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'Focus on your strengths': Our readers' top tips for learning German

Rachel Stern
Rachel Stern - [email protected]
'Focus on your strengths': Our readers' top tips for learning German
Fair-goers walk past an oversized Duden dictionary of "Correct German Spelling" at the international Frankfurt Book Fair 04 October 2006. Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP

German is a hard language to learn - but far from impossible - was the consensus from The Local's reader survey on tips to learn the language. Here's the advice they gave to people struggling with the language.

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The "awful German language," as writer Mark Twain famously coined it almost 150 years ago, still pains many people to learn.

In The Local's latest survey, in which we asked our readers for their top tips for learning the language, two-thirds (65.7 percent) of 65 respondents described Deutsch as either "quite hard" or "very hard" to learn.

"German grammar can be very tedious to understand, especially when switching to the different cases," said Rob, 39, in Hanover.

Some survey takers felt even stronger: "German is an unnecessarily over complicated language, illogical and outdated. I hope future human generation won't have to face this," said an anonymous respondent.

Only two respondents said that the language was either "quite easy" or "very easy".

Still, readers are not giving up in their pursuit to master the language, with 82 percent of survey takers having studied it for over a year, and 24.6 percent for more than five years.

Biggest barriers

Not all respondents felt that the largest barrier to learning German was the language itself - and all of the unwieldy grammatical rules that come with it - but rather factors like a lack of time, shortage of people with whom to practice, or simply too many Germans switching to English with them.

For JBN, 37, in Cologne, the biggest challenge was "not speaking it at work. I try to have German podcasts or TV on as background noise when I work."

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In addition to struggling with getting pronunciation tight, Fiona, 33, in North Rhine Westphalia found it challenging that Germans often "answer in English. Tell them you're learning and it will eventually pay off!"

"Keep speaking - people appreciate it when you try," said Rob, 24, from the US.

Tips for learning

Spontaneous daily interactions with the Deutsche is of course easiest in a German-speaking country or region. 

So it comes as little surprise that about half of respondents said that "immersing yourself in the culture" and getting a tandem (language exchange partner or talking to locals were top ways to pick up German. 

Over 40 percent also ranked self-study - as well as language courses - as top methods to master the language.

For those who preferred to learn on their own, they recommended a slew of free and paid apps such as Duolingo, Busuu and Zinguist. 

They also advised tuning into both podcasts designed for Deutsch learners, such as Coffee Break German, as well as those catering primarily to native speakers and listening at a lower speed.

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What podcasts can help you learn German? Photo by freestocks on Unsplash.

Several respondents encouraged learners to watch German movies directly auf Deutsch and with German subtitles, as well as YouTube videos created for German learners of all levels such as Easy German.

A few respondents recommended getting a private tutor, either in person or online through a website such as Preply.

Deutsch Gym - a subscription service that organises in-person and online meet-ups for practicing German - was one respondent's top recommendation for getting that all-important speaking practice.

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Good 'ol fashioned resources

And other respondents recommended simply delving into "old-fashioned" print materials.

"Learn with books for children," recommended Rina, 44, in Frankfurt. 

Rina also advised learners to "focus on your strengths, whether that's auditory or visual."

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An old German expression states that "Es ist kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen" ("Masters don't fall from the sky") - similar to the English "practice makes perfect".

But Francisco, 44, in Munich said that perfection shouldn't be the end goal, but rather getting by in day to day life.

Then there's less pressure - and in turn a better environment for absorbing even more German.

"Don't try to learn the grammar perfectly; try to learn as much vocab as possible and enough grammar that you can understand."

Thank you so much to everyone who completed our survey. Although we weren't able to use all the responses, we read them all and they helped inform our article. 

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