Mastering German III-Learn German Vocabulary

Yesterday, I have spoken about the importance of improving your listening skills and how to train them. In today’s article, I’ll discuss how to learn German vocabulary and will close the trilogy on how to master the German language. If you want to build a house, you will need bricks (at least here in Germany). Your house is the German language and your bricks are German words. Let me provide you with a few invaluable hints on how to make sure that those bricks make a beautiful and solid house.

You do not need many words to begin with

The German government recommends to learn 2.700 words to pass the B1 exam. Now it is one thing to simply understand a word but another to be able to use it. But  more about that later. To reach B2 just add another estimated 2.000 words and you will be able to cope with 80%-90% of information you have to deal with in everyday’s life. Let me share the good news with you: You don’t need that many words at all to get to a satisfying conversational level. I would say you’d be fine with about 500 words.

What words should I learn?

You have to understand what language is all about to be able to pick the right words. Language is about communication. I know, I know. Let me finish. We communicate usually about things we see or have seen and that we usually are dealing with. We give orders or make requests. We ask for the meaning or function of things and like to express our attitude. More abstract topics can wait a bit longer. So, if you usually do not spend time in hotels or do not own a car that you could bring to the garage for maintenance, than simply do not learn vocabulary associated with such situations.

Obvious, right? But then, why do you find so much useless vocabulary in German teaching books? Well, they have been made for thousands of customers. And the publishing houses prefer to please as many learners as possible a bit to pleasing a few of you fully. So when you come across new words, be a censor and decide whether that word is important for your life right now or not. Don’t be afraid to be to strict. You will always come across the more important words again and again.

Love what you do and you will never work another day. Konfuzius

How to improve my German vocabulary
der Schriftsetzer – the type setter / Image via Pixabay

How should I learn vocabulary?

Always in context and always with pleasure. 

Never learn words because you might one day be able to use them or because someone recommended you to read this or listen to that. Your mind is seeking satisfaction. It hates saving words for later so it will fight against your efforts. Read and listen to what you are normally interested in. Just in German. That’s it. You don’t need simplified material. You need the real thing as this is what you want to be able to communicate with and about. Don’t read children’s books unless you genuinely like them.

I work with Jojo sucht das Glück, a video series by Deutsche Welle, something like the German BBC. Videos are excellent for beginners to associate words with visual information like a certain scene or actor. But one has to be careful and be instructed well not to waste time. I will explain how to work with Jojo these days (place link here).

Use a vocabulary trainer for your mobile or computer

Most of you have access to electronic devices. Also most of you might have heard about paper flash-cards and about how good they are to learn vocabulary. I, myself, always hated them although I understood their incredible value. I lost interest quickly and also lost the overview over my cards soon. But now that computers are taking over, they offer us wonderful possibilities to revive that old gem among the learning techniques. The big advantage of such programs is that they can save you a lot of time. Simply because they keep track of your progress and four failures. They only repeat, what you have not yet learned sufficiently and will repeat the words after a certain amount of time until you can safely assume that you have memorized them. But remember: do not just learn any vocabulary. It must have a high priority in your life.

The next level

Once you have established a base vocabulary, you can start to expand your knowledge and also use the words you have learned already to memorize the new words. Yet it is still crucial to have a genuine interest in the topic otherwise you are about to sabotage yourself.

This is it. You now have all the information you need to get a solid start into learning the German language. Subscribe to not miss future posts on how to learn German the most efficient way. Thank you for reading this far and have a good day.

Michael Schmitz

Part I – Find an Excellent German Tutor

Part II – Correct Listening

*I choose the gender in my texts arbitrarily and of course always refer to all genders.