How to Study German from Home: 10 Tips for Learning in Comfort
Decided to brush up on your German?
You could pull on some clothes, drag yourself out of the house and strike up conversations with German-speaking strangers…
But if that sounds like a fate worse than death to you today, studying at home is the perfect solution!
You’ve already got a busy life out there in the world.
Studying German at home allows you to set your own schedule and study when you have the time to dedicate to it while staying focused (and saving money!).
It also allows you to work at your own pace—speed through things you already understand and devote extra time to topics that are more difficult to grasp.
Especially if you’re shy or easily embarrassed, you can practice free from self consciousness—go ahead and try to pronounce das Eichhörnchen as many times as you need to!
Plus you can tailor your learning to what works best for you: memorize with flashcards, or don’t! It’s up to you.
Take a look at this list of tips and tools that German language learners of all skill levels can leverage while relaxing in the comfort of your own home.
How to Study German from Home: 10 Tips for Learning in Comfort
1. Try free online lessons
The Internet is your friend. You can easily learn basic, intermediate and advanced skills using podcasts, MP3 lesson downloads and printable worksheets.
A number of colleges and universities have posted their curriculum and lessons on their websites. Check out University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Nancy Thuleen’s website for great resources such as lessons and worksheets.
The BBC and Deutsche Welle both have resources devoted to learning the German language. You can check out podcasts and lessons as well as other learning tools.
2. Visit your local library
Remember libraries? You know, those places with all the books that you can borrow for free? Don’t get so wrapped up in the digital world that you forget about brick and mortar locations! You can probably get away with sweatpants there, too.
More than likely your local library has a selection of books for German language learners, such as textbooks, workbooks and audiobooks on CD. Also, many libraries these days have an online presence where you can borrow e-books and audiobooks.
3. Make friends online
Don’t have a buddy you can practice with in person? Turn to the Internet. Using sites like MyLanguageExchange.com, Ruhr-Universität Bochum’s Tandem or InterPals you can locate fellow homebodies eager to practice whatever foreign language they’re learning.
The third site, InterPals, isn’t targeted specifically for language learners but for people who want to make friends. The first two are intended specifically for language learners looking to find buddies to practice with. eTandem is a bit more formal while MyLanguageExchange has more a social feel.
Make friends and find a pen pal to practice your written German skills with, or a buddy you can video chat with to practice speaking. Just make sure to equip an emergency kit!
4. Use German-learning apps and online tools
There are lots of great applications and tools available online that are targeted specifically at those who are learning German. FluentU is a fresh, modern way to learn German that’s incredibly effective.
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.
To keep things fresh, FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and recommends further lessons and videos based on what you've already studied.
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.
These tools are not only new, fun ways to learn, they’re also convenient and let you learn on the go with your mobile device. Or, find an app for your mobile device that helps you practice recitation with digital flashcards from Chegg.
Dict.cc and Duden are my go-to online dictionaries. The former even has a convenient (and free!) app available. There’s an app or website for seemingly every need and every type of device.
5. Watch German TV shows and movies
Major and public German television networks like ZDF and Das Erste offer live and archived streaming of their programs. The streaming services are commonly from a Mediathek section of their websites.
Initially you may find that it’s more comfortable and easy to follow along with programs and films that are subtitled in English, using services like Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. Check out fantastic German films like “Run Lola Run” or groundbreaking German directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder. I’d personally recommend “The Marriage of Maria Braun,” a sort of “Gone With the Wind” for a post-WWII Germany. Also, check out “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” where an older cleaning lady falls in love with a young Moroccan guestworker and then must deal with the cultural ramifications.
Once you feel comfortable and have some confidence, try to watch shows dubbed in German or original German television shows and films. If you like TV crime shows and mysteries, try “Tatort.” If you’re more into comedy and politics, try “heute-show,” Germany’s version of “The Daily Show.”
6. Read in German—a lot!
Nearly every German newspaper or magazine is online these days. Try large publications like Der Spiegel and Die Welt. Or, if you prefer books, try Project Gutenberg for downloadable ebooks of classic German texts. The online library has an entire section of books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and even Shakespeare!
Don’t forget blogs either! Whether you’re a foodie, a DIY-er, a fashionista, a die-hard sports fan or your interests lie somewhere else, there’s a blog of interest out there on the web for you to check out. Using a site like Bloglovin you can explore blogs on topics that interest you and filter results on German blogs.
7. Rock out to German music
Fans of instrumental music may want to skip this tip. Like rock music? Prefer pop? Or maybe you’re more into hip hop? No matter what kind of music you’re into there’s a German language equivalent. Using YouTube, Spotify or even direct from the musicians’ websites, you can easily access music in the German language.
If you don’t know where to get started, here are some German pop bands you’ll probably like, or you can stream German radio online to find some musicians you enjoy. The heavy metal of Rammstein, the charming rap/pop of Falco and the feel-good pop of Nena are well-known internationally, but I’d personally recommend checking out Austrian pop rockers Bilderbuch if you’re looking for fun, catchy songs that you can easily sing along to.
Or, if you prefer a more artsy, thoughtful and poetic take on the German language, long-active Berlin band Einstürzende Neubauten performs to the instrumentation of things like clanging sheet metal and air whooshing through PVC pipes!
An Ohrwurm, or a catchy tune that gets stuck in your head, is a great way to learn German. Just remember to take your time. Listening to a song just once, it can be hard to understand every word being sung, but keep in mind that pop music usually has vocals that are easiest to follow.
8. Follow your favorites on social media
Now that you’ve found some favorite German actors, television shows, authors and musicians, try following them on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter! Following people on social media is a great way to see just how native German speakers actually write and talk.
If you’re using Twitter, use the site’s “advanced search” to filter only German results, or include “lang:de” with your search terms. Using social media is also a great way to increase your vocabulary. There is no doubt you will learn some great slang and casual, every day terms, too.
If you feel particularly bold, you can even try leaving a comment auf Deutsch or chatting with other fans. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a response!
9. Eat delicious German food
This is one method that won’t even feel like studying—and all you have to do is move into the kitchen!
Jägerschnitzel, Spätzle, and Apfelstrudel aren’t just tasty treats. They can be educational, too. Find an appetizing recipe from websites like ChefKoch.de or German celebrity chefs like Alfons Schuhbeck and the German national soccer team’s chef, Holger Stromberg.
Once you’ve found a dish that whets your appetite, translate the recipe and whip up the results in your own kitchen at home. Your family and friends will definitely thank you for this one—assuming you’re willing to share!
10. Splurge on correspondence courses
Maybe you’d prefer a more strict and less flexible approach. If you’ve got some extra money that you’re willing to invest in studying German, a correspondence course just might be the right choice for you.
Now don’t worry—correspondence courses can still keep you at home!
Organizations like the Goethe-Institut, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of the German language and culture, offer courses for a variety of skill levels that can be taken both online and off. Many of these courses offer feedback from dedicated tutors who can explain to you things you can’t understand on your own and recommend areas to focus on for improvement.
Studying German at home may offer plenty of convenience, but it still requires lots of persistence and hard work. Like the saying goes: Use it or lose it! Be sure to practice regularly and learn by repetition.
When in doubt, repeat, repeat, repeat. Whether we like it or not, we’re living in a digital age. The Internet is a sea of valuable resources that are all available to you. Be sure to take advantage of what’s out there.
Now that’s how to study German!
Corinne Mandell is a web developer who lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband and their miniature schnauzer. She blogs about learning German, baking and traveling at Reverberations.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.