My German Learning Blueprint: Tips, Tricks and Tested Techniques

It’s a new year and you have decided that you want to learn German, but now you are bombarded with tons of questions. How do you go from zero to fluent? Where do you start? Which resources are the best? What methods should you use? 

All of these questions can be incredibly overwhelming. Luckily for you, I have literally spent half of my life learning German, teaching it to hundreds of students in person and hundreds of thousands online. I have scoured the internet for the best resources and methods for German learners. I have been reviewing them for years. 

If I were learning German from scratch, this is how I’d do it. If you aren’t starting from scratch, don’t worry. This post is packed with tips and tricks for you too. I guarantee that by the end of this post you will have learned at least one thing that will change the way you learn German for the better. 

This post is packed with recommended resources, but if you want a better more comprehensive list of recommended German learning resources, simply fill out the form below and you will get a copy of my FREE PDF as soon as you confirm your email address.

Herr Antrim with His Resources for German Learners PDF

Get your FREE PDF full of resources for German learners today! Simply fill out your info below and Herr Antrim will send it right over!

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My German Learning Blueprint: Tips, Tricks, and Tested Techniques

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail – Benjamin Franklin

When I leave for a trip, I never step foot out of the house without first making a detailed plan. What to pack. An itinerary. A list of places to go. A list of things to see. The list goes on and on. When you start your German learning journey, the same attention to detail is necessary for reaching your goals. 

When I set goals, I always keep the idea of SMART goals in mind. A goal must be specific. I’m going to learn German, so I can take advantage of Germany’s amazing universities with incredibly low prices.

I looked up what most universities require and it looks like I’m going to have to pass the TestDaF with a score of 4 or 5 for each of the 4 categories; listening, reading, writing, and speaking. There are other exams that can get you in, but this is the one that is most convenient for me, as it is available at my local Goethe Institut several times a year. The bottom line is that I need to reach at least B2 in order to get into a German university and I have to prove that skill level with an accepted exam certificate. 

This means my goal meets the second part of the SMART goal format, measurable. I can tell where I am based on the practice tests that are available on the TestDaF website and other online tests that assess your German skills. 

A goal without a deadline is a dream. – Robert Herjavec

The letters A and R in SMART goals stand for “achievable” and “realistic” respectively. Those parts depend on how I answer the last part, so I’ll skip them for now. The last letter is T for “timely”. A goal without a deadline is a dream. To change your dream into a reality, you need to give yourself a deadline. Ideally, you would actually set multiple deadlines. 

I’m going to master A1 in about a month. That is both achievable and realistic. It will likely take me a few months to pass the A2 level. B1 and B2 are known as the intermediate plateau, because there is so much information to cover that it feels like you are just spinning your wheels. This will likely take me about 9 months, if I study for a couple of hours each day. 

My SMART Goal

My SMART goal is: I will pass the TestDaF with a score of 4 or higher in all categories by this time next year. It is a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely goal. Now that I have a heading, I can make a map to lead me there. 

If you want a deeper look at SMART goals and how to apply them to your German learning, click here.

A Balanced Learning Diet

In order to pass this exam, I need to be well rounded in my German skills. I have to be able to listen and read German, which are usually the easy parts for language learners, but I also have to be able to write and speak, which are quite a bit more difficult. This means I will have to practice all four of these areas throughout my learning. 

Listening

For listening, I’m going to rely mostly on YouTube. I have a list of my recommendations for German learning YouTube channels, but I would start with the best of the best, Easy German.

(Y’all probably thought I was going to name my own channel here, but I am neither naive nor arrogant enough to ever think I could top Easy German for listening comprehension content.)

They do street interviews with German native speakers and talk about a huge range of topics. They also have playlists for every level from A1-C2. 

Now, where I will plug my own channel is my 3 hour long video that covers everything you need to know for the A1 level. It covers vocabulary and speaking along with a ton of the basics of grammar. Let’s be honest, that’s how most of you found me before you started reading this. It is by far my most popular video on my channel. 

The Deutschlerner Club

Watching a YouTube video, however, is not enough to really learn the content. You need to practice it too. That’s why I created my Deutschlerner Club. It grants you access to the curriculum outlined in my A1 Beginner German video and the curriculum of my A2 Elementary German video. Every lesson comes with bonus materials you can’t find anywhere else, extra video lessons, practice exercises, worksheets with answer keys, MP3 downloads and a whole lot more. 

I have recently been working on adding a B1 course, which is why a lot of the most recent content on my YouTube channel has been aimed at that level. Those lessons are also available as part of the Deutschlerner Club. In fact, extra materials are available for every lesson I have created on this channel since December of 2022.

Long story short, if I were starting over learning German, the Deutschlerner Club would definitely be a part of my German learning regimen. 

Goal Setting within the Deutschlerner Club

I would set the goal of completing at least one lesson per day and in some cases even an entire section of the course in one day. This would allow me to finish the entire A1 course in one month and the A2 course in around 3 months. 

Combining Listening and Reading Comprehension Practice

While the Deutschlerner Club will help me out with the reading and writing portions of the language learning process, it would probably still be a good idea to supplement with other materials from elsewhere. LingQ is a great website for that kind of thing.

It combines reading and listening in an interactive way that can really help you boost your skills. They also have curricula that you can follow for the various levels of German learning. If I could choose one additional website to add to my learning from the Deutschlerner Club, I would use LingQ

How to Practice Speaking German

So I have listening, reading and writing covered with YouTube, the Deutschlerner Club and LingQ. How can I practice speaking? There are a few options.

A lame but effective version is just to talk to myself. Read everything I see out loud in German. Have mock conversations with myself when I’m bored. Try to translate conversations I have with coworkers throughout the day into German. 

All of these are great ways to practice, but they are also great ways to solidify errors. If I keep making an error, but I don’t know I am making an error, it will make my brain think that the error is correct. I need a source of feedback. There are many options available for that. 

Getting Feedback About Your Speaking Skills

When I was studying German at the university, the one thing that advanced my German speaking skills more than anything else was Stammtisch. Every week several students, some professors from the university and a few community members would get together to speak German with one another. If an error was made, sometimes the professors would correct us, but for the most part, we focused on communicating. 

We talked about everything from the weather to the politics of the day and even what’s up with the new construction on campus. There is no better place to practice German than a local Stammtisch. Look for a German program at a local university. If they offer German at that university, they likely offer a Stammtisch and even invite the public to participate, which means you don’t have to pay the exorbitant amount that an American university costs nowadays, but you still get the best part, a Stammtisch. 

There are also lots of community-led Stammtische, which you can look up on Meetup.com or a simple Google search. Some of those are virtual so you can join one from anywhere in the country. 

If you prefer a digital option, you might look into something like Tandem or My Language Exchange.

I also did a review of a company called Deutsch Gym a while back. They were awesome.

You can do a daily chat at your level with other German learners, led by a German speaker. They cover almost all of the levels and meet pretty much every day, so they are definitely worth checking out.

The Method

Now that I have the “what” I’m going to use in order to master the German language, so I can study at a German university, I need to map out the “how”. I already said, it isn’t enough to simply watch a YouTube video. Unless you have eidetic memory, you won’t retain anything from just watching. 

A1-A2 German Levels

Let’s say I am starting with a lesson from one of Easy German’s YouTube playlists. During each study session, I will listen, pause the video and repeat EVERYTHING that is said in the video in German. This is pretty convenient, because there are always subtitles in German and English at the bottom of the screen, so I can just read what they said. 

I will take notes along the way, too. I would do the same thing for the free 3 hour long A1 course video on YouTube or whatever lesson I am on in the Deutschlerner Club.

Watch the video. Pause often. Repeat what is said. Take notes. Practice with my friends at Stammtisch or Deutsch Gym or both. Complete the practice exercise in the Deutschlerner Club. Check my work with the video explaining the exercise (only available in the Deutschlerner Club and not on YouTube).

Day in.

Day out.

This is what I do.

Keep chugging along like this until I have mastered the A2 level in less than 4 months. 

Switching It Up

I get bored pretty easily, so after a while, this 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 the Deutschlerner Club lessons, Easy German videos 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 a stack of flashcards. Preferably physical flashcards. The reason for my love of physical flashcards is explained in another post, but the bottom line is that you remember information from physical flashcards better. 

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 entire A1 and A2 levels of the Deutschlerner Club

Surpassing the Intermediate Plateau with Hyperdrive

I could continue reading books by Angelika Bohn through the B1 and B2 levels, but once I get past the A2 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 at this level that it seems like you aren’t making any progress.

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 in German. 

I would stop consuming content of any kind in my native language once I start the B1 level.

EVERYTHING I do from sun up to sun down will be in German. 

Podcasts

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 or even a podcast that discusses the latest DC comics and movies.

The only real 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 chasing chickens to improve my speed like Rocky.

You can find a ton of German podcasts here.

News

I would watch the news in German via something like Tagesschau or some of these YouTube channels for German news organizations, all of which are linked in my FREE recommended resources PDF, which again, you can get by filling out the form below.

Herr Antrim with His Resources for German Learners PDF
Resources for German Learners PDF 2

I would read the news in German, as well. There are recommended websites for that linked in the description too. 

German TV

I would watch TV in German. Whatever streaming service you subscribe to, definitely has a German option. You just have to dig through the settings to find out how to turn on the German dubbed versions of things. You can also use one of the main German TV stations’ websites. They have TV shows in German that you can stream for free there. 

If I’m not passively listening to German content via music or a podcast, I would pause whatever it is very often, take notes, practice saying what they say and then continue on with the video, movie or show. 

Preparing for the TestDaF

While doing all of these things, I can’t forget my main goal in all of this German learning. I want to pass the TestDaF with a 4 or higher in every category. In order to do this, I need to take some practice exams at some point. There are several available on the TestDaF’s website as well as on Amazon and other online platforms. 

I would test my skills once a week with a different test. I would start with an example from the TestDaF’s website and familiarize myself with the test format. I would read all of the tips and tricks that their website has to offer, which are all in German, so it is accomplishing two goals at the same time. I am doing research into the test I want to pass while immersing myself in the German language. 

Every other week I would try a different online test. Take the Goethe Institut’s free online assessment. Try the ESL website’s online test. There is a website called Test Your Language that will allow you to… test your language. There are literally dozens of websites that offer some sort of semi formal test. 

Alternate between an example TestDaF exam with the exact format you will need in order to pass the exam and a different style of assessment. This will help you get a variety of opinions about your German skills and whether or not you are actually ready to take the next step. 

Take the TestDaF and FAIL!

After about 6 months of German learning and all of the other things I have outlined, take the TestDaF. I prefer the paper version, but there is a digital version available.

I know it is going to set you back some money and you are very unlikely to pass it with the score you need, but taking this exam is the best way to prepare for the exam.

You don’t really know what this exam is going to be like until you have taken it.

TestDaF allows you to take the exam as many times as you like without any penalty. 

The paper version of the test isn’t offered at every Goethe Institut location very often. If you search on the TestDaF website, you will find that it is about every 6 months or so. This means, you should sign up for the closest one to you and then see how you do. Then sign up for the next one, after you have spent a few more months learning German and taking practice exams. 

Apply to a German University

Once you have passed that exam, it’s time to apply to a German university, which is a whole other beast that can’t fit into this post.

If you want to learn more about applying to a German university, click here.

I mentioned a ton of resources throughout this video, so if you want to get a comprehensive list (more detailed than what is listed in this post), fill out the form below and you will get a copy of the list in a PDF format in your email.

Herr Antrim with His Resources for German Learners PDF
Resources for German Learners PDF 2
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