Germans love cars.
Okay, maybe not in Berlin.
Just head outside the big city and you’ll find a love affair with cars that rivals that of the United States.
Mercedes Benz, BMW (which stands for Bavarian Motorworks), Porsche, Volkswagen, driving on the Autobahn—all essential elements of modern German culture.
Forget the Deutsche Bahn (the national German train)! It’s always delayed anyway.
So what better way to learn Die Deutsche Sprache (the German language) than by partaking in the country’s most revered form of transport?
It may seem unconventional, but time in your car can be the perfect built-in study session to learn and perfect your German language skills.
Plus, you won’t just be learning about the language, you’ll also be learning about the culture of Germany.
Why Learn German in the Car?
There are several reasons why the automobile is an excellent place to hone your German skills.
1. Driving is built-in time to practice.
If you commute to work every day and commit to practicing German during your commute, that means you’ll automatically have time scheduled to learn the language. Even if you don’t commute to work, chances are you drive somewhere, walk somewhere or use public transport to get somewhere (almost) every day. Try to practice during that time, even if it’s only 20 minutes a day.
2. Germans love cars.
As mentioned above, Germany is a nation in love with its automobiles. If you commit to learning car and driving-related vocabulary, you’ll be able to converse with Germans about a topic near and dear to their hearts.
3. You’ll have to listen and comprehend.
When you’re driving and listening to a podcast or a song, you won’t be able to read texts and lyrics to aid your understanding (or, you could, but it’s not advisable). But that’s actually positive. By not reading along, you’ll force yourself to increase your spoken comprehension skills, making conversations and interactions that much easier.
To practice your listening skills even more while you’re off the road (or just making a pit stop), try FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
With interactive captions that give instant definitions, pronunciations and additional usage examples, plus fun quizzes and multimedia flashcards, FluentU is a complete learning package.
Check it out with the free trial—it will get your German up to speed!
Studying on the Autobahn: 4 Fast-track Methods for Learning German in Your Car
There are plenty of different ways to improve and hone your German language skills while driving.
Learning German in Your Car Through Podcasts and Audio
Charge your iPod or smartphone. Load it with one of the many podcasts and spoken German learning options available out there on the Internet. Then listen to the tracks, over and over again, until you find yourself picking out words and comprehending most of what the speaker is saying. You can find a list of great German podcasts here. Also, check out the ones below.
1. Nachrichtenleicht Audio News
Nachrichtenleicht is a website for high A1/low A2 language learners to pick up useful, real-world German vocabulary couched in simple terms with easy grammatical structures.
The website features current events distilled into simplistic articles, accompanied by 3-minute sound bites of a newscaster reading the articles in German very, very slowly. The sound bites are all available for download, making these clips ideal for short car rides.
2. Deutsche Welle Podcasts
Deutsche Welle’s news podcasts are similar to Nachrichtenleicht’s sound bites, but they’re geared towards a higher level of learning, typically the higher B-levels and C1. These podcasts, which are also downloadable as MP3s, are ideal for intermediate learners to catch up on the news and hone vocabulary while driving.
3. Slow German
The Slow German podcasts don’t deal with news, but with various useful topics including marriage, newspapers and history. These podcasts are also downloadable as MP3s—and you can download the transcript in PDF format and check your comprehension when you get home.
Learning German in Your Car Through Music
Podcasts are no doubt very useful for picking up important vocabulary and learning about the main issues facing Germany today.
But sometimes you just want to turn the music up and drive (especially when you’re on the Autobahn).
Don’t worry—there are plenty of German musicians whose catchy tunes will help you learn new vocabulary and grammatical structures. Check out these classic German songs or listen to some of the artists listed below.
Rap is often easier to understand than rock for language learners, so rapper Marteria’s songs will be perfect for you if your comprehension is still at a beginner level—or if you just love rap music. Marteria’s songs cover a variety of topics, ranging from a tune bemoaning other members of his generation growing up, to a homage to his hometown of Rostock.
2. Andreas Bourani
Sometimes it’s fun to listen to an inspirational pop ballad while driving. Singer-songwriter Andreas Bourani provides that in spades, especially with his song “Auf Uns,” which is featured in the trailer for the video documenting Germany’s 2014 win in the FIFA World Cup.
She’s more of a relic from the past than the others, but Nena’s song “99 Luftballons,” an anti-Cold War song about a bunch of balloons mistaken for UFOs that unwittingly spark off WWIII, remains one of the most famous German-language songs—and if you’ve never driven while listening to this song, you’re certainly missing out!
Learning German in Your Car Through Audio Lessons
If you want to brush up on your grammar and vocabulary classroom-style, look no further than the following audio lessons.
They’ll help you learn key words and phrases while on the open road. Lessons are ideal for beginning language learners, as they often begin by emphasizing the sort of material you learn in A1—the basics you need to interact with people on a superficial basis. They also force you to listen and repeat, and repetition is often the key to language success.
1. Learn in Your Car German
The Learn in Your Car series teaches key words and phrases and walks learners through the beginning steps of language learning by forcing repetition. This makes Learn in Your Car ideal if you’re just starting out with German. You can buy a CD version of the series, or download it through the iTunes store.
2. Pimsleur Language Learning
Pimsleur Language Learning is a method through which you can embark on Deutschlernen the same way you would in a classroom: through half-hour lessons that target specific topics.
The German Pimsleur software is somewhat expensive, but it comes with 120 half-hour lessons—perfect for those longer commutes—plus flashcards and other review materials for when you stop driving. The prices vary depending on which materials you opt for, and you’ll catch the occasional sale on their site. Check out what they're currently offering here.
3. Deutsche Welle Audio trainer
Deutsche Welle’s Audiotrainer, geared towards A1/A2 learners, allows you to practice your pronunciation and learn new vocabulary by listening and repeating. The Audiotrainer is available as an MP3 download as well, making it easy to take into your car and on the go.
Learning German in Your Car By Yourself
Remember, you don’t really need anything besides your brain and a dictionary to improve your foreign language skills. Use your time in the car as an opportunity to brush up on car and driving-related vocabulary.
Memorize these words and invent sentences or scenarios where you have to use them as you drive along. Pretty soon, they’ll be lodged in your brain permanently. If you ever drive a car in Deutschland, these words will certainly come in handy—and even if you don’t use them all the time, they’re sure to appear in German movies, TV shows and books.
1. Das Auto
This one’s easy for English speakers—a slightly old-fashioned word for “car.” Just make sure to learn the article as well.
2. Die Ampel
Die Ampel means “the stoplight” or “the signal”—an important word for any driver to know.
3. Der Ampelmann
Der Ampelmann is the walking man that tells you whether to cross the street or wait for the light. Knowing this vocabulary word will help you understand a leftover piece of East German culture.
Some streets in Berlin sport a different Ampelmann than the rest of Germany, a kitschy relic of the GDR era. This jaunty and comical figure almost disappeared in the 1990’s when the state attempted to replace the East Berlin Ampelmann with western walking symbols. But the Ampelmann was saved by so-called Ostalgie (nostalgia for the GDR) and he lives on today in many parts of Berlin and other German cities.
Learn more about the Berlin Ampelmann here.
4. Die Strasse
Die Strasse means “the street,” another important word to know, whether you’re a driver or a tourist in Germany.
5. Die Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung
Quick, say this five times fast. This stereotypically overlong German word means “the speed limit.” Although it may be high on the Autobahn, it’s still an essential word to know—plus German speakers are always impressed when you can say it properly.
If you incorporate some of these tips and tricks into your driving routine, you’ll soon have German study time built into your schedule.
Just remember to be careful and focus on your driving first and foremost.
Eyes on the road (to fluency)!