Welcome to the language lost and found.
What are you looking for?
Did you misplace a stockpile of German vocabulary?
Or has your conjugation knowledge up and disappeared?
Maybe all that and more?
We’re here to help.
Relearning German is a unique goal that doesn’t always come easy. While there are tons of guides and resources out there for newbie German learners, there’s less for people who are trying to retrieve the German skills they once had.
That’s what this article aims to address.
If you’re looking to relearn German, keep reading! We’ve got five steps that’ll help you turn that jumbled German speech into respectable German you can be proud of. Again.
Did You “Forget” German?
The typical “re-learner” is someone who originally learned German early in life, either at home or at school, but has since forgotten what they once knew. You didn’t have to be fluent to be re-learning now.
Or, you might have a different language background. Maybe you could once understand German and can’t anymore. Or you had reached intermediate or advanced but now certain language skills have started to slip.
In other words, not everyone who’s relearning German “forgot” the same things or has the exact same goals going forward. Any of the following could apply to you:
- You learned German a while ago and want to refresh your memory
- Your language skills are on a plateau and you want to start making progress again
- You’re going to take a fluency test
- You’ve received a job offer or are looking for a job where German is required
- For whatever reason, you want to get back to the language!
No matter what reason drove you to come back to Deutsch (German), Willkommen! (Welcome!)
Know Your Starting Point
Since all relearners are different, it’s important to know your personal strengths and weaknesses before you start. If you’re wondering where you’re at in the scheme of things, check out this German level test. You can either fill out the 10 questions that pop up on the screen, or keep answering 10 more questions. The test requires that you enter your email address for results.
Part of re-building your language knowledge is understanding what blocks you already have to work with. If you know you’re lacking in certain areas, whether it’s pronunciation, comprehension, writing, etc., target them specifically to bring your proficiency to an equal level. It’s important to develop all skills, from reading and writing to speaking and conversing.
Once you know where to start, you should also establish where you want to be. Set goals for yourself. These can be time-oriented or based on skill proficiency. It’s ultimately up to you, but make sure you direct your learning from the get-go to make the most of your efforts.
In this post, we’ll focus specifically on four main language skills that are essential to German communication: reading, writing, speaking and listening. You might retain skills in some of those areas and be totally lost in others. That’s okay! Starting with this post is a step in the right direction already. Keep searching out helpful resources to guide your learning, and supplement your studies with audio, visual and socially-interactive practice.
Relearn German the Right Way with These Simple Steps
Here we go! Your relearning German journey has begun. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)
1. Review the German Grammar Fundamentals
Good ol’ German grammar. Yes, it’s a pain in every German student’s rear end, but it’s also the manual for the language itself. If you can’t understand at least the basics of German grammar, you’re going to have an incredibly hard time speaking, reading or writing with any confidence.
We explicitly chose to cover the following grammar topics because they’re the building blocks of the German language. Refreshing your knowledge of these specific points is the fastest way to get comfortable communicating again, putting you back on the road to fluency.
If you can demonstrate you haven’t forgotten these topics, then you can move straight on to more advanced concepts, like a typical German learner.
- Begin with noun conventions. Nouns are capitalized in German and are preceded either by the definite articles der, die or das (equivalents of “the” in English) or the indefinite articles ein or eine (equivalents of “a” in English). These articles change with case (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive). Here’s a step-by-step guide to that process if you need a refresher.
- Verbs are conjugated respective to the subject and change tense as needed. Some tenses require the helping verbs sein (to be) and haben (to have), which are then conjugated to the subject. To get yourself rolling, you can practice the conjugation of the most useful German verbs at Verbix.
- There are formulas that can help you remember German word order. For example, most sentences are structured this way: Subject, Verb, Indirect Object (dative), Direct Object. Additional information is organized in the order of Time Manner Place (TMP), or when, how and where something happened.
2. Stock Up on German Audio Material
According to Psychology Today, comprehension skills are often harder to forget than other language skills. That means you should have plenty of latent German listening power that you can reignite by immersing your ears in the sounds of the spoken language.
Try starting with German audiobooks for clear audio with one speaker that’ll keep you absorbed in a story. Choose German translations of books that you’ve read before and see if you can follow along and pick up crucial details. If you already know the plot, this is a great way to check your German language comprehension skills.
Then you can graduate to more casual and difficult material like German movies. With subtitles on or off per your preference, see how much of the storyline you can pick up with just visual cues and the German you do know.
German listening practice with FluentU actively pushes all your skills forward.
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.
In addition to active listening practice with a tool like FluentU, try getting a little passive listening in, as well. You can even play radio stations as background noise as you work, play or sleep.
The more you hear a language, the better you’ll become at picking out what’s being said, even if the speakers are talking at a fast rate. You’ll come across new vocabulary and since many radio stations are focused on edu-tainment (that is, education and entertainment in one), you’ll be engaged with many of the topics that are discussed.
3. Get Reading Again with Children’s Books
To polish the rust off your reading skills, first begin with short German children’s books. Many people consider children’s books to be simplistic, but the simplicity is actually a benefit when it comes to relearning a language. It’ll help you quickly identify the vocabulary or grammar tenants that you do or don’t remember in the context of an entertaining story you can follow.
Try reading without any help from a dictionary or translator and see how much you pick up. Then go back and fill in the gaps by looking up new words or plugging verbs into a German conjugation tool.
If you were able to soar through the book, try the same process with more complex texts like these easy novels and novellas.
4. Journal About Your Day
Writing in German is as important as expressing yourself verbally. To get the German words flowing from your brain to your fingertips again, practice keeping a daily journal.
The idea here isn’t just to start practicing writing again, but also to give you an excuse to communicate spontaneously in German everyday. The more you demand your brain to access those stored-away language skills, the easier it’ll be to relearn German you think you’ve forgotten.
The best way to begin is to write small response paragraphs in German about your day. True, first-year German students are probably writing in a journal as well. But while they’re practicing the introductory skills they’ve learned, you should push yourself to use words, expressions, idioms and complex grammar that you’ve learned or relearned thus far. You should already know more than they do, thus your writing should demonstrate that.
Most people who keep a journal like to look back at what they’ve written and reflect. You can do this with your German journal, too! Once a month has gone by, compare your first and latest entry. What do you remember, or what’s been refreshed in your memory, that you didn’t recall when you first began relearning German? Do you feel that you’ve made progress? If you’ve been studying hard and working to relearn your German-language skills, you should see your skills improving.
5. Record Yourself Speaking
Yes, it can be awkward to listen to your own voice. However, recording yourself speaking German is the most efficient way to catch your pronunciation mistakes and improve your overall speaking skills.
If you’re already part of a German language exchange, ask your speaking partner if they’re okay with you recording your conversations. Or you can simply record yourself talking out loud as you get dressed in the morning or drive to work.
Be sure to schedule dedicated study time for reviewing your recordings. Can you pick out where you stumbled? After thinking about what you tried to say, is there a better way to express the same thing? Evaluate your response and incorporate what you learn.
Can you speak German better now than you could even before? Language learning is a lifelong journey, so don’t sweat it. Just keep speaking German and one day you’ll be fluent!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.