You have been searching for the best tips for learning German, because your New Year’s Resolution is to learn German. You subscribed to every German learning YouTube channel you can find. Then you opened a Duolingo account. You searched online for how to teach yourself a language, but you still aren’t terribly confident that you can accomplish your goals. If this sounds like you, then you need to watch this video (or read this post). I’ll tell you how to get the most out of your German learning this year.
German Learning Tip #1:
There is no all-in-one option
You can’t just subscribe to this YouTube channel (or another one for that matter) and think you are going to become fluent from watching those videos. Doing just one thing, no matter what that one thing is, will never make you fluent. Language learning is multifaceted.
Watching videos will help your receptive understanding (definitely listening comprehension and maybe reading comprehension, depending on the kinds of videos you are watching). If you are looking for a way to improve your writing skills by watching a YouTube video, you are going to be disappointed.
Writing skills are improved by writing. In order to do that, you need to read a lot, which increases your reading skills, too. Improving your speaking skills is only done by speaking. Even if you have to talk to yourself, you can’t improve your speaking skills without speaking. Period.
If you only do one of these actions, you will never be fluent. You need all four aspects of language learning in order to consider yourself fluent. Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking. Skip one and prepare yourself for your inevitable failure. You wouldn’t skip leg day at the gym. Don’t skip writing day when learning German.
German Learning Tip #2:
Consistency is key
Every language learning tip video or blog you will ever see says that you need to consistently practice your language skills or you will regress. While I know everyone else who is giving you tips about language learning is telling you this, the importance of consistency can not be overstated. If you take a week off from your language learning regimen and expect your language skills to fall two weeks backwards. Set aside time every day to study German. If you can’t do every day, try every other day. Any longer of a stretch than every other day is too much. You will take one step forward and a half a step back. It will take you ages to become fluent if you do that.
German Learning Tip #3:
Most apps are useless
It’s time someone told you. Duolingo is not a language learning program. Duolingo is a waste of time unless you supplement it properly with other learning materials. So is literally every other app you will ever find. I don’t care if the internet it toting it as the next big thing or what the military is using and the FBI uses to train their spies. The truth of the matter is that none of them will ever make you fluent.
Apps are ok for reviewing. They are ok for passing the time between stops on a bus. They are ok for reminding you of the things you have already learned, but if you think they are going to do anything more than that, you are in for a rude awakening. Even the 2018 app of the year “Drops” is woefully unprepared to help you learn a language. You need more than just an app to learn a language.
German Learning Tip #4:
You will not always be entertained
One of the prevailing comments on some of my videos is that they are boring or lame. I usually acknowledge this fact to the commenter. “You are correct. This video is boring, but I’m not here to entertain you. I am here to educate you.” Education isn’t always glamorous, flashy and entertaining. Grammar is boring, but if you don’t learn it, you is going to sound like you no knowing what you is doing. While the entertainment factor is definitely necessary to help you stay motivated and keep you on your toes while learning a language, it is not going to be able to teach you everything you need to know.
The goal is to limit your boredom while learning. I would recommend no less than an 80/20 entertainment to boredom ratio. At least once or twice a week, you should be bored, but these will also be the most enlightening days of your language learning.
Take these spaces of boredom to give yourself something to look for in your entertaining learning days. Learn a grammar topic on a boring day and look for examples of that grammar lesson when you go back to the entertaining things. The goal ratio of entertainment to boredom, in my opinion, should be about 50/50. Spend half of your time reminding yourself why you are learning the language with some entertaining, but still educational videos and the other half of the time should be spent being serious about your language learning.
German Learning Tip #5:
Know what you need to know before you learn it
It isn’t enough to just learn a language. Without a goal in mind, you will just wander aimlessly around the language learning forums on Reddit and never actually progress forward.
Why are you learning German? What is the end goal? Are you looking to travel to Germany? You need to learn how to order food, how to buy things, how to interact with people, how to get directions and other everyday necessities. Are you planning on staying there for a prolonged period of time? You need to know how to get an apartment, how to make sure your visa won’t expire while you are there, how to get a job, and how to pay taxes.
Without knowing these goals ahead of time, you won’t know in which direction to point your learning. Learning without a goal is like driving without a destination. You get distracted by something shiny and you forget about the things you were learning before. Start with the end in mind and make every step you take a step in the direction of that goal.
German Learning Tip #6:
Start with these YouTube channels
If you are looking for the best YouTube channels to help you get started learning German, I have already compiled my list of my personal favorites. There are a couple of channels that have become popular since I made that video, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of the one’s I would recommend to you now.
Deutsch für Euch
I always recommend that anyone starting to learn German should start with Katja from Deutsch für Euch. Her videos start at the very basics and go up to some very complicated grammar topics. Start with her very first video and start working your way forward. She has one of the best sequential series for German learners.
Learn German with Jenny
Learn German with Jenny is great if you are looking for a lesson on a particular topic. You can’t really start with one video and watch a playlist that will take you to a certain level, but her lessons are so good, they are definitely worth taking a look at.
Learn German with Anja
Another channel that is great for specific topical lessons is Learn German with Anja. If you can’t find a lesson you want on Jenny’s channel, you will find it on Anja’s. If you can’t find one on Anja’s channel, try Jenny’s. Their video libraries are getting very extensive.
By far the best channel for listening comprehension is Easy German. They do interviews with native speakers on the streets of Germany. If you need vocabulary on a particular topic, this is one of the best places to find it. Take notes while you are watching their videos and you will be well on your way to learning German like a pro.
Deutsch mit Marija
The most notable exclusion from the list in my original video is Deutsch mit Marija. She has a huge library of videos about various grammar and vocabulary lessons. What I find particularly helpful are her videos designed to help you pass a German proficiency exam. They are the best videos about German test preparation I have seen on YouTube. If you are planning on taking a German proficiency exam, you need to watch her videos.
German Learning Tip #7:
Supplement your learning properly
I mentioned this briefly in one of the other tips, but this is the part that I think a lot of people overlook. You can’t just watch videos. You need to use these videos to their fullest potential. I’ll use the videos on my channel as an example, because I am most familiar with the extra materials.
Every video I upload is meant to teach you a specific lesson. If you watch the video and do nothing else, you will forget almost everything I said in the video. My recommendation would be to make each of my videos last an hour. I don’t mean you should watch it on loop until you reach an hour. That would be awful.
Watching the Video
Watch the video and pause it a lot. Take notes as you watch. Write everything you think might be important down. The act of writing will help solidify the information in your brain. Organize the vocabulary I teach you in the video, so you can memorize it later. Sort nouns by gender and verbs by context.
Reading the script
Read the script that I post on Patreon or my online shop. Use this as a guide for your notes. You can also use this to avoid watching and pausing all of the time, if you prefer to read. Download the worksheet I make from my Patreon page or my shop. Try to complete the tasks in the worksheet after you have finished your notes. Download the answer key to the worksheet and check your work. Take notes of your errors. Find out why you were mistaken and find a way to make it so you don’t make the same mistake in the future.
Try to write a few sentences using the knowledge you already had and the new knowledge you gained from the video. Use these sentences to practice your speaking. Make your sentences into a conversation. Read both parts of this conversation out loud. Read back through your notes. Before you start the next lesson, rewrite your notes from the previous lesson and try to organize it better than it was before.
Patreon Pages for Other YouTubers
The other YouTube channels I mentioned before have similar materials that can help you supplement their videos and really get the most out of them. While I would appreciate it if you supported my work on Patreon, you should definitely consider supporting some of the other channels as well. Not only do they deserve it, but their materials are just as good if not better than mine.
Deutsch für Euch
Learn German with Jenny
Deutsch mit Marija doesn’t have a Patreon, but you can buy her courses and support her in other ways from her website.
German Learning Tip #8:
Buy some books
You need something that can act as a guide for what to learn and when. While you can find something like this online, it is difficult to see what is good advice and what is not. You need at least 2 books. One grammar book and one overall German learning book. The overall learning book will keep you on track for your overall goals. The grammar book will take the deeper dive that you will need when you don’t understand a grammar topic. Trust me. It will happen eventually. I have some recommendations, which you can find linked here, but my personal favorites are listed below.
“German Demystified” is a great overall German learning book. It covers grammar and vocabulary and includes exercises for you to practice on your own. It also takes and entertaining approach and makes the boring stuff more interesting.
German in Review
“German in Review” is a bit of an older German grammar book, but its depth and thoroughness keep it at the top of my list for German grammar books. It is a bit more expensive than other books, but in my opinion the extra cost is worth it. This book will not entertain you, but it is one of the best resources I have ever used. It was actually the textbook for one of my university German courses.
1001 Pitfalls in German
“1001 Pitfalls in German” is a close second. It is much more affordable and takes the approach of “These are the things you are going to mess up. Here is how to avoid it.” I like the way the book is written, but it less of a grammar book to read from cover to cover and more of a reference book to help you when you are confused or you want a bit more information about a specific topic. It also isn’t as in depth as “German in Review”.
Mastering German Vocabulary: A Thematic Approach
Honorable mention goes to “Mastering German Vocabulary: A Thematic Approach”. It is a unique twist on the traditional dictionary. It breaks down vocabulary into various categories and gives you a list of the words you should know in each of those categories. They also give examples of how to use the vocabulary in real situations.
If you are looking for a free alternative, you should check out Linguee. You can look up a word like any other dictionary, but then it shows you examples of how to use it followed by examples of it being used around the web.
More German Learning Tips
If you are still looking for more German learning tips, you should check out my series of posts about exactly that topic. I’m sure you will find something there that you will find helpful. Speaking of helpful, if you are looking for a great place to find additional German learning resources, you can see my personal recommendations here.