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How to Learn German Quickly

Updated on April 24, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

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 definitely 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.

Within the past year, 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 learning German online.

Studying German in College

As a junior and senior at the University of Wisconsin 1965-1966, 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 much study, I made grades of B in the first two courses. In the third course, I remember cutting a lot of classes and not studying very much. 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 of 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 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 successfully 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 a number of native speakers using this language in social settings. Within 20 or 30 seconds, you have to choose the correct answer, and/or translate either to German or to English. Lessons are set up like games where you receive points and can compete with other learners.

How to Learn German Quickly

Based on my German online learning experience and previous study of Chinese Mandarin and Thai, language can be learned quickly if one is highly 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 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 really learn a language well, basic conversational and written German can be learned quite quickly through motivation and much constant practice.

© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I have found Memrise a lot of fun to use. This site is good for developing aural-comprehension.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I'm sorry the Michel Thomas method didn't work for you before. Yes, there is a big difference between academic German and the German that is needed for travelling and survival level conversation.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am happy you enjoyed this article and found it useful.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 8 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your comments. Is conversational Spanish or the written form more important for you to learn?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It is great that you have the motivation to study the German language. When I spent 3 weeks and a few of those days in Switzerland many years ago I had my German friend accompanying me who could interpret. I only knew a few words at that time.

      Nice to know about Duolingo and Memrise. I should truly learn more Spanish living here in Texas.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 8 months ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful tips!

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 8 months ago

      I wanted to learn survival level German a few years ago for going to Germany to attend a family wedding. I used the Michel Thomas method and went through it as recommended but was unable to say anything useful or understand anything said to me when I went. I think it concentrated a lot on structure and not enough vocabulary. It would be useful for someone learning in school but I think your way is probably best for travelling and survival level conversation.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 9 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That's interesting. I do like Memrise. I've been using that website to try and learn basic Spanish. I've found it very useful.