What if I started learning German today? What would I do differently?

It has been over 20 years since I first started learning German. A lot has changed since then. Google was an infant when I was in high school. YouTube was founded in February of the year I graduated high school. The internet was a completely different animal.

This had me wondering, if I had to do it all over again, how would I learn German? Step-by-step. What would my German learning journey look like now and how would I go from zero to fluent?

Don’t worry, if your language skills are already beyond the “just starting” phase, I’ll be sharing tips in this post that are perfect for anyone learning German no matter what your level is. 

Step 1: Set SMART Goals

Knowing what I do about language learning, I know that I would need to start by having a goal in mind. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to use the goal of moving to Germany with no intentions of coming back to the USA. I’m going to give myself one year to become fluent enough in German to survive on the streets of Germany. One year from now I will be buying my plane tickets and heading across the pond. 

I don’t think I need to be completely at the top of German fluency in order for this plan to work. C2 is a bit of a lofty goal for just one year. I think I could make it with a B1 level. Anything after that I can learn from Germany. So how do I get there? 

Click here to learn how to make your own SMART Goals.

Step 2: Building the Foundation

I need a solid foundation for the language. Some basic pronunciation tips, greetings and farewells along with some other basic phrases would be a great start. Doing a quick search on YouTube you will find several options, including my A1 Beginner German course video. 3 hours seems like a bit too much to cover in one sitting, so I’ll try for 30 minutes per day for 2 weeks. 

During each study session, I will listen, pause the video and repeat anything that is said in the video in German. I will take notes along the way, too. I would expect to be about half way through the video by the end of the first week. All of the pausing and repeating will stretch the 3 hours into 2 weeks, if I’m only doing 30 minutes per day. Of course, if I really want to get the most out of this experience, I could purchase the ebook or paperback from my website or even join the Deutschlerner Club to get bonus videos to go with each lesson. 

By the time I get done with the first 2 weeks of my A1 studies, I will be able to recognize a lot of words and phrases, but I probably won’t be producing much language. This is where I need some repetition. I need something that will reinforce what I learned from that A1 course video, but won’t overwhelm my senses. This is when I will turn to the A1 series of Nicos Weg from Deutsche Welle. It isn’t terribly boring and the language used is perfect for my low skill set. 

Rather than watch the hour and 43 minute long supercut from the Deutsche Welle YouTube channel, I will start on the Deutsche Welle website and use their course. Since this is more hands-on, I will spend an hour per day on this site. Once I am done with the hour for the day, I will go to the full video on YouTube and watch the portion of the story I have completed up until that point. The repetition at the end will remind me of what I have learned so far and help solidify what I need to remember. After a few days, I should have the lines memorized and I can speak along with each scene. 

After about a week of this I should be about a quarter of the way through the A1 level of the Nicos Weg course on the Deutsche Welle’s website. This is where I start modifying what I did in the story. Instead of simply watching the full video at the end of each learning session, I substitute myself in for the part of Nico. I ask myself how I would answer the questions that are asked of Nico in the story. Can I use the phrases they use to make my own answers? 

Step 3: Add Variety

I get bored pretty easily, so after a while, the Nicos Weg process will grow tiresome. I’ll need something else to keep my German learning fresh. I like reading, so I would pick up Angelika Bohn’s book “Nachbar Nr 5”, which is written with A1 learners in mind. I’d also download a copy of the audiobook, so I can hear the proper pronunciation of the words as I read along with the paper copy of the book. In addition to all of that, I would go to Angelika Bohn’s website and download the extra materials to go with that book. 

I would start alternating between Nicos Weg and Nachbar Nr. 5. On book reading days I would read along with the audiobook for a full chapter, then complete the comprehension questions and check my answers with the key. I would also keep a list of helpful vocabulary and phrasing notes, which I could add to my stack of flashcards. 

There are 10 chapters in Nachbar Nr. 5, so after 2 weeks, I should be done with it and can move on to the next book in the series. I would move on to der silberne Kugelschreiber, which is meant for learners between the A1 and A2 levels. By the time I completed that book, I would expect to be done with the A1 and A2 levels of Nicos Weg. You can find links to my review of several of Angelika Bohn’s books here. They are definitely worth reading. 

Step 4: Add Grammar

I personally believe that in order to really understand what you are doing with a language, you occasionally need someone to explain the grammar to you. This is where I would start my A2 course video. I would take notes on the grammar topics as they come up in the course and try to find ways I might use that grammar to express something that I would actually use in a German conversation. Then I could use the listening comprehension lessons throughout the course to solidify the grammar in my memory banks. Again, the ebook or paperback would be great companions to this, but the Deutschlerner Club would really help me keep on track through the A2 level. 

Step 5: Overcome the Intermediate Plateau

I could continue with Nicos Weg through the B1 level and keep reading books by Angelika Bohn through the B2 level. Once I get to the B1 level, it is time to switch into hyperdrive. The B1 level is often called the intermediate plateau. That’s because there is so much information in this level that it seems like you aren’t making any progress. That’s where something like my 2023 calendar, planner and German notebook comes in handy. When I feel like I’m not progressing towards my goals I can revisit what my goals are and follow the path I have taken so far through my notes. Then I can course correct if needed. 

In order to facilitate the amount of information at this level, I will need to get a lot of input. This means reading a lot of books and watching or listening to a lot of content in German. I’ll start the Dino lernt Deutsch series by André Klein, which starts simple and gets more difficult as you get to the later books. These books are available as paperback books and as audiobooks, which again, I would get both so I can read along while listening to the proper pronunciation. 

I would watch German shows like Babylon Berlin, Tatort, Deutschland 83 or Tribes of Europa. I would watch a German movie every night. Everything from German cartoon films like Hui Buh and Lissi und der wilde Kaiser to dramas like Das Leben der Anderen. Literally every film I could find, I would watch. 

I would find a German podcast to listen to. Not a podcast for German learners, but a podcast in German about a topic of interest. It could be news or one of those murder mystery things. The only requirement is that it is authentically made for German native speakers and it is something I can casually listen to on my way to work or whenever I am doing other relatively mindless tasks like cooking, doing the dishes or juggling chainsaws. Click here for a website where you can find a ton of German language podcasts. 

Join the Deutschlerner Club

Of course another option would be to join the Deutschlerner Club. There you can start at the A1 German and in a few short weeks you will be able to start reading books, watching movies and doing all of the things I mentioned in this post. I’ll guide you every step of the way from greetings and farewells through your first German conversation. You can get started for free today and see if you like it. Then just pay $9.99 per month of $99.99 per year after that.