How to Think in German

There are many reasons why learning how to think in German is an extremely important step to mastering the language.

For one thing, it’s key to achieving true fluency. It takes away that pesky extra step of translating in your head.

You know how it’s like: You hear a sentence or phrase in German, pull it apart in your head and then put it back together in your own language. Or you create a sentence in your native language, and piece it together by translating individual words or phrases into German.

Not only does this waste valuable time, especially when you’re trying to have a real conversation with a native speaker, but it also rarely leads to natural-sounding German.

So how exactly do you think in German? Here are some tried-and-tested tips you can put into practice right away.


1. Understand What’s Going On in Your Brain When You Use German


If you’re still doing a lot of translating in your head, don’t feel bad. It’s completely natural for language learners to think in their native language by default. But it’s also possible to rewire your brain to become more flexible—and make thinking in German easier.

To understand how your brain gets rewired, let’s have a crash course on how the brain processes information. Basically, there are two main ways this happens:

  • Controlled processing: You’re aware of your thoughts and actively making choices.
  • Automatic processing: True to its name, this process happens automatically (i.e., without you consciously considering it).

For language learners like you, you’ll ideally want to turn German communication into an automatic process the way native speakers do—and that’s where the next sections come in.

2. Drill German Word Order Rhythmically


Anyone who’s studied German knows how nightmarish German word order rules can be. (Verb at the end of the sentence, anyone?). English and German may have a lot in common, but sentence structure definitely isn’t one of them!

To grasp this concept, you’ll have to do a lot of rhythmic drilling, which involves repeating German sentences with rhythmic physical motions.

For example, let’s take a German sentence with a word order that’s difficult for non-German speakers to master. Let’s use one with a modal “helping” verb like  müssen (have to), können (can), sollen (should) and  mögen (would like to).

If you use one of these verbs in German, the word order is as follows:

Sollen wir nach Rom fahren?  (Should we go to Rome?)

Here, you can see that the infinitive verb comes at the end of the sentence—not after the subject like it would in English.

To drill this rhythmically, you could do something like lifting your arms for sollen and stomping your feet for fahren.

Why do this rather than just repeating the sentence? Because scientists have discovered an important link between language, rhythm and music. Bringing rhythm into the process is an effective way to signal the new word order patterns to your brain.

This learning strategy can be especially effective if you’re a kinesthetic learner. That said, you may want to limit this kind of practice to the comfort of your own home rather than the gym or Starbucks. (But hey, that’s entirely up to you.)

3. Immerse Yourself in German Shows and Movies


Don’t leave out immersion and passive practice when it comes to thinking in German!

Try the German versions of movie clips and shows you’re already familiar with. Since you know the characters and the plots already, you don’t have to worry about getting lost or overwhelmed while you’re watching. You can just sit back and soak in the German. You’ll naturally pick up patterns in how Germans talk or crack jokes.

A lot of American sitcoms and shows, such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Simpsons,” are very popular in Germany, so brushing up on the storylines can help you bond with your new German pals as well as stimulate passive knowledge.

On YouTube, you can find clips of your favorite shows dubbed into German by searching the name of whichever show you’re looking for along with “in German” or auf Deutsch.”

Don’t have enough time to watch whole episodes of shows in German? No problem.

You can also watch a few short-and-sweet movie trailers from your favorite films in German. In most cases, the same German actor acts as a “dubbing double” for English-speaking actors, so check out a few trailers with big stars like Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep and get to know their German voices as well.

For a more guided experience, you can also study German this way on FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

FluentU Ad

4. Make German Tunes the Soundtrack of Your Life


German TV shows and movies are awesome, but sometimes you just can’t devote as much attention to them as you’d like—especially when you have a schedule tighter than a bratwurst covering.

On the other hand, German music can simply be played in the background while you do other things. Not only is this is great for general immersion, but it’s also one of the best ways to build natural and automatic associations between German words and their meanings.

So listen away to all those cool German tunes you find on Spotify, or tune in to these online German radio stations.

5. Don’t Forget to Sing Along, Too


Scientists have found evidence that singing in a foreign language can help learners get used to the sounds of their target language and improve their speaking skills. So make sure to sing along with German songs every chance you get! This will give your a brain a head start when it comes to thinking in German.

If you can’t understand the song just from listening to it, you can also search for its lyrics on

6. Keep Up With the News in German


Reading and listening to German news stories aren’t just great for vocabulary building and training your brain to automatically think in German. They’ll also teach you a lot about the German perspective and expose you to local or regional news you might not have in your native language.

Some great news sources in German include:

  • Die Süddeutsche Zeitung. This news outlet offers a liberal perspective.
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine. If your politics lean more toward the conservative side, this may be more up your alley.
  • Der Spiegel. This is a famous weekly news magazine, covering both national and international stories.
  • Deutschlandradio. This is one of Germany’s biggest—if not the biggest—public radio broadcasters.

Aside from German news, you can also listen to podcasts aimed toward learners for some audio lessons on German language and culture rolled into one.

7. Talk to Yourself in German


Although talking to yourself is often perceived as a one-way ticket to the loony bin, it can actually help you learn and retain information in general. That’s because it helps your brain create new pathways and connections.

For example, in German, you could tell yourself about your day or describe what’s on your to-do list. Just get to gabbing away auf Deutsch to yourself, so that talking in German isn’t just something you do now and then. Instead, it’ll become a familiar process—and, eventually, an automatic one.


Are we missing anything about how to think in German?

Not really, except maybe a little reminder again that consistency is key. So get at it.  Dein deutsches Gehirn wartet auf dich! (Your German brain is waiting for you!)

And One More Thing...

Want to know the key to learning German effectively?

It's using the right content and tools, like FluentU has to offer! Browse hundreds of videos, take endless quizzes and master the German language faster than you've ever imagine!


Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.


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 vocabulary 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 gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe