t forget to treat yourself for a job well done. Go out for pizza, or pick up that David Hasselhoff T-shirt you’ve always wanted.


With these steps to brush up on German, you can polish off that rust and feel confident wielding the language.

Your German relearning journey begins right now. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)

And One More Thing...

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