8 Clever Techniques for Sneaking in a Daily German Refresher

You used to sling around your German with confidence.

Now suddenly, you need it, and you’ve found it’s run dry.

In fact, if you’ve fallen behind on German in the first place, it might just be because you’re taking it too seriously.

So here are eight simple but fun German refresher techniques to integrate into your daily routine and get you back to your old German-slinging ways.


1. Expel Your Inconsistency: Conduct Daily Mini Practice Sessions in the Bathroom

It’s hard to make yourself study every single day…unless you incorporate study time in things you have to do every day anyway. Hence, what better place to put an adjective chart than on the bathroom wall in front of the toilet?

You have to sit there anyway, so you might as well remind yourself that a masculine noun in the dative takes dem before it.

(It might not be a bad idea to keep a German novel by the porcelain for longer visits, either, or to load up your phone with e-books and keep it with you at all times.)

Setting up specific parts of the German language side-by-side with parts of your daily routine is a surefire way to get refreshed.

2. Oral to Aural Magic: Create Special Review Recordings

Traditional study materials like textbooks, “learn German” CDs and other recordings are great for being introduced to the language for the first time in a structured way. But if you try to use these materials exclusively for regular practice or review, you’ll probably end up going over a bunch of stuff that you already know or that isn’t pertinent just to get to the bits you want to brush up on. Thanks to modern technology, however, that problem is easily fixed.

Record yourself speaking German vocab words and their definitions, verb conjugations and anything else you specifically want to remember and go over again on your phone or other recording device.

This way, you’ll get practice reviewing while you’re recording and be left with a handy reminder of the information you need to study.

From there, you can send it to your MP3 player to listen to while you work out, walk to class or do housework.

You’ll find it a refreshing way to learn German!

3. Pin Down Progress: Dress Your Loved Ones in German

The friends and family you come into contact with every day are probably important in the development of your language skills. They support you, encourage you, motivate you to study harder…but they can still be doing more.

They can be walking grammar lessons.

Write down in large print whatever German grammar points you need to work on and pin those to the fronts and backs of their shirts. I’m sure your loved ones won’t mind walking around the house with a list of reflexive pronouns on them if you explain that it’s all in the name of language learning.

This might seem ridiculous, but hear me out. Not only will coming in contact with a grammar-ridden person help you remember the points you wanted refreshing on, but this will also probably cause lots of laughs, which will make the information seem more significant and ultimately make the points stick in your brain longer.

If you don’t have a spouse and children, or they’re not ready to be a walking textbook, you can get together to hang out with other willing people learning German. Everyone can wear a vocab word. Even if you don’t talk in or about German, a normal conversation will take on an instructive air.

4. Be a Quiz Whiz: Test Yourself Daily

You celebrated the last time you left a classroom and removed yourself from the danger of having to take another quiz. Well, not so fast, kid.

Test yourself at the end of every day on specific words, phrases or grammar points that you’ve set out to learn.

For example:

Can you list the conjugations of werden (to become) before bedtime?

Can you remember how to form the conjunctive of sein (to be) with perfect accuracy before the sun goes down?

Rather than scaring yourself by giving yourself bad grades for failure, reward success instead. Have a weekly quiz goal and treat yourself for reaching it. Go out for pizza or buy yourself a pony. Pick up that David Hasselhoff T-shirt you’ve always wanted.

5. Use Them Before You Lose Them: Aim for Little Interactions with German Speakers

There’s no better way to polish the rust off your German than to use it, which means interacting with the German speakers who you might have access to in any number of ways. While the idea itself isn’t that original or innovative, it still doesn’t hurt to think outside of the box when applying it.

If you’re living in a German-speaking country, look for opportunities to strike up random conversations wherever you can. Bratwurst vendors and store clerks are useful candidates, because they usually don’t have the option of walking away or being rude to you. Find a smiling old lady and ask her how her day has been.

If you don’t live in a German-speaking country, you can still find the opportunity to speak German with someone. If you did speak German once upon a time, you may even have the option of Skyping an old German friend or having coffee with a former classmate from a German class.

If you’re feeling more solitary, using German doesn’t always have to mean speaking it. The Internet provides plenty of opportunities to keep your German fresh through browsing or writing. For example, follow German speakers on Twitter and tweet at them in German. Join Facebook groups in German and leave bizarre posts under different aliases.

Another way you can refresh your vocabulary is by listening to or watching German content. 

So whip out Netflix and take a seat. Here are some shows you can get started with that’ll give you something to binge-watch over the weekend that still counts as studying. 

Or, you can go after more bite-sized clips. The FluentU program uses authentic German videos with interactive captions. You can save any word you see as a flashcard and the contextual dictionary will help you understand in which situations to use each word.

6. Preservation by Password: Make Flashcards with Consequences

And as long as you’re online, want to refresh yourself on German phrases and prevent identity theft at the same time?

Use German phrases you want to remember as passwords for Internet sites you visit regularly. Sports sites, dating sites, language learning sites. It’ll force you to call them up and implant them in your brain.

A few words of caution: It’s a good idea to write the passwords down somewhere, of course. And probably not the best thing to do this with accounts that are extremely vital or connected to banking information.

Still, we sign up for so many things during the course of a week, from coupon sites to clothing stores, that we can afford to implement a little German into our online security tactics.

7. Some Household Help: Make Your House German

Another silly way to quickly and efficiently get back to your old form in German is to saturate your house with it. You may already be familiar with the language learning technique of labeling household items, but this will only teach you a limited set of vocab, and there’s no need to be so restrictive about what you put where. Go crazy. Tape the past tense of verbs to the broom, stick slang phrases inside cupboards, fold idioms and place them in glasses.

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 any time out of your schedule. Consider this a very parent-friendly form of German learning.

8. Going Old-school: Write, Review and Review Again

For the meat-and-potatoes, traditional type, we can always do it the old-fashioned way. If you’re more straightforward and not into being all that silly, you’ll still get plenty of benefit from writing down all the German language points you want to work on that day and keeping them folded in your back pocket.

Like with the recording technique, this offers the benefits of pinning down what you need to work on, reinforcing the information by recreating it and being left with a customized set of points to study. They’ll be there for you to whip out during your lunch break, while on the train or waiting for the bus. No matter how busy your schedule is, there’s always downtime somewhere. Why not fill it with some German?

You don’t have to wear your love of German on your sleeve (though that’s always an option, too), but keeping it in your pocket will ensure you’ll never lack for material to review.

Whether you’re preparing for a trip to Heidelberg or gearing up to take another class in German, you don’t have to rearrange your life or stay up all hours of the night to find a chance to bone up on your language skills.

Life, in general, is very German-friendly.

You can squeeze it into all the nooks and crannies of the day, or work it into your regular routines.

With a little outside of the box thinking, you’ll be fully caught up in no time.

Ryan Dennis was a Fulbright Scholar and previously taught at Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch Gmünd. In addition to hating ketchup, British spelling and violence, he writes The Milk House—the only literary column about dairy farming.

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