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How to Learn German Quickly

Updated on September 6, 2022
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Paul began learning Chinese at DLI in 1967. He spent an immersion in Taiwan 1984-1985 improving Mandarin listening, speaking, and reading.

German Obituary of My Great-great-grandmother



Throughout the past years, I have toyed with the idea of learning German. At an early age, dad mentioned the difference between essen and fressen in German and complained about grandpa and grandma never having taught him that language. I had an interest in learning German but had to wait until college to study it. German was not offered in my high school.

During my last two years of college, I finally enrolled in three German courses. I wasn't, however, really motivated to learn that language well. You might say that I signed up for the classes only to meet a foreign language requirement for majoring in chemistry.

Since 2016, I have had more motivation to learn German. In August of 2016, I started doing ancestry research. Finally, I had reached the stage in my life when I wanted to find out more about my roots in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. After discovering that many old records about my ancestors were in German, it became obvious that I had to know German. Furthermore, since I am seriously considering visiting Europe in 2018 for ancestry research, it became even more important that I learn German quickly.

In this article, I first relate my experiences studying German in college, and now my progress in learning German online.

Studying German in College

As a junior and senior at the University of Wisconsin from 1965 to 1966, I enrolled in three German classes. My motive was primarily to meet a foreign language requirement and not to learn German very well. The first two-semester classes were devoted to learning a lot of German vocabulary and grammar. Then, during the third semester, I was introduced to literature.

Without very much study, I made grades of B in the first two courses. In the third course, I remember cutting a lot of classes and studying very little. Needless to say, I only received a C in the class. By the end of three semesters of study, I really couldn't speak German very well, and my reading proficiency was minimal. Frankly speaking, I found the three classes quite boring because they were taught by non-native speakers using a grammar-translation method.

Learning German Online

In January 2017, I began to learn German in earnest. Since there are no schools in my living area in Thailand offering German courses, I signed up for two online. One of the classes is offered by Duolingo, and the other by Memrise. They are both free.

The course on Duolingo is self-paced and concentrates on presenting spoken and written German. Essential and useful vocabulary and grammar are presented in short lessons.

Each lesson introduces five to eight new vocabulary and a grammar item such as the use of adjectives, tenses, and plurals. Vocabulary is presented with the use of pictures or in sentences where the student has to guess the correct meaning. If a student gives a wrong response, he or she is presented with additional sentences until a correct answer is elicited.

In addition to introducing new material, all items learned in previous lessons are constantly reviewed. Students are presented with a suggested fluency in a language based on the number of lessons they have completed. They may also take non-timed evaluations and/or timed tests to measure their mastery of vocabulary and grammar.

Memrise is set up to develop a learner's listening comprehension. In each lesson, five words, useful expressions, or sentences are presented through memes. After the meaning of a word, expression, or sentence is introduced, students are exposed to some native speakers using this language in social settings. Within 20 or 30 seconds, you have to choose the correct answer, and/or translate it either to German or to English. Lessons are set up like games where you receive points and can compete with other learners. I found the lessons at times stressful but a lot of fun.

How to Learn German Quickly

Based on my German online learning experience and a previous study of Chinese Mandarin and Thai, any language can be learned quickly if one is strongly motivated. I was motivated to learn both Mandarin and Thai because I needed both languages to do my job. Doing future ancestry research in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland is now driving me to learn German.

Besides motivation, it is necessary to learn and practice a language every day. I devote at least 30-45 minutes daily to learning German online, and I try to practice what I have learned when meeting native speakers.

After I have learned additional vocabulary and grammar, I plan to join an online language exchange and practice my German with native speakers through language swaps on Skype.

Although it takes many years to learn a language well, basic conversational and written German can be learned very quickly through motivation and a lot of constant practice.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn


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