Learn German: The Complete Beginner's Guide to Learning German FAST
Yes, that’s a real word in the German language, or at least it was until 2013. In the German language, this 63 character word referred to “law delegating beef label monitoring”. An EU regulation dropped it.
You have been told the German language is really hard to learn, or maybe you just naturally got this feeling when you heard a native German speaker talking? The scary word above confirms your assumptions? But…
Is learning to speak German hard?
Well, no, learning German being hard is just a myth. Learning any language takes time and commitment. It’s the same with the German language. Having enough motivation and working hard towards your goal, is all it takes. And if you feel confused about where to start, we’ve put together some tips in this article that will help you learn to speak German really fast.
Let’s be real. Chinese people will find it harder than an English native speaker to learn German.
This is because the German language is part of Germanic languages, a group of Indo-European languages, that shares plenty of similarities with other Germanic languages like English or Dutch.
15 Reasons Why You Should Learn German Language
There are many reasons why you should learn German language – below we highlight 15 of those reasons:
- Germany is the world’s second-largest exporter.
- The German economy ranks number one in Europe and number four worldwide. Its economy is comparable to that of all the world’s Spanish-speaking countries combined.
- Germany is home to numerous international corporations.
- Direct investment by Germany in the United States is over ten billion dollars.
- German has the largest number of native speakers in the European Union (far more than English, Spanish, or French).
- German is among the ten most commonly spoken languages in the world. It is also a lingua franca of Central and Eastern Europe. And as for “all Germans speak English anyway”? That’s pure myth.
- 22 Nobel Prizes in Physics, 30 in Chemistry, and 25 in Medicine have gone to scientists from the three major German-speaking countries, while many laureates from other countries received their training in German universities. Eleven Nobel Prizes in Literature have been awarded to German-language writers, and seven Germans and Austrians have received the Peace Prize.
- Germans are world leaders in engineering.
- German and English are similar. Many words in German sound and/or look the same as equivalent English words, because the two languages share the same “grandparent.” For example, look at these words:
- Haus = house, Buch = book, Finger = finger, Hand = hand,
- Name = name, Mutter = mother, schwimmen = swim,
- singen = to sing, kommen = to come, blau = blue, alt = old,
- windig = windy.
- The German-speaking world has produced some of the most revered filmmakers of the 20th century – from Fritz Lang to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and a new generation of transnational directors such as Tom Tykwer and Fatih Akin. German and Austrian filmmakers such as Lang, Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch also shaped the history of Hollywood.
- German is the language of Goethe, Marx, Nietzsche, and Kafka, of Mann, Brecht, and Grass. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler, and Schoenberg spoke and wrote German, as did Freud, Weber, Einstein, and Heisenberg, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger.
- German is the second most commonly used scientific language in the world.
- 18% of the world’s books are published in German, and relatively few of these ever appear in English translation.
- German is the gateway to a world-class higher education.
- Many of the Western world’s most important works of philosophy, literature, music, art history, theology, psychology, chemistry, physics, engineering and medicine are written in German and continue to be produced in German.
How Long Does It Take To Learn German
Learning German can be a bit difficult, especially if you are a native of a language that doesn’t belong to the Indo-European family of languages. But, no matter what your native language is, and even if German may seem tricky to you or you stumble upon an obstacle, don’t get discouraged.
There is no fixed period of time that guarantees you will succeed in learning the German language, but what’s most important is consistency. You’re not going to wake up one morning and find yourself speaking fluent German. That only happens in the movies.
If you take just one step at a time, you’ll see results happening fast. Learning a new language may take a different time depending on many factors like your prior experience and exposure to the language, your resilience, how much work you put into the learning process, motivation and so on.
But, if you practice on a daily basis for a period of at least three to six months, you’ll probably be able to handle a daily conversation with a friend and doing things like getting into a cafe and making an order in German. Some people struggle more than others, and need more time to reach to that level but that’s mostly because they’re not putting in the effort and practicing daily.
If you want to speak German fluently, it’s probably going to take a few years of practice, but we’re just looking to get started, right?
How to start learning German?
People say it’s all about mastering the basics. So start from the very first thing: the alphabet.
The German language has 26 letters, just like English. There are a few letters with pronunciation that doesn’t exist in English: ä,ö,ü and β, but you won’t find these letters in the Alphabet.
Practice their correct pronunciation as this will help you adjust your accent significantly.
German Language Grammar
What makes a language look difficult to you? Its grammar, right?
Grammar is usually a nightmare for all people planning to get into a new language, and it’s not the case only with the German language. But, learn this part well and you’ll be speaking German fluently in no time.
German has six tenses: Prasens, Präteritum, Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt, Futur I and Futur II.
- Präsens relates to the Present tense in English,
- Präteritum relates to Perfect tenses,
- Plusquamperfekt relates to Past Perfect,
- Futur I relates to the Future tense,
- Futur II relates to the Future perfect plus “will” and “have”.
This relation is not completely accurate, but looking at the tenses this way will make it easier for you to understand German grammar.
They have four cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive).
Here is a tricky thing about German that many people mention it often: the 16 forms that “the” of English takes on German in different cases and gender.
German has three noun prepositions for each gender: die (for feminine nouns), der (for masculine nouns) and das (for neutral gender).
With every new word that you learn in German language, you must also learn what preposition needs to come in front of it. It may confuse you at first because sometimes a biological gender may not match its grammatical gender.
However, there are some rules determining which noun gets which article with exceptions. There’s no need to stress about this part too much. Although you have to memorize all of them mechanically, a huge part of this grammar fundamental will soon start making more sense to you.
German Phrases and Daily Expressions
When you start learning a new language you probably wouldn’t like to start with all the grammar rules and things that make a language complicated. Language learning is all about the joy and entertaining part of it, other than the desire to expand your knowledge. To do, so you’ll have to start from a point that makes you wonder what’s beyond that, grab your attention, and set your motivation on fire.
There is no better way than just starting to learn a few words and some daily expressions like saying hello to somebody or asking someone for something. This will give you a little sense of achievement and boost your self-confidence.
Here are a few basic German daily-life expressions to start with. Study them and then try to simulate a simple dialogue in your head.
How To Say… in German
|Hallo! – Hello!||Wie geht’s? – How are you?|
|Danke! – Thank you!||Mir geht’s gut. – I’m doing well|
|Vielen Dank! – Thank you very much!||Mir geht’s nicht gut. – I’m not doing well|
|Willkommen! – Welcome!||Ich komme aus… – I’m from|
|Alles Gute zum Geburtstag – Happy Birthday||Ich bin hier wegen + Genitiv… – I’m here for…|
|Fröhliche Weihnachten – Merry Christmas||Bis später! – See you later|
|Guten Morgen! – Good Morning!||Tschüß! – Bye!|
|Guten Abend! – Good evening!|
|Ich heiβe… – My name is…|
|Wie heißen Sie? – What’s your name?|
Funny German Words
Let’s make this a little bit more fun, shall we?
Like in any other language, you can find words in German that when translated literally in English sound really funny. For example, how do you call someone who pees outside the toilet in English? There is no a specific word for these people in English, but in German there is “Wildpinkler” which literally means “wild pee-er”.
Here is a list of the 10 funniest words in German and their meaning in English.
Brustwarze – breast wart
This word literally means “breast wart”. It stands for “nipple” in English. This is not the only funny word for body parts. There is also Zahnfleisch (tooth-meat) which actually means gums.
Liebfrauenmilch – beloved lady milk
This word originates from a German wine back in the 1700s and it refers to the Virgin Mary. The expression “Liebfrauenmilch” is now a legally protected name of a German wine (from the Mosel region).
Handschuhe – hand shoes
Germans don’t have the time nor the patience to create a unique word for the clothes we wear on different parts of the body. Everything you put in your hands, they refer to Handschuhe which literally translates to “hand shoes”.
Klobrille – toilet glasses
Germans are known as people who value cleanliness. Some say that when they get into a hotel before deciding to pass the night there they check toilets to be sure they’re all clean. Toilet glasses are not actually any special device Germans use to inspect toilets. They are just toilet seats.
Stinktier – Stink animal
Germans name some animal from their smell, their looks or any other treat, physical or non-physical, that differentiate them from the rest. The slug is an animal like snails but without its home. Germans call it Nacktschnecke which literally is “a naked snail”. They call Wolverine Vielfraß which means “eat-a-lot”.
Eselsbrücke – donkey’s bridge
This term stands for the trick you use to help you remember something when it doesn’t come to your mind at the moment you need it. It originates from the Latin term “pons asinorum” (bridge of donkeys)
Donnerbalken – thunder beam
This word long ago referred to the military latrine, but now in slang refers to the toilet. In English, the slang “thunderbox” would match it. You can guess what’s funny about it.
Durchfall – through fall
It stands for “diarrhoea”” in English. It originates from Greek and it means “through-flow”
Wildpinkler – wild pee-er
It is a unique word when referring to people who pee outside a toilet. It may sound like an offence but for your curiosity “Wildpinkler “–s were eroding the ancient walls of Ulm Minister church a report said.
Dudelsack – yodel sack
Dudelsack stands for the well-known Scottish national musical instrument. Literally means the bag that tootles.
You probably have heard the phrase, “if you want to learn the German language, you have to think like a German”. In other words, this means you need to understand a phrase beyond its literal meaning. For example, in English, they say “I’m running out of gas”, but there is nobody running out of nowhere. It just means the car doesn’t have much gas, that’s all. These are idioms and Germany has plenty of them.
Idioms are just expressions with a figurative meaning. In a way, they reveal the social and cultural background of a country. An English idiom may relate to an idiom in German, but they literally can be way different. For example, the English idiom “piece of cake” refers to something that we did it with ease and joy. In German it is “Das schaffe ich mit links”, which in English literally means “I could do that with my left hand only”.
So, learning idioms will definitely give you a creative sense of expressing your thoughts. Here are some of the German idioms and their meaning in English
Da steppt der Bär (Literally: The bear dances there) – It will be a good party
Tomaten auf den Augen haben (Literally: to have tomatoes on one’s eyes) – to be unaware of what is going around you
Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen (Literally: Put heaven and hell in motion) – to move heaven and earth
Eine Extrawurst verlangen (Literally: to ask for an extra sausage) – ask for special treatment
Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen (Literally: You can take poison on that) – you can bet on it
den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen (Literally: to hit the nail on the head) – you hit it right
seinen Senf dazugeben (Literally: to add their mustard) – to put two cents in
klar wie Kloßbrühe (Literally: clear as soup) – clear as crystal
Schwein haben (Literally: to have a pig) – to be lucky
If you are stuck in the streets of Berlin and can’t figure out what people are saying, you’d probably find some slang expressions pretty helpful. Here are some to learn:
Auf dicke Hose machen
This is used when somebody acts like they are stronger or wealthier than others. Literally translates “act like you have huge pants”.
It means that a deal is settled. A “bon” is the receipt you take when you buy something. Something “gebongt” means agreed or booked.
Was geht ab?
It’s the equivalent of “What’s up?” in English. “Was geht” is the even shorter version used by teenagers.
Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben
Is a greeting which means “hello” and “what are you doing?” at the same time. It’s also used along with “gehts” and some greeting words like “Na, alles gut?” to ask the other person “how are you doing?”
Means being in good mood. When they say “Null bock” means they are in a bad mood.
Die Nase voll haben
Literally means “to have your nose full” and it refers to having enough of something that you are starting to lose your interest in the matter completely.
Is a German slang version of “to chill” in English, meaning to hang out, have fun.
Aus der Reihe tanzen
Refers to those people who like to stay off the line, acting differently compared to the rest. It may also have a positive meaning for someone who is just minding his own business.
Germany has a rich culture. For centuries it was the land of many intellectual people and greatest events. They influenced and shaped not just the culture of the old continent of Europe, but the culture of the whole globe. Their traces are all over the place and history.
Germany, with over 81 million residents, is the second most populated country in Europe just behind Rusia. 91% of the population is German, while Turkish are the biggest minority group with 2.4%. 70% identify themselves as Christians, 3.7% are declared as Muslims, while the rest are don’t belong to a religion or have a religion other than Christian or Muslim.
Germans are known as hard-workers. They admire precision and don’t like excuses or making jokes out of them. Their attitude is cold and may seem unfriendly at first, but after all they are good people. They love food, so it’s not surprising they have a lot traditional dishes. Their favorite drink is beer. Germans annual consumption of beer per capita is 106 litters, third worldwide. Germany produces more than 300 varieties of baked bread.
Octoberfest, the greatest event of their favorite drink, the beer, is one of the many events that are held in Germany. Berlin Film Festival brings together film and art celebrities from all the world.
Germans are very good at construction and automotive industries, making them one of the toughest competitors worldwide in these fields. Their impact and presence in historical architecture is all over Europe (Romanesque buildings, Gothics, Classicists, Baroque, Rococos and Renascences). Mostly there are old castles and religion objects. The tallest church in Germany is the Cathedral of Ulm 161.53 meters high.
The homeland of many famous intellectual people who left their mark in history, that they gave to the world, are people like Einstein and Mozart. Germany is known as Das Land der Dichter und Denker (the country of poets and thinkers).
Another thing that will make you love Germany is their traditional delicious food. Here are 10 most known German foods:
Spätzle is a kind of vegetarian pasta, which contains eggs, flour, salt and little water to inflate the dough.
Bratwursts are sausages from pork meat and are part of every barbeque in Germany. Most known are the ones from Nurnberg.
Are also pork meat. This food was invented in Berlin by Herta Heuwer in 1949.
Potatoes are considered to be typical German food. So, it is not a surprise they made a joke out of it. Germans eat at least a portion of this food in a day.
Sauerbraten is a dish of meat. Basically, you just sink a piece of beef in hot juices for hours and hours and you’ll get a soft and delicious food at the end.
Maultaschen is another delicious food you must try if you are in Germany. It is a dish made of a lot of stuff like pork and beef, but it also has its vegetarian version.
Here is the other dish made with pork meat. Leberkäse is served in little pieces with bread and mustard rather than a real meal. It is a sausage but in contrast with other German sausages, it is kept in the oven for a long time.
You slice a piece of veal-meat and cover it with flour, egg and tiny pieces of bread, and then you put it oil or butter until it becomes golden on the outside. That is how you cook Schnitzel.
Rouladen takes time to prepare it. If you decide to cook it you’ll need a thin slice of meat where you put some ingredients like mustard, onions, ham and then you roll it to give the form of a cylinder. Then you’ll have to grill it.
You thought Gulasch originated from elsewhere. Well, you were correct. But, Germans have their own variation. German Gulasch is made of a sliced piece of meat combined with rich sauce and sometimes with some wine which makes it softer and tender.
German Language Mistakes To Avoid
Language teachers will always give you a simple tip on how to learn a language fast and that is: make mistakes. There is no reason to feel awkward about that because mistakes will help you pinpoint your struggles, so you can overcome them.
When people start learning a second language apart from their mother tongue, they find some problems that are common for a language in particular, for example, an English native. Some of these mistakes rely on pronunciation or relating a word literally with your native. Like when you say “bekommen” it may associate you with the word “to become” but it has actually the meaning of getting something. These are called “false friends”. So pay attention.
Ich bekomme ein Geschenk – I get a present
Another common mistake people who learn German make, are prepositions. In general, there are no general rules when it comes to this so it is up to your memory. But, don’t worry you’ll achieve a nice sense of it and it will all come naturally to you. For example, if you say “nach Hause” it means “ to the house” while “zu Hause” it means to refer house as a location. Another mistake is a word-for-word translation. The structure of sentences in German may be different compared to your language. Here is an example
Dem Jungen gab ich einen Ball. – I gave the boy a ball.
If we were to translate it word-by-word it would be “The boy gave I one ball”. You see, it may have a different meaning or it may be ridiculously wrong. Pronunciation mistakes are also common. Here are just five of them
The letter “z”
The German letter “z” in English is spelt like “ts”. For example, “der Sturz” (crash).
The umlauts “ö”, and “ü”
These two vowels are considered to be the most difficult to pronounce. In English, such sounds don’t exist. This makes it hard for a native German to teach you how to do it. It may help you consider the “e” sound in the word “every” except now you have to round your lips. Practice will make it natural to you.
Alternate forms of “ch”
The “ch” it may sound different depending on what letter it stands in front of it. If “i” or “e” stands before “ch” it makes it a hissing sound, like a cat. To produce this sound, touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth or your hard palate. If “a”,”o” or “u” comes in front makes a harsh noise at the back of your throat. Surely it is not this easy, you have to get your ear used with sounds, so check as much German language audios as you can.
The letter “s”
This letter usually is spelled as “z” in English, but it also may vary. If it comes to the end it letters like “z” and if it is not, in the end, it’s always spelled like the English “z”. The double “SS” is always spelled like “s” in English.
The rules of “st” and “sp”
If “st” is at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced as the English “sht”, while “sp” at the beginning of a word is pronounced like “shp” in English. Consider words like “die Straβe”, “der Strand”, “der Spaβ”.
If “st” and “sp” are at the end of a word, are pronounced like “St” respectively “sp” in English.
Free Apps To Learn The German Language
Today technology is on your side. Make sure you use it efficiently. On the Internet you have a bunch of free online applications that can serve you as perfect tools to boost your language skills. You can access them for free and it takes minutes to have them on your device. Here are some of these applications you should consider:
It’s an app designed to help you widen your vocabulary through flashcards. You can make flashcards on your own with text, images or sounds or you can download pre-made ones.
With Memrise you can learn and socialize at the same time. You can compete with your friends on German. This app also offers other programs, so once you are done with German you can change the subject.
This app will help you expand your vocabulary with pictures and also helps to practice your pronunciation.
In Babbel you’ll have questions with multiple answer choices. The app reads questions aloud so you can practice pronunciation.
This app is dedicated for practice. You get access to a lot of materials which can help you upgrade your level on German language
Is an app that covers a range of topics. It is focused in vocabulary. It can be used with or without Internet connection
Doulingo is one of the most popular apps for learning German and other languages. It’s an online course where you can create your profile and set your own goals.
Speed Up Learning The German Language
Learning a language normally takes time and you have to be patient with yourself. Using a guide like this one can speed up your language learning process and help you reach your goals faster than you think.
But, keep in mind that there is no standard way to learn German because people are different, and they learn differently. So try to find a learning technique that is right for you.
Pronunciation is always an issue when learning this language, so make sure you watch plenty of videos on YouTube to get your ears used to hearing German. Download German songs with lyrics and play them often. Carry with yourself a personal dictionary and write down any word that comes to mind and you would want to learn in German.
Remember, there are a lot of people who are in the process of learning German, so try to get in touch with them and share your language knowledge. It’s a good opportunity for practice and to measure your progress, but also make new friends.
There are many online forums and groups with people who are learning to speak German language. Join them and take part in discussions. Make this fun. It is a well-known fact that your brain memorizes and connects information when you’re having fun, so try to entertain yourself.
Inertia is a universal law; you struggle at first but once you start moving it will get hard to stop. There is no more delightful feeling than activating your brain and overcoming a puzzling problem.
Enjoy the process, not just the success. Go for it. Learn and entertain yourself.
At the end: consistent practice is all it takes.
If you are interested in taking German language classes in Germany, we recently put together a list of the top language schools and German courses: