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June 1, 2006 8:46 AM   Subscribe

My brother and I would like to learn German. Any book recommendations or other tips?

We don't know any Germans, so this is probably going to be an exercise in grammar and vocabulary to begin with. Are there any highly regarded teach-yourself books for beginners? Or perhaps useful websites or flashcard programs, or, well... anything? Danke sehr!
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Look into the Pimsleur method. For me it made learning Cantonese go from something I thought was almost impossible to something actually enjoyable and not too difficult.
posted by ducksauce at 9:03 AM on June 1, 2006

The Rosetta Stone is solid. It's almost a game.
posted by quadrinary at 9:21 AM on June 1, 2006

I started using Pimsleur (you can download German I on iTunes), but my life got in the way. I did find it effective for the week or so I used it.
posted by MeetMegan at 9:27 AM on June 1, 2006

Here ya go. (youtube link)
posted by wsg at 9:36 AM on June 1, 2006

This is probably too obvious, but can you take a trip to Germany? I probably learned more German in three weeks there, than I did in two years in school.
posted by normy at 9:49 AM on June 1, 2006

The most important thing that you will need is discipline. Pimsleur, textbooks and flash cards are all useless if you do them once a week. Whatever you do, try and do at least a little every day.
I don't know about German specifically, but this is what I usually do when I'm learning a language:
-Pimsleur audio courses
-A textbook for the grammar

I've never used software, but I do hear good things about The Rosetta Stone.

One note on the flashcards, unless you can find software that will run on your pda/phone, get physical ones. One of the good things about them is that you can carry them everywhere and use them when you've got a minute or two. If you do this whenever you're waiting for the bus or in a long line at the supermarket the time will add up quickly.

After you've worked on this for a while (The Pimsleur course for German is 90 half hour lessons, so this can be a useful benchmark if you do one daily), then you can try reading German newspapers and watching German television shows (you can probably find somewhere to download these). This will be difficult at first, at this point if not before you'll want a good dictionary, write down any words that you don't know on your flash cards.

Finally, go to Germany, for a few weeks if possible. I see that you're in Cambridge, depending on whether that's the original one, or the one in Massachusets this will be either fairly easy or very expensive.

Good luck!
posted by atrazine at 9:51 AM on June 1, 2006

Does anyone know whether it's doable (or practical) to rip a purchased Pimsleur CD to MP3 and listen on an iPod?

I'm very interested, but don't have a portable CD player.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:51 AM on June 1, 2006

Check out the Goethe Institute (they have a chapter in Boston). Fun place to hang out and speak German as well as take courses. You can also travel to a Goethe Institute in Germany for immersion. They have distance learning and online tests for placement.
posted by jeanmari at 9:51 AM on June 1, 2006

bah. Should've previewed. I suspect that many of us have had similar experiences to normy's, but take into account that making that kind of trip without any preparation is not likely to work very well.
posted by atrazine at 9:53 AM on June 1, 2006

jeff-o-matic, it's doable and practical to rip to mp3, but not really to an iPod. The Pimsleur course requires you to speak a lot as well, and this can't really be done while you're walking down the street (I guess maybe it could...). More importantly, don't do it with headphones, hearing yourself speak is quite important to developing decent pronounciation.
posted by atrazine at 9:56 AM on June 1, 2006


I'm buying the iTunes French version right now. I guess I'll try it out with my laptop speakers, blabbering away at my monitor in an empty room.

I'm planning a trip to Paris in October and know zero French. I can get by with simple stuff in Spanish, so I might try out the Spanish series if the French goes well.

I'll reply to this thread later and tell how it goes.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:17 AM on June 1, 2006

I haven't checked it out myself yet, but I had my last German class of the semester yesterday and my professor recommended Schaum's German Grammar as being the standard for grammar practice.

You may want to start out by trying to translate some passages to get an initial feel for the rhythm of German sentences. This book has many short and simple passages, as well has a nice summary of basic grammar.
posted by bubukaba at 10:20 AM on June 1, 2006

Does anyone know whether it's doable (or practical) to rip a purchased Pimsleur CD to MP3 and listen on an iPod?

I did it with Spanish I. There are 15 CDs, so it was a lot of time and a lot of work. And the end result was about a GB of files.
posted by smackfu at 10:26 AM on June 1, 2006

It's not necessarily for beginners, but once you get a few months in and have a solid base of vocabulary, this grammar book is priceless - good, clear topical explanations in very managable sections with thorough exercises. Good to have a look at what you're studying in your text book/audio lesson/whatever alongside for clarification, and for brushing up on things you've forgotten. Don't forget to get the Lösungsschlüssel (answer key - d'oh). Mach's gut!
posted by xanthippe at 11:13 AM on June 1, 2006

I have read that some people download torrents and thus avoid paying for those effective but perhaps overpriced Pimsleur courses. The size of all three levels -- German I, II, and III -- would, it is said, fit on just three CDs with good sound quality, and therefore would work nicely on even the smallest portable mp3 players.

Pimsleur purposely stays away from books because they want you to learn like a native -- listening to and repeating sounds -- but you can always get a book anyway.
posted by pracowity at 11:23 AM on June 1, 2006

I really like the Pimsleur courses too. Check out; they have good prices, and they will buy them back when you're done with them. You can also get them in audio chip format.
posted by Wet Spot at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2006

Some useful suggestions for learning a language on your own here.
posted by Wet Spot at 12:27 PM on June 1, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the leads, everybody. I looked into Pimsleur and The Rosetta Stone (which doesn't seem to have changed one bit since I used it 11 years ago on a Mac to learn Spanish!) and they're somewhat pricey. I am indeed in Britain so a trip to Germany isn't out of the question at some point in the future.

I should have mentioned that I'm an extremely visually-oriented (textually, specifically) learner, i.e. I can eat up academic writing but the thought of 15 CDs worth of audio fills me with dread. On the other hand, my brother is the exact opposite so he's telling me the CDs are worth it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 12:34 PM on June 1, 2006

Listen to German Hip-Hop.
Lately I am delighting fellow motorists with "Troy." (translation here)
posted by Methylviolet at 1:11 PM on June 1, 2006

whoa. Sorry about the mix-up. Here is the Goethe Institut in London...
posted by jeanmari at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2006

If you are a visual learner, perhaps German comics or magazines might help.
posted by jeanmari at 1:30 PM on June 1, 2006

The best way to get the Pimsleur CD is to buy them used off eBay, and then sell them there when you're done. If you're lucky, you might even make money on the transaction.
posted by smackfu at 2:16 PM on June 1, 2006

You might want to try some podcasts
posted by klue at 2:28 PM on June 1, 2006

Check your local library for Pimsleur if you don't want to pay for the (rather expensive) CDs, or just to try them out. If you do buy them, as smackfu says, they have a fair resale value.

hoverboards don't work on water, I am very very visually oriented as well and usually cannot learn well from lectures, etc. But Pimsleur works well for me. However, I used a book and flash cards with each lesson -- I would look up words and write them down after I've done the lesson, because I still need to visualize them. (This is generally NOT recommended at the earlier stages of Pimsleur because most people will start "reading" and thus mispronouncing the words if they see rather than hear them. In my case I think I have been able to avoid that by learning to hear them before I look them up.) Pimsleur does really help you "think" in the language. I have only good things to say about it, really.

You still have to use the language to keep it from getting rusty, of course. I think that's always true with any learning strategy.
posted by litlnemo at 2:50 PM on June 1, 2006

Oh, also regarding Rosetta Stone, check your local library for that too -- many libraries, both here and in the UK (or so I've been told) have it available on their websites for registered library card holders to use. For example, the King County Library System here in Washington State has it, and if you have a KCLS card you can use Rosetta Stone for free via the website. You don't even have to be at the library. (Seattle Library doesn't have it, darn it.)

I think Rosetta Stone is an interesting complement to Pimsleur. Pimsleur really teaches you to react and speak in the language -- but Rosetta Stone's weak point, I think, is the speaking. But you will learn a lot with it anyway. (I'm going through it in Latin now, which is odd because it's definitely not the normal way to learn Latin... and at first, I thought it was kind of awful, but I'm actually learning a lot more than I thought I would.) If you can access it via a library, it's worth trying out to see how you like it, but try to get well into it before deciding.
posted by litlnemo at 2:56 PM on June 1, 2006

I liked this online German course at the BBC.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:17 PM on June 1, 2006

I have been teaching myself German for the past 3 years. (Note my handle.) Though I have yet to venture to Deutschland; that comes in the fall. Would be sooner if not for the World Cup chaos around the corner.

The best way I have found is to immerse yourself via as many ways as possible.

I am using the Rosetta Stone Level 1 for German. But it's pricey at around $175. I also listen to German music in the form of German Singspiel (Opera) and Lieder (Schubert wrote an assload). This helps me recall phrases since they're related to melody.

Try reading Wikipedia in German; just click the language links to the left of any article. I rented audio learning CDs from my library; bought iTunes language tracks. I know iTunes has at least one German news podcast, specifically spoken clearly for new speakers.

Books and workbooks from used bookstores are affordable. Labeling objects helps. And at early stages, learn a lot of vocabulary of "things", you can at least BS your way a little bit as long as you know the nouns. Verb stuff is wackier. And all Nouns are capitalized! It's hard to forgot the fun ones: Handschuh = glove. i.e. Hand Shoe!

Great online dictionaries:

Online flashcards and more:

Beyond dictionaries, check out this German Vocabulary book of the top 2000 words to learn, followed by a 2001-4000 next set in the same book. It's grouped into categories within, like Stores, Technology, Adverbs, etc.

Amazon won't find it by its name, so punch this in:
ISBN: 3468494009

Haben Sie viel Spaß!
posted by umlaut at 6:05 PM on June 1, 2006

Has anybody tried the CDs from Earworms learning yet? I'm super-curious to know if they really do work well.
posted by oldtimey at 10:00 PM on June 1, 2006

oldtimey, thanks for mentioning the Earworms CDs. I hadn't heard of them yet. I've downloaded one from iTunes and I'm trying it out. I can't say whether it works yet (I'm trying it with French, and I only know a few phrases in that language). It probably doesn't hurt to try it, but I don't think it's going to be as effortless as they claim.
posted by litlnemo at 4:54 PM on June 3, 2006

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