If a picture is worth a thousand words…
… how can you make those words come to you in German?
And better yet, how can you make their meanings stick?
Well, we’re already off to a great start with the picture, because using visuals is a fantastic way to learn German.
Especially if you’ve never tried it before, switching up your old study routine and using the methods below to learn with pictures could be the very boost you’ve been looking for.
So say goodbye to dull, meaningless memorization, because we’ve got six jazzy ways to learn new German words with pictures.
Why to Learn and Memorize German Words with Pictures
The main benefit behind learning German with pictures is that you can cut out your mother tongue. Rather than translating from your native language into German, instead you’ll visually associate the German with the actual item it represents. It’s a much more intuitive way of learning, which of course can be applied to any other language as well.
So basically it’s all about our spectacular visual memory. You’ll be much more likely to remember a German word and its meaning if there’s a memorable, relevant image which ties the two together.
Surprisingly, this use of visual aids for language studies is not as old as you might think. Up until well into the ’60s, language learning techniques were heavily and almost exclusively audio based. After numerous studies showed the importance of mixed media learning, teaching methods have evolved to the point they’re at today.
One such study was conducted by Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Iowa, Dr. Amy Poremba. For the study she asked a hundred of her students to look at images, hold objects and listen to sounds. Afterwards they had to try to recall these stimuli after varying amounts of time. The results clearly showed the superiority of our visual memory as opposed to our auditory memory, for instance.
Another study by a group of scientists at the Duke University Medical Center had participants look images with thousands of objects to then test how many of them they recalled, and in how much detail. The results clearly showed how we can remember a huge amount of detailed visual information long-term.
Two Main Methods for Learning German with Pictures
It makes sense, then, to consciously use this powerful way of retaining information in our German learning journey, doesn’t it?
After a bit of practice you’ll quickly get used to making the above mentioned kind of visual associations, and the words will just seem to naturally come to mind without the need to translate everything in your mind first when speaking German.
There are two ways you go can about this:
You can either (1) make the association with an image you know well, or (2) use a past experience or personal connection. The second way is preferable, as you’ll be more likely to remember something longer if you make an emotional connection along with the visual association.
Let me give you an example: Let’s say you want to memorize the word Tante. Don’t think of the English word “aunt.” As we mentioned above, the first option is to think of the literal image of an aunt, maybe in a drawing of a family constellation or an aunt from a TV show or comic book, etc.
The second way would involve picturing your own aunt (or someone’s aunt who you know personally, if you don’t have an aunt), or perhaps even your niece and/or nephew if you are (or your spouse is) an aunt yourself. Picture yourself talking to your aunt, calling her Tante. (Or your niece and nephew shouting “Tante! Tante!” at you or your spouse.) You could even start calling your aunt “Tante” in real life!
If you still have trouble recalling the word Tante when shown a picture of your aunt, try imagining your aunt walking into a huge, tan tent. Imagine the scene in detail, the more ridiculous the better. Although the pronunciation is much different from “tent,” hopefully a tan tent will get you to remember Tante. Over time, you’ll be able to go straight from the image of an aunt to Tante, without picturing the tent. It’s the personal and emotional connection in this second way that will especially help you to memorize the word.
So do you see what we mean? Go ahead and give it a try. You’ll see that with these two methods, you’ll be able to memorize basically any new word, including more abstract ones. Since this way of learning is so intuitive, it’s suitable for—but not limited to—absolute beginners.
6 Cool Ways to Learn German with Pictures
There are several ways you can learn with pictures. Below we’ll talk about a few of them and you can see which suit you best. Maybe you’ll like a combination of them or maybe you’ll even have a completely different idea of how to incorporate this concept into your learning.
1. Use Flashcards and Post-it Notes
Some of the first methods that come to mind for learning vocabulary are probably the use of flashcards and Post-it notes. Granted, these are not the most creative ideas, but they are tried and trusted, and do work, so we thought we should mention them briefly—with an added twist.
If you’re already using flashcards to learn German vocab, there’s a simple tweak you’ll want to make—which you can probably predict: Instead of writing down the translation in English, find an image to draw, paste or print on the other side. If you prefer virtual flashcards on apps, for example, use images from the Internet (try Google Bilder).
If you’re a fan of paper flashcards, try using a Karteibox (flashcard box). First of all, it’ll keep your cards organized. But more importantly, it’s a slick tool to clearly keep track of your progress. By dividing your cards into groups (i.e. new, somewhat know and know well), you can easily see the words you know already, the words you should go over again, and the words that are brand new, for example.
The possibilities of how you can structure and group your cards with this box are endless. Some other ideas would be to organize them by part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.), gender, to assign certain words to each day of the week, or to divide them by subject.
Same goes for Post-it notes—at some point you might have tried them already. Write down words and post them up accordingly around the house, your office, in your car, etc. Each time you open the fridge you’ll read Kühlschrank, and each time you look in the mirror the word Spiegel will come to mind.
To be the most effective, you’ll have to consciously notice and read the word when you see it. If you create a relevant, context-rich sentence on the spot each time you run into one of your Post-it notes, you’ll have those words down in no time!
2. Start Using a Visual Dictionary
Okay, so this one might not be as obvious as it initially seems. After all, most people have never used visual dictionaries before, so it’s worth mentioning them.
Visual dictionaries are, just as their name suggests, dictionaries which are based on images. They show you the meaning of a word through a picture. They’re often used to teach a language to kids or illiterate adults, but are equally useful for learning vocabulary when studying a foreign language.
Especially when you’re just beginning to use images for your German learning, a visual dictionary will help you get used to this form of visual association quickly.
Try to make it a habit to only use visual dictionaries from now on. Whenever you don’t understand a word, look it up and add it to your Karteibox, for example.
There are many visual dictionaries online, such as the one at Bildworterbuch.com or the Bildwörterbuch von Hueber. If you prefer a hard copy version, Hueber has some good options too.
Here’s another trick you can easily adopt into your learning routine even without owning a visual dictionary: Rather than looking up an unknown German word in a dictionary right away, type the word into a Google Image search and see if you understand the meaning based on the images.
3. Immerse Yourself with FluentU
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.
FluentU keeps track of the words 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.
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.
4. Read Children’s Books
Just like children’s books in English, German children’s books consist mostly of beautiful illustrations and simple words, making them perfect for beginner German learners. Some great examples would be the books from Langenscheidt, or these 15 children’s books to get you started.
With this method, try to emulate the way an actual child would use them. Read out loud while focusing on the images, and try to make personal associations with the words like we outlined earlier.
You can also do a Google Video search of the book’s German title to see if anyone has uploaded a recording of themselves reading the book out loud. This will provide another dimension to your learning, with the listening and pronunciation tied to the images now as well.
Then, if you can recite “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by heart, what’s stopping you from doing the same with a classic German children’s book? Choose a favorite and try memorizing a page (or line) a day.
Later on, use the basic sentence structures or patterns from one of your preferred German children’s books and try writing your own children’s book in German. Draw the illustrations, or find images online to illustrate your story.
5. Play Memory Games
A perfect game to learn German with pictures is Wort-Bild-Memory (often called “Memory” in English). Just as the name suggests, it’s a memory match game based on pictures and words.
With a grid of cards facedown in front of you, each turn you flip over two cards, trying to turn over a pair where the image matches the word. If the two cards you’ve chosen are not a pair, turn them back over—facedown—and choose another two cards. You could time yourself and see how long it takes to find all of the pairs, or race against a friend if you have two sets of cards.
You can easily make your own cards and customize them to fit your needs, or you can use readymade ones. If you want to get started right away, you could even play this game or this game online.
Making your own Memory cards might seem time consuming, but we promise that the very act of drawing the images or searching for images online to print (using the German word in your image search, of course!) will help you learn the words even better.
Once you have no problems pairing up the words, try to make it more difficult by adding more word-image pairs, or even by adding some words or images without their pair into the mix.
6. Interact with Image-based Social Media in German
The web is full of images. And perhaps more importantly, it’s full of people interested in sharing these images with you. That’s something you should take full advantage of when learning German with pictures!
You probably spend a lot of time on image-based social media sites already, so why not make the most of it and use them to learn German too? Here are some specific ways to do that:
- Pinterest. Curate an image collection on Pinterest—with captions and hashtags in German—and share your boards with fellow German students. One German pinner to get you started could be Patimc1. Her boards cover a wide spectrum of themes, everything from makeup to food and famous quotes. You can also check out Lise Bastel’s Sprüche, a collection of German jokes and sayings, or Bayern Tourismus, which has some gorgeous collections all about Bavaria! Whenever you’re browsing for something on Pinterest, do so in German.
- Instagram. Similarly, when you browse Instagram, do it in German. Share your own images there with captions in German. If you’re looking for somewhere to get started, take a look at Thomas Kakareko‘s account. He’s a street photographer, and with more than 630k followers, he’s one of the top Instagramers in Germany. Don’t forget to follow your favorite German soccer player or music group—or even Angela Merkel!
- WeHeartIt. Another site you could use to find images is WeHeartIt, an image sharing site which has a German version accompanied by a big German-speaking community. This makes it a great place for you to find images about Germany and all things German.
- Photography. Finally, if you love photography, be sure to check out and get involved in some online photography communities, such as the View Fotocommunity (by Stern magazine) or Fotocommunity.de. Not only will you see some great and professional photographs, but you can really practice your German by browsing for specific images, commenting on pictures or taking part in discussions with native German speakers.
The idea is to channel all the images that German social media users have to offer and to use them as language learning tools. Keep in mind to do so exclusively in German, of course!
It will keep you interested, entertained and engaged in the language, plus you’ll quickly find yourself spending more time enthusiastically studying German than you had initially planned.
So there you have it, six ways to incorporate images into your German learning experience. Now go ahead and give them a try, and let us know which you like best!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.