So, you’re doing all you can to learn German.
You’re enrolled in a course, watching German language shows and Youtube videos, reading newspapers and so on…
But what else can you do to help expand your practical vocabulary?
Even after exposing myself to as much German as possible, I found that my vocabulary was still lacking. I couldn’t figure out how to pinpoint and focus on the words I really needed to know.
Although I was using German language phone apps, I found that they weren’t always tailored to exposing me to words that were useful to me on a daily basis.
These tips can help you expand essential German vocabulary by finding innovative ways to learn German words that are useful to you specifically.
7 Creative Study Tips for Sharpening Your German Vocabulary
1. Make Your Own Vocabulary Book
While having a regular dictionary is essential to becoming fluent in the long run, making your own vocabulary book as you come across new words can really help. Your brain familiarize itself better with new vocabulary when you’re able to actively interact with it. How to interact with words?
Through the actions of identifying unknown words, writing them down correctly and defining them.
Find a small, handy notebook you can carry around where you’ll jot down any words you’re unfamiliar with. Whether you’ll define them on the spot or look them up later is totally up to you—the purpose of making your own vocabulary book is to get yourself used to being proactive about learning new words.
If you don’t have a small notebook handy, another good idea is to take a German dictionary you already have and underline words you’ve looked up, then if you look up the same word twice you’ll realize perhaps that this is a word you should pay closer attention to.
Another tip that works great with this method is to try and define the word with another German word. This can really help when expanding your vocabulary because you become familiar with synonyms and can practice making connections between similar words. Don’t worry about putting words in alphabetical order—you have a dictionary for that!
Remember to always include the article gender for nouns or plural forms if they include an umlaut or have a unique form.
2. Talk to Yourself in German
This is a more non-traditional tactic, but it really helps to identify what words you’d commonly use in conversation that you don’t already know. It’s a great way to indicate useful words that perhaps you haven’t learned yet and should now concentrate on. I recommend doing this in privacy so you don’t feel self-conscious about your mistakes in front of others, but if that isn’t a problem for you then more power to you!
Pick a topic you’d want to talk about normally—it can be anything from how your day went to an imagined interaction between you and a German speaker. Then talk out loud in German and find out which words you’re missing to convey the right idea.
Start by using sentences you know are correct. They could be simple, like self-introduction lines. This gentle practice eases your brain into German mode. After the simple sentences, imagine what you’d like to talk about that’s more complex—perhaps your future plans or something you’ve already done in the past so you can practice different tenses. Talking about how you feel about certain things is another good starting point because there are so many vocabulary words used to describe feelings that can give a conversation depth.
Extra Tip: Using this method before meeting with a tandem partner can be more beneficial than just jumping in and winging it. That’s because it gets you in the mentality of speaking in German rather than English. You can also ask your partner if the words you’re using are correct, and then you’ll just keep building on your vocabulary from there!
3. Read German Wikipedia Pages
Getting your hands on any published work, from German children’s books to German newspapers, is going to be beneficial for your vocabulary growth. One great alternative to typical reading material is to take a look at German Wikipedia articles.
If you’re like me, you might find yourself often surfing the internet and getting stuck in what I call a “Wikipedia Hole.”
Trivia is a fascinating thing, so why not use it to help you keep interest in learning German? For me personally, I found I’m often reading about celebrity lives, upcoming movies and art—many of which have a German equivalent of the English wiki page. Articles on German people, places, events and things will often have more information on the German language pages than any other, so this means you’ll be getting tons of important cultural knowledge you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.
Wikipedia, though not always factually accurate, is a terrific source for rich German vocabulary (and grammar) on just about any topic you want. Because you can choose exactly what you’d like to read about, you can easily pick up on new vocabulary words that are relevant to your interests. Being interested in the language you’re learning is key to someday becoming fluent, so keep yourself motivated by reading engaging web pages!
4. Label Things (Mentally or Physically)
Whether you’re on a train, in your car, at a park or even in your own room, a very good exercise is naming objects in your surroundings mentally. (Or even physically, but this should probably be done just in your room instead of out in public spaces. You can outsource your label-making for the most important German words by using a Vocabulary Stickers set, which gives you well over 100 words to put on items you use and see every day around your home and office.)
Think of the English name of the object, then think of the German word for it. Doing this helps your brain memorize and recognize differences in language. If you’re trilingual or a polyglot learning German, you can try doing the same in all the languages you know—it can prove to be surprisingly challenging!
You’ll mainly be naming nouns, so this is a very useful activity to do in order to memorize article genders of each noun. However, you can also name verbs when you see or hear any actions being performed. This particular activity helps identify very simple actions or nouns which perhaps you haven’t learned yet. It’s always best to learn the basics first in order to master anything harder later on.
5. Draw to Learn
For all the artists and stick-figure masters out there trying to learn German, drawing as you learn is another fun and relevant way to learn tough vocabulary words that seem to be harder to remember. When you’ve got a vocabulary word in mind you want to study, make an index card and, instead of writing the English word on the back, try to draw an illustration of the word.
The beneficial part of this exercise lies in the fact that you aren’t writing anything in English, therefore you aren’t necessarily translating English to German. Rather, you’re identifying a picture and connecting the right idea to the right German term.
One common error with learning languages is directly translating words from German to English, which doesn’t always work because words can have different connotations and meanings between languages. Knowing a concept rather than a freely-translated word can better help you accurately understand new vocabulary words, and therefore be beneficial when trying to speak and convey the correct ideas. I’
6. Read Comic Books in German
Reading any kind of proper writing is beneficial to expanding your vocabulary, but with foreign languages reading a comic book in particular may be a better option.
Even at an intermediate level of German, reading children’s books and young adult fiction books can still be quite a difficult way to keep up vocabulary. However, comic books always provide excitement through their colorful, splashy images, and also can give you clues through pictures as to what certain words may mean.
They’ll give you additional context clues with their pictures and phonetically-written sound effects, on top of the original sentences, to really help you learn new words.
Furthermore, comic books are often full of slang, idioms, expressions and humor, which keeps learning light and easy while still productive. The internet is full of resourceful websites that translate a variety of comics in German. For manga fans, Wie Manga is a decent website that has a large collection of popular Japanese manga translated to German.
7. Use FluentU’s Vocabulary Learning Tools
After reading about learning German with comics, you’re probably psyched about fun, colorful vocabulary learning methods. Here’s one more!
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.