There are over 100 million German speakers in the world, making it one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet.
A few fun reasons people learn German
Needless to say, if you want to learn German you're in good company.
Because of the language's popularity there is no shortage of programs, courses, and apps out there available to help you along your language learning journey.
But not all learning materials are created equal. Some learning tools can prove invaluable to your pursuit of fluency, as they give you the tools you need to tackle the most difficult aspects of the language.
...Others not so much.
For this article we separated the wheat from the chaff, to give you our list of the top five German learning resources.
But before we get into all that we should talk about what exactly makes for a good German learning program...
Features of a good German program
It teaches practical material you can use in an actual conversation
If you've dabbled in language learning before, odds are that you've come across the stereotypically drab approach; where you learn vocabulary through lists of neatly organized but largely irrelevant words.
You walk away from a course or class knowing phrases like "What color is the boy's shirt?" or "The woman eats an apple". Unfortunately there are few real world situations where you will use such phrases.
A good course or program will teach you vocabulary in a practical way so that you can start speaking from day one.
More often then not this approach gets you talking about yourself. You learn questions and answers about where you're from, your hobbies, likes and dislikes, etc.
This is much more applicable than the aforementioned word lists, and will afford you the opportunity of practicing your German by actually using it with real people.
It teaches German grammar well
The changing order of clauses, grammatical genders, and grammatical cases will all take some getting used to. Here's a few of the common pain points of German grammar:
Word order and clauses
English follows a strict subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, and for the most part German does too. However, unlike English, you can move certain elements of a sentence around without changing the overall meaning of the sentence (to see what I mean you can watch the video below).
A brief introduction to some of the fundamental aspects of German grammar
In German every noun has a specific grammatical gender, which isn't necessarily attached to the gender of the actual person or object you're talking about (If you've studied a Romance language like French or Spanish then you should be familiar with this).
There are a total of three grammatical genders in German: masculine, feminine, and neuter. The gender of the word will determine the form of article and adjectives that go with it.
Cases (and those pesky German articles)
In German words will change form based on their function in a sentence. If a noun is the subject of a sentence it will be written and spoken one way. If that noun is the direct object (the thing being acted upon) it will appear in a different form.
Similarly adjectives and articles will change their form to agree with the noun they are used with. These forms are called cases and there are total of four of them in the German language.
This is a fairly dense grammatical subject that really deserves its own post. If you want a better and more detailed explanation of German cases, you can check out the video below.
A more detailed look at German cases
How a good program handles German grammar
While a good course does need to provide you with practical material that you can use in real life situations, it also needs to take the necessary time and effort to help you understand the grammar.
A good command of grammar will allow you to understand what goes on "behind the scenes" of phrases and sentences.
As you grow more comfortable with German grammar it will start to feel more natural, and you'll be able to construct correct sentences with ease.
If all a course gives you is vocabulary or stock phrases, you'll be able to start speaking quickly; but in the long run your abilities in the language will stagnate. Sooner or later you will need to tackle grammar.
It helps you learn all aspects of the language
Here at Live Fluent we talk a lot about learning the four aspects of a language (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) together.
As an absolute beginner you may focus on one or two aspects more than the others, but your weekly German learning diet should include a dose of all four.
This is important because each aspect plays into the other four. You're likely to pick up a German word more quickly if you read it, write it, speak it, and hear it.
This sort of holistic approach helps you to see the language as a unified whole, versus segmenting it into several disconnected pieces.
A good learning program will help you incorporate reading, writing, speaking, and listening into your German practice.
Our picks for the top German learning programs
1) Rocket German
20+ minutes a day
Rocket German finds a great balance between teaching German in a way that is practical, but also in-depth when it comes to grammar.
It does this by providing two distinct types of lessons: its audio lessons and its language/culture lessons.
The audio lessons are centered around recorded audio in the form of dialogues. The dialogues have English explanations and usually teach the language in "chunks" or phrases versus individual words (this is perfect for learning conversational German).
This way you can use the phrases as stock phrases or mix and match them to start speaking from day one.
The language and culture lessons are centered around grammar. Each lesson takes example sentences and breaks them down piece by grammatical piece.
This allows you to see how German grammar looks in action. This helps you open up the lid on the conversational phrases you learn in the audio lessons.
Rocket German also incorporates speaking, reading, writing, and listening into its program. Various exercises, games, and activities will require you to engage with the German language on all levels.
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Germanpod101 features audio lessons in a podcast format. These lessons are great for grammar and vocabulary.
Each lesson is designed around a German conversation between native speakers, and the teachers do a great job of keeping things engaging.
Lessons are built around plausible real world scenarios, such as looking for something in the supermarket, ordering food, or simply catching up with an old friend.
This helps keep the vocabulary relevant to what a beginner or intermediate student needs to know to start speaking the language.
While it's not as structured as Rocket German, it's still a substantial German learning tool (it's also much cheaper too). The site features transcripts, an in-site flashcard system, and many other useful features.
$14.95 per month
30 minutes a day
The program uses a unique and effective question/recall/respond technique to get you on your feet in German.
This unique method helps you start to think in German, much like you would if you were talking to real people (no other German audio course achieves this in quite the same way).
With Pimsleur You'll learn a limited but functional vocabulary and have a good sense of pronunciation. Their courses also provide a substantial reading portion that helps beginner learn to read German phonetically before they start reading for meaning (we love this approach!).
Pimsleur now offers full access to all of their German courses through their app platform for a monthly subscription of $14.95. What's more, they also have a free 1 week trial so you can access the courses before you pay anything.
5+ minutes a day
Duolingo is usually one of the first courses we recommend for learning a foreign language. It's free, effective, and fun to use.
The app is built around a game-like format and largely teaches grammar via example sentences and definitions. Users are required to listen, speak, read, and write while using the app.
Duolingo is easily one of the most popular language learning apps out there. It's success and popularity pretty much speak for itself. As said before the app is free to use, so if you haven't already, go and check it out!
From $6.95+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Babbel features lessons in a quiz based format. Lessons are separated by course categories which include things like difficulty level and specific aspects of grammar.
The grammar lessons work well for tackling some of the trickier aspects of German grammar. There's no shortage of necessary material in that department.
If you use Babbel you will learn to read and write German. You will also use your listening skills, but not as much as with other programs.
Babbel works well as a supplement for your daily German learning, and it's good for learning the foundations of the language. It's not quite thorough enough to be considered a full on learning program though.
That wraps up our list of the best learning programs for German.
One great thing about these courses is that each one offers some sort of free trial. If one of them peaks your interest, you can easily take it for a test drive to see if it's right for you.
Each German learner has his or her own learning goals, preferences, and needs. There's no end all be all when it comes to language courses. Stick with the one that works best for you!