Allein anfangen – Beginning on Your Own
This page provides specific study suggestions and resources. You may also want to consult this General Language Learning Advice.
Inspiring (and affordable) book by an opera singer who taught himself multiple languages. Skim this for ideas to help you plan how you will learn German most efficiently. Updates and many of the ideas are on the Fluent Forever companion website. Buy it new, look for used copies, or find it in a library.
Wyner has made three excellent German pronunciation videos. Watch these before you do anything else to learn German! Practice making the sounds as you listen. The links are in the first bullet point on this list of pronunciation resources. The University of Iowa Phonetics Site in the second bullet point is a GREAT resource for fine-tuning your pronunciation as you progress.
The Pimsleur method is audio-based, and proceeds via half-hour lessons. Most public libraries have Pimsleur CDs or access to Pimsleur audio online. Look for something like “Basic German” or “Conversational German” or simply “Level 1.” I recommend “doing” the first 10-12 lessons when you first start out learning German. It will make it a lot easier to work with any other materials you want to use. If you like the Pimsleur approach, there are five levels you can work through – but the more you progress, the more I recommend supplementing Pimsleur with other materials. If you don’t like Pimsleur, just use it to get a quick start, and then move on to other materials.
The basic idea is that you are taught how to say a few words, and then systematically asked to form sentences with them, e.g.Say “Hi Ms. Schmitz.”Then there’s a pause for you to say it if you can, then you hear the model answer, then you repeat that, then you’re prompted to say the next sentence, etc. Every so often, another new word or phrase is introduced. The method is slow and methodical, but very effective at getting you to actually become comfortable using what you learn. It will only work if you attempt to say each sentence when prompted (and then repeat the model answer). Note their advice to repeat each lesson until you have mastered 80-90% of it before you move on to the next lesson!
If you continue with Pimsleur, I recommend using it in combination with a flashcard program (see below), where you can enter words and phrases you want to be sure to remember, and with an online dictionary (see below). You’ll also want to supplement it with some written materials.
If you like the Pimsleur approach but find it too slow, you could experiment with the German materials by Michel Thomas, which use a similar approach, but proceed more quickly (but also less systematically).
Here is an annotated list of online dictionaries. I especially recommend PONS, dict.cc and Linguee.
College and high school textbooks are expensive and not designed for self-study. If you do buy one, I recommend either Treffpunkt Deutsch (best for self-study) or Vorsprung (because the materials in item 1 below correlate with it). If money is no object, buy a package including access to the online practice materials; otherwise, look for an affordable used copy and find your own practice materials.
I’m not familiar with commercial self-study textbooks, so cannot make a recommendation. A few possibilities to consider are German for Dummies,The Everything Learning German Book,Language Hacking German,Teach Yourself German,The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning German.
- If you’re looking only for a reading knowledge of German, I recommend German for Reading Knowledge, by Korb (older editions are by Jannach/Korb). I recommend getting an edition for which the companion website (with answers to exercises etc.) is still available.
I’m not sufficiently familiar with commercial self-study programs such as Rosetta Stone, Tell Me More, Mango, Living Language etc. to make a recommendation. Some advice/warnings: (1) Although many programs include speech-recognition technology to check your pronunciation, this is still VERY unreliable (2) Many programs offer you a LOT of resources, but no clear path for how to use them efficiently – or, conversely, force you through a series of steps that may not feel efficient for you (3) Finding a program that works for you is a trial-and-error process. Before committing to a purchase, try to find the program in a library and test it out, or take advantage of “free trial”/”money-back guarantee” offers. (4a) Rosetta Stone spends a LOT of money for advertising; this is reflected in the price. (4b) Rosetta Stone uses an ingenious photo-based learning method (“Which of these four pictures represents the word/statement?”). However, they use the same pictures for all languages, as if all cultures were the same. This seems very sad to me, and makes me wonder about the overall quality of their products.
Scroll past the vocabulary section at the top. You will see three columns:
- The left-hand column includes links to video lectures summarizing the basics of German grammar. Note the list of topics for each video.
- Pause the video lectures as needed; watch them multiple times.
- Afterwards, make up your own example sentences using the new structures, until they feel easy.
- Make flashcards (see below) out of example sentences you find useful!
- The center column includes links to online exercises and worksheets accompanying each video.
- The right-hand column includes links to vocabulary handouts for each chapter, and to online exercises and worksheets practicing that vocabulary. The vocabulary handouts include usage information, examples and mnemonic ideas.
- The green section at the top provides a link to a flashcard program and mobile apps for practicing this vocabulary.
- For vocab review and building fluency, I recommend spending 10-15 minutes at a time reviewing one of the vocab handouts and forming as many simple sentences with this vocabulary as you can, as quickly as you can – advice for forming simple sentences quickly is here. Make your own flashcards (see below) for words you want to be sure to remember.
Here is an online grammar with additional grammar resources, explanations and examples. Note especially the “Basic Chart” of article and pronoun forms; the two “Case Overviews” (the second one especially may help clarify when to apply which of the various rules you will learn about the cases); and the summary of “Verb Tenses.”
2. Easy German & Super Easy German: Two great series of videos with enthusiastic hosts (the series began as a high school project) introducing German language and culture in clear, simple German. Access both playlists for free via the Easy German home page. All videos include clear subtitles in German and English. Paying for a membership supports the site and gets you access to additional features.
Duolingo is a free app (for Android, iOS and even Windows phones) with the explicit goal of making language learning fun and addictive. Practice vocabulary, grammar, speaking and listening. Constantly being improved.
HelloTalk is a free app (Android and iOS) for finding conversation partners around the world and at home. Enter the language(s) you speak and want to learn, then find partners by language, location etc.
Italki (“I talk-y”) is a website and app you can use to find conversation partners: “exchange time teaching your native language for time practicing a foreign language.” Enter the language(s) you speak and want to learn, then find partners by language, location etc. You can also use the site to hire a tutor by the hour.
Also: don’t be shy about talking to real people: German tourists and exchange students, friends and family members who speak German, etc.!
Here is some information about organized conversation opportunities in and around Ann Arbor.
Finally, you can talk to yourself in German– out loud, or in your head. Tell yourself in German what you’re doing, what you’re seeing, what you’re thinking. It’s fun, makes you more mindful, and will help you learn to talk about the things that are most relevant for you!
I highly recommend that you make your own electronic flashcards to help you study vocabulary (and grammar!). Some general advice:
- Try to make each card as useful and memorable as you can, as quickly as you can, i.e. without spending too much time on making it. This will typically mean going beyond just writing the word and its English equivalent. Ideas:
- Include one or two sample sentences or phrases. If there’s something you’re likely to want to say using the word/phrase, or something funny it makes you think of, write it on the card!
- Do an image search for the word on google.de (great way to see how some things “look” different in Germany/Austria/Switzerland!) and paste in your favorite image
- If the word is included in the German 101/102 vocabulary (see the top of the German 101/102 overview page for a searchable list), select your favorite examples/mnemonics from the German 101/102 vocab documents
- Record yourself saying the word, or download audio from e.g. forvo.com
- Flashcards can also help you learn grammar (enter one or two representative and memorable sentences for each structure)
- DON’T MAKE TOO MANY CARDS! “Less is more”: having enough time to practice with the cards you’ve made is MUCH more important than making a lot of cards. Psychologically, if you make a small stack of cards and master it, you’re more likely to review it and add to it over time than if you make a big, daunting stack that you never want to open.
There are a lot of great flashcard options available, many of them free. Some ideas:
- Anki: A bit less user-friendly than the others, but very easy to use once you’ve figured it out, and VERY customizable. Use Anki for those words you never want to forget. Anki uses a spaced repetition algorithm to keep bringing back flashcards based on your feedback re: how hard you found them. Gradually, the intervals get longer. One-time $25 charge for iPhone users; otherwise free.
- Memrise: Prompts you to choose (or create your own) mnemonics for each word you enter. Fun, upbeat vibe. Free version is very functional.
- Quizlet: Provides a variety of study/quiz/game options for each list you create. Free version is very functional.
- Skim this review of online flashcard options and the lengthy comments section for many additional ideas. The article is from 2013, but readers are continuing to add comments, and it’s much more informative than more current lists of the “Top 3” or “Top 6” flashcard apps.
- I do NOT recommend StudyBlue – but this is a very subjective opinion, based on the very limited functionality of their free site, and its insistent ads for bells & whistles you’ll get if you pay them.
extr@ auf Deutsch is an entertaining soap-opera spoof. The German is simple, clear, and useful, and the videos are captioned to help you follow along. An exaggerated laugh-track lets you know when a joke has been made, and some of the jokes are funny.
The Lernen to Talk Show is a series of 4-7 minute videos filmed once a week by a student who went to Germany for a year in 2011/12, to document his progress in the language. Each episode is carefully subtitled (and often also annotated) in ways that also show you some of the mistakes he makes as he speaks. Click around to find a starting point that matches your current level.
Videos zum Spaß: These videos are organized in accordance with their correlations to the chapters of Vorsprung, but can be useful practice at all levels. The links are accompanied by explanatory notes, ranging from general comments to detailed transcripts with translations. Choose what you like and use the related videos on YouTube to find more!
German Audio on Netflix: For shows produced by Netflix (Dark, Biohackers, Stranger Things, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, BoJack Horseman, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt etc.), there is a language menu at the lower right of the screen where you can set the audio (but unfortunately usually not the captions) to German. You’ll learn the most by setting the language to German and the captions to English and actively correlating what you hear with what you see.
- Here are complete lists of Netflix’ current original series and Netflix’ past original series. Many more series are available in German (and with German captions) on Netflix in Germany/Austria/Switzerland, but Netflix is very strict about attempts to fool it into believing you’re in Germany or elsewhere when you’re not.
German Series & Movies on Campus and Online: Lots of German series and movies are easily accessible via Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc. If you’re a UofM student and you’re near Ann Arbor over the summer, you can take advantage of the great selection of German movies at the Askwith Media Library in the UGLi, and in the Language Resource Center (LRC):
- Especially highly recommended series: Dark, Babylon Berlin, Biohackers, and Deutschland 83 (and 86, and 89). For other suggestions as to what to watch, try one of these lists:
- Check the Telescope website for info on German films and series worth watching, including trailers and details on where they are available online.
- Here is a survey of German film series that you can watch in the US, compiled by the Goethe Insitute.
- Here is another list of German television and shows available on Netflix and Amazon Prime. The rankings seem arbitrary, but the descriptions and availability info are very helpful.
- 37 Best German Films for German-Learners A great list, but aging (the newest entry is from 2006)
- On campus: Askwith: German Movies at the Askwith Media Library in the UGLi
- On campus: LRC: You can also watch lots of great German movies (including various American/British classics dubbed in English, like the original Star Wars trilogy, the Monty Python movies, some of the Harry Potter movies, The Big Lebowski etc.) at the LRC (you need to watch LRC movies in the LRC – which you can do in great comfort in their viewing area). Here’s the list of German Movies in the LRC.
- Here is a page with more info about German-language movies & TV.
Click here to request a free subscription to Mango or Yabla. This is a great opportunity for Uof M students to access these valuable resources for free.
Mango Languages is an online language learning resource based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Here is a video overview of how Mango works.
Yabla allows you to watch their library of authentic German videos (TV clips, music videos, etc.) with various features to promote listening practice:
- You can slow down the audio. The pitch will be corrected so it still sounds fairly normal.
- All videos are accompanied by German and English captions. For easier texts, hide the English ones. Click on words in the German captions to look them up in an online dictionary.
- The “loop” button allows you to play a certain segment over and over (click “Loop” at the point where you want the loop to end, then click on the progress bar where you want it to start)
- Click “play game” to see some fill-in-the-blank activities based on segments from the video clip.
- New clips are added each week. You can browse their library without signing in to see what’s available.
Once you’ve learned the basics, extensive reading is a great way to build vocabulary and learn how the language works. The key to this is to look up as few words as possible, in order to read at close to a normal pace. Look up words only if (a) you’re lost, or (b) you really want to learn that particular word. A few ideas:
- Graded German Reader (by Crossgrove & Crossgrove): Well-thought out progression from texts for complete beginners to anecdotes, stories and fairy tales – but VERY expensive (over $100 for a 240-page paperback) ==> look for a used copy, or an older edition!
- Dual Language books in German with a facing page translation. Entering “Dual Language German” or “Parallel Text German” on amazon will show you various options.
- German versions of easy-to-read books you like and have already read – e.g. Harry Potter. Here is a page with links to vocabulary lists and chapter outlines for the Harry Potter series, which can help you read this book more efficiently.
The Ann Arbor Public Library has an outstanding collection of German materials. There is a large selection of DVDs and books, and of language learning materials. There are also hundreds of CDs. There are even some graphic novels (mostly Asterix and Tintin cartoons translated from the original French (but very popular in Germany), but also e.g. a German version of “V is for Vendetta.”
To find these materials, go to the Ann Arbor Library’s World Languages Page and click on the headings under “German.” Within each category of search results, you will then see additional options to refine your results, e.g. “By Age” (especially useful for books if you’re looking for something easier to read).
Many of the items are listed as unavailable, but getting a library card and setting up an online account are easy to do, and then you can simply request materials to be held for you at your preferred location when they come in.
The Ann Arbor District Library is located downtown at the intersection of Fifth & Williams; there are also several branch locations where you can have materials delivered for pickup.
Note that the downtown library also has an ongoing book sale, where you can pick up German books for $2 or less.
Here is a list of links to MANY more resources: to online German courses and lessons, to humor sites, news sites, music sites etc.