Do you want to learn German, but don’t want to spend a ton of money?
Do you groan at the thought of rigid tests and homework from a formal class?
Are you overwhelmed with the number of resources and products available, unsure of which are worthwhile?
I have just the solution for you: Learn German by yourself, and use this post to guide you!
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.
This guide will walk you through the best ways to learn German, from how to approach the language to a clear eight-step learning track, it’s packed with resources and valuable tips.
So let’s begin with a question many of you may have right now: Do I have to spend money?
Can I Learn German by Myself 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 best knows the way you like to learn 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 learning German on your own.
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
- Smart phone and tablet apps
- German movies and TV shows
- German books and newspapers
- 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 the 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 German 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 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, “Somebody help me” translates into “Jemand hilf mir,” 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.
To get you started with this Germanic language, here are eight steps that show how to learn by yourself.
How to Learn German on Your Own in 8 Simple Steps
1. Master the alphabet.
Start with learning the alphabet. Look at the differences between the English and German alphabets. You can do this online and hear the pronunciation of each letter. 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.
You can hear some German letter pronunciations here; look at how letters can sound on their own compared to when they’re in conjunction with other letters. Just like in English, two letters together can sound quite different from either of the two letters by themselves.
And don’t miss our post on tricky German pronunciations.
2. Learn some easy words.
After you’ve mastered the alphabet and letter sounds, it’s time to learn some “framework words.”
You could choose basic expressions you’d like to say and learn them online, or use an application or program to learn the basics. Fantastic starters are: greetings, yes, no, thank you, please, excuse me and sorry.
An awesome place to learn the basics is online at FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized German learning lessons.
I’ll tell you more about learning German with FluentU later!
3. Study nouns, verbs and adjectives.
Once you’ve picked up some basics, it’s time to expand your vocabulary with nouns, verbs and adjectives. When you have a framework of some fundamental words, begin learning more basic words that are used day-by-day. Here’s a word list of some examples.
4. Understand how sentences are constructed.
The next step is to learn German sentence structure. 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. Begin learning simple German phrases.
Now that you’ve learned the word order, you can start hanging out with some basic 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.” Here are some phrases to get you going on this step.
6. Watch movies in German.
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 ten 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, you could even try reading German newspaper columns. Highlight any words that don’t make sense and then look them up later.
8. Connect with other German learners or speakers.
Finally, we know you want to do this on your own, but it’s super helpful to connect with native German speakers, or even fellow German learners!
Use a website like meetup.com or craigslist.org 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 Learn German
In today’s day and age, there are a lot of really fun and unique ways to do things. Learning German is no different at all in this. So here’s yet another list of my favorite unique ways to learn German (yes, I know I’m spoiling you):
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 currently 1,200 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 just need to stress that Meetup.com 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 to speak German with as well. You could go to a German restaurant, practice ordering with the waiting staff and try and have a fluent German conversation—now that’s a great way to learn!
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 ten-part series deals with a lot of topics, including the 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. What I mean is that you should 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 and 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.
There are so many tools to learn German with now, you can definitely learn German on your own!
And One More Thing…
As we’ve already established, the key to learning German on your own is using the right content and tools.
That’s why you need a reliable source of engaging native German material that’s perfect for your level.
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.