9 Simple Yet Effective Ways to Learn German at Home
When it comes to stress-free, comfortable language learning, there’s certainly no place like home.
A little creativity can make your studies all the more invigorating, even when you’re lounging around in your pajamas!
Here are some simple yet immersive ways to spice up your at-home German education.
- 1. Turn vocab learning into an art project
- 2. Learn to recite a children’s poem by heart
- 3. Plaster the bathroom walls with grammar
- 4. Binge-watch your favorite TV program…in German
- 5. Chant verb conjugations while you’re waiting for the kettle water to boil
- 6. Watch children’s TV
- 7. Follow loads of Germans online
- 8. Keep a diary…in German
- 9. Change your devices’ backgrounds
1. Turn vocab learning into an art project
According to hip-hop artist Mos Def, “Good art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate.”
So why not, if you’re struggling with articulating yourself in German, transform your vocabulary into art?
Ok, perhaps that wasn’t exactly what he meant, but think about it: this way you get the double whammy.
Lots of people are very visual learners, and others are visual learners to a certain degree. Thinking about words visually, or associating words with specific images in your mind, can be a very useful tool for making vocab really stick.
So get out those old coloring pencils and draw a picture of a Vögel (bird). Or maybe write the word Bundestag over and over again in the shape of the German parliamentary building. You won’t go forgetting its name if you’ve written it forty times. And when you’re done, don’t forget to stick it on your wall for everyone to admire (and to reinforce the vocabulary every time you look at it!).
2. Learn to recite a children’s poem by heart
Learning by rote memorization has kind of gone out of fashion recently, but actually it can be a really useful tool in language learning. In fact, you could argue that the whole process of learning a language is simply indirect rote learning, or rote learning which takes place on a larger scale.
Learning something like a poem by heart helps improve your vocabulary and fluency: you’ll find that the words and phrases in the poem are always on the tip of your tongue. You have a context for the new vocabulary, and therefore it’s more likely to stick. It also makes you really cool if you can recite German poetry on request. Who knows when that might come in handy?!
And think about it: there are many reasons why foreign language poetry is great.
It takes a while for someone to get to the level where they can read a novel in a foreign language. Even when they’re perfectly capable, it takes a lot of time and commitment to get through a whole novel. That’s not to say it’s not worth it. It totally is. Check out our post on German Classics if you’re interested.
But in many ways, poetry is more accessible. It’s shorter, for one. You can read a Heinrich Heine poem, translate all the difficult words it contains and deconstruct all its interesting grammar in much less time than you can, say, do the same with Thomas Mann’s “Der Zauberberg.”
And children’s poetry? Well, that’s even better. It’s usually fun and relatively simple, and if it rhymes and has a strict rhythm—which children’s poetry often does—then it’s easy to learn by heart.
So, where do you find poems to learn?
The internet is full of poems just waiting to be read. For example, “Die Deutsche Gedichtebibliothek” and “Project Gutenberg” have loads of poems that you can browse for free.
But to start you off, here’s a lovely little poem by Irmela Brender. It’s all about friendship—a useful one to quote in your German best friend’s birthday card message. To help you as you read along, we think the guys in this video do a very cute rendition.
3. Plaster the bathroom walls with grammar
Grammar can be a pain. It can also be exciting and cool and make things make sense. But I’m not going to lie: there’s a lot to learn. And the best way to do that is to repeat and reinforce. How many times do you go to the bathroom every day? (That’s a rhetorical question, no need to email in with the intricate details of your lavatorial habits). My point is, if you stick the conjugation of sein next to your mirror and read it over and over as you clean your teeth, you’ll have it sussed within a week.
Bits of grammar that work particularly well as bathroom wallpaper:
- Verb conjugations
- Tables of der/die/das and adjectival endings
- Present, imperfect and perfect tense forms of irregular verbs—e.g. bringen—brachte—gebracht (you can find lists of these all over the internet)
4. Binge-watch your favorite TV program…in German
It’s everyone’s guilty secret, but it doesn’t have to be a guilty one any longer.
Put German subtitles or dubbing on, and suddenly you can relive your favorite comedic moments, watch your OTP fall in love over and over (OTP refers to your favorite fictional couple, by the way—oh, the shame of admitting I know these abbreviations) and generally immerse yourself in the bliss of fictional lives, whilst also being productive.
Watching TV in a foreign language is actually really useful—surprisingly, it’s not just the illusion of productivity, this is the real thing.
If you’d like to practice learning with subtitled media, then you can try out FluentU and explore its library of authentic German videos. Each clip comes with German and English interactive captions that give you instant access to contextual vocabulary definitions, allowing you to work on your listening and reading skills. The program’s personalized quizzes let you type or speak your answers, so you can practice your writing and pronunciation skills as well.
Even if a TV program wasn’t originally in the target language, dubbing and subtitling can be very useful tools for language learners. Dubbed programs allow you to get a feel for the language and improve your pronunciation and your listening skills. Watching something in English with German subtitles improves your vocabulary and your written German. And if it’s a program you already know really well, you’re likely to pick things up more quickly and forget them more slowly. Win.
5. Chant verb conjugations while you’re waiting for the kettle water to boil
Verb conjugations can be a pain, and there’s really no way to learn them except repeating them over and over.
That’s where old-fashioned chanting comes in handy.
If you can get a specific rhythm in your head for repeating the conjugations of a verb, then learning it becomes a lot easier. For example, take the verb haben (to have). The conjugation of haben is as follows:
I have a certain way of chanting that conjugation, to a certain made-up rhythym.
You’ll need to develop your own way.
The important thing is that it’s the same each time. A specific rhythm and intonation (that’s the way your voice goes up and down as you speak) can be really useful for making it stick.
The key is repetition. Attach each chant to a particular activity: waiting for the kettle to boil, climbing the stairs or waiting for your toast to pop up in the morning…whatever you choose, get chanting.
6. Watch children’s TV
We all know that watching TV and films in your target language can be really good for developing new language skills, but there’s just something special about watching children’s TV. It’s relaxing, in its own way.
Sometimes your brain just isn’t up to watching something deep and meaningful…but a slightly surreal kids’ show with crazy characters and silly voices? Perfect.
There doesn’t tend to be much fast-moving dialogue to keep up with in children’s programs, so they’re often easier to watch.
Watching children’s TV as an adult can be lots of things: hilarious, surreal, therapeutic, possibly irritating at times…but we think German children’s TV is quite amusing overall. We love “Schnappi,” mostly for its theme song. But there are loads more out there, just waiting to be watched. You can find many of them on YouTube.
So, if you have fifteen minutes to spare sometime, try watching a show or two.
After all, it’s good for your German, right?
7. Follow loads of Germans online
Since social media came into existence about 10 years ago, it has steadily become an integral part of our daily lives. I don’t even want to think about how many times I check Facebook in one day. And can you imagine how much time we spend on there over the course of a week?!
But it’s not all doom and gloom, and I’m not saying that social media is a bad thing. Actually, it’s really useful, and it’s easy to make it even more useful, too.
One way to simultaneously enrich your social media experience and your language learning is to follow interesting German people or organizations on your social networking site or app of choice (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram…that’s up to you). That way every time you scroll through your newsfeed you’ll be exposed to the German language, and hopefully you’ll find out some interesting stuff at the same time.
So, who to follow?
Follow people you’re going to be interested in reading—don’t just follow and then scroll past their posts every time they turn up on your newsfeed!
If you’re interested in world affairs, follow newspapers (Die Zeit and Der Spiegel are good places to start).
If you’re interested in art or fashion, follow related magazines and individual artists or designers (check out the Goethe Institute’s culture portal as a springboard).
Or just follow that guy that posts weird pictures about his life with funny captions.
The more you read in German, even if it’s just scanning the headline of an article that pops up on your newsfeed, the more naturally the language will come to you.
8. Keep a diary…in German
They say keeping a diary is good for the soul, and I’m rather inclined to agree.
It doesn’t have to be a case of documenting the minute details of your life, but rather to have a completely uncensored conversation with yourself. It helps with self-awareness and prioritizing things in your life, and it also provides the perfect platform for self-indulgent rants.
Have I converted you yet?
Good. And now imagine what would happen if you wrote that diary in German. You would be writing every day without the pressure of getting everything exactly right: after all, who’s going to be reading it?
Writing is so good for every aspect of your language skills. When you write you can take time to pay attention to detail, unlike when you’re speaking and feel like you have to talksuperfastallthetime.
9. Change your devices’ backgrounds
It’s a bit like the social media thing: how many times do you look at your phone or computer every day? I imagine it’s quite a few times, if not constantly.
One of our favorite tricks is to replace the background on our phones and computers with visual vocabulary. And what do we mean by that? Well, try taking a word that you want to learn and finding a way to illustrate it.
For example, you might take the word die Reise (trip, journey) and find a photo which represents a trip (easy—just Google it and click on images). Then write die Reise in big letters over the top and set it as your background or screensaver. I can guarantee that within a couple of days you’ll know that German word.
It doesn’t just work with single words, either. This technique is one of the best ways to learn idioms, too. The combination of a visual hook and some words, plus repeated exposure to that combination, makes this techniqnue really effective.
Natasha Douglas is a Devon-based writer and photographer. She has been learning German for over a decade, and is an experienced language tutor. When she gets round to it, she writes a blog about her travels and experiences.