Gute Tageszeit! In this article, we will talk about the features of the German language, the tips for learning it, and the resources that will help you on this difficult path. After reading our guide, you can begin learning German from scratch or start improving your existing knowledge.
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Compound nouns. The abundance of long nouns in German is almost legendary. At the sight of words like Freundschaftsbezeugungdisplay of friendly feelingspeople immediately want to leave this language alone. In fact, these words are several separate ones stuck together. Freundschaft is “friendship” and bezeugen is“to demonstrate”. This is not as alien to us as it might seem — in English, there are enough words like “screwdriver” or “bookstore,” we just use much fewer letters.
Strict word order. German sentences always put the predicate in the second position in the sentence. The placement of the rest of its parts is also regulated by strict rules. You cannot choose the word order freely — this will either change the meaning of the statement or even make it unintelligible.
Complex agreement system. The German language belongs to the same linguistic group as English and has certain similarities with it — mainly etymological, but also in their common abundance of service words. Unlike English, however, it has four grammatical cases that apply to every part of speech, including articles. English, on the contrary, has only three cases remaining and they apply only to pronouns. German words are inflected depending on the number, gender, tense, and case. The four cases — nominative, dative, genitive, and accusative — are accompanied by two types of articles, definite and indefinite. Therefore, each word can be inflected in as many as eight ways, not counting the plural form, which adds four more.
Unpredictable genders. In German, there are three genders, which decide how we inflect the noun itself, adjectives related to it, and even prepositions and articles. The problem is that the gender of a noun most often cannot be guessed logically. The German word for “girl” — das Mädchen — isa neuter word, but “boy” — der Junge — ismasculine. At the same time, the more universal das Kind is again neuter. There are also more severe cases: the word See (read as ze-yeh) can mean both “lake” or “sea” and changes its gender to neuter or masculine, respectively.
Written as it’s spoken. Fortunately, writing in German is based on phonetic principles — if you hear the pronunciation of a word, then you will most likely be able to spell it correctly.
Local flavor. Although German is relatively modestly spread in the world, it has more than enough dialects, even within Germany itself. So, a German from Hamburg will have difficulties trying to understand the Bavarian. This applies doubly to foreigners who are just learning the language.
How to learn German on your own
German is not the easiest language, but it is quite possible to master it on your own. Especially since you already speak English, because these are languages from the same family. She is beautiful = Sie ist schön. However, there are more differences between the two languages than there are similarities. You will recognize typical constructions and see parallels in the meanings of verbs, but grammatically there is almost nothing in common between the two. So how do you get started learning this interesting language?
Start with motivation. Learning German is a difficult and time-consuming project. There are many rules and exceptions to learn, and it's important not to abandon everything halfway through. To avoid this, determine from the beginning what you need the language for. This will help you remind yourself of your ultimate goal when you feel the urge to stop learning. It can be migration to Germany, attraction to its free education, or the desire to become the best translator in your city. The main thing is to formulate for yourself a real need to learn German.
Get a jumpstart. The very fundamentals of the language — grammar, phonetics, basic phrasal clichés — should be covered with a tutor, in language courses, or at least with a good self-study book. Let someone lead you by the hand initially, this will make the rest of the road much easier.
Don't be afraid of mistakes. The German language is definitely not one of those in which you can immediately start speaking correctly. Do not be ashamed of acting like a complete savage — point your finger, use gestures, build incorrect “me no understand” sentences. In the meantime, improve, gradually fill your speech with correct constructions and more and more elegant words. Believe me, even after 10 years you will keep learning new things about German and adding them to your speech. For complete mastery, you will need to live in the country for a quarter of a century. Therefore, there is no point in postponing — use it since the first days.
Practice constantly. Learning any foreign language is 80% practice. Find at least an hour every day for it. To do this, you don't even need to bury yourself in textbooks — talk to yourself or build dialogues in your head. How would you order your coffee if you were in Germany now? How would the barista answer you? If you don’t have enough knowledge to make up a dialogue, open the browser on your phone and get googling.
Vocabular — How to learn German words
While English and German share common linguistic origins, they have drastically different histories of development. Today, there is no significant lexical similarity between the two. Therefore, you will have to learn a lot of words, and learn them with a very systemic approach.
The word is inseparable from its gender
Just as Dominic Torreto cannot be imagined without his family, a German word cannot be memorized without an article. The reason is very simple — cases. When people learn English words, they can be memorized in isolation — you will never confuse the articles if you know the rules. The article in German depends on the number, case, and, most importantly, the gender of the word. The latter has no strict rules, so whether a word is feminine or masculine is something you will have to learn by heart. Take a look at the table:
Die Mutter Eine Mutter
Der Mutter Einer Mutter
Der Mutter Einer Mutter
Die Mutter Eine Mutter
Der Vater Ein Vater
Des Vaters Eines Vaters
Dem Vater Einem Vater
Den Vater Einen Vater
Das Kind Ein Kind
Des Kindes Eines Kindes
Dem Kind Einem Kind
Den Vater Ein Vater
Die Kinder —
Der Kinder —
Den Kindern —
Die Kinder —
Stick to a single simple rule — immediately memorize each new word in the nominative case and in conjunction with the article. You will never use them individually, so do not separate them in memory either.
"What is an “Apfel?" I don’t know such a word. To me, only “der Apfel” exists.”
Find ways to use the language
To help your vocabulary not only expand but also stick with you, learn words in the context of situations, even if they are made up. There is no use in cramming words if you don’t do anything with them after that. It's much better to set small communication problems and find exactly the words you need to solve them.
Imagine that you need to explain to the dispatcher that you have a leaking pipe in your bathroom. If you do not know some of the necessary words (or all of them, which is very likely in the early stages), then find specifically these words and make an imaginary dialogue. Then play with it, recreate the dialogue in different tenses, offer different ways to solve your problem. Get into an argument with the imaginary dispatcher, while you are at it. This way you might learn only 5-6 new words, but you will do it for real.
Online resource with flashcards for learning new words. You can use pre-made sets or create your own.
Grammatik — German grammar
The grammar of the German language is the main source of nightmares for everyone who learns this language. It contains a huge number of rules that you must definitely know by heart. Unlike English grammar, German leaves little room for creativity. This is both a big plus and a huge minus.
A big plus — German grammar is very logical and unambiguous. Having learned the rule once, you can always strictly follow it — it will not let you down. For example, unlike most others, verbs indicating movement are used with the auxiliary verb sein in the past tense, not haben. And this means that in your entire life you will not meet a single exception.
A huge minus — you really have to learn a lot. On the one hand, German has a lot of normative rules — from the order of words in a sentence to the formation of different tenses. They are logical and they can be structured into a coherent system in your head. On the other hand, there are no less uncharted phenomena in it, such as strong/weak verbs and the gender of nouns. They do not comply with any rules, you can only remember them in isolation. To avoid mistakes, you need to learn both types of phenomena — and they require completely different approaches.
The biggest trick is not to separate learning and speech practice. Someone remembers the rules like a multiplication table, just memorizing different structures. Others work through each rule thoroughly, trying to understand from the inside, how and why they work. But it is best to combine these two approaches — to both memorize and immediately use ready-made word structures in speech while figuring out why they look the way they do.
Learn through practice
For the rule to be burned into your brain, form a cliché. Work in this order: master the rule, memorize sample phrase in which it is used, make several dozen phrases by analogy. At the same time, compile them into dialogues, write short stories — in general, bring the use of each structure to automatism.
Repeat after the speakers
A logical continuation of the previous advice — listen to the speakers and steal whole phrases from them. First, the most basic constructions will be remembered — greetings, goodbyes. Gradually, you will begin to notice more complex typical structures that can be applied in different situations. For example, a conversation about buying furniture can be transformed into a conversation about buying a TV. Or even what movie to watch in the evening:
— Welches Sofa sollen wir kaufen? — Ich bevorzuge das Grüne, aber meiner Mutter könnte das Gelbe besser gefallen.
— Which sofa should we buy? — I prefer the green, but my mom might like the yellow better.
— Welchen Film sollen wir heute Abend sehen? — Ich bevorzuge eine Komödie, aber Hanz könnte einen Thriller bevorzugen.
— What movie should we see tonight? — I prefer comedies, but Hans might like the thriller better.
Do not neglect classic textbooks
Applications with beautiful flashcards, gamified models of teaching, conversation clubs, and other achievements of modern teaching are great, but nothing can replace the good old textbook. Find a popular manual for your level, set aside one and a half to two hours, and sit tightly to study. Read the rules, do the exercises, and most importantly, repeat this routine regularly. To really understand a topic, you need to return to it several times a week until you realize that you are ready to move on to the next.
Understanding spoken German is much more difficult than talking yourself. When you say a phrase, you are prepared in advance for how it will sound. And when listening to speech, you have to adapt to the speaker on the fly. Plus, the words merge together, and the speaker may not pronounce them exactly the way you used to imagine in your head.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, before listening to something in German, you need to understand the grammar and vocabulary. You will not be able to understand what is going on in the dialogue if you do not know at least 70% of the words and are not used to the grammatical constructions that the speaker uses. For example, if you don’t know yet how inversion works in a German sentence, you are unlikely to understand such a sentence by ear — the verb will not be where you expect it to be.
Prepare for listening
Listen to audio material on the topic you are currently studying. It is best, especially at the early stages, to use the recordings that come with a tutorial. You will definitely know most of the words and constructions in the text. If after 2-3 listens you realize that you do not understand anything, return to theory — once again recite the grammar and vocabulary. Listening can wait.
It is not enough just to listen to someone speak German. If you play a podcast in the background and do other things, there will be no benefit. Listen to the speech closely, and if you do not understand the speaker — rewind. Also, repeat the phrases aloud. A helpful exercise is to write down the transcript of an audio track. You will simultaneously develop your listening, speaking, and writing skills.
Avoid overly complex recordings
If you listen to very difficult tracks from the very beginning, you will not understand them, become frustrated and lose interest in the language. Such recordings include German radio, TV shows and films. Instead of the radio, pick special educational podcasts — the hosts there speak slower than they do in real life, and the words are specially selected so that the listener is guaranteed to know them. Once you are ready to watch movies in German, start with foreign films with German voiceovers — there the actors are forced to speak slower and cleaner than in real life. Once you get used to that too, move on to authentic films and podcasts.
Reading practice helps to build vocabulary and understand the internal logic of the language. Plus, only with reading can you get used to the peculiarities of presentation and learn to build the same beautiful expressions as native speakers. But remember that written speech is different from spoken language — if you speak in the same way as they write in books, then people will understand you, but you will look a little strange.
Read modern literature
The German language changes regularly — the last spelling reform was adopted in 2006. Among other things, it replaced the letter ß with ss in many words and made it correct to use as many as three consonants in a row at the junction of morphemes (e.g. Schritttempowalking speed). If you read books that were published even 20 years ago, you will not only get used to the wrong spelling, you may even come across words that are no longer used. For example, until recently, Saturday was called Sonnabend rather than Samstag.
Read what you like
It is very important that you have additional motivation to read. If reading is seen as just another exercise, you will not only get tired, but you will also begin to read much less. Therefore, pick the literature that really interests you. For a start, German translations of books that you have already read in another language are suitable. If you don't like fiction at all, then that's fine — there are tons of other materials. For example, articles from the SCP Foundation in German, or other entertainment resources.
A library of texts and aphorisms’ excerpts from the works of classic German thinkers.
Schreiben — German spelling
It is very easy to write in German — it is a phonetic language, all words are written as they are heard. The only thing you must do is learn the spelling rules. There are not too many of them and they are very simple. Difficulties can only be caused by the beautiful letter ß — depending on the length of the vowelthat comes in front of it, it can be replaced with a double S. But this also refers to listening rather than writing. In general, we can say that the writing skill is secondary — the most important thing is the expansion of the vocabulary and reading authentic literature. Once you can confidently understand written language, writing on your own also becomes easy. Still, there are two tips we want to give you:
Don't mix spoken and written language. Written and spoken German differ so much that there are even separate dictionaries for them. The Germans not only change the structure of sentences for everyday communication but also use special words that are not used in writing. They show the shades of the speaker's attitude to the subject of the dialogue. For example, the word doch, which means “but still”: Er war nicht fertig, doch antwortete (he was not ready, but still answered). Unlike the usual aber, which is equivalent to “but,” doch adds a touch of surprise. And it is not usually used in writing.
Übung macht den Meister. Write and read, the more the better. Often forming a habit is as good as knowing the rules. Having seen the same word a hundred times in different texts, you will definitely remember it and never write it with mistakes. And by writing it a hundred more times, and also in different contexts, you add muscle memory to the equation — and the hand itself will write it as it should, without referring to the brain.
Native speakers of different languages check each other’s texts for literacy.
Sprechen — How to speak German
One of the most important tasks on the path of mastering any foreign language is overcoming the fear of speaking. Perfect grammar and extensive vocabulary do not guarantee that you will feel confident in a conversation. And even an excellent understanding of oral speech does not mean that you, too, will be able to speak fluently. The only way to learn to speak a foreign language is through practice. Here are some tips on how to make it more effective.
Try to speak from day one. There is no point in delaying the first attempts to communicate in a foreign language. If you hesitate and don’t dare trying until you have perfectly mastered the past tense/all the articles and cases/the first 1000 words, then you can remain a theorist. Many people who studied German in the past decades suffer from this — having perfect grammar and vocabulary, they cannot say a single word to a real live German.
Don't be afraid of mistakes. The purpose of speaking is to convey your idea. Try to achieve this first. If you are understood correctly, then you have achieved success. And perfection will come with time.
Use clichés. Phrasal clichés can make speech a bit unnatural, but early on, they're a lifesaver.
- Das geht nichtthat won't do
- Wieso?how'd that happen?
- Ich bin sicherI'm sure
- Das tut mir leidthat's a shame
These and similar phrases will make your speech livelier and mask your general lack of vocabulary.
Hear live speech. Only by knowing how the authentic speech of native speakers sounds, you will be able to understand what you need to strive for in your studies.
Be an actor. Repeat what native speakers say in movies, songs, on the radio — everywhere. Imitate even their emotions and intonations. Gradually, you will form a habit of speaking with the same intonations and semantic stress as the real Germans.
Application for communicating with foreigners, there is audio and video communication.
Aussprache — How to master German pronunciation
German pronunciation is the exact opposite of the German script. Almost all sounds in German either differ from English ([a], [p], [t]), or even have no analogue in it ([x], [ö], [ch]). Unlike languages like Korean, an accent does not stand in the way of understanding, but if you want to pass for a local, you’ll need to remove it. Here are some tips on how to do this:
Train each sound separately. From the very beginning, accept the idea that German sounds are very different and you need to learn them from scratch. Take a special textbook on phonology, study sounds separately and in a very systematic way — even figure out exactly where you need to put the tongue and why. It is not easy, but in the future it will greatly simplify developing the skill.
Recite sounds in bundles. Once you've figured out how sounds are pronounced in isolation, move on to their frequent combinations. This will help you get used to how the pronunciation changes in different words, and learn to pronounce each new word correctly right away. It will be enough to see what combinations of sounds it consists of.
Speak slowly. Take your time — it is better to speak slowly at first, but pronounce each sound correctly. The speed will appear over time.
Sing and repeat. Each language has its own rhythm, getting used to which greatly simplifies pronunciation. This is especially noticeable in songs, where the rhythm is adjusted to the peculiarities of the language. If you sing German songs, you will get used to the rhythm of speech, and it will become more natural to pronounce sounds in German than in English. For example, try Durch der Monsun by Tokio Hotel — one of the simplest songs of this group for beginners. Or “Erica” and other folk songs — they are also easy for a beginner to understand.
A selection of German tongue twisters for pairs of similar sounds.
Where to learn German
German is the third most popular foreign language among English speakers. Thanks to this, there are many high-quality manuals, Internet resources and German conversation clubs. Therefore, you can find training opportunities in any city and for any budget.
The strength of a tutor lies in the individual approach. A personal teacher will make a curriculum for your unique tasks and characteristics, together you will draw up the most convenient lesson plan. However, you will only be able to practice spoken language with one person, rather than with the whole group.
Native speaker tutors. The price of classes is fixed, and the more of them per month you take, the cheaper each will cost.
German courses in Germany
This option is not suitable for learning the basics, but once you have them covered, it is a great way to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the language, practice speaking and learn the nuances that no textbook can explain. What's especially nice is that courses aren't just found in big cities — if you prefer a quieter Europe, you can go to cities like Heidelberg, surrounded by forests and with a population of about 160,000. But remember two things: first, this is not a cheap option. In addition to the courses themselves, you will have to spend money on flights, accommodation, and more. A month of life in Germany will cost about 1,000 USD, and roughly the same amount will be the costs for the courses and transit. Secondly, carefully study what dialect is spoken in the part of the country where you are going. There is a risk of forming some kind of local pronunciation, completely different from the nation-standard Hochdeutsch.
German is far from being the most spoken in the world, but in Europe, it is the language with the largest number of native speakers — 83 million. More importantly, these people are mostly Germans. Germany is the largest economy in Europe. It consistently holds third place in the world in terms of total exports, second to only the United States and China. At the same time, the population of Germany is 4.5 times less than in the States, and almost 17 times less than in China. Also, every tenth book in the world is published in German.
German for studying
Higher education in public universities in Germany is free for everybody. The student only has to pay an administrative fee of around 170-792 USD/year, but in return they receive a travel pass and other benefits. At the same time, German education is recognized throughout the world. You absolutely can get a diploma in Berlin, and then move to work, for example, in the USA — where the same education would cost 30,000-60,000 USD per year. Therefore, education in Germany is one of the most popular reasons to learn German.
To enter a German university, you need to know the language at least at the B1 level, but in most universities the real lower bar is at the B2 levelor even C1. Language proficiency must be confirmed by passing one of the international exams in German: TestDaF, DSH or Goethe. At the end of the article, we talk about them in detail.
The language will be helpful not only in the countries where it is spoken. Competition among translators is quite high — the average salary of a German-English translator in the USA amounts to 50,000 USD annually. But German will be very useful for people from other industries — logistics bureaus, export-oriented and pharmaceutical companies actively cooperate with Central Europe and are always looking for specialists who, in addition to their basic skills, speak German well. Business in Germany is developing rapidly, therefore, new opportunities for international cooperation are constantly emerging.
As for working directly in Germany, unemployment there is only 4.2% — one of the lowest rates in the world. The only caveat is that for this you also need to speak German at a level not lower than C1 or even C2. But knowledge of this language will provide many career opportunities — even if you are not considering labor migration, international companies are always looking for specialists who know German.
In 2020, the Skilled Immigration Act — Fachkräftezuwanderungsgesetz —was passed. It is intended to attract specialists from countries outside the Eurozone to Germany. The law gave new opportunities to those wishing to find work in Germany:
Abolished the priority check. The Federal Employment Agency has stopped checking whether there is an applicant for a position among the local population before approving a foreigner.
Removed the restrictions on the choice of profession. Previously, it was possible to get a job only in one’s specialty.
Allowed to change migration status. Now you can find a job even before receiving a diploma and apply for the Temporary Residence Permit.
It is convenient to look for a job in Germany on these services:
Immigration to Germany is possible in several ways: student, professional, marriage, humanitarian and ethnic (for Jews and Germans). German is important for all of these methods, but especially for the first two. Depending on which path you have decided to choose for immigration, in order to obtain German citizenship, you need to live in the country for from 3for marriage immigration up to 8in most cases years. You will also need to prove your knowledge of German is at least at the B1 level, confirm the ability to support yourself and have no criminal record. To obtain a German passport, you will have to renounce your current citizenship.
Professional immigration to Germany
To move to Germany for work, you must prove your education and knowledge of German (usually C1+), as well as receive an invitation from the employer in advance. After that, you can apply for a work visa. To confirm your education, you need to find your university on the anabin website. If it is not on the list, it means that the university diplomas are not automatically recognized by Germany. This is not a problem, but in that case you will need to contact the Central Office for Foreign Education (Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen, ZAB). The evaluation of the diploma costs about 237 USD.
Student immigration to Germany
Student immigration is generally similar to labor immigration. You will also need to obtain an invitation from the employer and a work visa. The main differences are that it is easier to get a job in Germany after receiving a German education, and a student has 1.5 years to find a job after graduation. In addition, years of study at a university will shorten the required time to live in the country to obtain citizenship.
German is useful for traveling both in Germany itself and in Austria, Switzerland and some regions of other Central European countries: Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg. However, unlike Spanish or Chinese, it doesn’t "open the gates" for the traveler per se. All German-speaking countries are characterized by a high level of education of the population. Therefore, English is more than enough to walk every road in this part of the world.
And yet, learn the basic phrases — "tourist's essentials." Not only will it be easier for you to navigate the city by the signs and maps, but the locals will also treat you very kindly. Germans always support foreigners who are trying to learn their difficult language.
German for yourself
In addition to all of the above, German can be learned for other reasons. First, learning any foreign language has a positive effect on the brain — it reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease and improves math skills. Secondly, knowing a foreign language immerses you in a foreign culture. You understand the mindset of another nation and make your own perception of the world more flexible. Finally, Germany is the cradle of modern European philosophy. Knowledge of the language will allow you to better understand the works of Hegel, Marx, Leibniz and dozens of other thinkers. Not to mention the rich popular culture — many people love the German language because of the Rammstein songs alone.
German language exams
There are many international German exams, including its own version in AustriaÖsterreichisches Sprachdiplom. There are three most common ones: TestDaF, DSH, and Goethe-Zertifikat. All three exams are comparable to the standard European CERF scale and are suitable for admission to a German university.
TestDaF. Specially designed for foreigners who want to enter German universities. Consists of four parts: reading, listening, writing and speaking. There is no grammar section. A separate grade is given for each part. To enter a German university, you need to pass it on the “four” (TDN-4). The exam is held six times a year in special language centers and costs 171 USD. The certificate is non-expiring.
DSH. This exam is administered by the universities themselves, so it is less standardized. To pass the exam, you need to pay from 0in some universities to 170 USD. At the same time, it is not required to pre-study at the preparatory courses at the university — anyone who has the right to receive higher education can apply and pass DSH.
Goethe-Zertifikat. The Goethe Institute is a non-governmental organization whose goal is to popularize German culture and language. Exams can be taken at any level of CERF, when passing at level B2 and above, you can apply for admission to a German university. Employers in Germany also recognize the Goethe Institute certificate.
You can prepare for exams on your own if the level of the language as a whole already corresponds to what is required for successful completion. In this case, it is enough to solve the trial exam tasks. It is also a good idea to talk to someone who has already successfully passed the exam in the recent past. If your level is still insufficient, we advise you to find a tutor or a language school that will prepare you specifically for passing the target exam.