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Pull out that credit card, tap in the info and… wait!
Do you really need to charge German learning to your card?
I don’t think you do.
Early on in my German learning career, I tried out a couple of free online courses and trials. I figured I would get the basics down and then buy one of those published courses or some online membership.
But after I learned the basics for free… I just kept going.
And I realized one simple yet very important thing: you don’t have to spend a dollar on learning languages.
German is such a widely studied language that there are tons of free learning resources available to you.
So ever since the start of my own German studies, I’ve invested a lot of time in finding the best free German resources for learners of all levels. And now I’ve compiled this guide, so you can skip all that searching and go straight to learning.
But First: Don’t Fall Into the Free Learning Traps
The best way to learn German or anything else for free is to be disciplined enough to be your own teacher. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you’ll get fluent just because you have free study tools available whenever you want.
You need to set a practice schedule by yourself. Regularity and consistency is the single most important factor in self-learning. Unlike with paid language classes, you can’t rely on a curriculum or class schedule that someone else made.
But actually, speaking of curriculums, note that beginner learners do best when they follow one or maybe two learning methods at a time. It’s all too easy to download a zillion apps and start learning bits and pieces of the language without any real structure.
Inevitably, you start skipping days and getting burned out, and you think “I’m no good at languages anyway.”
You just need to stop spreading yourself so thin at first. Stick with the resources that work for you, be diligent about studying regularly and you’ll be well on your way to (totally free!) German fluency.
Do You Know How Easy It Is to Learn German for Free? 11 Tools Built for Frugal Self-studiers
I’ve sorted through dozens of free German courses and come up with the very best of the bunch.
1. Your Phone Is a Free German Lesson Goldmine
FluentU is the tool if you’re looking for an all-in-one interactive language learning platform. FluentU provides authentic German videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more—that’ve been transformed into personalized language learning experiences.
Every video comes with interactive German subtitles. Click any word you don’t recognize for an instant definition, native pronunciation and memorable picture. FluentU will also show you other videos that have the word so you understand how to use it in any context. Plus, you can toggle English captions on or off.
Since you’re clicking through the words that are most important to you while you watch, everyone gets a totally personalized experience—even from the same videos. Once you’re done watching, FluentU gives you flashcards and fun quizzes tailor-made to the videos, to ensure that you remember what you’ve learned.
The videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it’s easy to find the ones that work for you. Best of all, you can take your practice anywhere with the iOS or Android apps.
You can explore the full FluentU German video library and features for free for 15 days with a FluentU trial. After your trial, you can choose to continue learning with FluentU’s free videos—but if you can’t get enough, you can upgrade your FluentU subscription to access every video on the platform.
This is a simple, interactive course that slowly teaches you grammar and vocabulary through examples.
With the free version, you can learn new words daily (up to 3,000) and complete a daily language challenge. You’ll also get access to Lingvist’s community of language learners. If you love this program you can upgrade to Lingvist unlimited.
There’s pretty much no way you haven’t heard of this one.
German was one of the first courses released on the platform, and it’s undergone constant refinement and updating since then to make it one of the most in-depth offerings on this app.
If you use Duolingo regularly and check out the notes and comments on each exercise, you’ll get a great start on the German language.
The web version (as opposed to the app) also has a free Stories section with 120 short and accessible mini-stories recorded by native speakers.
When you start out, you’re going to have to put some time into learning vocabulary. To that end, Memrise is a great companion to any other course.
It’s a very slick and effective flashcard app with hundreds of courses for learning different aspects of German vocabulary. Again, don’t make the mistake of trying too many of their courses at once. Stick with what’s reasonable to manage without burning out.
Another great choice is one of the courses focused on collocations, like this one based on verb-preposition pairs.
2. Entire Governments Are Invested in Your Learning
German self-studiers can take advantage of comprehensive, high-quality public resources from the German and U.S. governments!
Deutsche Welle (DW) has a huge wellspring of German content that’s funded by the German government. You can browse their language courses by level from the homepage, or take their placement test to figure out the best place for you to start.
They have lots of other engaging study materials, too. One of their best audio courses is Deutsch — warum nicht? (German — why not?), which comes in the form of over 100 lessons that take you to a lower intermediate level while you just sit back and relax.
Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten (Slowly Spoken News) is another excellent resource from DW. Every day, Slowly Spoken News chooses one brief news segment and has a narrator read it aloud with a very slow and clear voice.
The vocabulary and usage are simplified only slightly, but the slow rate of speech makes it an ideal bridge from the beginner to the intermediate level.
This one comes from across the Atlantic, from the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. government. These free, online FSI courses have been superseded at the Institute by newer materials and methods, but that definitely doesn’t mean they’re worthless.
On the contrary, they slowly and methodically guide the learner through all the German they’ll need to get on their feet and start speaking correctly.
Here’s another free U.S. Government resource for language learning. GLOSS (Global Online Language Support System) is a collection of text and audio materials about many different topics in the realm of politics and international relations. It’s meant to be used as a self-study resource for diplomats.
For German, navigate to the Headstart2 German course in the sidebar. From there, you’ll be able to register and start following the course from your web browser.
All of the lessons have transcripts for the audio, and many offer questions for you to check your own understanding.
3. TV Time Can Become German Learning Time
Some people love cheesy language-learning sitcoms, some people hate them. I started watching this one right as I started learning German and I absolutely fell in love with it. It has just 13 half-hour episodes, so it’s not an enormous time commitment.
Nevertheless, it takes you through a lot of very useful language situations in a hilarious way.
One of the key principles of language learning is the idea of comprehensible input. If you can watch or listen to native German material that’s just barely over your level, you’re actually learning at a great pace behind the scenes.
As you pick up vocabulary and grammar from your other sources, you’ll get a huge memory boost from seeing them used naturally in Extr@.
The linked web page includes transcripts and study questions, but the videos there may be restricted in your region. You can always find mirrors on YouTube.
Easy German videos are a huge and growing resource of street interviews with native speakers, with subtitles in German and English. Although all the people speak quickly and naturally, the topics usually include a lot of repetition.
There are even Super Easy German videos that give more traditional language instruction.
4. Real Texts Teach You Real German
Okay, Germans don’t usually take German language courses from American universities.
What this course offers, though, is a curated collection of interesting, authentic materials to read in German, complete with discussion questions. The course’s focus is German culture and how German-speaking countries represent themselves through media, politics and more.
It’s a different and more nuanced side of German than most self-learners see.
This course is free and self-paced. You’ll be following the materials that were used in a real, in-person class at MIT. Due to the language level of the materials, this course is probably best for upper-intermediate to advanced learners.
ZDF is a German TV network that puts a ton of its content up online for free.
Not everything is always available in every region, but you can find high-quality productions in practically every genre. It’s a great entrance to German media made for Germans because of one little aspect: subtitles.
Having subtitles in German can really make a huge difference to your reading and listening comprehension at the same time. Best of all, you’re getting that boost without relying on any translations!
Stick with these resources for how to learn German free, and one day you’ll find yourself fluent—without opening your wallet once!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.