Nu Klar!
June 13, 2006 4:57 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn German. By which I mean I want to do anything that will lead, in the long term, to fluency (by which I mean well enough to live a full life in a German speaking country some day). I have absolutely no experience. I am not a "busy professional" who wants to "learn the basics of communication". I'll be taking Introductory German in college next year (I don't know what textbook they'll be using, or I'd buy that). I have a summer free of distraction (except for a 40 hour workweek) and approximately $50 at the moment (though lets say $100 for the purposes of conversation). What should I do?
posted by phrontist to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I bought the basic Pimsleur German I course from iTunes. I think it was about $20. It's pretty good and it'll give you a good introduction to German and if you're relatively free of distraction you can actually learn from it since you can listen to it consistently.
posted by MeetMegan at 5:03 PM on June 13, 2006

Get the Fokus Deutsch books from your local lib and follow these videos.
posted by Gyan at 5:05 PM on June 13, 2006

One idea: buy any sort of used introductory German text and a German-English dictionary [you can use web-dictionaries like, but you'll need a real one eventually.] Spend a while working through the exercises on your own, and when you're starting to feel a little comfortable, see if you can find some German kids' books. There's often a fair amount of emphasis on speaking in German courses in college. That kind of stuff is obviously harder to practice on your own - you might not be able to find anyone to speak to, or to correct your pronunciation. However, if you work at it this summer, you'll should be able to get a good head start in reading and writing, and you'll be able to focus more on speaking and listening when you're in a class and have classmates and a professor to work with. There are also plenty of video-based courses, but those may or may not work well with your learning style.
posted by ubersturm at 5:08 PM on June 13, 2006

I've never attempted to learn German, but I've been studying Japanese (both in college at first, and now on my own) for 3 years.

There's threee pieces of general advice you need to know: get an integrated course, get a good electronic dictionary, and don't slack off.

By integrated course, I mean a respectable textbook, accompanying workbook, and listening CDs. The listening CDs don't necessarily have to be part of course but it may help if they are. Integrated also means if you can't live in the country quite yet, that you need to surround yourself with the language as much as possible. Put up German posters, watch subtitled and un-subtitled movie and television (I like watching subbed first, and then un-subbed to see if I can pick up words).

I'm not sure who makes the best electronic German< ->English dictionaries, so you're on your own with that one . I'm sure some MeFites will be able to help with that one.

As for slacking off... I mean it! If you can only devote 30 min a day to learning that's fine, just make sure you're doing it every day! And use every single spare minute you have to learn. Keep a few flashcards with you and just flash one or two in the elevator, on the train, etc. Listen to the CDs in your car or while cleaning. That theory is essentially taken from Barry Farber's How To Learn Any Language.
posted by Ekim Neems at 5:09 PM on June 13, 2006

Play around with the language lessons at Deutsche Welle. They also have a slowly read version of the news every day that can be downloaded. And it's all free!
posted by bim at 5:13 PM on June 13, 2006

The Pimsleur and the no slacking are good advice, plus, I think it really really helps to learn songs in German. Seriously! Do you have a local German restaurant? They just might have beer-drinking songs to teach you. Buy some Rammstein albums, or sing Bach arias, depending on your taste...
posted by ibeji at 5:26 PM on June 13, 2006

don't slack off

This is absolutely the most important thing. Whatever course you choose, do some every day. And expose yourself to German any way you can; find a radio station and have it on in the background whenever possible (don't worry about listening carefully and trying to understand, just get accustomed to the sound), and rent German movies and watch them. If you can find a German to practice with, do that too. Use it every day. At first it will be painful and halting, but don't let that stop you. By the end of the summer you may be advanced enough to skip Intro and go straight into the next class (that's what I did with Russian in college, after self-teaching for a summer). Viel Glück!
posted by languagehat at 5:35 PM on June 13, 2006

I was once almost fluent in German, and my advice would be to try to find a teacher that stresses oral communication. You might be suprised how many language teachers think a semester of memorizing verb forms will somehow lead to fluency.

Have fun in class, don't be afraid to speak and participate in class and don't worry about using the exact right word when speaking or writing. Too many classmates got caught up on this.

posted by efalk at 5:51 PM on June 13, 2006

Also, I never really learned to speak German until I travelled there. After 3 years of classes, one month there kind of made it all fit together. Maybe have a goal of learning enough to do basic things well, like travelling, light discussion, etc. and plan for a trip there in a few years as a reward for reaching your goal.
posted by efalk at 5:55 PM on June 13, 2006

Get a tutor. Its the only way I really learned the language. . . Wow, I see that you live in D.C. Hmmm. . . I have a great suggestion for a tutor who charges pretty cheap rates. She's the greatest (and a hardass too!). I will add my E-mail to my profile presently. Email me.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:04 PM on June 13, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Goethe Institute.

They have a section of the site devoted to learning German. A co-worker of mine was able to get a full time immersion program scholarship without any previous German language experience at all and ended up living in Munich studying German full time for about a year.

For what you are talking about, this might be your best bet. The Goethe Institute exist specifically to promote the German language and educating non-German speakers in how to read, write and speak German.

This question was the first time I had actually looked at their web page and I'm actually quite impressed. I speak a paltry amount of German (I didn't starve or get lost in Vienna when I went... or go without beer of coffee) and I'm a little old (40) to consider this myself, but wow, if I were 21 and just finishing college, or better yet, 18 and just finishing high school, this very well would be on the top of my list of things to try and do with my life.
posted by smallerdemon at 6:40 PM on June 13, 2006

I AM fluent in German and took years and years in high school & college - went there, have close friends there. What clinched it for me (my accent is pretty good these days) - was listening to German music. Buy it. Listen to it. Sing along with it. It sticks in your brain better than any language lab type stuff. You remember it, you immitate it. I'm not sure it matters what, as long as the pronunciation is decent. My daughter has learned more from Rammstein than she ever did from class. Plus, you WANT to translate it so you know what you're singing (unless it's Rammstein).
posted by clarkstonian at 6:41 PM on June 13, 2006

Oh! Dang it, I forgot to mention... fire up iTunes and go to the Podcast directory and click on "International" in the subject listing. There are hundreds of German language podcast. When I was preparing for my trip to Austria I downloaded and listened to various German podcast to get myself used to hearing and trying to understand real German speakers speaking at a normal pace and using regular language. I didn't understand most of it, but after a while I started to at least get an idea of what they were discussing and I will say it really did make me feel a lot more comfortable when I finally ended up having to speak German on my trip (I had three years of German in college from age 24-27, so it had been a while since I studied, so this was enormously useful for me).
posted by smallerdemon at 6:46 PM on June 13, 2006

Ok, my last post and I'm going to shut the hell up. :)

According to your profile, you live in Washington, D.C.

Goethe institue has classes there. Here is the schedule and the pricing.

A little more than you have, but... you know, it might be worth it to ask a relative for a loan if this is something you're really devoted to. (My city has it too, and I'm seriously pondering this now.)
posted by smallerdemon at 6:53 PM on June 13, 2006

If you're feeling adventurous, you could try firing up Skype and finding some friendly Germans for conversation.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:13 PM on June 13, 2006

Immersion is one of the best ways to learn any language, but this is hard to do short of going to Germany. However, you can listen to internet radio or get yourself some dvds of German films and create your own immersion course.
posted by boring_prophet at 8:08 PM on June 13, 2006

Response by poster: I never really learned to speak German until I travelled there.

I've been to Germany several times (five or six at least), at the longest three months when I was in fourth grade. My college has a very cool exchange program with Fachhoschule Karlsruhe. I plan to go my junior year, and perhaps the summer before as well (so, two years from now).

In the mean time, my mother speaks German fluently, and I'll try to befriend some German students in college.

Buy some Rammstein albums, or sing Bach arias, depending on your taste...

Big Rammstein fan! KMFDM und Der Fantastischen Vier as well. Part of the reason I want to learn German is the music, specifically the greatest musical group of all time:

KRAFTWERK! Saw them live last year, currently have around 350 seperate tracks of theirs. I think I know every word of every translation of every song (then again, I only know what they mean thanks to the english versions).

I'll look in to the Goethe institute, thanks for all the tips, keep them coming.
posted by phrontist at 8:17 PM on June 13, 2006

Response by poster: Sadly, the Goethe institute is probably out, as I have a job that I would get out of at 5 the earilest in Manassas. It would be totally insane to get in to the middle of DC in under an hour.
posted by phrontist at 8:24 PM on June 13, 2006

Response by poster: lus, you WANT to translate it so you know what you're singing (unless it's Rammstein).

Yeah, I remember explaining to someone what all those songs meant (I found translations on a fan website), and they were quite taken aback. Particularly about Mein Teil.
posted by phrontist at 8:26 PM on June 13, 2006

You can download the first 6 lessons of the Foreign Service Institute's German course here. I have Barron's FSI German course (a repackaged version of the government course with a few extra audio bits about German culture - it cost ~$50) and thus far it seems pretty good, if a bit outdated.
posted by pmann at 10:39 PM on June 13, 2006

I am fluent in German, and did it in two 7-week summer sessions in Middlebury, VT. I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that there are *very* few places better than the Middlebury Language School for learning languages, including Germany (as natives will often be eager to speak English there).

You sign a pledge on the first day promising to use only German for all forms of communication, and you go from there.


It's expensive - $5850 or so for tuition, room and board (required, as you eat, drink, and live with the other members of the German school), but they offer considerable financial aid if you apply early enough (Get your application in as close to Jan. 1st as possible, even if it's incomplete. Send in updates as you finish your taxes).

There are few more dedicated and fantastic teachers than at this school, and it's a pretty life-altering experience.

The German school is still accepting applications for this summer, but you won't get financial aid.
posted by sdis at 1:06 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I wonder where all the german MeFi's are? I am german, and i'll gladly offer any help. e.g. if you need something locally.
My eMail: michasvision at gmail dot com.
posted by germanguy at 1:44 AM on June 14, 2006

I'm currently using Pimsleur to learn Irish. It's VERY good if you can listen to it without distraction, in a place where you can repeat out loud.
posted by antifuse at 2:33 AM on June 14, 2006

Previously... I posted about a good grammar book in that thread, though i agree one learns fastest through speaking and as much immersion as feasible.

Having the TV on is a great suggestion as well - it helps get you acclimated to the sound and rhythm of the language while you're too busy to actively attend to it, and this will improve your speaking. Also, try to read as much as possible without a dictionary (it's encouraging to realize how much you actually understand, even in the very beginning) - especially tabloids, fitness magazines etc. that have more colloquial language. Highlight words and make a list to look up later, if you must. Movies: try watching a German film, or even an English-language one, with the subtitles turned on in German first, and then switch to the audio when you're able to understand the written language well enough. Take a little notebook with you when you go see German films at the cinema.

My university in the States had a weekly Stammtisch in the German department, where natives, students and anyone else got together for beverages and chatting. I'm sure you can find something like this in your area as well. Don't hesitate to interact with people because your German isn't good enough yet; if you walk away from a conversation with a few new phrases or a contextual way to remember something you learned in your text book, you've benefitted, and you'll be surprised how much more quickly you move along when you're doing this.
posted by xanthippe at 2:33 AM on June 14, 2006

"Also, try to read as much as possible without a dictionary (it's encouraging to realize how much you actually understand, even in the very beginning) - especially tabloids, fitness magazines etc. that have more colloquial language. "

I had my husband pick up a German copy of the first Harry Potter book when he was in Hamburg last year. It really is easier to muddle through than I expected, though I am still pretty slow at it. For fun I tried to translate part of it back to English, then compared it to the original J.K. Rowling text to see how I did. :)
posted by litlnemo at 4:25 AM on June 14, 2006

phrontist, if you want more German music to listen to, I'd suggest checking out In Extremo. [Rock/metal stuff based on medieval songs. A lot of people enjoy it, I've found.] If folk-type stuff is of any interest, Ougenweide, Sparifankal, and Parzival might be worth checking out. For medieval folk, Corvus Corax [though some of their songs are in other languages or medieval versions thereof, a fair number are in German.] Unfortunately, I can't think of anyone else quite like Kraftwerk to recommend to you...
posted by ubersturm at 11:04 AM on June 16, 2006

Tune in to one of the many German language radio stations listed at, a directory of radio stations across the world.
posted by concourse at 9:39 PM on June 17, 2006

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