Easiest way to learn German?
August 11, 2017 10:35 PM   Subscribe

What is the easiest and most constructive way to learn German? Would it be best to start with the prononucitations first, since they seem the most difficult to grapple with? Should one learn how to spell it first or speak it first? Is a tutor worth the financial investment and time? How long does it usually take to learn casual German? Thanks.
posted by RearWindow to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to learn a language is 'all at once' instead of focussing on one element at a time.

I'm a languages teacher (although I teach Spanish, my colleagues teach German) and the way we start kids is with basics they can immediately put to use. For instance, hello, my name is, how are you.. then we add as we go. Numbers, colours, etc.

Duolingo is a fantastic tool to get you started, and there are lots of language teaching websites out there.

Consume as much German language media as you can- music, news, etc. It's important to learn pronunciation, but also the link between sound and the letters on the page.

It's probably easier to learn to consume (read, hear) a language than to produce (speak, write).
posted by freethefeet at 10:48 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

German and English are.... well, very closely related. Many of the words and conjugations/tenses are similar (Trinken, Trank, Getrunken = Drink, Drank, get drunken (heh!) ). German gets tricky in the details and those can only really be learned by memorization.

You should be basically conversational in a few weeks or so, depending on how fast you can memorize vocabulary and noun/verb agreements and so on.

Pronunciations are easy. Speak german like a german person speaks english. There are some differences, but... they are easy. It's the verb tenses that will give the most fits - because it's a lot like english, except when its not, so you need to learn to suppress your instincts sometimes.

I never needed a tutor. Flashcards were key - it's lots of just remembering the simple things : madchen is a female subject, but a neuter noun. Plus, nominative/accusative/dative cases complicate things further (der/die/das/die = den/die/das/die = dem/der/dem/den). It just takes practice, that is the only way.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:58 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Exposure to the language will help immensely. Look for movies and podcasts and YouTube vlogs in German; put them on as much as possible - fill your background-noise with German; that'll help you start sorting out the sounds and the rhythm even before you have any vocabulary.

A tutor is likely not worth the money unless an app like duolingo just flat-out doesn't work for you, and you learn really well in face-to-face settings. But there are a lot of free and cheap language-learning resources; even if you're in a hurry, you should try some of those before looking to throw real money around.

How long it takes to learn a casual version of the language depends on (1) your definition of casual and (2) your innate/trained language-learning talent. Some people master tourist-level conversation in a couple of weeks. ("Where is the hotel? How much does it cost? Thank you. I am here until Thursday. Two beers, please.") Others take months to get that far - it depends on how much time you put into it, and how well you pick up languages.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:26 AM on August 12, 2017

I was a German tutor for several years. I've learned to use two foreign languages fluently as a teenager and two more at an intermediate level.

The best method for learning German depends on a few things.
- What do you need German for? The answer will be very different depending on whether you need German for travel in a German-speaking country or whether you want to read German poetry or whether you want to use German in your job.
- What type of learner are you? Do you need a lot of structure or are you comfortable with picking bits and pieces of a foreign language here and there? How important is it for you to learn to use correct forms vs just getting your general meaning across? How self-directed are you?

From my own experience: I am a systematic learner and learning "bits and pieces" without a solid framework of grammar just isn't appealing for me so personally, when learning a foreign language, I pick a comprehensive study book that is heavy on grammar and structures as well as examples of everyday language. And then I spend time at least a few times a week studying, trying to learn structures that I can later use when speaking. I memorize useful phrases and then try to build as many interesting sentences as I can using those phrases.

A book I liked and used for many years with my students (although I used the previous edition):

I would recommend either a tutor or a language partner (preferably a native speaker) for at least a few months so that you learn proper pronunciation and language habits.

If you are a more bits-and-pieces learner then interactive websites/apps are great.

In any case, I'd recommend listening to German songs, news in German, German movies with English subtitles. Immersion works, and is fun.
posted by M. at 12:56 AM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would agree with M. — German has some grammatical quirks that are difficult to pick up through immersion but which you can memorise quite easily. It also has a different syntax to English, so having someone to help you with this is helpful.

Having said all this, German is a Germanic language just like English, so if you are comfortable with English, German isn't that hard to pick up. Obviously, it depends on why you need to learn German but it's not a big leap from English to German (compared to, say, English to Turkish).
posted by kariebookish at 4:17 AM on August 12, 2017

A tutor would be helpful, if for no other reason than to help you work through the confusing gendering of nouns.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:24 AM on August 12, 2017

If you have a specific reason you're learning German, eg for family/friend from a specific area, or for a trip planned to a specific town, make sure the tools/lessons/tutors are specific to that regional dialect. For a native speaker they're not all that different, but as someone who learned a bit of German in classes, I found I could only really understand media with accents similar to my teacher's.
posted by aimedwander at 8:18 AM on August 12, 2017

I finished the Duolingo German course in about three months. I wouldn't say I'm great, but I understand a lot of written German now. (I'm not good at understanding spoken language, even in ones I'm quite fluent in.) So I'd say 4-5 months, enough to go through the entire course once and then go back and hit some weak points again), would be enough for you to read the news.

Writing or speaking depends on how you're planning to use the language. If you want to talk to people, learn to speak. If you want to read and write, learn spelling and grammar.

If you choose to learn grammar, Essential German Grammar by Stern and Bleiler is the book you want.

Unless you have a significant financial interest in learning to speak the language in a very short time frame, I don't see how you could justify paying for a tutor.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:15 PM on August 12, 2017

It's been said already, but I just want to repeat that pronunciation is unlikely to be the hard part. German pronunciation is very regular -- once you know the rules, you can sound out a word from its spelling with high accuracy, much more so than in (say) English or French. There are only a few unfamiliar sounds (of which the "ch" after a light vowel is probably the hardest, if your only inventory of sounds is from English).

Two months into learning German, I could have read aloud convincingly from Der Spiegel -- without understanding half the words coming out of my mouth.
posted by aws17576 at 6:53 PM on August 12, 2017

posted by Amalie-Suzette at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2017

there isn't. Also there aren't many good books. For beginning, the BBC series is excellent, especially the very realistic vocabulary. That'll get you to intermediate. You'll need Hammer's German Grammar, no way round it. The only good grammar workbook is Die Neue Gelbe, despite its weird sadistic sentences (the ones you work on or translate or whatever. You won't notice at first, then it gets weird). In addition, the Dictionary of German Synonyms book by Martin Durrell is good but not his follow-on ones, just the original one, and the Collins German Translation Dictionary. I luckily found a one-way langenscheidt dictionary german-english, way lighter than the unnecessary both-directions one, never seen one since. German's standard dictionary is the Duden, like your Webster, but i didn't find any great variation in quality across bilingual dictionaries, any will do if it's not terrible.
posted by maiamaia at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2017

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