Learn German for Free with My 21 Favorite Tools
Today it’s easier than ever to learn German for free. German is such a widely studied language that there are tons of resources available to you.
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.
What better way to learn German than from the convenience of your phone? There are a lot of great language learning apps out there that you can use or try out for free!
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 and the app also both have 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.
The Memrise staff have actually made a set of curated German courses that lead you through a variety of different conversational topics. Here’s German 1 and German 6 for comparison.
Another great choice is one of the courses focused on collocations, like this one based on verb-preposition pairs.
The “5000 German Words (top 87%)” course features essential German vocabulary. The goal is to make German students less dependent on translations or dictionaries.
This is a simple, interactive course that slowly teaches you grammar and vocabulary through examples.
With the free trial, 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 continue using it with an upgrade to Lingvist unlimited.
4. DeutschAkademie’s German audio course
DeutschAkademie offers a basic audio course for beginners with little to no German knowledge. This course teaches you the essential vocabulary to start conversing and communicating in German.
DeutschAkademie’s audio course consists of 10 chapters (with several episodes each) covering a story of a man named Philip living in Berlin. It focuses primarily on improving your vocabulary and grammar skills while you’re listening.
The course can be accessed through your desktop browser and DeutschAkademie’s iOS and Android app. There you can find transcripts of all lessons with contextual translations into English.
After taking the course, you can expect to be able to react to and converse in day-to-day conversations (e.g. ordering food at a restaurant, introducing yourself to a stranger, etc.) and understand basic grammar concepts.
TV Shows and Videos
Watching video content in German will help you get immersed in the language and familiar with its sounds, all while having a ton of fun at the same time.
5. Easy German
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.
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.
7. ZDF Mediathek
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!
After you’ve tried the above free video resources, you might want to start looking for the more advanced video learning options found in premium resources like FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
German self-studiers can take advantage of comprehensive, high-quality public resources from the German and U.S. governments!
9. Deutsche Welle
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 in 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.
DW’s “Radio D” is an online audio language course dedicated to beginners.
The course contains two audio series with 26 episodes each. You’ll get lessons covering a wide range of entertaining topics such as life in Germany, music, work and carnivals. Each episode comes with PDF transcripts and exercises, too.
All episodes are centered on realistic stories and situations that any learner might be exposed to within German society. In other words, you get to learn the necessary vocabulary to easily communicate and interact in German.
10. FSI German courses
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.
To begin, select German from the list of language options and choose your level. From there, you’ll be able to 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.
Websites to Teach You Real German
There are a number of helpful websites that can give you quick and easy access to basic German lessons. Many of them will primarily use good old-fashioned reading material, so you can get familiar with the grammar and vocabulary.
12. “German Today” course by MIT
This course offers 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.
13. Deutsch-Lernen’s Beginner and Advanced German courses
Deutsch-Lernen is a website appurtenant to the German learning school ActiLingua, based in Vienna, Austria. The school offers free step-by-step German language courses for beginners and advanced learners.
The lessons take you on a cruise through all essential grammar and conjugation rules in German with exercises and tests to examine your knowledge.
You should keep in mind that these courses aren’t really focused on teaching the more practical side of German, like vocabulary building or real-life conversations. Therefore, you must make sure you work on that in tandem.
In the “Languages” category of OpenLearn’s catalog of free courses, you can find a number of German language lessons. To access them, all you have to do is sign up for an account.
These include ones fit for introductory learners, such as “Beginners’ German: Places and people” and “Getting Started with German 1.”
Intermediate-level courses include “Intermediate German: Understanding spoken German” and “Intermediate German: The world of work.”
There are also a few courses for advanced learners: “Advanced German: Language, culture and history” and “Advanced German: Regional landscapes.”
All the courses are primarily text-based, with some audio exercises. Each can take a few hours to complete.
15. Learn German Online
This site offers 12 free online German lessons. The course follows a logical order and each of the 12 lessons can mirror a 12-week open university course.
The lessons are aimed at beginners who have little to no knowledge or background of the language. In fact, the lessons are an adaptation of the Foreign Service Institute’s German language course for American military personnel and other diplomatic and government professionals.
Each lesson starts with an audio clip featuring a variety of German words and phrases. Afterward, each lesson includes a vocabulary list, grammar and pronunciation notes as well as opportunities to practice through various drill exercises and conversation practice.
16. Learn German Easily
Learn German Easily teaches the German language through the “Storytelling Method.” Learners study vocabulary and grammar structures through listening to and creating short stories.
There are 41 lessons available for free online. The lessons revolve around beginner topics such as modal verbs, noun cases and the future tense.
In addition to the course housed on their website, Learn German Easily also offers a free email course that comes directly to your inbox.
17. The University of Michigan’s German Resources Page
Meant to be used in conjunction with a German language course at the University of Michigan, the Resources Page is a great way to take a German course without actually taking a German course.
In fact, this website includes a number of resources and ideas for self-studying German online for free, and if you’re feeling creative or organized, you could create your own syllabus and follow along as if you were taking a German MOOC.
There’s a section fully dedicated to learning strategies, and there’s also a complete directory of German grammar explanations.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
A MOOC is an online course that offers open access to a certain subject matter (such as German).
Some of them are self-directed while others have start and end dates with structured syllabi.
Regardless of your preferences, I know one of these brilliant MOOCs is bound to suit your fancy. Best of all, they’re free!
18. “German Language” by Modern States
This German language course is quite intensive. It covers all the basics typically taught in the first three semesters of elementary German university courses, such as basic vocabulary and grammar in topics such as school and the workplace. However, the course is only six weeks long.
There are an anticipated six hours of work per week, but because this course is self-directed and six weeks is a rather short time to learn three semesters worth of material, learners can go at their own pace.
This course prepares students to take the German CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exam. This exam proves a prospective college student’s proficiency in German so they can skip the first two semesters of German university classes and instead start as a more intermediate learner, despite the prerequisites.
19. “German I” by IIT Madras
“German I” is offered by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in association with Swayam.
This course is taught like a traditional university class, complete with a professor, course assignments and tests. The course is 12 weeks long (a full semester). It’s run semi-regularly during the academic school year.
Each week focuses on a certain topic (with associated grammar) such as hobbies, food and health. Each week also gives students an array of material for being successful in the course: grammar practice exercises, listening practice, readings and writing composition practice.
For students who successfully complete the course—or for those who already have a background in the German language—there’s also a German II course.
20. “Deutsch am Arbeitsplatz” by The Open University
“Deutsch am Arbeitsplatz” (German in the Workplace) is a four-part German course offered by The Open University as a self-directed MOOC. It’s specifically made for learners looking to use business German in the workplace, but it can be used by all German learners.
If you choose to take a course with Open University, you can take one of the parts for free as an audit, but the additional parts come at a standard cost.
The first course is for “post-beginners”—those who have at least an A1 level or previous background in the German language. The following three parts proceed in chronological order after the first.
Each part is four weeks long and consists of about 20 hours, covering topics such as business communication, travel arrangements and meeting people.
21. “Essential German” by Udemy
“Essential German” is a course offered for free by Udemy, one of the leading companies for MOOCs.
There are nine lectures with a total of 43 minutes of video content. Each lesson focuses on a different facet of basic German vocabulary and grammar such as introductions, friends, family and weather. In fact, this course is perfect for those looking for a crash course in elementary German conversation.
Aside from looking at actual sample dialogues and phrases useful for basic German interactions, some of the lectures are reviews of grammar points or crucial vocabulary.
A Final Word: Avoid the Free Learning Trap
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.
Firstly, make sure you use resources that are appropriate for your language level. Free learning materials tend to give you the freedom to jump around lessons and levels like hop-scotch. While this can be fun, it’s important to stick to study tools that match your current skills, so that you don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated by aiming too high or get bored by aiming too low.
Unsure of your particular German proficiency level? Here’s a guide to nine tests you can take to assess your skills.
You also need to set a practice schedule by yourself. Regularity and consistency is the single most important factor in self-study. Unlike with paid language classes, you can’t rely on a curriculum or class schedule that someone else made.
But note that beginner learners do best when they use 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.”
Stick with these resources for how to learn German free, and you’ll be well on your way to fluency—and you won’t have to open your wallet once!
Whether you learn German with a free program or a premium one, what’s most important is that you keep up the learning habit and continue progressing. Try a variety of methods and see what works best for your learning style.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.