Learn German by Yourself: 10 Simple Steps to Speak German
Wondering how to learn German by yourself?
There’s no shortage of tips, tricks, strategies and resources for learning German at home these days.
But what’s actually effective? What’s really worth your time?
This guide will show you a step-by-step approach to learning German, plus fun ways to improve your speaking skills.
- Learn German Solo in 10 Simple Steps
- 1. Hear and Repeat German Letter Sounds
- 2. Stockpile Some Easy “Framework Words”
- 3. Expand Your Vocabulary with Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives
- 4. Take Advantage of Spaced Repetition
- 5. Start Putting Sentences Together
- 6. Memorize Reusable Phrases for Speaking German
- 7. Watch Movies and Videos in German (Dubbed, Then Authentic)
- 8. Read the News in German
- 9. Learn to Think in German
- 10. Build a New Favorite Word
- Fun (and Less Traditional) Ways to Practice and Learn German
- How to Approach German from an English-speaking Standpoint
- And One More Thing...
Learn German Solo in 10 Simple Steps
1. Hear and Repeat German Letter Sounds
Start with learning the German alphabet.
Listen to how each letter sounds on its own compared to letter combinations. Listen for differences between English and German letter sounds, too. Just like in English, two letters together can sound quite different from either of the two letters by themselves.
The video below is very useful—a German native speaker will walk you through individual letter sounds and letter combos.
Pay particular attention to the letters with an umlaut (two little dots above the letter), as this changes the way a letter is pronounced.
Once you’ve done that, don’t miss our post on tricky German pronunciations.
2. Stockpile Some Easy “Framework Words”
After you’ve mastered the alphabet and letter sounds, it’s time to learn some “framework words.” These are easy, common words that will form the foundation of your vocabulary building.
Think about the words you can’t do without in English, and look up their German equivalents. Fantastic starters are:
3. Expand Your Vocabulary with Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives
Once you’ve picked up some basics, it’s time to expand your vocabulary with nouns, verbs and adjectives. Try to set yourself a daily goal—for example, learn three new nouns, verbs and adjectives (for nine words total) every day.
Here are some word lists that you can pull from:
And this video has 100 German adjectives for beginners:
4. Take Advantage of Spaced Repetition
With some vocabulary words already on hand, remember that 15 minutes of German practice every day can be a lot more effective than a few hours every Sunday night. Your brain needs to get used to saying German at the drop of a hat.
You can get this practice in at home. Spaced repetition is a proven memorization technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between repetitions of words and phrases.
For new words, you’ll have to review them every day or every few days at first, then as they become part of your long-term memory, you’ll see them less and less.
You can try spaced repetition by using flashcards or language apps with these activities built in.
5. Start Putting Sentences Together
Okay, you’ve now gotten pretty familiar with some essential German words. Now it’s time to start using them.
This is all about learning German sentence structure and word order.
You can find a straightforward but thorough explanation of German word order at Dartmouth College’s German Department website.
Then, you can practice using those rules for yourself with these free online exercises—just click a series of words in the correct order to build German sentences.
6. Memorize Reusable Phrases for Speaking German
Now you can start hanging out with some basic German phrases. Just like with single words, begin practicing simple phrases that you might say on an average day.
For example, “I would like a soy milk cappuccino please.”
Choose whatever would be most useful for you in daily life in Germany! (This won’t just help you learn how to speak German—it’s also very motivating to imagine a future life living or traveling in Germany.)
7. Watch Movies and Videos in German (Dubbed, Then Authentic)
Once you can understand some very basic German, you could watch a movie you’ve previously seen—but watch it dubbed in German. You could even use English subtitles to make it easier.
As your level improves, try watching some German films with German subtitles or German YouTube channels.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
8. Read the News in German
After getting exposed to some German movies, make sure you’re paying attention to those reading comprehension skills, too. Reading German news is a tried-and-true method to do this.
There are websites like News in Slow German and Sloeful with news articles specifically for German learners.
Highlight or jot down any words that don’t make sense and then look them up later in a German dictionary.
9. Learn to Think in German
Chances are that, at an advanced level, your mind will automatically switch to German when surrounded by German speakers.
But even at an earlier stage of learning you can consciously try to think in German, at least for a few minutes every day.
Instead of translating words from your mother tongue, try to connect objects directly to German words and phrases. Describe the things around you in German in your head. Start with simple things such as die Blume ist gelb (the flower is yellow) and gradually move on to more challenging phrases.
10. Build a New Favorite Word
One of the coolest things about the German language is that you can get creative with it. If there isn’t already a word for what you’re saying,you can make one by sticking other words together—Luftschlosstraum (“daydream,” literally “cloud-castle-dream”), for example. How cool does that sound?
If you can’t think of the word for something but you know some other associated words, try sticking them together and seeing what happens!
Fun (and Less Traditional) Ways to Practice and Learn German
Some additional things you might want to consider are: using German textbooks, smartphone apps, immersion and getting involved in the culture. Plus the tips we go into below!
Be sure to mix these techniques into your studies from the start so you’re getting consistent, well-rounded communication and comprehension practice.
Listen to German Podcasts
First, check out this post on German learning podcasts.
As an alternative way to concentrate on your German pronunciation while being entertained, podcasts are an intriguing and fun way to learn German.
You can listen to lessons on German idioms, colloquialisms and even some cheeky words to banter with the local Deutschen.
One of the most popular podcasts out there for German learners is GermanPod101. There are hundreds of audio and video lessons, and the collection is always growing with new material for all skill levels.
German audiobooks are another great resource for practicing your listening. Take this up a notch by speaking along with them!
Read German Fairy Tales
According to science, sleep helps our brains to process and store information.
So, why not include a few minutes of German into your bedtime routine?
My personal bedtime favorite is reading German fairy tales, such as “Rotkäppchen” (Little Red Riding Hood) or “Aschenputtel” (Cinderella).
Since fairy tales (and children’s stories) use simpler sentences, so they’re a nice way to build up your vocabulary so you can have more diverse conversations.
Watch German Comedy
Yes, there’s even stand-up comedy about the German language! “What’s So Funny About German” is a 10-part series provided by BBC that features stand-up comedian Henning Wenn.
The series deals with a lot of topics, including the German alphabet, telling the time, politeness, gender and even some jokes. This is one of the most amusing ways to immerse yourself in German and have a laugh at some of the challenging things you have been learning.
Make Friends with German Native Speakers
If you want to get comfortable with speaking, it’s super helpful to connect with native German speakers.
There are websites like Tandem, HelloTalk and Speaky that help you connect with language exchange partners. Exchange some text messages, do a video chat or ask if you can call them up.
You could also go to a German restaurant, practice ordering with the waitstaff and try to have a fluent German conversation.
You might get tongue-tied or feel awkward, but the best way to get around this is to not worry about the grammar! Whether you use der, die, dem, das or den, your listeners will still understand you even if the grammar isn’t 100% spot-on.
It’s better to speak as much as possible with the simple structures you do know. The more you speak and listen to people, the more natural and flexible these rules become.
Connect with Other German Learners
One way to get around the fear of making a mistake in front of a native speaker is talking to your fellow German learners. After all, they know the feeling, and they’ve made the same mistakes as you!
Get in touch with a solid language group through sites such as Meetup and Couchsurfing.
Be creative and bring some fun into your study sessions. For example, if you all like food and cooking, why not study some food vocabulary and prepare German food together? This German sandwich recipe is the perfect snack for your group study sessions.
You can even practice your speaking while trying out German games, such as German charades or Rollenspiele (role-playing games).
Once you’ve gone through all of these tips and you want even more free resources for your German studies, check out this article as well.
How to Approach German from an English-speaking Standpoint
If you’re an Englisch speaker and wish Deutsch zu sprechen, there are a few things to keep in mind to aid you on your journey to master the German language by yourself.
- German and English actually come from the same language group, the Germanic language group. This can be viewed as a real head start over somebody from another language group. However, while German and English are in the same language group, they share very few similarities.
- The hardest part of the German language would be the grammar. It is one of the few Germanic languages that has kept most of the old fully-inflected grammar, which isn’t too dissimilar from Latin or Russian.
- Sentences are structured in a different way in German compared to the way they are in English. So you have to pay attention to word order and cannot simply replace the words of a sentence with German words. For example, “hilf mir doch mal jemand,” which would literally translate to “somebody me help” in English.
So as you can see, the grammatical side of German can be tricky to learn at the beginning. However, once you get the hang of some grammar, it’s much easier from then on.
Now that you have many tips and tools to succeed, go out there and learn German solo!
And One More Thing...
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