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Learn German

Expatrio 2024-02-26
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Achieving a decent level of German may not be easy but it is definitely possible for anyone willing to dedicate the time and effort needed. There are myriads of ways to learn the language: online or offline, for free or paying, using real-life lessons or an app, participating in a course or having a tandem partner. No matter whether you have an advanced level of German or you are a beginner you can use any of those options or even several at the same time to accelerate the process. Ensuring you have the ability to say the basics would be considered polite, and learning how to order a meal, or buy a bus ticket in German will be highly useful from day one.

This article will look into the German language, why it is useful, and what are the best ways to learn German in Germany or from abroad.

The German language

Learn more about the German language and its characteristics

Of course, German is the official language of Germany. It is also spoken, in varying national and regional dialects, by citizens in neighboring central European countries like Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, South Tyrol and Liechtenstein.

German is considered to be one of the West Germanic languages, grouped together with English and Dutch. All three languages share similarities regarding vocabulary for this reason.

High German, or Hochdeutsch is the standardized version of the German language: the official literary and spoken form. This is what students of German will learn, and it is still the official form of the language taught in schools of countries which adhere to different dialects of the language, such as Switzerland; people here speak Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) but read and study in Hochdeutsch. The biblical translations of Martin Luther in the 16th century led to the development of High German as the region's primary language.

How many years does it take to learn the German Language?

The US Foreign Service Institute estimate for basic German speech is about 36 weeks or 750 classroom hours. Mastering the language will likely take a couple of years with consistent practice.

How many words do you need to be fluent in German?

To be fluent in German, a speaker needs to know around 10,000 words.

3 steps to learn the German language

  1. Important words

    At the beginning expanding your vocabulary is important for both comprehension and speaking.

  2. Basic grammar

    A little more advanced is learning how they behave in different linguistic cases, conjugations, and contexts.

  3. Talk regularly

    Finding a language tandem partner helps you to improve your language skills and is also a great way to make new friends.

How to learn German?

Achieving a good level of German may not be easy but it is definitely possible! In our video we answer all your learning German questions, such as: "How long does it take to learn German?", "How many words do you need to be fluent in German?" and even "What is the best way to learn German?".


How to learn German

It is possible to learn German in several ways

German language books, audio-visual materials, or a study group, presented by a tutor are a few possibilities. Online study is a more contemporary way in which a study of the German language may begin. More about that later on.

Is it difficult to learn German?

Try not to be put off by how difficult people say learning German can be. Some learners may feel daunted because the language includes male and female forms of words as well as compound words and linguistic cases they are not used to, but this is similar to many other (European) languages, and, ultimately, it is just a case of learning rules and vocabulary by rote.

What is the best way to learn German?

Arguably one of the best ways to learn the German language is to engage a 1:1 tutor or to learn in a small group or as part of an intensive course. In general, a mix of tuition and practice in real-life situations is the best way to learn.

Enrolling with a language school is a great way to learn if you wish to dedicate the time to a committed course program. See our page on The Recommended Language Schools in Germany for more information.

How can I learn the German language?

Here are some easy steps to learning German:

Master the alphabet

A good understanding of the basic German alphabet and how it’s vowels and consonants are pronounced, is essential. See our page on German Alphabet and Grammar.

Learn easy/important words

Expanding your vocabulary (Wortschatz) is important for both comprehension and speaking. You can actually start to learn new words even before you know exactly how or why the phrases are formed how they are, just to get familiar with them. Here is the list of 100 core German words and phrases to learn first.

Basic grammar: study nouns, verbs and adjectives

Learning the parts of speech is important – a little more advanced is learning how they behave in different linguistic cases, conjugations, and contexts, which brings us to...

Learn how sentences are constructed

At first, the sentences you use will be very basic and limited in their expression of tense and ‘mood’ (e.g. subjunctive, conjunctive, etc.). Over time they will become longer and more complex.

Talk to German speakers regularly

Socializing with a German speaker is an excellent way to put into practice what you have learnt in class and to seek further feedback on your speaking. By doing this, you’ll slowly increase your vocabulary – they will use plenty of words you don’t know, and you’ll absorb their habits concerning inflection and tone.

Try watching some German movies or listening to German music

Once you have the basics, challenge yourself by engaging with authentic German-language texts and audio. Watch the news and weather to stay up to date with German current affairs while improving your skills.

Learning German online

There are several online German tutoring websites and premium app services which help beginners learn German online. Some claim to give you the basics in just 30 days. Rosetta Stone offers a popular, tried-and-tested method of language learning which can be accessed online and using an app.

Some basic German phrases

  • Please: Bitte
  • Thank you or Thank you very much: Dankeschön or Vielen Dank
  • You're welcome: Bitteschön (or, actually, just Bitte)
  • How are you?: Wie geht’s? 
  • I’m fine, thanks: Mir geht’s gut, danke
  • And maybe not so basic: I love you: Ich liebe dich 

Did you know?

There are more than 120 million native German speakers and 10-15 million people who speak it as a second language worldwide, so learning to speak the language well will make it much easier to socialize, live and work in the wider German speaking (DACH) region and, possibly, in many places around the globe - in short, it’s a useful language to have under your belt.


10 good reasons to learn German

Here are 10 really good reasons why you should learn German, and believe us, these are only a few! It can help you in so many ways while staying in Germany

1. Ease of daily life

Non-German natives living in Germany (even for a short while) will need the language skills to do basic tasks, like talking to a bank teller, taxi driver, doctor, or receptionist. Being able to speak German makes daily life much easier in the country, despite the high level of English most people have in the cities.

2. Essential tasks and getting help

Being able to speak the language means you can take initiative with the absolutely essential parts of life in Germany. With basic German (and some specific vocabulary), you won’t need a translator when fulfilling necessary tasks, like registering your address (Anmelden) at the city hall (Bürgeramt) or applying for visa extension

3. Being able to express yourself socially

To form friendships and enjoy social activities in Germany, it is very helpful to be able to speak the language – not every German native will be comfortable socializing in a language other than German.

4. Cultural identity

Being able to speak the language of the country you live and work in creates a sense of belonging. It's important to feel integrated into your new home, however long you wish to stay there.

5. Top-ranked universities

Being able to speak, read, and write German at a certain level means you could study in Germany. Officially, there are no tuition fees for undergraduate degrees in Germany (public universities), and the nation is home to some of the world’s top-ranked institutions. Find out more on our German Universities page.

6. Travel around the EU

German is the most frequently spoken language in Central Europe and the EU countries alongside English. This means you can converse with people of many different nationalities and in several different countries in Europe.

7. Germany's Economy

The German economy is thriving. If you want to take advantage of this and create a new business in Germany or link with business opportunities in the country, being able to speak the language fluently is important if you do not want to rely on a German-speaking counterpart.

8. Finding a second internet

This time in German. Germany's country domain (.de) is one of the top players in our internet-driven world.

9. Professional opportunities

Germany is the largest European trading partner of the US, exporting vehicles, metals, and chemical products, and many German companies have global reach. Being able to speak the language, initiate and maintain business dealings with German business-people may prove to be lucrative if you wish to excel professionally in the country and beyond.

10. Accessing high culture

German is the language of some of the most notable cultural output of all time, including works from Goethe, Bach, Mozart, Durrenmatt, and Kafka. Being able to understand these works in the original German can significantly deepen your cultural understanding of them and is extremely satisfying.

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