Immersion is the best way to learn German
Immersion is hands down the best way to learn German. German immersion is when you do as much of your daily activities as possible in German and not in your native language. Ideally this is in a city or town full of native German speakers.
When it comes to learning German there really isn't a more effective way than total immersion. Unfortunately it's not the easiest way, but if you really want to learn German and and do it quickly, then from a solely method based perspective immersion is the best approach.
But immersion isn't always possible. Most people can't afford to take off to Germany for a few months. Does that mean the rest of us are left out and can't learn German?....
The truth is that anyone can design their own German learning program and immerse themselves in the language over time. Granted it won't be as intensive as the "true immersion experience", but it can still be very effective (and cheaper).
What you'll learn in this post:
There are a lot of resources out there for learning German. You don't have spend a summer in Berlin to become fluent. Some resources are better than others. Which ones will work best for you depends on your level, time commitment, and budget.
In this article we'll take a look at the kind of tools and resources you should look for based on your level. We'll even make a couple recommendations to get you started.
We should probably talk a little about inputs and outputs.
Inputs & Outputs (why they matter)
There are four aspects of language learning: reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
Four Parts of Learning German
Of these four options two are inputs: reading and writing; and two are outputs: writing and speaking. You will need to develop all four skills to become fluent in German.
But you'll need a different amount of practice for each depending on your level in German
It's hard to speak a foreign language when you don't know any words to start with. That's why beginner German students will want to focus on more inputs then outputs. They need to get a handle on basic German grammar and vocabulary.
That's not to say that if you're a beginner you shouldn't speak German. You absolutely should practice speaking and writing in German from the beginning. At this phase of learning though, the amount of time and energy spent with reading and listening should outweigh the time spent speaking and writing.
Luckily beginner German students have a large selection of tools and resources to choose from. German is one of the most popular foreign languages and most courses are design with beginners in mind.
No two language resources are exactly alike. Some have more structure, others are more loose. Some focus more on reading and writing where others might only use speaking. There's also different price points and time commitments.
Whichever tool you use it's important that you're learning the foundations of the German language: grammar and vocabulary.
3 German resources for beginners
20+ minutes a day
Rocket German is an interactive audio course which strikes a great balance between teaching practical vocabulary and grammar. Each course level in Rocket German contains three types of lessons: the interactive audio lessons, the language and culture lessons, and the survival kit lessons.
Each audio lesson contains a dialogue between two German speakers. The vocabulary used in the dialogue is thoroughly broken down and explained. This method works very well because it teaches new words in the context of a larger conversation.
The language and culture lessons teach grammar and share highlights of German culture. Example phrases are given so you can see how the grammar works in action.
The bonus Survival kit lessons are essentially an interactive audio phrasebook. Each lesson focuses on a specific topic such as “around the house”, “love and romance”, etc. Phrases are given with their English translations, along with recorded audio to help users work on their pronunciation.
At the end of each lesson in Rocket German there are reinforcement activities. These are review exercises which help you practice the material you just learned. The activities range from hear and say, hear and write, multiple choice, and spaced repetition flashcards.
All in all Rocket German is a thorough and comprehensive course. It’s different lesson types help you learn German in a balanced and holistic way. It’s focus on grammar and vocabulary make it a great choice for beginners.
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Germanpod101 uses primarily audio lessons in a podcast format. It has flashcards, vocabulary, and word sheets.
Teaching more than just vocabulary and grammar, lessons provide insight into German culture and traditions. The podcast episodes use conversations in the context of daily situations and provide practical new words you can start using right away.
Germanpod101 isn't as structured as Rocket German but it's still a great way to develop listening and reading skills (podcast transcripts are available).
5+ minutes a day
Duolingo is the best known language app, and for good reason. It's proven to be an affective way to learn basic grammar and vocabulary in a game like setting. Their German course features grammar explanations before each lessons, and overall it's pretty fun to use.
Duolingo uses a freemium model, meaning that you can mostly use the app for free, barring some additional paid premium features.
At the intermediate level the time has come to increase your output practice in the language. By now you should have a handle on the basics and you want to practice using the grammar and vocabulary you know as much as possible.
Listening and reading still have their place, but you'll want to up the ante and engage with more difficult German inputs than at the beginner level.
Practicing inputs more than outputs will help protect you from unnecessary plateaus. Sometimes you can get too comfortable speaking because you haven't pushed yourself to hear or read anything new.
Though your skills in German have no doubt improved you probably aren't quite comfortable enough to dive into any conversation with a native speaker.
Any practice with a native speaker is beneficial, but you may want to practice with a teacher or tutor who has experience working with German learners.
They'll be able help you navigate common pitfalls and (if they're worth their salt) they help you work efficiently in your German practice.
3 German resources for intermediate learners
$14.99 per month
30 minutes a day
Pimlseur is a completely audio based course. It's centered around a call-recall-response method that helps you practice responding in German. Pimsleur strikes a great balance between inputs and outputs (it's the only audio course I know of that does this). It's also a great tool for improving your German pronunciation.
In the past Pimsleur was only available as a CD rom course. But recently the company has revamped everything and released a mobile app version of Pimsleur.
The app has all the features of the effective CD based course many know and love, with some new features. My favorite of which are the reading lessons.
These lessons are woven throughout the course and start you off by teaching the letters and sounds of the German language. Gradually these lessons take you from reading German phonetically (without knowing the meaning of the text you're reading), to reading and understanding phrases from the audio lessons.
Pimsleur's combination of reading, listening, and speaking make it a powerful option for anyone who wants to learn German.
$6-$15+ per hour (price varies between teachers)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
Italki is an online market place that connects language learners with language teachers for one-on-one language classes via video or audio chat. You can connect with language speakers from around the world and practice your speaking skills.There are 200+ Professional German teachers and informal tutors on Italki.
Starts at $15 per month
5+ minutes a day
Fluentu is a site that helps you learn a language through native videos. Use in site flashcards, captions, and games to learn new words in context while watching German TV shows, movies, commercials, and more. It's a great way to learn German and push your listening skills.
At the advance level you should feel pretty confident with German in most spoken and written situations. A more or less equal amount of inputs and outputs is ideal.
If you had any training wheels on in the intermediate level it's time to take them off. Interact with native speakers and media as much as possible. The explicit need for a teacher or course should be all but gone. Explore whatever aspect of the German language interests you, just make sure to keep yourself challenged!
An occasional lesson with a professional German teacher might also be beneficial. Think of it as a German language check-up. They'll be able to assess your strengths and weakness, and give you feedback about how to best move forward with your learning.
They'll also make quick work of slang, expressions, and other uses of German than might otherwise stump you.
3 German resources for advanced leaners
Write posts in German and post them to Lang-8 to get feedback from native speakers. It's one of the best ways to practice your writing, and it's free! This site is a simple but very effective way to learn German.
Speaky is a free online language exchange where you can meet and practice with language learners from over 180 countries. Practice with German speakers over video, audio, or text chat. Just remember to help them with their English too! Language exchanges like Speaky are great for learning German.
$6.50-$20.00+ per hour (varies between teacher)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
Verbling is a site similar to Italkli. While it doesn't have the selection of German teachers Italki has, Verbling favors teachers with experience and certification, so their overall quality of teachers is a little higher.
There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to learn German. Whatever your approach make sure to enjoy the process and have fun in the German language.
German isn't the easiest language for native English speakers to learn, but you can bet that it's worth it!