There’s a saying in German: “Aller Anfang ist schwer.” (“All beginnings are hard.”)
But there’s another one, too: “Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.” (“To begin is easy, to persist is an art.”)
Talk about a contradiction!
The thing is, it can seem like both are true when you start learning the German language by yourself.
The amount of knowledge you’ll need to absorb can seem daunting. And it can take some serious will power to stick to your studies without external deadlines or support.
We’re here to make the journey to German fluency a little easier, from the beginning onward.
We’ll show you seven online German learning programs that are perfect for beginners, many of which also have upper-level material so you can follow them all the way to fluency.
We’ll also give you some tips to overcome roadblocks and round out your online learning depending on your personal needs or goals.
So get ready to start your at-home German learning on the right foot!
What Are the Benefits of Learning Online?
Learning a new language is all about amassing knowledge and soaking up as much information as your brain can handle. Yes, it’s an intense process, and yes, you’d better be ready for lots of headaches and crossed eyes as you interact with the language. It’s a mental exercise for sure.
All the same, being able to see the world around you through a different culture’s eyes makes it all worth it. When you study a language online, those four walls you call home expand to new places, faces and discoveries! You’ll be discovering media, news, pop culture and more from the German perspective, broadening your own worldview.
Learning online is also a great way to personalize your German studies. From instructional websites, to games, to one-on-one online lessons, there are so many opportunities to find the best German learning program for you. Plus, you get to set your own study schedule and pace, which is especially helpful for learners with busy calendars.
How to Build a Well-rounded Online Learning Program
The German language—and any language, for that matter—isn’t something to be learned in an afternoon, or even a week or a month. It’s best to approach your learning with a plan in mind, to both manage your time and resources and cut down on any learning stress!
The sites we’ll discuss later in this piece are all excellent for laying a solid German language foundation. But as noted above, everyone learns differently and has their own strengths and weaknesses. As an online learner, it’s important to be prepared with quality supplementary learning materials so you can push yourself through those inevitable roadblocks and learning lulls.
Check out the following online tools and tips to help you target each language skill as you go. Develop your skills evenly in these areas and you’ll be well on your way to sounding like a German without having to leave home.
Yes, it’s the bane of all German learners’ existence. The dreaded German grammar rules.
But! If you can gather different resources on the gamut of German grammar topics, you won’t have to fret the next time you open your mouth or put pen to paper. Once you’ve mastered a grammar topic, the rules are generally cut and dry, without too many exceptions.
GermanCorrector.com is a great resource that allows you to catch your grammar and spelling mistakes, with explanations for where you went wrong. The explanations are at the bottom of the page, so try to figure out the mistake yourself first. Verification is okay, but simply running your work through this resource won’t teach you anything. Challenge yourself to use it as a learning tool, not a crutch.
Add this resource to your bookmarks and take advantage of it the next time you’re struggling with writing in German.
Do you remember growing up and not knowing what an object was called? Maybe you’ve heard cute little kids make up hilarious names for objects, similar to the way Ariel calls a fork a “dinglehopper” in “The Little Mermaid.” Whatever the case may be, knowing more vocabulary means knowing more of a language. And practicing vocabulary can be like taking your vitamins each day or remembering to brush your teeth at night.
It’s all in the name of better health—or in this case, proficiency in the German language.
The most crucial aspect of learning German vocabulary is having a great dictionary, one you can turn to whenever you think, “What’s this called?” or “How do you say…” “Langenscheidt” is one of the best you’ll find, and in fact, you’ll probably see a lot of German students carrying one around.
Other web- and mobile-friendly dictionaries include Dict.cc and LEO. Both resources show you the part of speech and will even say the word aloud in German. LEO’s mobile application in particular is a must.
The next time you’re stuck on a word, check out one of those dictionaries!
Read as much German as you can. Seriously.
Reading will provide you with tons of examples of the grammar rules you’re learning, as well as how sentences are formed and the variety of ways sentences can begin and end.
The best way to get the most out of your German reading is to pick up books that you can mark up and highlight. This is “active reading,” which means you’re getting the most out of the text. For example, highlight or write down any words you don’t know as you read. For beginners, this can be a daunting task, as you probably won’t know a lot of words, but if a word repeats a few times, it’s probably one worth looking up and remembering. Write down the sentence in which the word appears as well, so you’ve got a reference once you know the word’s meaning.
Here are some book recommendations for beginner German readers.
Reading the English and German versions of a book, if you can obtain both, is a great way to check comprehension. Moving from chapter to chapter, read the German version first, noting what you can comprehend from the text. After that, read the chapter in English to check your understanding. If there’s a stark difference, perhaps check if there was a word you didn’t know that would’ve caused you not to understand the movement of the plot. At the beginner stage, it’s not important that you pick up every single detail, only that you understand the story in general terms.
These bilingual books in German and English will get you started!
The best way to learn a language is to dive in and not look back. The traditional way to do this is to travel to Germany, which of course would be wonderful! But it’s not always an option for beginner self-learners.
And keep an eye out for FluentU, which we’ll discuss more below—it’s a fantastic tool to pick up real German from audio and video that natives actually enjoy on the regular.
Where to Learn German Online for Beginners: 7 Incredible Sites to Bookmark
For the online learner, sometimes pages and pages of practice questions and exercises just aren’t enough. Do you have questions you just can’t figure out yourself? Are you simply craving some real-life speaking practice? Give yourself a leg up with these tutoring sessions offered by the Goethe Institut, Germany’s culture and language organization.
Deutsch Online Live is great for beginners as well as learners of all levels. The lessons are individually customized for your learning needs, so you can be sure you’ll get the most out of the time you spend.
Students can choose from either one 60-minute session for $90, or five 60-minute sessions for $400. In each session, you’ll work one-on-one with a vetted instructor to improve specific German language skills. This can include anything from the foundations of German to preparing for an upcoming exam. After working through your concerns, the instructor will give you feedback on where to go with your learning and what you’re doing well.
FluentU is the most innovative resource on this list because it makes authentic German accessible even to absolute beginners. On FluentU, you’ll watch real-world German videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more—that’ve been transformed into personalized language lessons.
For starters, each video comes with interactive captions. Click any word for an instant definition, native pronunciation and visual learning aid. FluentU’s Learn Mode then takes it up a notch, with tailor-made flashcards and exercises to help you remember what you’ve learned when you’re done watching. If you’re sick of parroting stiff, textbook-style phrases that are so often found in beginner learning programs, FluentU is a fun way to actively build your vocabulary while absorbing German as native speakers really use it.
The videos are organized by genre, so it’s easy to find ones that work for you even as you advance towards fluency. Plus, FluentU remembers what you’ve learned and suggests new videos based on that info, for a truly personalized learning experience. It even uses an algorithm to test you on key vocabulary just as you’re about to forget it!
FluentU’s beginner-level videos include everything from this funny ice cream commercial to this silly informal chat between German soccer stars. You can check out the full video library for free with a FluentU trial.
You may already be familiar with Deutsche Welle’s local and global news media—offered in English and German! They also offer some truly invaluable resources specifically for language learners. Let’s take a closer look.
Deutsche Welle provides video, audio and podcasts to language learners for free. If you need to have something tangible in hand as you listen to the lessons, there are printable worksheets as well. Their focus is on entertaining and interactive language programs that’ll hold your attention.
If you’re not sure what level to begin at, you can also test your knowledge and receive placement. And if English isn’t your native tongue, you can follow the Deutsche Welle program in a language other than English.
Deutschtrainer is the accompanying vocabulary application for Deutsche Welle, which you can use on your smartphone as well. Learn on the go, while you’re on the bus, waiting in line or simply trying to wind down before bed.
You can also make it a habit to check out the daily news on Deutsche Welle, as they sometimes will pen articles in both English and German. Practice your translation skills by reading both and checking your comprehension.
Yes, you can learn German from a British website! BBC offers 10 short video lessons that’ll introduce you to the basics of the German language.
If you’d like, you can even print out the transcripts from these videos and follow along on paper as you watch. This short series will teach you the basics of German, and even provide a language notes section that details beginner grammar topics.
If you’re just starting out, BBC’s Talk German is a great resource. It’s particularly helpful if you’d like to visit Germany in the near future, since it’ll teach you how to ask for directions, check in at a hotel, buy food or souvenirs and more.
Rosetta Stone is a popular program to learn German online. The lessons are designed to teach you naturally, with lots of visuals and with native-speaker audio, so you’ll begin to gain an ear for the language even as you’re learning foundational grammar and conversational skills.
One of its most unique features is speech recognition that will train you to speak with the proper pronunciation. They also have a “stories” feature that teaches you German in a narrative context, which is great for holding your attention—especially if you’re someone who doesn’t do well with rote memorization.
Rosetta Stone offers a ton of vocabulary resources, making it perfect if you’re not sure where or how to start learning German words. And if you’re always on the go, you’ll appreciate that you can sync your progress across multiple devices.
If cost is at the forefront of your mind, you might want to check out Rocket Languages. A one-time membership fee will get you lifetime access. They have three different levels to choose from, depending on your learning needs, including a beginner-to-intermediate program and two beginner-to-advanced programs.
You can sign up for a weekly vocabulary builder, which is a great way to keep up on your vocabulary and continue to learn new words. If you’re someone who’s more progress-oriented, there’s a tracking feature that’ll show you how fast you’re moving. Check your development as you go and see how much you’re learning on a daily basis!
You can also expect features that’ll build a range of skills, including voice recognition for speaking and pronunciation and audio lessons for comprehension. You’ll even get access to a community of German learners and speakers with the Rocket Languages forum.
Check out Rocket Languages if you’re looking for a great starter course that’ll evolve as you do.
Though it’s not the most sophisticated of resources, Loecsen does offer some really cool features. You’ll find a ton of vocabulary lessons to boost your memory of German words.
It’s an especially beginner-friendly resource—the focus is on basic topics like greetings, numbers, food, family and more. These lessons include images to help you associate words with meanings. The site even links to other great language-learning resources as well (scroll to the bottom of the Learn German page).
The best thing about Loecsen is the feature that reads aloud to you. Hearing German is a crucial part of the language-learning process, so if you can read along with the spoken words, you’re only doing yourself a favor.
Give Loecsen a try and see if it fits well in your routine.
If you’re willing to dedicate time and effort to learning German online, there are a lot of great resources out there. Check out those above and continue to search out those sites that work best for you. Learning a language, just like any other subject, requires a long-term commitment and most of all, passion.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.