Here are some study tips and practical advice to help make your learning of German more effective:
Use Your First Language to Learn the Second
German and English are both Germanic languages with a lot of Latin and Greek thrown in. There are many cognates, words that are similar in both languages. Examples include: der Garten (garden), das Haus (house), schwimmen (swim), singen (sing), braun (brown), and ist (is). But also watch out for "false friends" - words that appear to be something they're not. The German word bald (soon) has nothing to do with hair!
Avoid Language Interference
Learning a second language is similar in some ways to learning your first, but there is one big difference. When learning a second language (German), you have interference from the first (English or whatever). Your brain wants to fall back on the English way of doing things, so you have to fight that tendency.
Learn Nouns With Their Genders
German, like most languages other than English, is a language of gender. As you learn each new German noun, learn its gender at the same time. Not knowing whether a word is der (masc.), die (fem.) or das (neut.) can confuse listeners and makes you sound ignorant and illiterate in German. That can be avoided by learning das Haus rather than just Haus for "house/building," for example.
Translation should only be a temporary crutch! Stop thinking in English and trying to do things the “English” way! As your vocabulary grows, get away from translating and start thinking in German and German phrases. Remember: German-speakers don't have to translate when they speak. Neither should you!
Learning a New Language Is Learning to Think in a New Way
"Das Erlernen einer neuen Sprache ist das Erlernen einer neuen Denkweise." - Hyde Flippo
Get a Good German-English Dictionary
You need an adequate (minimum 40,000 entries) dictionary and you need to learn how to use it! A dictionary can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Try not to think too literally and don't just accept the first translation you see. Just as in English, most words can mean more than one thing. Consider the word “fix” in English as one good example: “fix a sandwich” is a different meaning than “fix the car” or “he's in a fine fix.”
Learning a New Language Takes Time
Learning German - or any other language - requires a long period of sustained exposure to German. You didn't learn your first language in a few months, so don't think a second one will come any faster. Even a baby does a lot of listening before talking. Don't get discouraged if the going seems slow. And use all the resources at your disposal for reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
"The United States is the only country where people believe you can learn a foreign language in two school years." - Hyde Flippo
Passive Skills Come First
A period of listening and reading is important before you can expect to use the active skills of speaking and writing. Again, your first language was the same way. Babies don't start talking until they've done a lot of listening.
Be Consistent and Study/Practice on a Regular Basis
Unfortunately, language is NOT like riding a bicycle. It's more like learning to play a musical instrument. You DO forget how to do it if you get away from it too long!
Language Is More Complex Than We Realize
That's one reason computers are such lousy translators. Don't worry about all the details all the time, but be aware that language is much more than just stringing a bunch of words together. There are subtle things we do with language that even linguists have difficulty explaining. That's why I say, "Learning a new language is learning to think in a new way."
You have to develop a "feeling for the language" to master German or any language. The more you get into German, the more this hard-to-describe Sprachgefühl should develop. It's the opposite of a rote, mechanical, programmed approach. It means getting into the language's sound and "feel."
There Is No "Right" Way
German has its own way of defining words (vocabulary), saying words (pronunciation), and putting words together (grammar). Learn to be flexible, to mimic the language, and to accept Deutsch the way it is. German may do things differently from your point of view, but it isn't a matter of "right" or "wrong," "good" or "bad." Learning a new language is learning to think in a new way! You don't really know a language until you can think (and dream) in that language.
Dangerous! - Gefährlich!
Some things to avoid:
- Avoid the most common beginner's mistakes.
- Don't be overly ambitious. Set realistic goals and take things one step at a time. Our lessons are designed that way.
- Don't try to pretend you are a native speaker of German (Muttersprachler) when you aren't. That means avoiding jokes, swearing and other linguistic minefields that can make you sound and look foolish.
- One more time: Stop translating! It gets in the way of real communication and should be left to skilled professionals.
- Also one more time: A dictionary is dangerous! Verify meanings by also looking up the word or expression in the opposite language direction.
- How To Learn a Foreign Language by Graham Fuller (Storm King Press)
- German Grammar Book: Deutsch macht Spaß by Brigitte Dubiel
- Online Lessons: Our free German for Beginners course is available online 24 hours a day. You can start with Lesson 1 or select any one of the 20 lessons for review.
- Special Characters: See Can Your PC Speak German? and Das Alphabet for information about typing and using uniquely German characters such as ä or ß.
- Daily German 1: German Word of the Day for beginners
- Daily German 2: Das Wort des Tages for intermediate, advanced learners