Do you need to learn German to survive in Germany? The answer is yes and no. It depends on what you want to do in Germany, and how long you want to stay there. If you are only there on vacation, you probably can survive without learning German. Especially if you are in a touristic area, there will be enough people who can speak English.
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But if you stay in Germany for longer, it will be a different story. If you study in a university in Germany, and your program is 100% in English, you will probably survive without learning German (with some help from your university and friends). HOWEVER, there will be times that you feel frustrated because you cannot figure out things alone and may not know what is going on all the time. I wrote about it in another article: How is it like living in Germany without speaking German?
Learn German to have a future in Germany!
If you plan to have a future in Germany (find a job and live there for a longer term), then you will DEFINITELY need to learn German! In my case, I came to do my master in Germany with the hope of finding a job after graduation and stay here. Therefore, I have tried countless methods to learn German. I don’t have much talent in learning new languages. It took me years until I can speak German. My post 5 ways to learn a new language faster summarizes the five best ways which worked best for me in learning German. I understand that everyone is different. The best methods for me may not be the best methods for you. And these 5 ways were definitely not my only ways to learn German. Therefore, I want to share with you other ways that I have tried:
(1) Putting memo sticker on every object
I did this to learn German at the beginning when I came to Germany. I put a memo sticker on many different objects at home. For example, a memo sticker written “der Tisch” was stuck on my table; another memo sticker “der Kühlschrank” was stuck on my fridge. My hope was that, since I would see these memo stickers every day, it might help me to better remember the German words of all these objects. The important thing is that we should always learn a noun together with its article that dictates gender.
I did this for a while and then I stopped. Because I realized that it did not help so much for me. At some point in time, I got used to the memo stickers and just never really looked at them anymore. Besides, it was also time consuming to create all the memo stickers.
(2) Using an app
You can also use an app to learn German. There are apps that you can save your own vocabulary; use a vocabulary trainer; play a quiz game… I have tried a few. It was quite cool at the beginning. But then for some reasons I just didn’t keep up with using them. I am more a person who learns with a paper and pen.
Nevertheless, I do like dict.cc and google translation app. I used them most of the time. They are basically my online dictionary. I like google translation app because I can take picture with it and translate the picture instantly. If I want to only look up a single word, I prefer to use dict.cc. I think the translation in dict.cc is better in the sense that it provides more different English meaning for each German word.
Another popular app is German Translator & Dictionary + by Vidalingua. I especially like its verb conjugator as it can show a verb in all major tenses clearly. You can also practice your German with vocabulary quizzes and flashcards if you like.
(3) Making my own quiz cards
As I mentioned before, I am more a person who learns with a paper and pen. In the past, I made my own vocabulary quiz cards. I used some small paper cards. On the front side of the card, I wrote the German word. And at the back, I wrote the English translation. I did that with German sentences too. I had a goal to make 10 cards per day. After some days, I already had quite many cards and I always carried them around with me. I read them when I was in the metro, or when I was waiting for someone.
I actually like to use this method to learn German, until I got so many cards that they became unmanageable. It was also quite time consuming to make all the cards.
(4) Reading interesting books in German (on a Kindle)
Have you watched the movie The Hunger Games? I watched this in the cinema (in English) and liked it very much. After some time, I talked with a friend who was also learning German. She told me that she read the book of The Hunger Games in German (Die Tribute von Panem), and she encouraged me to read it as well. At that time, I had around B1 German level. I was like, “No, there is no way I would understand the book! It sounds so complicated and my German is so bad!” So, I didn’t take any action.
After sometimes, she told me that she started to read the second part of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. She did not forget about me. She lent me the first part of The Hunger Games (paper book) and asked me again to read it.
I wanted to be polite and did not want to refuse her. So, I borrowed her book. At the beginning, I forced myself to read it (Because I could not keep the book forever, and at some point in time, I should return the book to her! That was actually my biggest motivation to read).
It was tough for the first 10 pages or so. I checked so many words in the dictionary and I read extremely slowly. However, after the first 10 pages, I read faster and faster. Because I realized that I did not need to check each and every word. Sometimes I could already follow without knowing the meaning of every word. And the big plus here is: Since I have already watched the movie, I knew more or less what the story was about. This helped me a lot when I read. Reading the book also helped me to learn many German words.
After some months, I finally finished reading the whole book!
I was so proud of myself! It took a long time but I made it. And I enjoyed the process, as it was an interesting story for me. Then I wanted to start reading the second part. This time, I bought a Kindle and read it there. I love this cool function in kindle that, if I tab on a word for a second, the English translation will appear in a pop-up window. So, it saved me a lot of time and I could read everything on the Kindle without using an additional dictionary.
Keep in mind that you need to achieve a certain level of German before you start with this method. I think between B1 to B2 will be a good starting point. And watching the movie beforehand will help a lot. You can try this method to learn German with any movies/book you like. I read The Hunger Games because the German writing in the book was not too difficult for me (I mean, it was manageable).
(5) German classes and exercises
I feel like I have never stopped visiting different German classes. When I was in university, I went to their German class (for free). Outside of university, I did most of my German classes in Volkshochschule (VHS). This is the most economic option. The quality of the classes depends greatly on the teachers. I have had very good and very bad teachers before.
If you are free from university and work, I suggest doing an intensive class to learn German. Otherwise, in VHS, they normally have courses once a week (3 hours) or twice a week (1.5 hours). Just google VHS with your city name and you will find the nearest VHS to your place.
Remember, the German class only helps if you are disciplined and do all the homework! If you are just going to the class without doing anything afterwards, it won’t help you much. I was very aggressive back then. I went to a B1 class, when I actually had only A2 level. I had a really hard time in the class. But I was super hardworking. I read through the whole chapter already before going to the class and checked all the words that I did not know. This helped me a lot so that I could follow the teacher. And of course, I did all the homework and studied the vocabulary after class.
Train by myself when there were no German classes
During times when there were no German classes, I was doing exercises myself. The German grammar was very complicated for me and I really wanted to train myself more on that. I bought this grammar exercise book and I love it. I set a goal to myself to do 10 pages a day. The book has some easy exercises and some more difficult one. It states that it is for A2-B2 Level. I was B1 at that time and it fitted me well. You can use any other exercise books that you like to learn German. The important thing is that you keep working on the exercises. Set a goal to yourself and achieve your goal day by day. Try to choose a book with answers as well. It is important to know the correct answers after working on the exercises.
(6) Changing your website to German version
When I first came to Germany, I used Google Chrome a lot to translate every website into English. After a while, when I had a bit more German knowledge, I didn’t use the translation function any more. Instead, I changed many of my websites into the German version: Facebook, Gmail, Amazon…
It can be quite annoying at the beginning. But I got used to it pretty fast. And I learned much more vocabulary, since I used these websites all the time. If you plan to have an office job in the future, this vocabulary will be very useful to you. For example, you will learn all the German vocabulary relating to sending email if you change your Gmail to German.
(7) Watching video
There are plenty of free materials online you can use to learn German. Youtube video is one of them. There are video designed for beginners to learn German, which includes interesting stories and subtitle.
Besides, watching movies or shows in German helped to improve my German significantly. I love watching Amazon Prime Videos. It allows me to choose different language audio and subtitle. Even when I watch a Hollywood movie, I change the audio to German and put on German subtitles. You can find other good streaming platforms to use in Germany here.
I always believe that it is better to find a fun way to learn German. For example, reading or watching something you enjoy. If you are only learning it in a hard way (memorizing), after some time you will fed up with it and you cannot enjoy the process.
(8) Listening to German folk music (Volksmusik)
Have you been to Octoberfest? Every year during the September time frame, there will be folk festivals in many different cities in Bavaria. A big tent is set up. People drink a lot of beer and dance in the tent with folk music.
When I moved to Munich, I immediately fell in love with folk music. The songs are mostly slow, so I can hear each German word in the lyrics more clearly. I loved it so much that I let my computer play the folk music at home all the time.
By the way, the young German people do not like to listen to folk music so much (unless they are drunk and in the tent). For them, this is very old fashioned. Back then I lived in a shared flat with a German guy. He really didn’t like that I played folk music all the time. He told me that not even his parents would listen to this, maybe his grandparents would. So, you can imagine how old fashioned these songs are. Nevertheless, I like them. And it is a good way to learn German when listening to them.
(9) Playing the same German story again and again
Okay this one is a little bit crazy. I read a kid story book. (Still, it was not that easy for me at that time). And I had an audio of it with around 10 chapters. So, every night, when I went to bed, I played the audio. Sometimes, I fell into sleep immediately without listening to anything from the audio. Sometimes, when I didn’t sleep immediately, I heard the story for the first few chapters until I fell into sleep.
I played the same audio again and again every night to learn German. At some point in time I could even memorize the whole story. (For sure I memorized the first chapter the best!) Since I read that book before, I knew already the background of the story. Even after many years now, I can still remember the tone of the people talking in the audio and what they have said…
(10) Date a German guy/girl
I have heard many different opinions on this one. Some people said that dating a German person can help them to learn German, some said the opposite. I guess it depends a lot on the person you are dating, if they are supportive or not. A drawback would be that if you are dating someone, you need to spend time on them as well. That means you may not be able to put all your time and energy to study and learn German.
The best would be to talk to your girlfriend/boyfriend in German!
This is the very best way that I can recommend. This way you will be learning German ALL THE TIME, even though you are not really studying German. When I first met my husband, we talked only in English for the first few years. During those years, I tried many different methods to learn German. When I made up my mind to switch our talking language from English to German, it was very hard and strange at the beginning. I had to really insist on this. But the magical thing was that, since we talked in German, my German improved like crazy. That was better than any German classes that I had!
Surely you should not be just dating someone for the sake of learning German. However, if you do meet someone interesting, who happens to be a German, then try not to waste your chance to learn German!
As said before, these are just some of the ways I have tried to learn German. It may not work for everyone. I just want to give you some suggestions. You should try different ways and find out what works best for you.
What methods have you tried to learn German? Is learning German difficult for you? Leave a comment below and let me know!
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!