Learning German can feel intimidating to most beginners.
What’s ironic is that German and English belong to the same language family, the West Germanic. Yet, compared to French, Spanish, or Italian, English speakers seem to have a more difficult time learning German.
Not to worry, as German isn’t that difficult to learn. Yes, the accent is quite different and there are over a dozen ways to say ‘the’. However, it also shares many of the same or similar words to English. Take a look at these words that are the same in English and German:
Now let’s go over similar words from English to German:
- Social = Sozial
- Feather = Federfeder
- Thirst = Durst
- Thing = Ding
- Under = Unter
- Daughter = Tochter
- Grab = Grave
- Sunny = Sonnig
- Seven = Sieben
Notice how ‘c’ in English converts to ‘z’, ‘t’ in English converts to ‘d’, and vice versa. Noticing these patterns is one of the key elements to helping you hack your German skills faster, so pay attention! This is why the first tip we have for you to learn German faster is…
1. Learn the cognates (borrowed words) from English to German
What are cognates you ask? A cognate word is one that shares its origins from the same or similar language family. As we mentioned above, given that English and German both come from Germanic roots, they share many borrowed words.
For German beginners, this means that you need to familarize yourself with cognate rules. These are: ‘if X, then Y’ rules that help you translate English words into German words immediately. Where you want to focus is learning the most common cognate rules and build from there.
Here are some examples of some German cognates:
- Ch (English) to K (German)
- Example: Chin to Kinn
- Gh (English) to Ch (German)
- Example: Lighter to Licht
- X (English) to Chs (German)
- Example: Fox to Fuchs
- Y (English) to G (German)
- Example: Yarn to Garn
The complication with German cognates arise because there are many different variations and possibilities, making it slightly more difficult to memorize. We recommend using digital flashcards like Memrise or Anki to speed up your memorization.
Here is an extensive list of cognates from English to German.
2. Focus on learning the most common German words
The reason you want to focus on the most useful German words is because we only use a fraction of the vocabulary in any language. Take English for example, and think about 10 of the most sophisticated words you know the definition of. Now think about how often you actually use these regularly in your everyday conversations. Probably not often right?
For this same logic, the goal for beginners shouldn’t be to focus on quantity of words learned. A more effective goal is to focus on the quality and most commonly used words.
There is a study done in the Spanish language that states:
“Learning first 1,000 most common Spanish words will be an essential milestone we should achieve in any language, as this will allow us to:
- grasp 88% of vocabulary in oral speech
- express everything we could possibly want to say”
In hindsight, it makes sense right?
We may use more than 1,000 different words in our everyday conversations, as there are always more complicated vocabulary that arise. However, if you were to learn 1,000 of the most common words, then being able to express everything you want to say seems quite plausible. The percentage may vary for German (likely lower), but it doesn’t vary much to neglect the argument.
3. Make it part of your daily lifestyle (and routine)
The third step to learn German in record time is to change your surrounding. What you do, see, hear, or think about everyday will eventually shape who you are. This logic applies to your health, relationships, wealth, and it certainly applies to learning a new language.
What should you specifically change about your lifestyle to increase your immersion in German? Try these tips:
a. Make your online life German
From social media to your device, changing your foreign language setting to German will make a big impact to your reading skills. Most of us are said to spend 6-9 hours a day on our devices (1-3 hours of that being social media). We can apply that to subconsciously helping us become better readers in German, and those 1-3 hours we normally waste can become valuable.
If social media is not a norm for you, then think about where you spend the most time during your day. You can change your browser language to German, find a German version of your favorite video game, etc.
Whatever you enjoy doing on a regular basis, find a way to conver that into German learning.
b. Podcasts or audiobooks
One of the most useful things about audio is that you can be doing something else as you listen. Whether that’s working, walking your dog, or doing your laundry, you can be learning something new on-the-go.
This is why we recommend subscribing to a few German podcasts to listen to:
If you’re looking for audiobooks (for more advanced learners), you can check out:
The best way we recommend for listening to German audiobooks is to find a book you’ve been meaning to listen to, and find the German version. From there, if you’re using Audible, you can slow it down to 0.5x speed so that you’re able to listen to it in a slower manner.
Keep in mind that you may not be able to understand most of it in the beginning, but that’s normal. What’s important is to pause often, translate words you’re not familiar with, then practice saying them outloud.
c. Memorize lyrics to catchy German songs
Music is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to a foreign language, without feeling any intimidation. This is why millions of language learners become interested in a new language, after hearing a K-Pop song, latin music, and catchy German songs.
Don’t expect to understand all the words, but you can familiarize yourself with the chorus lyrics which most songs will repeat over and over again. Since you can also listen to music on-the-go or while you’re working, we suggest creating a playlist using your favorite music streaming app.
From there you can play the playlist on repeat until it’s ingrained into your memory!
4. Speak from day one
Easier said than done right?
However, it may be the most important obstacle you have to overcome to become fluent faster. According to the National Training Laboratories, when you learn by doing or immediately using what you’ve learned, it can be up to 18x more effective than learning via a classroom.
With that logic, you can work 2x or even 5x as hard using a less effective method like reading or classroom lectures. Or, you can do what effective learners do, focus on the most impactful learning method. For language learning, this is definitely speaking from day one.
Here are a few ways to accomplish this:
a. Find a conversation partner
This could be a close friend that speaks German natively, a co-worker, or someone you find at a local language exchange. Just keep in mind that there has to be something you incentivize them with to keep them motivated. One of the hardest things about practicing with conversation partners is the scheduling conflict or lack of accountability. After a few sessions, it usually tends to fizzle out.
Hence, we also recommend…
b. Working with a professional German teacher
The incentive here is dead simple: money. When there is a clear value for both parties, it becomes a sustainable learning experience in the long-run. More importantly, the advantages of working with a professional teacher are clear. You get to tap into the knowledge of someone who has worked with dozens if not hundreds of students like you. In addition, you’re able to get personalized feedback that can shortcut your learning curve significantly.
c. Download an app that helps you practice speaking
Lastly, we recommend finding language apps that encourage you to speak from day one. As of this moment, we have not been able to find any great apps that focus on this, which is why we launched Rype GO. GO uses AI-powered speaking lessons to get you speaking confidently from day one. The lessons are designed to feel like real-life conversations you’ll have with a friend or a local, and with speech recognition technology, you’ll get instant feedback.
5. Play the long game
Most of the benefits in our lives come from long-term compound interest. This is actually a paraphrased Warren Buffett quote, but the same logic applies to learning new skills or getting in shape. You can’t expect to get the results you desire in the first week, month, or even a year from now.
The key is not to focus on the results but the system that will allow you to become the person that can become fluent in German. This means a shift in your identity, not just your daily habits. Set up a schedule that you can follow day in, and day out, and make it dead easy for yourself to do so.
This could mean starting out your German lessons by practicing for just 5 minutes a day. Or it could mean rewarding yourself with a tasty meal or a night out with your friends to trigger dopamine whenever you practice. Figure out what will allow you to play the long game, and start before you’re ready.
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