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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

The seven stages of learning German every foreigner goes through

German is a notoriously difficult language to learn and the path to fluency is marked by milestones that every budding German speaker will recognise.

The seven stages of learning German every foreigner goes through

Stage 1: Terror

You’ve just set foot on German soil and are ready to begin your new life in the Bundesrepublik. While you may have left home feeling excited and full of enthusiasm for learning the German language, you now find yourself in a world of alarmingly long and confusing words containing strange symbols which are impossible to pronounce.

You’re confronted with long words like Ausländerbehörde, Aufenthaltsbescheinigung, and Wohnungsanmeldung and the prospect of having to get to grips with a language whose average word contains 14 letters slowly dawns on you. It’s terrifying.

Tip: Don’t panic. At first, learning German can seem like a daunting prospect, but as you start to take your first baby steps into the language, you’ll soon realise it’s not as bad as you think. And those long words are just lots of smaller words squashed together.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that strike fear into the hearts of language learners

Stage 2: Determination

You’ve got over the initial shock of realising the true scale of the linguistic mountain you’ll have to climb to learn German – and you resolve to conquer it.

You enrol in a language course and arm yourself with grammar books and language learning apps, and you start making progress very quickly. You realise that a lot of German words have the same roots as their English cousins and that words and phrases are sticking in your head more quickly than you expected. The flames of optimism begin to grow.

A couple practices the German language. Photo: Annika Gordon/Unsplash

Tip: Keep up that spirit and persist with the grammar books and vocab learning, ideally on a daily basis and start speaking the language as much as you can – even if it’s just reading aloud to yourself. 

Stage 3: Obsession

Spurred on by your new ability to introduce yourself, talk about the weather and tell people about your pets, you launch an all-out assault on the German language.

READ ALSO: How to remember the gender of German words

You’ve got post-it notes filled with vocab stuck all over your flat, you’ve got three tandem partners and Tagesschau is blasting 24/7 from your Laptop.

You are now officially obsessed with the German language.

Tip: Don’t be too hard on yourself once this phase of unbridled enthusiasm burns out. Though it’s great to have a period of immersion in the long-run, regular learning – even for shorter periods – is the key to progress.

Stage 4: Experimentation

You’ve now got a solid base of internal vocab and you’ve got to grips with the most important grammar rules. You can use the dative and genitive cases with increasing ease and you’re using modal verbs on a regular basis. 

You now feel ready to road-test your new language skills in the big wide world. You don’t ask Sprechen Sie englisch? (do you speak English?) any more and instead try to communicate only in German. 

Tip: Bolster this experimentation phase by consuming more German media. Listen to German podcasts, check out German TV shows and try to read the news in German. 

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

Stage 5: Frustration

Just as you were starting to gain confidence in the language, you hit a brick wall. You spent an evening in the company of German speakers, or you attended a meeting at work where you found yourself fumbling for vocabulary and stumbling over grammar.

You can’t, for the life of you, remember whether it’s der, die or das Licht even though you’ve looked it up at least a hundred times. 

A German dictionary. Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash

What’s the point, you ask yourself. You want to give up and just switch to speaking English permanently, as everyone you meet seems to speak perfect English anyway.

Tip: Everyone feels like this at some point when learning a new language and it’s likely to happen more than once on your language-learning journey. Keep going and don’t compare your German language skills with the English skills of German natives. Remember that most Germans have grown up listening to songs and watching films in English, so it will take you a bit longer to get to grips with German in the same way. 

Stage 6: Breakthrough

You’re not quite sure what’s happened, but something seems to have clicked. You’re suddenly using the right past participles 90 percent of the time and you’re using reflexive verbs with ease. People are rarely switching to English when speaking to you and you’re understanding almost everything you see and hear.

READ ALSO: Six ways to fall in love with learning German again

Tip: Remember this feeling when you are revisited by frustration in the future. 

Stage 7: Acceptance

You still make mistakes, you don’t know all of the words in the German dictionary, and you still mix up der, die and das – but it’s ok. You’ve come a long way and you accept that your German will probably never be perfect and that the learning process will be a lifelong pursuit. 

Tip: The more you use the language, the more you’ll improve. Keep reading, speaking and listening and, one day, it won’t even feel like an effort anymore. 

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