10 Tips to learn German fast

So you want to know how to learn German fast? 

You’re probably wondering things like…

  • What’s the easiest and fastest way to learn German?
  • How fast can I become fluent in German?
  • Can I learn German in 1 month? in 1 year?

How long it’ll take you to become fluent in German is the question most German learners want to know.

The answer is, of course, that it depends.

But I won’t leave you hanging there, I’ll actually answer the question with German precision and show you how to learn German the fastest (and best) way using methods I’ve developed or optimized teaching thousands of students over the past 20 years. 

Let me share with you the top 10 tips to learning German fast like a Blitz.

First things first, before we dive into the tips, let me answer the question: So, how long does it take to learn German? There are two possible answers: 

A | Here’s the only honest answer: it will take as long as it takes. That could be anything between 3 months and 3 years or never.

B | And here’s the answer you want to hear: it takes on average 9 months.

In order to understand these answers, you got to understand the question above which is extremely vague. What does it actually mean to have learnt German? 

  • For most German learners that means to have a normal conversation in German without struggle. 
  • For some learners it means to be able to read a book or article in German without having to use a dictionary. 
  • Others would love to be able to watch movies or series or the like in German and enjoy the experience. 
  • Then there are those who need to talk to the family of their spouse or want to deeply enjoy German humor. 

Here’s one that will help you improve your relation to your mother in law: Es klingelt. Er öffnet die Tür. “Aber Schwiegermama, warum stehst Du denn draußen im Regen? Geht doch nach Hause.”

All lovely goals that will take their time to achieve. How long these moments are away from today depends on who you actually are. What’s your education, age, IQ, EQ, overall personality type, gender?, mindset, (intensity of your) motivation, diligence, consistency, life circumstances, which include your work situation, your native language, hours available for studying, languages you already have learnt, ability to learn new things, you capability to listen thoroughly, your ability to focus, mental as well as physical health, your environment and possibly a hundred more factors. 

Now, before you drop the towel here, here are a few points that will put your mind at ease:

The German government keeps track of the performance of German learners in so called Integration Courses (IK). These stats show that after 7 months (or 700 lessons), roughly 50% pass their B1 exam. Standard language schools are likely to have slightly but not significantly better results. They assume that an average learner can get to B2 level – the level that would fit those goals above –  in 9 months of intensive studying. They don’t publish their stats but my pretty gracious guess is that it won’t be more than 70% that reach B2. 

Intensive means 4.5 hours of daily work on your German (weekends off) without any holidays.

That’s a part time job. The majority of German students will very likely not be able to invest that many hours daily over such a long period of time and therefore you can add quite a few more months to the total duration of your German learning if you have a job and/or a family to take care of first.

If this stresses you out or makes you want to despair, let me quickly share the good news with you: it doesn’t matter how long it takes until you are fluent in German as you can’t influence it much anyhow. The only problem that you might have is that you would like your German study phase to be over as soon as possible. If you enjoyed the German learning process, why would you want it to stop?

We have been trained to think of education (in this case language learning) as something that helps us achieve things but never as a process that is actually enjoyable. 

Imagine having a child just to see it leave your house asap or making a child thinking: let’s get this over with quickly. Learning German is like having a child (just a lot less demanding). It’s something you will actually enjoy taking care of and to be around.

If you are not the fatherly or motherly type, replace child with car, stamp collection or your six pack. 

How long it takes to learn German does. not. matter. at. all. in general that is.

But I need to learn German by X
But for those who like to make plans and maybe have to get to a certain level of German in a certain time here is how you approach this the German way:

Get the best materials out there – you know where to find them as you found this page already and work for a week while measuring your time.

Let’s say from scratch until B2 you got to work through 80 lessons. And let’s say it takes your 1 week to work through 2 lessons. That would tell you that it’d take you 40 weeks to get to B2.

Now that’s a very rough estimate and you also have to take into consideration that life rarely stays the same over a longer period of time. B2 also will become a lot more challenging as it forces you to deal with a lot more abstract vocab and more complex sentence constructions. Hence B2 is estimated to take 1.5 longer than any other level before. That will get you 60 lessons (for A1-B1) plus 30 lessons (20 lessons B2 x 1.5) plus life does what it wants, safety deposit (10% = 9 lessons) or a total of 99 lessons to reckon with. That means in about 50 weeks or basically one year you should have reached B2 level. IF you work consistently and diligently 4.5 hours a day.

With smarterGerman you’ll be reminded to check in on your goals and to adjust them regularly which will make the German learning experience a lot more enjoyable and realistic. 

In order to achieve your dreams you need to stop dreaming and become a realist.

What was that? 3 months?
Well, while it definitely is possible to achieve such an outstanding result, it is not possible for the majority of people out there. I’d say it’s possible for 1% of German learners I’ve met. And that’s not meant to say that the people I worked with are stupid or bad learners. Extraordinary achievements call for extraordinary conditions. There was even a guy, Daniel Tammet, who was claimed to have learnt German in 7 days to a more or less fluent’ish conversational level but he was a savant (remember Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman?) 

Unless you are a savant or life blessed you in many ways, it makes no sense to expect that you will get to B2 in such a short time. I just wanted to show you that what is possible is not really relevant in most cases and therefore it is wiser to approach the German learning game with much more realistic expectations. That will keep you in the game long enough for you to actually learn this beautiful language. If you expect to be fast but fail constantly you’ll drop out sooner or later and never get to tell your mother in law that hilarious joke above in German.

Here a little table for those unverbesserlich dreamers among you that love clear answers and numbers:

For more details, reference the German language levels post I created.

Q: Can you learn German in 1 month?

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Q: How well can you learn german in 5 months?

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Q: How long does it take to become fluent in German?

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German B1 exam in 14 days

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Now let me share with you…

The top 10 tips to learning German fast like a Blitz.

Tip 1 — Take care of the #1 driver of your success

What do you think is the most important thing that decides your German learning success?

Take a minute or two to think about it. List everything that comes to your mind. No need to censor anything. I bet you won’t guess the answer I’m about to reveal.

— Imagine the song “Girl of Ipanema” playing gently in the background while being in a smoothly riding elevator —

Seriously. Think first before taking in a piece of reality that very likely will strike you hard sooner or later.

Whatever you wrote: those are all good and valid points. They all matter to a certain extent. You did really well. Now, all these points are irrelevant if this one single thing comes into play and that is — drum roll — your health.

If you ever have been sick, you know that there is no way that you sit down and learn even the tiniest bit of German. But not only when you are completely down does health influence your German learning success, also when you are in bad shape and put food into your body that makes you high or numb.

You are what you eat. Literally. If you eat food with no nutritional value, you can’t expect your body to squeeze anything of value out of it. If you don’t take care of your body – and I don’t mean exhausting yourself by doing whatever sport is available to you – it will wither faster than if you don’t care. The same goes for mental health. What you put into your brain it digests. If that’s of no value, your brain won’t get any value out of it.

I won’t tell you what to eat nor how to take care of your body or your mind. That’s for you to find out. If you get this point, you’ll start to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Follow that light and be well. Your German learning will thank you.

Tip 2 — Keep it real

It doesn’t really matter why you learn German as that might change, what matters most is that you are in the clear about what it means to learn German.

Learning any language is like running a marathon (if you are more speedy) or maybe even better like a long and beautiful hike (if you are like me). 

In my experience, many German learners are pretty ignorant in regards to how much work is required to become comfortable with a new language. While they know that it isn’t done in a couple of months, the total amount of work and obstacles they might encounter on the way seems obscured to them.

That’s why at smarterGerman we love and offer frequent reality checks. If things are clear, frustration stands no chance and the hike remains a pleasurable experience.

Another reason why I like the analogy of the hike is that a hike is not (only) done in order to get from A to B in the shortest time possible but to actually enjoy the experience. As I personally would like it to be with anything I learn these days. If I want an experience to be over quickly, I’d just have sex.

Tip 3 — Embrace your mistakes

Are you open for a little thought experiment? It’ll only take you a couple of minutes. 

Imagine a perfect world with perfect human beings that never make any mistakes. Go as deep into that image as possible. What would that world look like? How would people dress and behave? How would they communicate with each other? What would we all do for a living? Who’d produce the things we need on a daily basis?

If you let that image linger for a few minutes, you might realize that such a world is actually a colossal nightmare. If you like the image you see, I fear you are in for a lot of trouble in this reality. 

The same is true for learning German. If you expect to not make any mistakes and judge yourself for making mistakes, you’ll suffer. Unnecessarily so though, because mistakes are bound to happen and they are your friends. 

There are two major categories of mistakes in my experience:
1 | mistakes you are aware of
2 | mistakes you are not aware of

Only one of those types of mistakes can be fixed. Can you guess which one?

If you are aware of a mistake, you can fix it. To fix it you need to understand what went wrong. That’s where knowledge about the language like grammar is helpful.

If you are not aware of a mistake, you can’t fix it right away. The first thing that needs to happen is that you become aware of such a mistake. That could happen with help of another person or with intelligent software.That still doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to fix that mistake though as there is a reason why you have not realized that mistake yet.

It might be because you don’t really care. That’s often the case for German learners who already live in Germany and get by pretty well and do not really need to improve their German any further. They might still think and say that they would like to improve their German but the truth is that they are tired of it already. There’s no motivation to go into the last 20% which require 80% of your energy. It’s really hard work to fix those last 20%. 

By the way: it is totally fine not to fix those 20%. What is causing the real pain here is not the fact that one is shy of an immense amount of work that doesn’t really make a difference to the world but the fact that one lies about it because there is a “should” somewhere that we constantly hear whispering into our ears.

Kill that “should” and your experience of your German will improve massively as you’ll stop striving for perfection. And as you hopefully have realized in the beginning of this chapter, total perfection means nothing more than death. I’m talking about the attitude here, not the kind of perfection that is required to send people to Mars. And that is rather precision to begin with.

Truth is that mistakes are a useful tool. They show you how much you have improved with your German. They also give you a reality check. That’s why we welcome mistakes and also show you ways and offer tools to make them visible to you so that you can learn from them. Mistakes are a gift.

If you realize you feel bad about making mistakes, consider going deeper into the origins of that feeling. It often comes down to the fear of rejection which is strong in many of us. There are ways to learn to bear with that fear. I wouldn’t know what’s the right approach for you but if you open your mind for the possibility of dealing with this fear, something will come your way.

There’s this famous quote about Thomas Edison where in response to the question how he dealt with having failed 9999 times when developing the light bulb, he said something like:

– I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work.

Every mistake is a milestone towards your very personal light (bulb).

I was supposed to write about a few mistakes that you should avoid as a beginner of German. But I actually don’t want to take those gifts away from you. Get out there and make mistakes and enjoy every single one of them.

Tip 4 — What’s the best German school or online course out there?

These days (Covid times for those from the future reading this article) online classes are the way to go. 

Unfortunately, most language schools I’ve come across so far think that doing group classes on Zoom, or worse Adobe Connect, or even putting a camera into a real classroom filming a teacher working on a blackboard is online teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Group classes are riddled with disadvantages. The only advantage of their online version is that you don’t have to commute for an hour through your city any more. You are still stuck in time as classes start at a fixed time and you are stuck sharing one German teacher with ten or more other learners. You’ll only get 1/10th of a teacher. And it doesn’t really matter whether you take online courses with Goethe, GLS or VHS here in Berlin. If they apply this approach, they haven’t understood how learning a language is most efficient for the learner. If you are interested in finding out more about why most language courses at language schools are rather a waste of your time and money check out this article of mine

So these kind of “online” classes are far from being the best option out there. They might be better than trying to study on one’s own as that bears the risk of wasting a lot of time with insufficient materials. But beyond that, I’d stay away from them especially if I was a beginner German learner.

Maybe language learning apps are the solution of the 21st century. You know, with AI and machine learning and such. But also here: Fehlanzeige. I haven’t come across any app yet that I’d consider worth the time and money – if you don’t pay anything you still pay with your time which is far more precious than money. Sorry, Duolingo, sorry, Babbel, sorry Rosetta Stone. 

Here’s why German learning apps suck at least if you expect them to replace a proper German tutor or traditional German classes.

So, what’s the best way to learn German online then? Well, that’s of course a an online course that

  • doesn’t require you to be anywhere specific at a specific time. 
  • It explains everything to you in clear and simple English
  • and takes the burden of organizing your learning from your shoulders so that you can fully focus on enjoying your learning process. 
  • It’s a course that doesn’t force you to sell a kidney – yes, Goethe, I’m looking at you here – just to get to B1. B2 is another 3,000 EUR, here in Berlin at least. That’s madness. Maybe they clad German words in chocolate for that kind of money. 
  • It doesn’t make you believe that being instructed in a language you barely understand is the best course of action for you even though it is obviously not true. 
  • Everything included and everyone involved in that course wants you to be gone as soon as possible not because you are bored out of your mind or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of incomprehensible information but rather because you have learnt everything there was to learn and now you can continue on your own and enjoy the freedom of experiencing German in the wild. 

All this, as you will have guessed it already, is provided with any course I ever made. All I did was I put myself into the shoes of a German learner and walked ten thousand miles in them over the last 20 years. The result will change your life. 

Don’t believe a word I just wrote. Try and see it with your own eyes here. The 1st lesson is completely free and it shows you everything you need to see to understand what you are dealing with here and why the above is nothing but the truth. 

Tip 5 — Master German grammar essentials

German grammar isn’t difficult at all. What’s difficult is not knowing how to deal with certain topics that simply have to be learnt by heart. 

I won’t go into detail here but once you have covered the following points of the German grammar you are fine and can focus on actually practicing the language:

  • learn the gender of nouns
  • understand how to read German sentences even if you don’t get all the words yet (=where’s the verb?)
  • understand German verb conjugation (=how does it change and why?)
  • memorize the German irregular verbs (=2 hours and you are done if you use the smarterGerman method)
  • make sense of the German cases

Doesn’t look like much, right? And it actually isn’t. 
What will be more of a challenge is the following point: If you want to learn the basics of German grammar quickly and in a very comprehensible way, why don’t you try my Everyday German Online Course (A1-B1). It doesn’t get any easier and clearer. 

Tip 6 — Learn vocab quickly

Vocab is heavy on your memory as it is very abstract. The word “Kettensäge” (=chainsaw) e.g. doesn’t look like anything you have ever seen. That means you need to build a whole new connection in your brain instead of just adding it to any of the already existing stuff in there. 

How many words do I need to learn to be fluent in German?
Officially you are supposed to understand 2800 words to pass a B1 exam. But with my approach you’ll be fine with less than half of that. 

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The good news is that you don’t have to understand every single word when exposed to spoken or written German. You can actually derive many meanings from the similarity of German words with their English equivalents. 

I’ll teach you how to do this thoroughly in my A1-B1 course but if you want to get a quick overview over the vast amount of German-English cognates check out this article on Wikipedia

Don’t worry. You don’t have to go through that list and remember anything. Check my course first to see how you can get all this information into your brain with a smile.  But cognates are just one ingredient to the recipe to your success with vocabulary learning. Watch the two videos below. The first one will introduce you to core principles of learning vocab, the second one is masterclass of mine that will cover this topic of learning German vocabulary fast in far more depth.

Principles: AMA How to learn German vocabulary fast

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Masterclass: How to learn German vocabulary

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Tip 7 — Learning the most common German words

A common approach to learning German fast is to start with the most common words out there.

You can easily find lists with the 500, 1000, 2000, even 5000 (although that’s ridiculous) most common words in German. The problem with lists is that they are very lousy learning tools.

Learning the top 100 most common words in German is actually something I think makes sense. 

Unfortunately, even though there are already Memrise courses for that out there, these are being taught in an isolated manner. But as we are only talking about hundred max two hundred words, that’s “okay” for now. One hundred words should take you roughly a week if you invest 30-60 mins per day.

Tip 8 — Why you should learn German with a story

At smarterGerman we use exciting and funny criminal stories (A1-B1) or interesting articles (B2, C1) to teach every aspect of German. 

Stories are engaging. We read stories to our children, we pass on experiences with help of stories for generations. 

  • Stories draw you in and keep you interested. You want to learn German just to find out who killed that poor old lady and what was their motive? 
  • It puts everything you learn in a relatable and memorable context and therefore makes learning a whole lot easier and enjoyable. 
  • These stories come with audio which makes them much more powerful and easier to handle than working with movies. 
  • Watching German movies is fun and you should watch as many of them as you can, but they are so not suitable for actually studying and conscious German learning. 

The only exception from this rule is if you work with a lovely tool like Yabla. Check out this blog post of mine that introduces this platform to you.

Tip 9 — How to memorize and remember German grammar

Like in most other languages there are things in the German grammar that simply make no sense, follow no or an invisible logic. They simply have to be learnt by heart. And that is where most German tutors stop helping their students. 

There are powerful learning techniques that were made for exactly this purpose thousands of years ago. When I got to know them, I was already amazed by their effectiveness but I saw why they hadn’t been used by other German tutors. They required a lot of effort to be mastered and also most teachers still teach German with help of German. Explaining these techniques in German to learners who didn’t understand German well enough yet, was simply a waste of time. 

But instead of simply explaining them in English or finding a way to make them simpler, those tutors decided to simply withhold them from their students. You can learn things by heart with traditional methods like repeating them a thousand times over and over and over again. And that’s where their methods ended. 

It’s sad because it’s true. But smarterGerman wouldn’t be called smarter if I was one of those German tutors.  See for yourself how you can easily learn two of the most challenging topics every German learner has to cope with: 

Remembering the gender of German nouns

Technique One: The Superhero Technique

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Technique Two: Article Signals

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Remembering the German irregular verbs (Download my free app for this)

iOS: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/german-irregular-verbs-wizard/id998051332

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.smartergerman.ivwizard_next&hl=en&gl=US

And here’s a way to make sense of something seemingly illogical:

Understand the principle behind the German adjective endings

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Tip 10 — Prepare, prepare, prepare then practice, practice, practice 

Like with many things in life, preparation is 80% of the path towards success. 

Many German tutors as well as German learners believe that the student should be practicing speaking right away. But what they do not seem to notice is that this expectation puts a lot of pressure on the students. 

Not only is it THE most demanding skill to master, and therefore simply overwhelming for almost every student if not done properly, it also comes with a lot of psychological baggage. Putting this to the beginning of the learning process is a fatal mistake which costs many learners a lot of energy and at times also self esteem. 

Speaking simply requires careful and thorough preparation. Free speaking is simply off the table for the first few months. 

That doesn’t mean that a learner can’t prepare for the great moment of having a real conversation in the real world. And that’s exactly what we are doing at smarterGerman. We support learners to prepare their speaking skills step by step so that they can cope with the demanding challenge of forming and pronouncing words and sentences with their mouths (and brains) that were trained for decades to do this process in a completely different language. 

Imagine having learnt a job for 20 years and suddenly you are put into a different department of the same company and have to learn certain things and skills from scratch. You’ll very likely manage but it will take you time and that’s okay. The same is true for speaking. 

It. Simply. Takes. Time. You can’t pull the grass to make it grow faster. 

The first lesson of any of our main German online courses will already show you how you can prepare your speaking skills all by yourself with the help of beautifully simple tools freely available on the internet. 

On top of that you’ll also internalize the German grammar so deeply that you’ll be able to speak proper (!) German without thinking of a single grammar rule.

And once you’ve got the hang of it, you can go out and practice, practice, practice and you will feel way less inhibited if at all which in the end will lead to more joy, more practice and more success. 

Prepare now.

Bonus Tip 01 — Real Immersion

In your research you might have heard about “immersion” and how good it is for German learners to quickly improve their German. Well, unfortunately that’s only half of the truth as immersion is a vastly misunderstood concept. 

You can see that in almost any language school out there that tries to teach you German with the help of German. That’s because they truly believe that this approach is immersion. Reality couldn’t be farther from it.

Immersion without understanding is worthless. I could expose myself to people speaking Japanese 24/7 until I die and I wouldn’t learn a word of Japanese from it. I might pick up repeated sound patterns but I wouldn’t get what they meant. 

Just exposing yourself to German will not do anything to you unless you do so within the framework of a thought through German learning system like smarterGerman. 

Immersion also never replaces formal learning effort. You still should learn your grammar, vocabulary, practice all skills etc. But immersion can help you get a feeling for the sound and intonation of German which will benefit you in the sense that you will develop a feeling for the language over time. That won’t happen quickly but it will happen if you stick to it. 

At smarterGerman we call that “Passive Listening” and it’s done while you do other things so that it doesn’t cost you any time or effort. It’s like spying in a conversation between two or more German native speakers without being socially awkward. 

You don’t even have to live in Germany to experience real immersion. Just being here also doesn’t really guarantee that you’ll hear more German than you already do in your home country. I don’t hear that much German and I’m a native living in Berlin, the Hauptstadt of this beautiful country. 

At smarterGerman we just like to keep things real. That doesn’t stop at immersion 😉 If you want to find out more about “real immersion” check out this video of mine:

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Bonus Tip 02 — Working with a language exchange partner or tandem

Reading and listening comprehension is one thing, but producing the language and speaking to another human being is a totally different thing. One way to practice the real thing is to find a sparring partner to practice speaking with. That kind of thing is called Tandem and is a so called Language Exchange. 

There’s a lot that can go wrong with this kind of exchange. Not that I’m against people meeting up and becoming friends but if your aim is to learn and practice German, then it doesn’t harm to be aware of possible pitfalls. 

If you are interested in finding a tandem partner, I recommend this article of mine.

Here just a quick list of things to consider when following this approach:

  • Prepare. Prepare the topic, the materials, the vocabulary, practice on your own first
  • Meet at a proper place. Calm and pleasant. You can also go for a walk if you are a bit more advanced but as you might want to take notes and read texts, a calm cafe or at each other’s homes would do a better job. Language exchange via Zoom is of course also fine.
  • You are not meeting to become friends. That’s a side effect if that happens. You are working together. 
  • Stick to your time and less is more: Set a timer. The timer goes off and you finish your point. Work in 15 min increments: 15 mins Deutsch, 15 mins Englich. You can repeat that. 30 mins wear beginners out.
  • If you don’t click, say goodbye. You can meet 2-3 times but if you really don’t find much to talk about or it already feels like a drag, mention politely that you didn’t click and say goodbye. I’ve dragged myself through too many horribly boring tandems. And there was no one to blame. All lovely beings. It just didn’t click. It clicks when you’ve got things in common. Just wanting to learn someone’s native language is not an interesting thing enough to connect over. No need to believe me. I’m just an old bitter man. Try and find out the hard way. 😉
  • Talk about stuff that you are actually interested in. It doesn’t have to be Kant or Goethe but if you talk about stuff you find in German text books you’ll eventually get bored. Those books are horrible if you ask me. And I say that as someone who sat in over 20 language courses.

That’s more than enough to start with. If you keep all these things in mind, your tandem might become a success.

Next steps — free resources

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