The best way to learn German fast with these tricks
Learning German can sometimes be overwhelming. All those articles, cases, plural forms, conjugation forms, declension, what is all this for? This guide will help you learn German fast.
This is part no. 1, the guide for beginners where we talk about how you can sharpen your newly learnt skills right from the start.
Every language is different and unique, and German is no exception. Knowing about the differences will speed up your learning and make the German language more enjoyable.
Be the better German learner and learn German more efficiently with these simply tricks that I’m going to tell you about here.
1. Use lower case AND capital letters
Make it a habit, if it is not one yet, to write in capital and lower case letters. This is very important as the first letter of a German noun is written in a capital letter. The following letters are written in lower case letters (das Auto, die Frau, der Mann). Only nouns are capitalised (the table, the mouse, the car, etc.), not verbs (to swim, to do, to dance, etc.).
Using lower case and capital letters will help you distinguish between nouns and verbs which again will help you get familiar with the most basic elements of sentence, fundamental elements that everything else is based on.
Capitalising will also have a cultural benefit, while choosing to skip it might turn your writing into a cultural faux pas. The recipient of an email or letter might get the impression that they’re not worth a quick check over the text that has been sent to them. Even though Germans tend to focus less on capitalisation rules in informal emails and text messages, it is still very important in (semi) formal writing especially at work.
Writing in lower case letters has the potential to make you look lazy, or coupled with other spelling mistakes, less capable of speaking the language.
Breaking this rule simply won’t make you look good. It’s probably best to get into the habit of capitalising the right letters straight away, and later on, once you understand the nuances better, decide again on a case by case basis.
2. Learn the definite article with the noun
Learn nouns always together with their definite article (der, die, das). As German is a gendered language, not only people have a certain sex or gender but words too. The der, die, das mark the gender of each noun. Der is used for masculine words, die for female and das for neuter words.
You will need the gender of nouns for many grammar rules. Think of having to add the right ending to adjectives like der blaue Tisch (the blue table) compared to ein blauer Tisch (a blue table). The endings you have to add are mostly based on the gender/article of nouns.
Sometimes you even have to change the article itself. How you have to change the article is based on the function of the word in a sentence (also called cases). We might say Da ist der Mann (Here is the man), but also Ich sehe den Mann (I see the man).
To change the articles correctly, you need to know about German cases but also the der, die, das of the nouns. They are the centrepieces of the German language.
Having to go back and learn all those der, die, das again, will be annoying and, most importantly, time consuming. To speed up your learning process, it makes sense to invest a little time in learning the der, die, das with the noun right from the start.
Here’s some tricks that will help you memorise the der, die, das:
- See the article as a part of the noun. Tell yourself it’s one word, it’s not der Mann but derMann.
- Some learners also use colours to better remember the der, die, das. You could think of blue when coming across a new masculine noun like a blue fish when you learn der Fisch. Or think of a red sausage for die Wurst or a green bicycle for das Fahrrad.
- If you are more into memorizing pictures than colours, try to visualise a photo of an animal. A cat could be for a feminine noun, a dog for a masculine and a fish for a neuter noun.
- Make up a story. Think of a blue train (der Zug) going along a beautiful countryside peacefully until a gigantic boxes shows up (der – masculine) and smashes the train, tramples on it and throws it up in the air. Simply give the masculine nature of the word a meaning by linking it to something that is masculine to you.
The more you think about a word, the more time it will save you in the long run.
3. Learn irregular plural and verb forms straight away
If a German verb or a noun turns out to be irregular (=strong), you also want to learn irregular forms with it:
- The verb fahren (to drive, to cycle) changes the stem in the 2nd and 3rd person singular (du fährst, er/sie/es fährt).
- The way you want to memorise it, will be fahren (er fährt).
- Don’t forget the meaning either: fahren (er fährt) – to drive, to cycle
The same thing can be done for nouns and their plural forms. Again, you want to learn the definite article (der, die, das) with the noun and also with its plural form.
This is how you want to learn German nouns:
- r Hund, -e – dog
Many dictionaries use those abbreviations to show you the singular and plural form of a noun. It tells you about the gender/definite article and its plural form. The r in front of the noun stands for der and the –e stands for the plural form Hunde: der Hund, die Hunde (the dog, the dogs).
- e Katze, -n – cat
It’s die Katze and the plural form of die Katze is, die Katzen (the cat, the cats).
- s Haus, -“er – house
The s – you might have guessed it – is short for das, but we also have to change the a in Haus to an umlaut in plural: das Haus, die Häuser (the house, the houses).
If you want to learn more about the 8 ways to form the plural in German, check out my Youtube video on it. You’ll learn useful tips how you can break it down into a few simple rules.
4. Learn how to pronounce words
Sure, der, die, das and plural forms will help you learn German fast, but don’t forget you want to speak German too. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to converse in the language you have been trying so hard to learn and not only to read it to yourself?
To be able to converse in German, you want to get familiar with the pronunciation of German words. Yes, pronunciation is also one of the things that will help you embrace the German language fast. German and English use similar words but the pronunciation and intonation of words and sentences is different.
When you learn German at or with a school, make sure you speak as much as you can. Take the opportunity to be corrected by your teacher. Use websites or audio CDs that come with most of the course books. Make German friends and speak and listen to German native speakers. And of course, there’s also Youtube and websites like Fluentu which is like Youtube for language learners.
The pronunciation is one of the things I practise a lot with my German students here in Melbourne. We practise the German ‘r’ which is so what not like the English ‘r’, but mostly we practise German s-sounds and the ch like in lachen or ich.
Umlauts are important too. Since the German umlauts (ä, ö, ü) are not part of the English alphabet, it can be tough for learners to tell them apart from their more common cousins, the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and of course to also to produce the sounds themselves.
Tongue twister for Germans
But don’t worry. We are all in the same boat. Germans have troubles to pronounce the English ‘th’. Seriously, forget about ‘squirrel’ and all the other tongue twister you have thought Germans would screw up.
If you want to have a laugh, ask your German friend to say a sentence with lots of ‘th’s combined with some ‘s’ and ‘z’ or ‘t’ sounds.
I still want to die when trying my luck at a sentence like this: I went up the third path to the theatre. I will probably make it fine to ‘path’ but then won’t get the transition right from the ‘t’ in ‘to’ back to the ‘th’ sound in ‘the’ and ‘theatre’. This is the worst sentence ever. Never ask me which path I took to get to the theatre if it has more than 2, please. Thanks.
Also, there are letters in the German language that need to be pronounced very accurately while others can easily (and sometimes must) be treated as the same letter.
- Pronounce umlauts correctly (ä, ü, ö need to be discriminate them from their counterparts a, u, o to clearify the meaning, “Is it plural or singular?”)
- Pronounce s-sounds correctly (s, z, ß, c, tio)
- Don’t worry about k and g (Germans turn most of ‘g’s –not all- into ‘k’s)
- Don’t worry about rolling the r (everyone will still understand you easily)
You’ll find more on this in my pronunciation guide that I’m still to write up. I will post it here once it’s ready.
Learn the German phonetics
To speed up your listening, speaking and writing skills, learn the phonetic alphabet. Or at least, get familiar with the one that is used in your dictionary, work or course book.
Use websites, apps or extensions for your browser like Lingua.ly that can play words for you. Don’t only listen, also speak it out loud yourself. Say all of the words you are learning yourself at least once, even better if you say them twice.
This will be the first step to cement it in your head and to use it in a conversation.
5. Don’t just learn the German grammar, understand and use it too
There are quite a few grammar rules in the German language. To keep them in mind it is a great idea to learn them, but you also want to understand and use them in conversations with others. The rules will stick to your mind once you really understand what the rule actually is about and means in practice.
Practise German grammar rules
What’s the best way to understand new grammar rules? Firstly, you want to practise them, of course. Drill exercises seem to help with getting the pattern right. Just keep on practising until it hits you like a ton of bricks when the understanding sets in.
Once you get a feel for how it works, use the grammar rule and, if you can, get some feedback from a German native speaker.
Keep it simple and find similarities and differences
It also helps to simplify complex tables of adjective and other case endings. For example, compare tables of the declension of the indefinite articles (ein, eine) with the declension of the determiner dieser (this). The endings are similar in large parts, at least for the masculine and feminine gender.
Also remember that the declension endings of dieser are also used for other determiners, such as jeder (each, every), alle (all), beide (both) and many more. Keep it simple to speed it up and look for similarities and differences.
6. Make things visible, rinse and repeat
Another technique that is crucial and therefore mentioned in our “Best way to learn German fast”- guide is REPETITION. Repeat your newly learnt words, phrases or grammar rules to memorise them. Use mind maps, colours and pictures to make them clear and visualise what they actually mean.
Space out your learning and repeat new vocabulary the next day, one week later, a month later and finally 6 months later to remember them forever. There’s also a ton of apps out there that help you memorise things better. Some of the more popular ones are Anki (iOS and Google Play), Memrise and Quizlet.
Do this and you will never remember it forever. I’ve tried it out myself and it worked fantastic.
The bottom of the guide
It will pay off to invest as much as you can in learning new words and grammar rules. Make it a habit, right away from the start.
But even if you have been learning German for a while, it is never too late to change old habits that you are not happy with. Changing your routine will also be fun and motivating. Spice up your German learning.
- Make it a habit to use lower case letters and capital letters.
- Learn the der, die, das and the plural forms with each noun
- Don’t put off learning irregular nouns and verb forms.
- Learn German pronunciation. It will speed up your learning.
- Understand the grammar (learn it first, then start to understand and use it).
- Rinse and repeat your freshly learnt grammar and vocabulary.
Did you feel overwhelmed at first when you started out learning German? What do you do to speed up your learning? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.