Hey there, Hans Solo. Wondering how to learn German by yourself?
We get it.
You want to know how to speak German, but the idea of a rigid (and expensive) formal class makes you shudder.
You want to dive into all the at-home German resources out there, but there are so many… which ones are worth your time?
We got you.
This guide will show you the best way to learn German alone in eight practical steps, packed with resources and valuable tips.
Regardless of your reasons to learn German—whether you have German ancestors, love the culture or were drawn in by some crazy weird German words —you can learn the language on your own and at your own speed.
So let’s begin with a question many of you may have right now: do I have to spend money to learn German?
Can I Learn How to Speak German Without Spending Money?
Yes you can. It’s very enjoyable to learn something on your own, since it gives you a fantastic sense of achievement. Learning German by yourself is a great way to take charge of your own learning speed and the way in which you decide to learn.
The person who knows the best way to learn German for you is, obviously, you. So why not take the reins on your own personal trainer and teach yourself to speak like a real Deutscher! There are myriad ways in which you can approach the question of how to learn German by yourself.
In fact, there are a lot more resources to help you than you might realize. Here’s a sneak peek at all of the treasures waiting to be uncovered:
- CD programs, audio courses and online radio
- Grammar books and internet-based games
- Immersion and getting involved in the culture
You could even use websites to find a German friend wishing to practice English! All of these resources can be accessed without having to pay anything.
You might think that it would indeed cost a bit to immerse yourself in German language and culture due to the traveling, but you can actually immerse yourself in German from anywhere!
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. For example, it definitely gives a large advantage over a Japanese person trying to learn German. However, while German and English are in the same language group, they share very few of 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 unfortunately you cannot simply replace the words of a sentence with German words, as it won’t work. 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, one you get the hang of some grammar, it’s much easier from then on.
How to Learn German by Yourself: 8 Simple Solo Steps to Speak German
The guide below will show you how to learn German by yourself in eight sequential steps. You’ll go from zero to German speaker with these tips and resource recommendations.
After the eight steps, we also have several other fun German practice techniques that you can use at any stage of your German language learning.
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, and therefore changes the way words can sound.
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:
- German greetings
- Please/thank you
- Excuse me/sorry
An awesome place to learn the basics is online at FluentU!
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.
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. Start Putting Sentences Together
Okay, you’ve got some essential German words under your belt. 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.
Luckily, people will probably know what you’re trying to communicate even if you get the word order wrong, but you should do your best to try and correctly order your sentences.
5. Memorize Reusable German Phrases
This is one of those “language hacks” that can get you on the road to real German communication faster.
Now that you’ve learned German word order, 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 traveling or living in Germany.)
6. Watch Movies in German (Dubbed, Then Authentic)
Once you can understand some very basic German, you could be creative with your learning style and watch a movie you’ve previously seen—but watch it dubbed in German. You could even use English subtitles to make it easier. You’ll feel like you’re really getting a hang of things when you see “Titanic” in German with some English subtitles and you recognize half the words.
As your level improves, or to give it a boost now, try watching some German films with German subtitles. Reading the actual words you’re hearing (in German) as they’re spoken will be so helpful to your language pursuits. After you’ve watched those 10 linked to above, here are five more German movies to check out.
7. 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 newspaper columns is a tried-and-true method to do this.
Highlight any words that don’t make sense and then look them up later in a German dictionary.
8. Connect with Other German Learners or Speakers
Finally, we know this is a guide on how to learn German by yourself, but it’s super helpful to connect with native German speakers, or even fellow German learners!
Use a website like Meetup to meet with people who have an active interest in learning German as well, so you can all practice together. They’ll also be a source of extra accountability and motivation. You could use similar sites to meet a German friend and practice speaking the language together.
Although we’ve already seen numerous ways to learn German, I have even more methods that I have yet to share with you, beyond these eight steps!
Fun (and Less Traditional) Ways to Practice and Learn German
In today’s day and age, there are a lot of really fun and unique ways to speak German—even as a beginner. Be sure to mix these techniques into your studies from the start so you’re getting consistent, well-rounded communication and comprehension practice. Don’t be afraid to really focus on the techniques that work well for you. The best way to learn German might look a little different from person to person, and that’s okay.
Listen to German Podcasts
First, check out this post on German learning podcasts. Yes, you can indeed learn German on-the-go. As an alternative way to concentrate on your German pronunciation while being entertained, podcasts are a 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.
The most popular podcast out there for German learners is most likely GermanPod101—and it is certainly popular for good reason. There are hundreds of audio and video lessons, and the collection is always growing with fresh material for all skill levels. Yup, this covers you from newbie to nearly-fluent. With a membership, you’ll have access to all of these and be privy to interactive learning tools like SRS flashcards, PDF transcripts, community forums and a handy app. Try it out with a free account!
Meet German Friends
I mentioned it earlier, but I just need to stress that Meetup is a fantastic website for finding like-minded people who may also want to meet you.
You can find a German friend, or others learning how to speak German as well. You could go to a German restaurant, practice ordering with the waitstaff and try to have a fluent German conversation—now that’s a great way to learn!
Watch German Comedy
Yes, there’s even stand-up comedy about the German language. There is a series provided by BBC videos, by stand-up comedian Henning Wenn. This 10-part series deals with a lot of topics, including the German alphabet, telling the time, politeness, gender and even some jokes.
The series is called “What’s So Funny About German.” This is one of more amusing way to immerse yourself in German and have a laugh at some of the challenging things you have been learning.
Immerse Yourself in German to Really Succeed
Many language experts agree that immersing yourself in language is the fastest way to become fluent—it can be even more effective than formal language classes, according to researchers. What I mean is that the best way to learn German is to really get involved in the language. Be creative with the ideas above—don’t just learn it simply from a book. You could even move or travel to Germany if you make it a priority!
When learning a new language, our brains treat unfamiliar new sounding words as background noise and try to ignore it. The solution to this problem is to soak up some German. The more you hear the less filtered it will become.
When you watch German movies after spending some time learning German, you’ll notice how many more German phrases you hear. It will no longer be white noise or jibberish, but instead it will be a language that you understand.
Did that clear up how to learn German by yourself, Hans Solo? Now you have many tips and tools to succeed!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.