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GERMAN LANGUAGE

The best ways to improve your German for free

From tandem partnerships to German podcasts, there are many ways you can master the German language without spending a cent. 

Dictionaries for German as a foreign language from Langenscheidt on a shelf in a book shop.
Dictionaries for German as a foreign language from Langenscheidt on a shelf in a book shop. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The cost of German lessons or private tutoring can quickly mount up, so if you’re low on funds, you may think that your chances of mastering the language are limited. But there are plenty of ways to improve your language skills for free and even make friends along the way. 

Find a tandem partner

There’s nothing like conversing with a native speaker to help bring your language skills along, and finding a tandem partner is one great way to do this.

READ ALSO: 10 ways of speaking German you’ll only ever pick up on the street

A tandem partner wants to learn your native language, or the language you speak to a high level, in exchange for speaking the language you want to learn with you. 

Guests sit at lunchtime in restaurants and cafes in the Weinbergsweg in Berlin.

Guests sit at lunchtime in restaurants and cafes in the Weinbergsweg in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

A good tip when seeking a German tandem partner is to find someone whose skills with their target language are at a similar level to your German. That way, you’re less likely to stick to speaking English and, instead, to push yourself more in conversation. 

There are numerous websites which offer a search tool for tandem partners in your local area or from around the word. 

MyLanguageExchange is one such site which offers online meetings and has three million members worldwide looking for language exchange partners.

TandemPartners, meanwhile is a search engine that allows you to search for potential language partners in your local area and has over 300,000 members.

App-based portal Tandem can also be used to seek out Tandem partners both in your area and across the country. Simply set up a profile with a pic and some info about your language level and interests and you’re on your way to finding a partner for instant messaging, video calls and even in-person meet-ups. 

READ ALSO: Ask a German: Do you ever forget the gender of words?

These are just a few examples, but there are many more sites out there to be explored.

If you don’t have time to commit to a tandem partner, you can also find real-life conversation in a conversation group. The website Meetup lists dozens of such meetings up and down the country every week. The benefit of this for beginners is that many people who attend will be foreign language learners, which may make them slightly easier for you to understand (and slightly more understanding of any mistakes!). 

In almost every major German city, you can also find Sprachcafés – casual meetings for people who like to speak languages and get to know other cultures in an open and uncomplicated way.

They can take place anywhere in public spaces or in privately organized venues and can be found most easily via social media or with a search of “Sprachcafé” in your local region.

Make German friends (and speak to them in German)

For those who manage to find a good tandem partner, the language exchange can develop into a lifelong friendship. 

But if you don’t go down the tandem route, you should also try to broaden your social circle to include German native speakers. 

Though this sounds like an obvious one, it is worth noting as it will improve your language skills and help you integrate more into the country’s culture. 

Joining a sports club, a local choir or any local organisation that fits your interests can be a great way to make new friends. A search for clubs in your local area will usually uncover these kinds of organisations, though you can also use Meetup to find all kinds of social events too. 

Join a library and seek out books

There are over 6,000 public libraries in Germany so, chances are, there’s at least one in your neighbourhood.

Shelves full of books in Berlin's Central and Regional Library.

Shelves full of books in Berlin’s Central and Regional Library. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Though joining a library is not completely free, for just €10 a year (and less for students and benefits recipients) you can gain access to thousands of books and multimedia learning tools which otherwise can be quite expensive.

Most libraries offer a variety of text books for German language learners at every level and you can also find fiction books designed for German language learners. One good example is the Baumgarten & Momsen detective series, which is pitched at different skill levels (beginner to advanced) and has vocabulary listed at the end of each chapter.

We also recommend keeping an eye out on groups where people get rid of their old stuff such as the Free Your Stuff Berlin Facebook group, Ebay Kleinanzeigen or Craigslist. From time to time, you’ll find German language learners offering old textbooks that they no longer have any need for, or other books in German. 

Watch German TV

Watching German TV can help you learn the correct and natural pronunciation of words, improve your listening comprehension, and learn slang and expressions. 

READ ALSO: The best TV comedies to improve your German while making you laugh

If you already have a subscription to a major streaming service, you can find plenty of films and TV series in German that you can watch with English subtitles.

The ARD Mediathek news programmes on a tablet device.

The ARD Mediathek news programmes on a tablet device. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ARD | ARD Mediathek

READ ALSO: Why you should watch German TV on a Sunday evening

If not, several major German media networks – including ARD, ZDF and Arte – have most of their programmes available to stream online, free of charge. There are hundreds of documentaries, news programmes and dramas which will keep you entertained, informed and help improve your language skills.

Online resources 

There are tonnes of language learning resources that you can find online for free. 

The Goethe Insitute, for example, offers the Deutschland. Kennen. Lernen. App which aids independent learning with step-by-step exercises and solutions. Other free apps with language learning programs include Babbel, Memrise and Duolingo.

There are also a few free German language podcasts which you can listen on-the-go to help boost your German skills. Easy German Podcast is a good example, as it includes discussions around news and social topics in simplified German. Lage der Nation (State of the Nation) has also been recommended as a good podcast for language learners and those who want to understand German politics on a more in-depth level, though you may struggle a little with the complicated vocabulary if you’re a beginner. 

There are countless YouTube videos that you can use to learn German too – including channels like Deutsch mit Marija and Hallo Deutschschule. Simply type in “Deutsch lernen” and your approximate level or the name of a topic you’d like to learn and see what comes up.

Listening to German music on music streaming services can also be a big help, and you may even find your next favourite artist! 

READ ALSO: How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German

A spokesperson from the Goethe-Institut also recommended vocabulary cards for complete self-study. You can either find these in their online courses or through the Institute’s Vokalbetrainer app, but learners can also make these themselves.

Labelling blank index cards yourself, also has the advantage that you can only write down vocabulary that is relevant to you at the moment (e.g. vocabulary that you missed in the tandem conversation).

Volunteer

If you don’t feel confident enough yet with your German ability to enter the world of work, one way you can put your language skills into practice is to find a volunteering position. 

A homeless person receives warm soup at the cold bus of the Berlin City Mission.

A homeless person receives warm soup at the cold bus of the Berlin City Mission. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

If you want to volunteer in your local region, you can visit your local city hall and ask who you can speak to about volunteer options in your city. 

You can also check to see if your city has a volunteer exhibition where you can speak to organizations looking for volunteers. Several cities host an annual volunteer exhibition, including Berlin, München, and Nürnberg.

You can also just simply search “Freiwilliger” (volunteer) with the name of your local area.  

If you are not sure whether the position you are applying for requires strong German language skills you can always simply ask. Though in most cases, your German language level won’t be an issue. 

READ ALSO: Four common mistakes English speakers make when learning German

Vocabulary

city hall – (das) Rathaus

club – (der) Verein

volunteer – (der) Freiwilliger

volunteer exhibition – (die) Freiwilligenmesse

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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For members

GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

Summer has arrived in Germany, so we’ve put together a list of ten words to help you navigate the hottest season.

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

1. (die) Sommersprossen

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles.

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles. Photo: pa/obs/myBody / Shutterstock | Irina Bg

The German word for ‘freckles’, translates literally as “summer sprouts”, as these little spots start to appear on many people’s faces as soon as the sun begins to shine in spring and summer.

2. eincremen

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer's day.

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer’s day. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

To help protect against sunburn, it’s important to use a lot of sunscreen during warm summer days in Germany. Thanks to the magic of German separable verbs, there is a specific word for applying creme to the skin – eincremen – which can also be used to talk about applying sun lotion.

Examples:

Den gesamten Körper vor dem Aufenthalt in der Sonne eincremen

Apply creme to the entire body before sun exposure.

Einmal eincremen reicht nicht, um die Haut einen ganzen Tag lang vor Sonne zu schützen.

It’s not enough to apply sun cream just once to protect the skin from the sun for a whole day.

3. (die) Hundstage

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures.

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Gerten

‘Dog days’ are colloquially referred to in Europe as the hottest period in summer from July 23rd to August 23rd.

The term ‘dog days’ dates back to the 14th century and was originally associated with the first appearance of the star Sirius of the “Great Dog” constellation. However, due to the changing position of the Earth’s axis, the time period has shifted by about four weeks.

Nevertheless, you’ll still hear people all over Germany referring to the “Hundstage.”

4. eisgekühlt

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon.

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

There’s nothing better than cooling off with a refreshing, ice-cold drink on a hot summer day, so make sure to use this word at the beach bar to specify that you want your drinks at a near-zero temperature!

Examples:

Das Kokoswasser schmeckt am besten eisgekühlt.

The coconut water tastes best ice-cold.

5. (die) Waldbrandstufe

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five.

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-centralpicture | Soeren Stache

The Waldbrandstufe – meaning forest fire level – is a warning system that has been used in all German states since 2014 to indicate the level of forest fire risk, based on the local heat and dryness levels.

Level 1 stands for very low fire risk in forests and level 5 for very high risk. When the Stufe (level) is above 3 or 4, certain measures – such as banning barbecues – will come into force locally.

You will often see the Waldbrandstufe sign in woodland areas, near beaches, or on weather reports over the summer.

Example:

Lagerfeuer werden aufgrund der hohen Waldbrandstufe nicht geduldet.
 
Due to the danger of forest fires campfires will not be tolerated.

6. (der) Strandkorb

Beach chairs stand in sunny weather on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen.

Beach chairs on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

The “Strandkorb”, literally meaning beach basket, is a special type of beach chair that you will find on almost every German beach. The traditional beach chair was invented in 1882 by German basket maker Wilhelm Bartelmann in Rostock.

Example:

Hier kannst du in der Ostsee baden oder dich in einem Strandkorb entspannen.

Here you can swim in the Baltic Sea or relax in a beach chair.

7. (die) Radtour

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath.

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HeideRegion Uelzen e.V. | Jürgen Clauß, HeideRegion Uelz

Germans love biking, so it’s no surprise that a specific word exists for the summer phenomenon of going on a Radtour – bike tour.

READ ALSO: 10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

Example: 

Der gesamte Rundweg ist eine leichte Radtour.
 
The entire circular route is an easy bike ride.

8. Sonne tanken

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by.

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

If you love summer, then you probably like to lie in the sun and soak up the rays. In German, you would call this “Sonne tanken” – literally to fuel up on sun.

Example:

Ich will einfach nur Sonne tanken!

I just want to soak up the sun!

9. (die) Sommergewitter

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021.

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Another very specific word, this term is used to describe the phenomenon of summer thunderstorms.

Example:

Die ersten Sommergewitter rollen quer durch Deutschland.

The first summer thunderstorms are rolling across Germany.

10. (die) Eisdiele

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the "Eiskultur" ice cream parlor in Schöneweide.

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the “Eiskultur” ice cream parlor in Schöneweide. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Finally, no summer would be complete without a generous helping of ice cream. In German, the most common name for an ice-creme parlour is “Eisdiele”. 

The word seems to have joined the German language when the very first ice-creme parlour was opened in Hamburg in 1799.

READ ALSO: Spaghetti ice cream to Wobbly Peter: Why we love Germany’s sweet summer snacks

Example:

Es gibt eine sehr gute Eisdiele an der Promenade.

There is a really good ice-creme parlour on the promenade.

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