The Complete Guide to Total German Immersion for Anyone, Anywhere
There is no denying that the best way to learn any language is to live in the place where it is actually spoken. And that is because of something called immersion.
What it means is that you completely surround yourself with (or immerse yourself in) your target language in such a way that your everyday life happens exclusively in that language, in this case, German.
However, what if I told you that you can have almost all the language-learning benefits of living in Germany without actually leaving the place where you live?
This guide will tell you the best ways to experience instant German immersion at home so that you can see your skills rapidly increase.
- Why Complete Immersion Is the Best Way to Learn German
- How to Build Yourself an Immersive German Environment (Wherever You Are)
- 1. Make a commitment
- 2. Gather your learning material
- 3. Put vocabulary Post-it notes on everything
- 4. Find a language partner or tutor
- 5. Watch German videos
- 6. Practice listening comprehension
- 7. Practice reading in German
- 8. Start writing in German
- 9. Use a German-German dictionary
- 10. Try to translate everyday conversations in your head
- 11. Play a game
- 12. Experience the culture through food
Why Complete Immersion Is the Best Way to Learn German
It’s a natural way of learning
Nobody is born with fluency. Remember how you learned your first language as a child? By observing your environment, listening to other people speak and imitating what they said.
Therefore, if you are surrounded by German 24/7, you will naturally pick up on a lot of things, many of which you would never find in a textbook.
Learning opportunities are everywhere
Imagine your everyday activities all had to happen in German. Whether it’s going to the bakery, shopping in a supermarket, conversing with your coworkers, watching movies on TV or in the cinema, or ordering a beer after work. If each of these instances required you to speak German, how much do you think that would accelerate your learning?
You learn real-life German
Being completely surrounded by native speakers will teach you German as it is actually spoken, not just as it is taught within textbooks. This includes slang, dialects, loan words and everything else that makes languages more alive and interesting. For example, do you think any textbook would ever teach you these weird German words?
There are no excuses
When you learn German as a hobby, there are always excuses not to speak it. Especially lack of opportunity. I mean if you go out in your non-German-speaking home country, you can hardly expect to talk to your friends in your new language over dinner, right?
Not so much when you are surrounded by natives. Granted, it is perfectly possible to sit at your desk at home all day and browse Facebook even if you do move to Germany, but at some point, you will have to go out.
It helps overcome fears of speaking
Not wanting to make a fool of oneself has kept many people from talking to strangers in an unfamiliar tongue.
However, the only way to get over any fear is to confront it. Speaking German to natives on a regular basis will take care of your inhibitions quicker than learning long lists of vocabulary ever could. It will also make you progress faster.
There is direct practical value to your skill
One of the main reasons why people fail at learning German or any other language is because they don’t use their new skills.
Learning German is about communicating with other people. And guess what? When you are in a German-speaking country, you can communicate with everyone. You can have a friendly chat with your neighbor, make friends with the bartender in your favorite dive bar or randomly talk to strangers. The possibilities are endless.
However, let’s come back to the (quite valid) point that maybe you can not just leave for Germany, Switzerland or Austria. Then what are you to do? Don’t worry, you can still have the immersion experience.
How to Build Yourself an Immersive German Environment (Wherever You Are)
If you won’t come to Germany, Germany will have to come to you. If you find yourself unable to travel to a German-speaking country, with the right tools, a targeted approach and some willpower, you can imitate the experience of immersion.
1. Make a commitment
The difference between building yourself an immersive German environment and actually being in a German-speaking country is that it takes an extra bit of discipline. It is up to you to construct a learning environment around yourself, whilst if you were in Germany, it would happen automatically.
Therefore in order to pull this off, you really have to make a commitment. If possible, put some accountability in place. Make a bet with someone, make it a game or find some other way that stops you from falling off the German wagon.
Always ask yourself “What would I do to get better at German if I was actually in Germany? How can I simulate the same thing here?”
2. Gather your learning material
Put together material for your own personal curriculum. Start with a good German textbook as a foundation. Supplement it with German learning apps and research shortcuts to learning German.
I also recommend using mnemonics for better retention. Especially for beginners, there are also good resources on how to pronounce problematic German sounds.
3. Put vocabulary Post-it notes on everything
To an outsider, it will seem as though you’re either extremely forgetful or just super obsessed with the decorative power of Post-it notes, but, I promise, this really does work.
Make sure to include the articles of the nouns you’re post-it-ing so you can memorize the gender as well! It might seem odd, but if you look down at der Tisch every time you sit at your table, or stare up at die Küche every time you enter the kitchen, sooner or later these words and their genders are bound to sink in.
4. Find a language partner or tutor
One of the most crucial parts when building yourself an immersive environment is to make sure you actually speak German as early as possible.
Unless by chance you have a German family living nearby which is willing to host you, your best bet is to find a German tutor or language partner. Speak as much as you can, even if you just started out! Direct feedback from native speakers is the quickest way to progress.
You could also try finding a local Stammtisch!
Stammtisch, literally means “root table.” More normally it translates to “table for regular guests.” Either way, it refers to a group of people who get together at an establishment to chat, and there’s nothing like practicing German with other learners (and, if you’re lucky, a few native speakers) after one or two beers.
To find one, try contacting the German department of universities in your area; most will either help run a Stammtisch, or will have the information of those in your area who do.
5. Watch German videos
A great way to immerse yourself in German is to watch German movies and TV shows to further your education.
As a German learner, you have a huge advantage going for you. Unlike streaming TV from many other countries (I’m looking at you, BBC!) you needn’t worry about breaking any laws or performing any technical tricks to get a hold of the German feed. To get started, try the Mediathek channel or ZDF!
German subtitles are key here. Sometimes the speech can be very fast, but reading along will help keep you engaged and motivated.
You could also try using a modern language learning program that is focused on authentic content.
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.
To keep things fresh, FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and recommends further lessons and videos based on what you've already studied.
This way, you have a truly personalized learning experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)
6. Practice listening comprehension
No need to walk the streets of a German city to hear native speakers talk. Plenty of resources for German listening practice are available online. And that is not even including German podcasts or music tracks.
Additionally, many German books are available in audio form and can be found on the internet.
7. Practice reading in German
No matter where you live, it is possible to switch all of your reading material to German. You can start off with something easy like German books for children and then branch out as needed.
Take to Twitter, read German blogs, get into the classics of German literature and follow German news. If you encounter words you don’t understand, there is a collection of handy German dictionary apps.
For an extra challenge, you could also change the language settings of your cell phone. That sense of urgency—I have to understand this important message! I have to be able to navigate to My Contacts quickly!—will translate into faster learning.
You can also try reading a book you’ve read before in English, and grab a German copy! The plot points with which you’re already familiar will help fill in the gaps between all that new vocabulary.
8. Start writing in German
Writing is a great way to get a better grasp of German. To get into the habit, you can either practice with a language partner or find a German pen pal. Believe it or not, there are plenty of people out there who would love to correct your first German sentences in exchange for whichever language you have to offer.
Who knows, maybe you will even make some actual German friends.
Do you keep a journal or diary? If not, now’s the time to start. Go home and write in your journal, documenting how your day went. The catch? Write the entire recollection in German.
9. Use a German-German dictionary
…instead of an English-German one, that is!
You don’t want to be translating things between German and English all the time. You want to switch your brain over to complete and total German mode.
This might be annoying at first, but it really is a good way to prevent your brain from lazily forgetting the vocabulary word that you just looked up.
Additionally (from a more specific grammatical point of view) looking up things in a dictionary increases your exposure to, and thus familiarity with, relative clauses, as this is how dictionaries usually operate.
10. Try to translate everyday conversations in your head
You might look a little funny, lost in thought and muttering to yourself in German as you’re leaving the grocery store, but if you can reproduce the short conversation you just had with the girl behind the till you’ll be one step closer to achieving practical language skills in German.
Keep in mind (or jot down in a notepad) the things that you can’t quite translate. You’ll fill in those gaps one by one. Don’t just stand there stuck though—if you run into trouble with translating a particular word or phrase, dance linguistically around it. Find other ways to explain what you mean in German without using the missing word.
This is a fantastic way to become more creative and flexible with your German usage.
11. Play a game
Everybody likes games. Of course, there are about a million language learning apps out there, (Duolingo is a pretty good one) but you could also play an actual, physical game like memory, charades, etc., provided you find another willing participant!
If you complete a short language game every day, that’s easily the equivalent of one hour of study a week.
You could even try playing video games in German, which will help you practice your listening and reading skills
12. Experience the culture through food
A good way of getting a better feel for another country is to experience its culture through food. Read up on German dishes, find some recipes and try to do them at home.
Additionally, many cities and towns have restaurants or delis that are run by German-speaking people. Complete a search online to locate these establishments. Yelp is your friend here.
Buy your groceries at these places and eat out at German establishments. Ask if you would be able to speak German with the workers and see if they have menus or food signs in German.
Completely immersing yourself in a language is the best way to get good at it quickly. It is a natural and comprehensive way of learning that allows you to use your new skills in real life immediately.
If you do not have the time or means to get yourself to a German-speaking country, there are ways to imitate the experience in your own environment. Tools for immersing yourself in German are freely available, it is only up to you to put them together.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.