On this page, you'll find everything you need to learn Greman from scratch.
You'll learn about the key features of the language and I'll share my best tips
and recommended German resources with you.
Starting out learning German can seem frightening at first. Words can fill the entire length of a piece of paper, and pronouncing letters you've never even heard of can feel like an impossible task.
Can anybody say words like Freundschaftsbeweis or Lebensabschnittsgefährte?
And why would you want to?
Grasping new concepts like word genders, learning new word order, and the invasion of inflected speech can leave you questioning your desire to learn to speak German.
In this article, I'm going to tell you why German is a language that opens up a world of possibilities.
You'll learn how this Indo-European language is going to make a difference in your life and why it's actually not as hard to learn as you might think.
I’m going to reveal everything I’ve discovered about how to learn German as a beginner, so you can benefit from my experience and start your journey to speak German off on the right path.
German was my 8th foreign language, so I think you'll see I've learned a few things along the way about what it takes to learn a new language successfully.
This article will give you all the information you need to know about this rich and beautiful language as well as how to start learning it.
Here’s what we’ll cover. If you’ve ever asked yourself any of the following questions, then this article is what you're looking for. If you want to skip ahead, just click the section that interests you.
Because this post covers everything you need to know as a beginner, it’s quite long!
I’ve also prepared a special PDF version of the post so you can download and read it anywhere, anytime:
There are lots of different reasons you might be motivated to learn German.
Whatever your reason, you should be excited!
German is a fascinating and rewarding language to learn. By learning even basic German, you’ll open a world of opportunities for yourself.
Perhaps you're already motivated to learn German, but here are a few more reasons learning this beautiful language could be a life changing experience for you:
When you think of learning German, you might think you're learning a language only 81 million people speak in some small country in Europe.
Well, you'd be wrong, because it's spoken all over the world, often in the most unusual places.
Including foreign speakers, German has up to 220 million speakers worldwide. Opening up your networking possibilities to such a large group of people can mean new opportunities for jobs, travel, friends, personal growth, love, and much more.
Aside from Germany, German is also the main language in:
And it's also recognised as a minority language in:
On the map below, the countries shown in bright red represent countries where German is the official primary or co-primary language. However, German is also recognised as a minority language in all of the regions marked in pink because of the large German-speaking communities who live there.
Estimates tell us that German is the native language of about 95 million people, up to 25 million speak it as their second language, and there could be as many as 100 million foreign speakers.
German is not only the most widely spoken language in the European Union, it's also one of the most widely taught in Europe and the USA.
This means it's a great language to learn because you'll find opportunities to use it all over the world!
In this section, you’re going to learn about the key linguistic features of German and what they mean for you as a beginner learner:
German belongs to the West Germanic group of Indo-European languages, alongside English and Dutch. That means we have some similarities to get started and form a basic understanding.
The first recordings of the German language start with the Romans in the first century BC. From this time until the 6th century AD, there was a single Germanic language with almost no dialects. Different dialects and forms of German first appeared later on.
German is an inflective language, which means words differ according to their grammatical gender. There are three different possibilities:
These just have to be learned by heart, but sometimes there is a logical correlation. For example:
Not too difficult so far, right?
Nouns are then inflected based on one of the four cases:
This is one of the main differences between German and English. Learning to use the correct ending is not always easy for us English speakers, and takes time and practice to get used to. In the grammar section of this article, you'll read about cases in more detail and learn how they work.
German has six verb tenses: four derived from auxiliary verbs and two tenses without. This sounds complicated but fortunately, the tenses are actually quite straightforward and have a lot in common with English.
The two finite tenses (those formed with just a single verb) are the present tense (Präsens) and the simple past tense (Imperfekt).
To use these tenses, you simply conjugate the verb you want to use, for example:
The four verb tenses which use auxiliary verbs are the future (Futur), the present perfect (Perfekt), the past perfect (Plusquamperfekt), and the future perfect (Futur perfekt). They're formed as follows:
As you can see, each tense has a clear pattern and the structures are quite similar to English, it's just a case of learning the German verb conjugations and participles, which is quite simple.
It will take a little time to get used to everything, but once you've grasped the concept, it's easy to put into practice.
Understanding prefixes and suffixes will also be an important part of learning German.
A prefix is a root or combination of letters that gets added to the beginning of the word, while a suffix is added at the end of a word.
An example of a prefix in English would be im-. By adding it to the beginning of words, you can change their meaning. For example, 'probable' can become 'improbable'.
German has even more of these patterns! These prefixes and suffixes can completely change or add something to the meaning of a base word in German and even create new words.
Take the verb brechen (to break), for example.
We can add a prefix and suffix to create an adjective: zerbrechlich (fragile).
Or we can apply different changes to turn it into a person: Verbrecher (criminal).
Again, this can seem intimidating at first but it actually makes learning German vocabulary easier!
Once you know the suffixes and prefixes you'll have hundreds of extra words at your fingertips without having to learn them all from scratch!
The German alphabet is almost the same as the English one, but with a few extra letters:
Most of the sounds in the German alphabet are similar to sounds in English, with a few exceptions, like the rolled -r, or -ch ending.
There are two common pronunciations for the German 'r':
The consonantal 'r' is one of the hardest sounds to learn in German. It's kind of like gargling without water.
Let's take the word 'drei' (three), for example. The rolling sound is created at the back of the vocal tract by creating a narrow passage with the tongue.
The vocalic 'r', on the other hand, is spoken very softly, more like a vowel. A vocalic 'r' is common with 'er' endings, like in Schwester (sister). Here the 'r' is barely noticeable, as it is unstressed.
In fact, it doesn't really sound like what we would think of as an 'r' sound at all, more like an 'ah' (Sch-ves-tah).
There are two possible pronunciations for the -ch sound in German.
The word 'Drachen' (dragon) is a good example of the first one. Following the vowels 'a', 'au', 'o', and 'u', it's spoken like a Scotsman saying Loch Ness:
This sound comes from the back of the tongue touching the soft palate.
The other sound is created when -ch follows 'e', 'ei', 'eu', 'ä', 'i', 'äu' and 'ö', or after a consonant, as is 'ich' (I), and 'Mädchen' (girl).
In this case, we articulate the -ch towards the front of the mouth. It's almost like a cross between -sh and a -ch in English.
Start by making the English -sh, but then instead of allowing air to flow at the side of the tongue, push the air over the top of the tongue, which is close to the roof of your mouth.
Although many sounds may be similar, their correlations are different and need to be learned and practised. It's important to learn the German alphabet at the very beginning. This way you can develop the habit of correct pronunciation.
If you are just starting out learning your first foreign language, you'll find it useful to become acquainted with the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA for short.
It's made up of phonemes, or unique individual sounds, which help as a great aid in pronunciation. Dictionaries usually have an IPA spelling of the word.
If we want to pronounce the German word for apples, Äpfel: /ˈɛpfəl/, for example, the IPA (/ˈɛpfəl/) can be very helpful.
This is especially useful when you need to figure out which of the 'r' or 'ch' sounds a word uses.
As a native English speaker, German pronunciation can seem difficult in the beginning.
We are used to making certain movements with our mouths and tongues when we speak and we've been training ourselves to do this ever since we first started talking.
When you begin to learn German, you're starting that process all over again with a new set of sounds so it's natural that it will take you some time to really get the hang of them.
This is where phonetic practice with a native German speaker becomes very important. A native speaker can help you train those difficult sounds and teach you the intricacies of pronunciation.
The more you speak, the easier it will become.
Even without perfect pronunciation, most Germans will be able to understand you with an accent, so don't let difficult sounds get in the way of practising the language.
Note from Olly: Huge thanks to Gabriel from the Sprachheld blog for contributing the audio recordings in this post!
When you think of German culture, what comes to mind?
Octoberfest? Beer? Currywurst and other meats? Giant pretzels? Punctuality and organisation? Like any country, Germany has a lot of stereotypes.
However, Germany has a rich culture that has touched many of our lives at some point. German philosophers, writers, musicians, inventors, media, and society have all been inspiring the world for centuries.
Germany has a literary background that goes all the way back to the middle ages.
If you're interested in literature you may be familiar with Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll, and Herta Müller; all Germans who have won Nobel prizes for their work.
I'm sure most people have heard of the Brothers Grimm, who wrote many Folklore masterpieces, such as “Rapunzel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, “Hanzel and Gretel”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Snow White”, just to name a few.
Schiller, Goethe, and Lessing are some of the other most famous German authors and influential thinkers of the modern era.
Those who understand German can also read the original works of some of the world's most brilliant philosophers. Germans philosophers have been shaping the way we perceive life for centuries:
Of course, you can read translated versions, but having a knowledge of the German language and culture will allow you to have an even deeper understanding of the material.
Philosophy might not really be your cup of tea, but if that's the case there are still lots of other fascinating elements of German culture to explore.
Germany is home to the world's most famous classical composers, including Beethoven, Schumann, Händel, Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Wagner, and Brahms, to name just a few.
It was also a German - Wolkenstein - who revolutionised classical music in the 14th century. He collected and shared the classical techniques he learned throughout his European journeys, which played a significant role in the development of future composers.
The Neue Deutsche Welle in the 1970s brought us a new form of German rock music. This underground movement was a mix of punk and new wave music, which introduced us to artists like Nena and Falco.
Germans were also very influential in the development of electronic music. The band Kraftwerk, for example, was one of the first bands to play only on electronic instruments. Today, Germany continues to have one of the largest electronic music scenes in the world.
Many of our Christmas songs also come from German. “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht) and “O Christmas Tree” (O Tannenbaum) are well known in their English translations.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which Germans have had an impact on the world of music. Germany is also well known for its Schlager and folk music, synthpop, punk, heavy metal, and even hip hop.
Innovative Germans have brought us a wide array of discoveries, from cell theory to jeans, and so much in between.
Gutenberg, for example, is accredited with the invention of movable type and the development of the printing press.
Albert Einstein provided us with many of our current theories in physics and Leibniz with new mathematical concepts.
Germans have played a significant role in developments in medicine, biology, chemistry, sociology, and astronomy as well.
Germany may have a history of Nazism and extreme right-wing conservatism, but modern day Germany has changed tremendously.
The country is now a multicultural centre with a wide variety of lifestyles and ethnocentric backgrounds mixed together.
Today, around 20% of the population originates from outside of Germany. Civil unions, disability rights, and a high level of gender equality are the result of tolerance and cultural integration.
Germans love to travel and are some of the top spenders in the world when it comes to holidays. Six weeks of paid holiday is normal in Germany. Germans use this to see and experience the rest of the world, improving their multicultural status.
Although it might not seem obvious, Germany is also home to some of the largest media conglomerates in the world.
It has Europe's largest television market and best-selling newspapers.
It's no wonder that Germany holds one of the world's most significant book fairs given that German publishers release nearly 60,000 new publications each year.
As a German learner, you certainly won't find yourself short of reading material!
Compared with some other European languages, German seems to have a developed a reputation for being notoriously difficult to learn.
But in fact, once you overcome the unfamiliarity, you'll find that German isn't as hard as you might think.
English is a Germanic language, and both English and German come from the Indo-European language family.
This means our languages aren't actually as different as they seem.
At first glance, German might seem like an intimidating language. But once you break it down into its components, you realise it's actually very logical.
German has adopted a lot of words from the English language, making a lot of vocabulary self-explanatory for English speakers.
English is believed to have the largest vocabulary of all languages, with over one million words in the dictionary, and counting. German has at least 140 thousand words, but not nearly as many as English, making it much easier to learn.
Even though there are lots of very long words in German, these are always just a combination of shorter, simpler ones, which makes them easy to learn. Not to mention all the words German and English share in common.
If we look at some of the most common misconceptions about German, you'll see just why this wonderful language isn't as a tricky as it might seem.
Some people might see long German words full of consonants and feel too frightened to even attempt pronouncing them.
However, most German words aren't that long. The most common words are pretty short, and even the long words that look confusing can be broken down into short easy words.
Long words in German are mostly compound words created by combining two or more shorter words together. This is something we have in English as well, just not to the same extent as German.
English words like 'swimsuit' (swim suit) and 'bedroom' (bed room) are examples of a similar phenomenon.
As you'll soon see, long words in German are nothing to be overly worried about!
Another misconception is that German is a harsh language.
Many people have the impression that German is a rough language, spoken from the throat, but it isn't actually like that.
The sounds don't all come from the throat, rather from certain lip and tongue movements.
Once you start to practice speaking German, you'll realise that it's actually quite simple to pronounce.
German grammar actually has a lot more in common with English than some other languages.
The cases may seem confusing at first, but there are only 4 of them. In comparison, Finnish has 26!
German also shares an alphabet with English, unlike Greek, Russian, Chinese and many other languages.
Since German and English both come from the same language family, the similarities are greater than the differences.
Many of the most common words in English are of Germanic descent.
I have and ich habe, for example, are very similar, which makes these types of word combinations easy to remember.
Learning simple German sentences will be encouraging in the beginning. Take a look at these phrases:
They're not so different from English, right? The word order is the same and even some of the words are quite similar. Phrases like this take almost no effort to learn and will have you practising the German language in no time.
There are hundreds of words that are spelt the same and have the same meaning in both German and English. Here are some great examples of words shared by both languages:
This makes it easy to start learning German vocabulary quickly.
You can instantly grow your German vocabulary, just by making or finding a list of all the common words.
There are also “false friends”, or words that are spelt similarly but have different meanings.
Take 'fabric' and 'fabrik', for example.
Both words sound the same but have different meanings. Fabrik in German means factory, whereas the word for 'fabric' is actually Stoff.
That said, a few simple memory tricks can make these correlations fun and easy to learn. Create an image in your mind of a fabric factory, for example. That way, whenever you see the word 'Fabrik', you'll also think of a factory.
There are also similarities in German and English grammar.
The past tense forms of the English word 'drink', for example, are:
We see that the German version follows almost the same pattern and gives us:
Many German verbs follow patterns that we are used to in English, making the grammar that much easier.
German grammar may seem intimidating as a beginner.
Sentence structure, verb conjugations, and case endings can appear overwhelming.
However, German grammar isn't as complicated as it looks.
Unlike English grammar, German grammar has few exceptions to its rules, and its explanations are straightforward and simple.
This section is a comprehensive overview of the basics of German grammar which will show you why German isn't so difficult and how you should go about tackling it. Here's what we'll learn about:
German is an inflected language. That means every noun is associated with a masculine, feminine, or neutral gender article.
Instead of just having one word for 'a' or 'the', Germans have multiple possibilities.
This can be one of the most confusing parts of learning German when you're just getting started. How do you know whether to use der, die, or das?
The grammatical gender of each word is best learned with the word itself.
Although many correlations are obvious, most genders have to be learned together with the new vocabulary.
The cases, on the other hand, follow specific rules. The table below shows how the article 'the' changes for each of the genders, as well as for each case.
As we can see, the nominative and accusative cases are almost the same, with the exception of der becoming den'.
The dative case is slightly more different, with the masculine and neutral articles becoming dem, feminine becoming der, and plural den'.
In a German sentence:
If you're new to cases, this probably sounds very difficult but you'll find that once you start practising it's quite straightforward.
In German, certain prepositions are associated with the accusative and dative cases. As your German improves you'll come across more and more of these.
Dual prepositions can take either the accusative or dative case. These include:
For static, non-moving subjects, the dative case is used, for example:
In this instance:
Let's look at another example:
We now have:
Since this sentence involves a motion, your food being put somewhere, the table takes on the accusative form.
There are also some special dative prepositions, which always take on the dative case, regardless of motion. These are:
The best way to learn these is to pay attention to how they're used when you see them in sentences.
Instead of trying to memorise rules, focus on noticing the patterns of the cases and prepositions in sentences you read and hear.
Then try to copy these patterns when you're creating your own sentences!
It's easy to get intimidated by long German words. They seem to take up half the page and at first glance, you think 'I'll never be able to pronounce that.'
But actually, pronouncing such words is quite simple. It's just a case of knowing how to approach it.
Let's look at one of the longer words in German - Freundschaftsbeweis, which means 'a demonstration of friendship'.
It might seem overwhelming at first, but it's actually not.
If we break this word up into its individual elements, we see that it's made up of small words, which would look like this:
In English, we conjugate verbs by adding an ending for regular verbs or changing the word for irregular verbs.
For example, in English we conjugate the verb 'to be' as follows:
German also conjugates verbs, and the word sein (to be) is conjugated similarly:
As we can see, both the English and German equivalents follow very similar patterns.
English and German both conjugate verbs in the past tense as well. Although German conjugates verbs to a further extent than English, the conjugations often follow rules and are easy to learn.
Get a good book with clear explanations and exercises, then practice the conjugations a lot. Try to identify the conjugations when you're listening or reading and when you speak, try your best to use them.
Believe it of not, there are some things about German that are easier than English!
In German, for example, there are no continuous tenses.
In English, we have the present tense, as well as the present continuous. For example:
The first sentence is a generalisation, whereas the second sentence describes a one-time event happening at the moment.
In German, however, both sentences are the same:
The meaning is then determined by the context in which the sentence appears.
German grammar may seem scary at first but this is because it's unfamiliar.
While it may take you some time to get a handle on German grammar, it's reassuring to know that it's very regular and there are very few exceptions to the rules, unlike in English which is full of them!
Learning your first foreign language is always the hardest. It's hard to know where to start or which approaches really work.
What prevents people from learning a language is normally not the difficulty of the language itself. It's the fact that they don't know how to learn a language.
Through trial and error when learning German, you'll learn what works and, importantly, what doesn’t work.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid some of the common mistakes many new language learners make:
Learning the alphabet and pronunciation of individual letters is often overlooked by new learners because it seems boring and too simple.
Although it's great to dive right in by learning key phrases at the beginning, don't forget to learn the pronunciation of the alphabet.
The German alphabet is similar to the English alphabet, which at first glance, might seem like there's nothing new to learn.
However, German pronunciation is slightly different and takes practice to get used to. English speakers often have trouble losing their accent because they didn't take the time to learn the basics.
After you've learned the basics of pronunciation, don't dwell too much on sounds that give you difficulty in the beginning.
Practice is key to improving fluency, so find a way to improvise a rolled 'r', and at some point, it will come naturally.
Focus more on the sounds you are able to get right and use this as encouragement to continue learning. In the beginning, it's about familiarising yourself with the language, not perfect pronunciation.
Many people are hesitant to start speaking a foreign language in the beginning.
If you are unsure how to pronounce certain words, which grammar to use, or confused about an adjective ending, you might feel like you're not ready to start speaking German yet.
However, it's important to start speaking in the beginning and accept that you're going to make mistakes.
Instead of becoming discouraged by your mistakes, see them as an opportunity to improve your language skills. Chances are, people aren't judging you as harshly as you imagine!
When you start to learn German as your first foreign language, you might not know the best approach to take.
Should you learn German online? Or with a book? Should you sign up for a class?
There are countless ways to learn, no matter where you are in life. Take the time to find something you like and enjoy using, then get started!
Focus on learning the language rather than always looking for the perfect resource - there is no easy solution.
Learning a new language can be hard to grasp at first, but it should also be fun.
So if your current approach leaves you feeling unmotivated, switch things up a bit. Try a new method, teacher, or approach, and remember that learning German should be enjoyable.
The first step in learning German is to get yourself a good German textbook. The reason for this is simple: a good textbook will contain everything you need to know as a beginner.
That's why textbooks are the perfect tool for learning the foundations of the language. And there are hundreds of German textbooks out there to choose from!
When you're trying to find the right one for you, there are quite a few options to consider.
Look inside the book first and see if the material is written in a straightforward way that's easy to understand.
Make sure the book is comprehensive but also includes enough descriptive details.
If possible, check out the textbooks in a bookshop before you buy anything, and choose one you like the look and feel of.
It's not a bad idea to have more than one German book to use as a reference. That way, if you don't understand a concept in one book, you can look it up in one of your other books for a different explanation.
When you're just starting out learning German, take the time to learn the basics.
Figure out how German pronunciation works and focus on learning the basic phrases you're likely to use in your first conversations.
These are core skills you can practice in the beginning that get you exposure to the language, without the frustration of learning any difficult new concepts.
Phrases like “Guten Tag” (good day), “Wie geht's?” ( how are you), and “Wie heißt das?” (What is that called?) are easy to remember, commonly used, and get you speaking right from the beginning.
Once you've gotten to know the fundamentals, it's time to start learning some phrases.
There are certain key words and phrases that will give you a huge head start in conversational German. Learn these first and you'll be surprised how much you can communicate in a short period of time.
It's also a good idea to write down any relevant new vocabulary you encounter, not forgetting to take note of the word's gender.
You don't need to learn every word, but when you come across something you can imagine yourself using in a conversation, take note of it.
You'd be surprised how a few key phrases can have you leading a conversation in no time.
It's also useful to take note of polite forms of speech. For example:
If this already seems too difficult in the beginning, remember that there is always an easier way to say something. “Ein Bier, Bitte” (one beer, please) is much easier to remember.
When learning a new language, it's easy to get hung up on grammar.
Grammar is important and you will need to focus on it more as you progress.
But as a beginner, you shouldn't spend inordinate amounts of time studying grammar books. Don't worry if you make grammatical mistakes.
Instead, focus on exposing yourself to German as much as possible and paying careful attention to the patterns you start to recognise.
If you do this, you'll soon start to notice the main grammatical structures becoming clear.
Try and pick up the grammar through context and use these patterns you identify as clues.
Of course, you will make mistakes in grammar. Even native speakers mess up their grammar sometimes.
Just try to stay focused on continuing to practice what you're able to understand and build up your language knowledge on the basis you already have.
There's no better way to learn a language than exposure and practice!
Try to find native speakers, fellow learners or friends who you can speak German with.
Look for German events in your community, such as a Stammtisch (a type of informal German meet-up), that can offer an opportunity for language practice. The Goethe Institute can be another great place to meet German speakers and fellow learners.
Now that you're ready to start learning German, these are my recommended resources to learn as quickly as possible.
Learn to Write in German
Follow these tips and you'll be speaking German in no time!
Start with the basics and find native speakers to practice with. If you put in the time and effort, your fluency will gradually improve.
Remember that learning a new language takes time, and practice and exposure are the best ways to improve your skills. Have patience with the learning process and try not to get hung up on difficult grammatical concepts in the beginning.
With the ability to speak German, you'll be able to get around effortlessly, not only in Germany but many other countries. There are entire German-speaking communities in many places you wouldn't expect all around the world!
Learning German will allow you to better understand the original works of some of the world's greatest philosophers, scientists, authors, artists, and musicians. You'll have a better understanding of German culture and gain new insight into your own.
When you learn German, you're learning more than just a new language.
You're learning to think about the world in a new way, you're learning how culture plays an important role in the development of a language, and you're opening up your mind to new possibilities.
Whether you're interested in travel or work opportunities, expanding your networking options, learning about culture and society, or just language in general, the German language has something to offer everyone.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful!
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I know this is a long post and it’s difficult to take everything in all at once. That’s why I’ve created a special PDF version which you can download and refer to any time you need it! And if you download the PDF, I'll send you even more tips to help you as you continue learning German.
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