German is one of the most daunting languages for beginners and advanced learners alike. With complex orthography, grammar and vocabulary, as well as tough to master pronunciation, it is easy to become overwhelmed and decide that it is impossible to learn German. I don’t mean to scare you here, but you should be prepared for how difficult it truly can be. In fact, German friends of mine often tell me they feel incredibly lucky to have been born in the country, because they can’t imagine how difficult it would be to learn it as a second language.
All words of warning aside, German is not as glamorous as French (that almost seems to give you an aristocracy status, especially among Americans) or as wide-spread as Spanish. What is more, you will notice that the majority of people in countries where it is the native language, speak quite decent English, so it is not that necessary for communication.
Are you still with me?
Yes, much like the stereotypical German, the language is not fancy, it requires very hard work to master and you might not even need it. But then again, as Nelson Mandela wisely said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Also, German literature is definitely worth reading in the original language, although be warned that a few months of learning over the internet will not get you anywhere near to reading Goethe.
So, now that I have walked you through the many reasons to give up German and yet somehow, you are still quite motivated to prove me wrong, it is time for the good news. In our lovely era of access to endless information you have a huge variety of resources to help you on your journey. Of course, that humongous amount of materials also comes with the downside of it being extremely hard to find what will provide the best value for your time (and in some cases money). But here I am to recommend a few resources that are certainly worth a try.
One last word before the list though — what is a good fit for someone, might not work for you (that’s general life advice, by the way). Don’t be afraid of switching things up as you find the best way you will learn. However, also give it some time. Consistency is key — decide on a frame of time you will commit to the tool/resource (1-2 weeks might be a good one) and if you feel it truly does not match your study style—switch to a different method to learn German online.
And now, without further ado, 5 tools to help you learn German online.
Learn German Online With Duolingo
You saw that one coming, didn’t you?
It’s probably the most popular free language-learning platform out there. Also, it was the first educational app to become Apple’s iPhone App of the Year (in 2013), so if that doesn’t show you how widely loved Duolingo is, I don’t know what will. However, Duolingo is a lot like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Crossfit—two absolutely unrelated examples that are here for illustrative purposes, and laughs. Which is just another way to say that even though Duolingo is awesome, it will of course not work for everybody.
What are some of its advantages? It comes in app form, as well as a web application and both are free, so that’s nice. When it comes to the actual language learning, their skill tree is quite neat and it allows you to skip parts only if you can prove you actually have the skill (which is both really nice and annoyingly time-wasting). Duolingo is visually pleasing and game-like so it doesn’t require the same psychological commitment as more traditional materials.
On the downside, the fact that it’s gamified makes it easier to abandon.
The strategy Duolingo offers to combat that is offering you streak points of you go learning a few days on a row. While in principle that is not a bad mechanism, it doesn’t seem to work too well. In fact, a study done by professors at City University of New York and the University of South Carolina found that a huge part of participants dropped out after studying for less than 2 hours total.
According to the same research, those who had the best progress were beginners learning the language for travel. I think it is safe to say, that even though that particular study was done for Spanish, the same is going to be true for German, Russian, etc. It is due in part to the very practical approach Duolingo offers, but also to the immediate motivation that travel gives you (especially if it’s already planned).
Even though BBC no longer updates the content of the language learning pages, they are still a great resource. The online video tutorials on speaking beginner German are particularly useful. They are well-structured and also very practically oriented. One con, however is that they do not have a similar advanced level course.
Unfortunately, their German Steps course is no longer available, but they still have the recordings for slang expressions (very useful if you plan to communicate with locals in the near future) and a decent test to determine your German level. The German learning page also provides quick links to German news, TV and radio that you can see online.
As for Detsche Welle, you bet Germany’s main international broadcaster will have some cool materials for you. They have plenty of free courses for levels A1 to C, as well as a Course finder to help you decide what would be best fit for you.
I cannot recommend the Deutsch Interaktiv course that takes you from A1 to B1 in only 30 lessons enough.
Of course, the lack of any progress tracking tool on both BBC and Deutsche Welle’s platforms makes you even more vulnerable to your own procrastination, but with solid motivation, you can make great use of their resources.
Memrise is essentially an application for mnemonic devices. It can be extremely useful for learning vocabulary, if you are one to enjoy quirky user-generated mnemonics. One downside is, of course, that since they are generated by users, not all mnemonics are good or even make sense. What is more, vocabulary lends itself nicely to the technique, but grammar is not quite this way, making it impossible to learn German just by using this platform.
Mnemonic techniques have been proven to work better for learning vocabulary than using sentence context [study]. From a neurological standpoint, human short-term memory is very limited and mnemonics are a way to pre-pack information for your brain to store for the long-term.
Hence, whether you use Memrise or not, it is without doubt a great idea to try mnemonics as a method to learn German online.
What is great about using YouTube as an educational tool is that it is not really only one tool. First off, there are the language-learning channels, some of which offer better content than even paid courses.
Then, at a higher level you will benefit greatly from exploring the German YouTuber universe. This one is particularly big in the beauty vlogger niche but there are also some great comedy and video game YouTubers. One I would certainly recommend is Sarazar, since he has good quality English subtitles on most of his videos).
As for channels that offer courses — definitely take a look at Easy Languages’ Easy German series, Learn German with Jenny, Learn German with Ania (She gets extra points for being contiguously enthusiastic. Seriously, you can feel her good vibes through the screen) and Deutch für Euch which also has an awesomely charming teacher for you.
Rocket Languages German – Best Way to Learn German Online
Well, you probably knew I was going to include Rocket German, too. Let me give you a few good reasons to give it a go (it’s got a free trial, so why are you even hesitating?!).
The cool thing about Rocket Languages’ German course is that it is very much audio-focused with audio lessons of around 20-25 minutes that get you speaking the language real quick. It is multi-device, which always comes useful and it tracks and synchs your progress made on different devices. What you will truly love about it, though, is that Rocket Languages can be used as a stand-alone tool for learning German, since it combines the elements of all other resources I recommended above. And trust me, with German, you want to have solid grammar as well as conversation skills, if you truly want to master it.
Last but not least, here is something a little counterintuitive for you. Paying for a service makes you value it more. Also, when it comes to online tools, the ones you actually spend money on tend to be better, but let’s leave it at that, because those who try and sell you penis-enhancing drug over the internet could use the same argument.
Jokes aside, your commitment level is often directly linked to whether you pay for a certain product or not. And think about it, you do pay for any service you use, whether it is in money, time or personal data (a particularly disturbing truth about a lot of social media services), so you might as well use that to hold yourself accountable of your progress.
Whichever method of self-study you choose to learn German online, remember that it is not going to be a smooth ride. Buckle up, don’t get discouraged (think about that trip to Germany, whether you actually booked it or it is just a daydream) and good luck!
Until next time,
PS: Don’t forget to start your free trial of Rocket German and start to learn German online…