Yabla-Learn German with Videos

Yabla-Learn German with Videos
das Dosentelefon / Image from Pixabay

The Best Video Player in Town

If you are already familiar with Yabla and would like to know how to work efficiently with it, just scroll down a bit until you get to the list. The vocabulary for the Yabla preview video “Der Himmel” with Piggeldy and Frederick you will find on memrise here.

Yabla is a German language learning platform which uses different kinds of videos as main means of teaching or learning. They offer several languages and although I’ll focus on how to learn German with them, you certainly will be able to use the following approach for all their other languages. The problem with Yabla is that it doesn’t give you any guidance. There are over a thousand videos on that site that you can roughly sort by level (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) or that you can browse by category (e.g. Documentary, News, Travel). I would lose interest very quickly being thrown into Yabla without knowing what to do with it. I see the immense potential of this platform, therefore I would like to guide those who are interested in improving their German skills to the hidden gems of Yabla. Follow me if you are ready.

The Transcripts

Each video comes with a printable and switchable transcript in German and English. You have to check the transcript before you click on the video button. It’s a bit umständlich (=inconvenient) but with a bit of practice you will resist the temptation to click on the video link first. I suggest that you open the transcript and there click on the “printable version” button. Here’s a step by step introduction to using the transcripts:

  1. Below the video description you’ll find a blue menu-bar. Click on „Transcript“.
  2. Once you click on the “Transcript” button, you’ll get the option to access a “Printer friendly version”
  3. offering you three options which you will need for my approach below.
  4. Click on any word to get a word-per-word translation. I recommend using the “Both German and English” option in the dropdown menu for better results.


The Video Player

The video player is extremely efficient and easy to use.  The two loveliest features are the “loop” and the “slow-function”. The “loop” repeats a sentence or element of the spoken text infinitely and the “slow” button slows the audio down while you will still be able to understand what is being said. Chapeau, Yabla. Just try it yourself. Here’s a link to their free preview.

I suggest that you make yourself quickly familiar with its shortcuts so that you can smoothly skip back and forth through each video and activate respectively deactivate the subtitles and transcriptions quickly. This will come in very handy soon. “Transcript” means: German text and “translation”: English text.


Piggeldy and Frederick

“Nichts leichter als das.” is what my clients often reply in their emails, when I ask them to do something for their homework. This phrase is taken from the “Herzstück” (=centerpiece) of Yabla, the animated series “Piggeldy und Frederick”, two pigs, brothers of which the smaller brother always asks the bigger one to explain things to him. While this is a show for children it is just lovely. The language is fine and useful and it’s repetitive elements make it the more remarkable and memorable. You should certainly go for that series with the smarterGerman technique that I will explain now. There are also plenty of episodes available.

How to Improve your Listening Skill in German

Here’s finally how to use Yabla to improve your listening skill and to work on your pronunciation. I’ll start with listening, as it is the most crucial skill to master when learning any language (except sign language obviously, although you could consider observing gestures as “listening”). Pronunciation will follow soon. I will first provide you with an overview over all steps and then explain the benefit / reasoning behind each step afterwards. If you are not interested in those, you can simply skip that part and hop over to the conclusion.


12 Steps for a better listening

  1. Read the English transcript to get an idea of the content (you might want to print it out)
  2. Skim the German text and highlight/write down all (!) unknown words.
  3. Read German text with the aim to understand it. Highlight unknown important (!) words
    with a second color or in any way different from those you found the first time.
  4. Create a memrise course and enter the new vocabulary there.
  5. Study the video’s vocabulary until level on memrise is completed.
  6. Read the German text again. Circle still unknown important words.
  7. Watch the video once with English subtitles.
  8. Watch the video with German subtitles. Pause after each sentence. Note unknown important words.
  9. Watch the video without pauses but with German subtitles.
  10. Watch the video without subtitles but with pauses after each sentence.
  11. Watch the video without subtitles and without pauses.
  12. Repeat each step as often as you feel comfortable with it.


An Explanation of Each Step


We seek to understand the world. Watching something without knowing what it is about is much less efficient in regards of German learning than knowing what you are dealing with as your brain is constantly trying to figure everything out. By feedi
ng it at least the context of what you are about to work with for the next coming hours is not only a smart move but also a gentle gesture towards you most important organ.


You need to know where you are when you work with texts or videos. By quickly going through the German transcript (see the part about the transcript in the beginning of this article) and marking (!) all unknown German words, you will quickly get a clear impression of where you are regarding your possible understanding or not-understanding of that video. In any case please mark / highlight the new words with a colourful marker. Do not use a pencil or some ball pen. By highlighting the new words, you will instantly get an impression of the difficulty of the text. A pencil does not leave any significant impression on your brain. Don’t judge the words that you highlight yet. This step shouldn’t take more than five minutes. If you start thinking too long whether you should mark a word or not, you will waste time. And you should definitely mark any word at this stage that requires you to think as you haven’t mastered it yet.


Don’t despair. Your text might look like a Swiss cheese. Not so holy but maybe yellow from all the highlights. Now it is time to read for understanding and to separate the useless words from the useful ones. An important word is one without which you can’t make sense of a sentence or element of a sentence. Of course in the beginning this is rather difficult as there might be several words in a sentence that you don’t understand. In that case, don’t worry. Just mark them all as important. You will get better at picking out the good words very quickly. Also don’t worry if you don’t get too much of the text yet. Depending on your motivation you might be fine working with a text that you o
nly understand 50% of. Others have a lower frustration limit and should better work with texts that they understand 70% of. Hardcore learners don’t care at all and work even with a seemingly hopeless text. It’s on you. My suggestion is not to be too hard to yourself and also to challenge yourself a bit every now and then as without leaving your comfort zone you will not come far neither in life nor in language learning.


All these new words need to be learned. And there’s no better tool than memrise. I personally don’t like Anki, but others just love it. I won’t discuss the differences here. Memories is just much simpler, more beautiful and as effective as Anki, hence my clear recommendation. You don’t have to agree with me. You can even use paper flashcards if you like.

On memrise  create your own course. Call it the “Nichts leichter als das”-Kurs and create a one level for each video / transcript that you work on. Be careful: there are courses and levels! Do not just enter vocabulary into your freshly created course. That will become messy very soon!


To learn quickly you need to understand. You could listen to Chinese radio for every minute of your remaining life and would not learn any significant amount of Chinese unless you are already an intermediate learner. But even then your progress will be extremely slow as you still lack context. So, study your new words with memrise until you have completed that level which means all vocabulary of that video. I understand you might want to watch it right away but this would be like eating the desert before the main course. Behave. It will pay off soon. One last thing: Yabla has a built in vocabulary trainer which I personally find very sluggy and cumbersome to work with. It is also not really appealing nor do I understand it’s structure. I suggest to stay away from it until they upgrade it significantly.


After you have learned your German vocabulary, try to read the transcript again and see how much you understand now. Hopefully your understanding has increased. It will still require a lot of thinking and be pretty slow but that’s just the beginning and totally ok. Circling the remaining unknown words -now you might already be able to distinguish whether a word is useful or not- will help you visualise your progress. You will have a comparison to your former performance and a visual representation of your progress which is rare in German learning.


Now you may take a look at the video. Be gentle to yourself and turn on the English subtitles while watching it. Turn off the German transcript though. This way you will associate (and understand) the context to the individual scenes of the video. This enhances your understanding in the long run and is a very smooth approach to watching movies in German.


Watching the video with German subtitles (i.e. the German transcription) will help you to understand what is being said. I mean which words are actually pronounced by the persons or pigs in the video. You will also improve your ability to write what you hear which is helpful whenever you pick up words in movies or on the street and want to note them down or want to look them up later on. At the same time you will be able to guess the pronunciation of a word that you read more accurately. The pause after each sentence (!) is crucial in the beginning as they give your brain the time it needs to process the new and abstract information. If you don’t take these little breaks you will create something called “retrograde Lernhemmung” and “anterograde Lernhemmung”. A “Hemmung” is an inhibition. The other two words simply mean that the new stuff that you are learning will hinder the old stuff to settle and the old stuff you have learned will disturb your brain from taking in the new information. Or in simple words: Just take those breaks.


Once you are through the video in the stop-and-go manner. Take a short break and after that break you may watch it in one piece with German subtitles still activated. This way you will realise where you are standing now after only an hour or two and see or rather feel your progress.


Die Generalprobe. You might now be ready to watch the video without any further help. But I still suggest to hold the video after each sentence for a few seconds to process what you have just heard. “Eile mit Weile” is a saying that proves true when it comes to language learning. smarterGerman is an approach that teaches German very fast but also strongly pays attention to quality. Learning done consciously is far more time efficient on the long run than any quick-quick approach.


Die Königsdisziplin. Now you can eat the cake. Watch the video in one piece and without any breaks. Note how much of it you understand by now. You will most likely still have room for improvement and will have to repeat a few of the steps above in the coming days as review is the mother of all learning.


You won’t have to repeat each step over and over again. Just pick the steps that you think you could have performed better in. You will also become much more proficient in this procedure after a few videos and will be able to optimise a few steps as you proceed. Don’t change the order though. Order matters a lot here.



Yabla is an excellent tool to improve your German listening and pronunciation skill.  Don’t be afraid of the 12 steps. It all looks way more complicated than it is in reality and I promise it is worth the effort. Once
you have mastered this approach after a week or two you will feel the difference in your German learning and can’t imagine anymore how you could have worked any other way.

They are working on a major  improvement of their platform at the moment and I had the honour of peaking into one new exciting feature that will help you immensely with your listening and writing skills. It will make Yabla an even more powerful and worthy German learning platform. So stay tuned. I hope it will not take them much longer.

If you want to try Yabla you can use this link and support me and my work as I will get a provision from them if you subscribe via this link. It does not cost you anything more but I can create the next app and online course faster or maybe even the long waited for B2 German grammar course. There is much more behind smarterGerman than the naked eye can see but this is not the place for philosophy. Thank you for your time and for making a difference in this world.

Your Michael

You can try a limited part of Yabla for free or simply invest ~10 USD in your first month. I promise you if you work according to my instructions above you’ll get a lot out of it.

German Articles Table



There is only one German articles table that you need to learn to master many parts of the German grammar and that is the table with the endings of the definite articles in all four German cases. Those endings can be used with all other articles like e.g. dies-, welch-, mein-, ein-, kein and for the strong article endings (see my A2 German grammar video course to quickly and clearly understand the logic of those and for a really neat technique that will help you mastering them).

Songs with a repetitive melody are very helpful for memorizing information that otherwise does not make any or much sense. The articles are also very abstract and therefore not easy to digest. With a spoonful of sugar you will get a grip of them quickly and also be able to recall them easily when needed.


My lovely associate Maggie Jabczynski has composed a song especially for you, and also put a beautiful logic into this song, which unfortunately will only be visible for you if you are a musician or at least able to read notation (see end of this post). But don’t worry. You won’t have to understand this logic to benefit greatly from this song. It’s jus a neat gimmick.

If you are a musician and know what I have been writing about above, maybe you’d like to try to put your findings in simple words, so that everyone is able to understand it.


Now, go and watch the video. The song starts at approximately minute 5:30 but I strongly recommend that you take the time to listen to my instructions beforehand. I wish you success with your German learning and hope that you benefit greatly from the smarterGerman approach and the German articles table song.

Michael & Maggie



German Grammar Course for Free

Want to learn German in 2015?

If one of your goals for 2015 is to learn or to improve your German, I would love to support you.
Until the 31st of March 2015 I will offer a 100% refund to anyone who purchases my complete German grammar course for beginners* (or try the B2 German Grammar Video Course) also av set  who takes and passes a German B1 exam either at a Goethe Institut of your choice or at an institution that is certified by TELC.  All I want in return is a scan of your B1 certificate and your permission to publish it on any of my channels with a lovely picture of you. The exam has to be taken until the 31st of March 2015. You will still get the refund if you reach in your certificate a month or two later as those usually take a few weeks to issue. Important is the date of the exam. And you don’t have to be an absolute beginner. The offer stands even if you have already passed the A2 exam.  I hope you like this idea and that you will be successful in your endeavor to learn German.

My best wishes and a happy new year.
Your Michael


*Please use the link above to purchase the course as it helps me to track the effect of this campaign. All data remains within my domain and not google or any other 3rd party. Due to technical issues it will not lead you directly to the course, but I think you will manage to find it nevertheless.

Conditions overview:

The 100% refund only applies when all of the following points are fulfilled:

-you are aware that you will need additional material to pass the B1 exam as my course if focussing on grammar only
-your B1 exam is taken with a Goethe Institut or at an institution certified by TELC
-your B1 exam is taken until the 31st of March 2015
-you can be at any level below B1 for the refund to apply
-you have passed that exam.
-you send me a scan of the certificate, a nice photo of yourself and grant me permission to use it for smarterGerman.


Some helpful links:
Goethe-Institut sample exams (make sure to check out their sample video of an oral exam)
TELC sample exams
The best vocabulary trainer out there: memrise
An easy reader that I use to work with my clients
(you will find a ready made vocabulary course on memrise)
My German Pronunciation Course
Find a conversation partner or tutor on italki

How to Learn German Articles

Learn the German articles efficiently
die Energiesparlampe / Image via Pixabay

For those of you who prefer a “personal” teacher I have a video for you at the bottom of this post.

The German Articles

The German articles are one of the most feared topics that every German learner is confronted with. I haven’t had a single student not complaining about them. There are good reasons why learners don’t like them but there is also two wonderful techniques that take the edge out of this topic. Let me explain why it proves so difficult to deal with them and then introduce the first article learning technique in the following paragraphs.

While many grammar books and teachers might mention these endings -I’d like to call them signals from here on- they usually don’t give you any method to learn them better with. The following method will help you to memorize 23 article signals that will help you to identify a word’s article even if you don’t know that word yet. The only disadvantage of these signals is that they might not reach to far. I would generously estimate that they might help you with about 25% of the German nouns. But, hey, that’s already something, right?

Understanding why it is so difficult to learn the german articles will help you to lay the foundation of a deeper understanding of learning the German language. Many problems suffer from the same deficiencies and can be coped with help of very similar techniques. Once understood you will never despair again -at least regarding your German learning. Those who don’t care where their problems derive from or simply want to enjoy the power of memory techniques might skip the next paragraph.

Why articles are so difficult to learn

While an article makes a lot of sense to linguists -it gives away the number, the gender and the case of a noun- the average German doesn’t realize its function. But when a native hears a wrong article, he is simply disgusted and will turn away from you. Ok, maybe not that harshly but you will sound wrong, less educated, less intelligent. And that’s exactly what you don’t want.

Articles, allen voran der, das and die are nothing but short, senseless and  abstract syllables. They don’t have a meaning that one could understand nor does their attribution to the noun that they accompany follow any logic nor many patterns. And that is exactly why they are so hard to learn. Our mind is a survival, pattern-recognizing, sense-seeking system and it simply can’t get an easy hold on articles. It needs to work hard to get them into our memory.

The way that this problem can be solved is by making sense of them, so that we can remember them easily. This is what memory techniques were developed for some two thousand years ago. Search for mnemonics and you will find plenty of info on this topic. Now you understand, why learning the articles is so painful or you have simply skipped the last point. Either way: let’s get going. Here comes how it is done:

Word-Endings -finally some patterns

What I called article-signals above are actually nothing but word-endings. Simply learning these endings by heart through repeating them over and over again would surely work but wouldn’t be much of an advantage unless you used some form of memorization technique that you might not yet be aware of. As an ending is as abstract and senseless as an article. So you would have to make sense of these endings or at least reduce the amount of 23 endings to a significant lower number of information.

To easier remember an ending that gives away the appropriate article they were combined in a way that they build three new fantasy words. By doing this you are reducing the amount of information -23 endings- to three words. These words are still meaningless yet easier to remember.

The three article-signal-words are:

der Ig ling or ismus + er
das Tum chen ma ment um lein + nis
die Heit ung keit ei schaft ion ie tät ik + ur + e

When I learned these words only a few years ago, I separated them into several parts and practiced them part by part. For example: I learned die Heit ung keit… before adding ei schaft ion and finally adding ie tät ik ur e.

One last thing

One not to the + signs. The plus indicates that the following signal is not 100% reliable but still way better than a simple guess. Especially the +e knows a few exceptions like e.g. -s Auge, -r Name, -s Knie. So be aware and deal with the exceptions with the second technique.

That’s it. It’s that simple. Invest a few minutes here and then and after two or three days you should be able to recite the three magic words in a single second each. It’s only then when you will benefit from the full power of this technique. As long as you have to think to recite them, you will not have gained much but rather get frustrated. So either go for it 100% or leave it. Do it or do it not, there is no try. Otherwise get to know the other technique that currently is available in my German Grammar video course which, even when you have passed that level, provides any German learner with fundamentally important techniques.

Remember: with these three ‘words’ you will be able to detect 25% of all German articles instantly – even without understanding the word!

When you combine this technique with the even more powerful Superman-Technique that I might give away some day you will never have any more trouble with remembering the German article. You might also want to know that there are certain categories of objects that require a specific article, like e.g. car brands that are always masculine while motorbike brands are exclusively feminine. Find more of these on the excellent overview page of Cristina Mondaza Peral.

Now an die Arbeit. It’s just three words. It doesn’t matter that they don’t make any sense. You can learn them.

German Verbs with Prefixes

German verb prefixes can drive you mad
die Luftschlange – paper streamer / Image via Pixabay

German Verbs with prefixes mostly have to be learned by heart

When you advance with your German you will sooner or later come across some initially confusing phenomenon: prefixed verbs. While you got along with machen and maybe its siblings aufmachen, zumachen, ausmachen and anmachen, now you will be confronted with the rest of the bunch:
abmachen, mitmachen, nachmachen, durchmachen, vermachen, vormachen, anmachen, einmachen. (meaning in order of appearance: to take off, to join, to imitate, to go through, to inherit, to pretend, to turn on, to pickle)

The machen-variants are a pretty distinguishable. But there will be other words driving you mad. These seem so similar and there is no crispy explanation to help you differentiate them from each other. An example is the couple malen – bemalen (both: to paint). To know which one to use one needs to create examples and then figure out some logic. That logic might not be that obvious at first. To be honest, often at times it will never become obvious and simply has to be learned by rote repetition. A gorgeous example can be found on wikipedia with the verb ,legen‘.

In the case of the above couple malen/bemalen, be- expresses the fact that the painting is directed towards/onto something. ,Es bemalt die Wand.‘ means ,It paints onto the wall.‘ While ,Es malt die Wand.‘ would mean that ,The kid is painting a wall (on a piece of paper).‘ Then there is also a third vairant: anmalen >> ,Es malt die Wand an‘  would also mean ,It paints onto the wall.‘ Understand the madness part now?

There are lists out there trying to provide German learners with the meaning of the most common of these prefixes. To give you an idea take a look at this page by Professor Bernd Griebel or this one on about.com.

At times t is easier to simply learn the verbs with prefixes by heart than to learn all possible meanings of prefixes. Not because it couldn’t be done, but the moment you seek for the right meaning in a specific context, you would have to pick the right one among several possible answers. That’s highly inefficient and might inhibit your ability to speak.


Here is where the system fails

To prove my first point you will find some examples for a handful of very common verbs with prefixes that all have a different meaning. So here we go:


  • anheben > lift
  • angeben > boast
  • ansehen > view/watch
  • angehen > approach/concern


  • aussteigen > get out
  • aussehen > look
  • auslegen > interpret
  • ausstellen > exhibit
  • austrinken > drink up


  • nachdenken > reflect
  • nachkommen > follow
  • nachsehen > peek
  • nachzahlen > remargin
  • nachgehen > pursue


  • übersehen     > overlook sb Als Kind wurde er oft übersehen. insep.
  • überschätzen > overestimate
  • überfahren > run over
  • übersetzen > translate 
  • überstehen > withstand
  • überlegen > consider
  • überfliegen > scan


  • vorgehen > go ahead Ich gehe schon mal vor. sep.
  • vorsehen > be careful
  • vorkommen > occur
  • vorstellen > introduce
  • vorlesen > to read out

and many more. Then there are the ones that might help you a bit with your understanding :

Yet, these few prefixes often make sense when translated

auf- up

  • aufregen > upset
  • aufstehen > get up
  • auflegen > hang up
  • aufwachen > wake up
  • aufstellen > put up

durch- through

  • durchstreichen > strike through Er strich den ganzen Absatz durch. sep.
  • durchqueren     > cross Sie durchquerten die Wüste. insep.
  • durchlesen > read over
  • durchbrechen > break through
  • durchsehen > see through

(r)ein- in(side)

  • einsteigen         > enter (mount in) Er steigt in die U-Bahn ein. sep.
  • einfrieren > freeze in
  • einlegen > insert
  • reinkommen > come in

mit- along

  • mitfahren > to ride along
  • mitdenken > to think along
  • mitnehmen > take along
  • mitspielen > play along

weg- away

  • wegfahren > drive away Wir fahren am Wochenende weg. sep.
  • wegnehmen > take away
  • weggehen > go away
  • wegsehen > look away

zurück- back-

  • zurückgeben > give back Gib mir mein Geld zurück. sep.
  • zurückgehen > go back
  • zurücksehen > look back
  • zurückschlagen > fight back

I haven‘t mentioned yet that these German prefixes can also be found on substantives: die Rückkehr (zurück), die Vorsicht and adjectives: rückwirkend, rückständig, vorsichtig with a similar meaning.

Feel free to contradict with good samples of verbs with understandable prefixes in the comments. I will then add them to the lists above or alter my article to make it even more precise. There is no need to learn abstract and useless prefixes. Get rather established in the Keyword Method (available in the A1 part of my German grammar video set) and learn these verbs with prefixes smarter.

Viel Erfolg. I wish you success.

Master the German Irregular Verbs

german irregular verbs
die Unregelmäßigkeit – the irregularity / Image by SimonaR via Pixabay

Learn the German irregular verbs for good…

…in less than two hours. How? By learning German smarter.

These ten sentences (plus one hidden in the text) can save you lots of time and frustration.

Mimi bites into a Kiwi. — beißen
Rambo begins a Tango-class. — beginnen
He catches the Liana. — fangen
Otto flies to Oslo. — fliegen
He moves to Mongolia. — ziehen
He kicks the raven. — treten
He carries a tuba. — tragen
The kid cuts the fish. — schneiden
The pirate hangs, thanks, Tim Hanks. — hängen
He comes from Marocco. — kommen

Warning: In the following you will have to read through an unusually long text that will challenge your youtubed attention span of 3 minutes. I can only promise that every second invested in reading the following is well invested and will pay off manifold in the future.

By the end you will know how to deal with the German irregular verbs in less than a few hours. Choose wisely. For those who are alreayd thinking of rather watching those ridiculously boring youtube videos where people just tell you vocabulary: stick with English. Don‘t bother learning German. It‘s too much effort and above all: please don‘t mention the war.


Here we go then

Like many languages not all phenomena of our daily language can be explained by grammar, like e.g. the irregular verbs. It is the stuff of years of research done by linguists that sit in cosy archives with a bottle of fresh fennel-tea from yesterday to figure out how these exceptions came to be. In this article I will rather follow a practical approach as you will reach your lifespan in the next 50-60 years and might not have that much time and wealth at hand as the above mentioned scientists. Let me shortly explain the problem to you and then provide you with a sweet learning technique to deal with it efficiently.


The good news

The German irregular verbs for one are not too manifold. The authors at Wikipedia estimate that there are around 200 irregular verbs for German learners to deal with. Just to give you some perspective: in French they have counted 570 of those. Even English has more with 283 irregular verbs.
One way to deal with this problem would be to switch to learning Turkish (7 simple irreg. verbs) or Chinese with only one exemplar. Just kidding. Let‘s take a quick look at it. Maybe the problem seems bigger than it actually is. I assume that you are able to build the regular verb forms, so you might be able to recognize and understand that irregular verbs can almost always be identified by their „ending“.


The German Regular Verbs

In the Präteritum-tense the regular form uses a -te- before the personal ending. So if you read „du mach-te-st“ you recognize the regular verb easily by its -te- before the personal ending -st. The past participle -that‘s the word that is always used in the regular Perfekt-tense- ends in -t, like e.g. „ge-mach-t“.


The German Irregular Verbs

Now let‘s analyze an irregular verb, „fahren“ e.g. changes to „du fuhr-st“ in Präteritum and „ge-fahr-en“ in Perfekt. You can see that there is neither a -te- before the personal ending -st in the Präteritum nor is there a -t at the end of the past participle. Hence the fact that these “endings” are missing is giving away the fact that this verb is irregular.



This seems pretty basic and you might wonder why I‘d even invest time in something this obvious. Well, let me share the conclusion with you, that no irregular verb uses -te- in Präteritum and in Perfekt they all use -en at the end. That this is not totally true will become clear near the end. But that shows us that German irregular verbs are actually pretty regular themselves. But unfortunately the endings are not really the problem.


What‘s the Problem Then?

Compare the following two verbs:

Infinitive:     machen

Präsens:        mach.t

Präteritum: mach.te

Perfekt:         ge.mach.t


Infinitive:     fahren

Präsens:        fähr.t

Präteritum: fuhr

Perfekt:         ge.fahr.en


While “machen” keeps its form -mach- intact throughout all tenses “fahren” changes from fahr- to fähr-, fuhr- and back to -fahr-. But you might also notice that it is actually always only a single letter that changes: a becomes ä becomes u becomes a again. As you learn the infinitive form automatically and the present tense is widely used and therefore usually quickly correctly acquired we can neglect these two and focus on the changes in Präteritum and Perfekt: “u” and “a”.

If you know the grammar (I think that is not really the challenge here) and! these two letters “u” and “a” you can easily reconstruct the correct irregular verb forms. So that is at max 2 letters times 200 words= 400 letters. Of course thats nonsense as letters on their own don‘t make any sense and are therefore even more difficult to learn as were the irregular German verbs beforehand. And yet I have taken the luxury to write almost one and a half pages about this matter.


About Time Travel and its long lasting effects on your memory

I hate to waste time but I love to take time to get things right and clear. The time one invests in acquiring information is the most important factor in efficient learning. Almost always when people say that they have forgotten something it is rather true that they have not learned it (or paid attention to where they have put the car keys when they came home stern drunk yesterday night waking everybody up). Jokes aside, unless you have psychological or biological issues, like that of being stone old, you won‘t forget. The problem lies in the proper acquisition.


The Birth of a Salesman

Back to our friend “a” and its colleague “u”. Let‘s say you wanted to learn that “fahren” with the help of “a” and “u” changes to “fuhr” and “gefahren”. While you could learn these by mere repetition for a hundred times over a certain period of time before your brain shrinks significantly due to the boredom of that task, I would recommend to actually involve your brain and its vast prior knowledge that you have gathered over the last decades -supposed you are older than 10 years.


One Last Thing Before the Show Begins

Order is a lovely tool, as our memory loves it. It has order for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. So you will have to make use of it as a homo sapiens sapiens. Wise people -at least that’s what sapiens means, kind of- make use of the things their brain loves so that they can become even wiser. For the following technique you will have to keep in mind that we always only deal with so called vowels (these are the five letters a,e,i,o,u) and that the first vowel we use is always the one used in the Präteritum-form of the verb and the second one is for the Perfekt-form.


The Secret

If you want to learn the forms of the verb „fahren“ you should learn the following sentence by imagining it. By imagining I mean, close your eyes (after reading theses lines, please) for as long as you need to get a clear idea. Note that I didn‘t write „picture“ instead of „idea“ as imagination is different for all of us. Imagine your mother or someone else if that is not a nice memory. If you can do that, you can imagine the sentence below.

Imagine it as vividly as you can. This is crucial. If you don‘t do that, you might as well learn it like my grandparents have done it in elementary school. But let me tell you, they didn‘t like it. Not at all. Vividly means take what comes to your mind after reading the example sentence in a minute and add some flavour. Try to hear something, to smell or even touch. You can do that I am sure. Can you imagine how a football feels like? Like fish smells? Like a lemon tastes when you heartily take a bite of it? If you can‘t, don‘t give up. Keep trying. It will change your life (I didn‘t say for the better). Here we go. Please imagine, as vividly as possible the following sentence:

He drives to Uganda.|Er fährt nach Uganda.

[You can also replace Uganda with US, Utah, Sumatra or any other place that has the first two vowels u and a. Don‘t take just any other place or the method will not work.]


„What?“ [Little John]

Let‘s analyze this example and then I will provide you with nine further sentences to get you started. You might be able to create your own memory sentences afterwards or you just buy a ticket to Berlin and join my foundation seminar where you will be provided with everything you need (besides a foot massage) saving you hours of tedious work and also bringing you to the most interesting capital of the 21st century. In „He drives to Uganda“ Uganda is a socalled keyword. The most important word next to the verb whose forms you would like to learn. The aim is to firmly associate „drive“ with „Uganda“. This is done by the imagination. If this link breaks you have wasted your time, so make the image strong.
In Uganda the first two vowels are „U“ and „a“. Do you remember what you use the first vowel for? Correct. For the Präteritum. So knowing the grammar enables you to prepare the Präteritum form almost completely: “f_hr”. The only thing missing is the „U“ from our keyword „Uganda“. Add this and you have created the correct form „fuhr“ with ease and fun. Just for completion: The Perfekt can be prepared almost completely as well: To “gef_hren.” add the „a“ from Uganda et voilá you have just built the perfect Perfekt-form: gefahren.


Achtung Baby!

The third or any further vowel doesn‘t ever come into play. They are just decoration! Should there be just one vowel like e.g. in „fish“. That means that both Präteritum and Perfekt take the „i“.


The Small Print

At the beginning of this article there are ten examples of memory sentences for training reasons. Scroll up, imagine them thoroughly and take a longer break afterwards. Take a walk or go shopping. Then go to the very end of this ridiculously long article (if you have read this far, I toll you my utmost respect) and try if you can complete the irregular forms of the given verbs. The answers  can be found in the comments.


Once doesn‘t count

I hope you got the idea and enjoyed reading a bit about German grammar. As always I do not try to be perfect nor 100% correct. I have a very practical view on teaching German and tend to simplify things for the sake of understanding. Details will come with time and you will have a solid base by then.

You should nevertheless know that not all German irregular verbs end in -en. The following verbs are a bit peculiar. This list might not be complete. Neither have I handled those few words that change a bit more than the vowel (nehmen, gehen, essen etc.) You will pick it up on the go. I trust in your abilities. If not you know where to find me.


rennen, rannte, gerannt
bringen, brachte, gebracht

I have also ignored the topic of creating the Perfekt-tense with haben or sein. There is another article about that (German perfect tense – sein). Probably shorter though. I might one day write about the difference between German irregular verbs and strong verbs but for now it is enough if you consider them to be identical.

Enjoy your training and learning the German language. It is simpler than you might think.

Yours Michael



After having learned the nine sentences at the beginning of this article take a longer break and don‘t forget to come back to check how much you still remember and to experience how easily you can now construct the German irregular verbs.

What are the keywords and the forms of the following German verbs?

beißen (to bite)
fliegen (to fly)
ziehen (to move)
treten (to kick)
beginnen (to begin)
fangen (to catch)
hängen (to hang)
tragen (to carry)
fahren (to drive/go)
kommen* (to come)

*the Präteritum only uses one „m“. The answers can be found in the comments to this article.

Perfekt with Sein

German Perfekt with Sein
der Schädel – the skull / Image via Pixabay

In the following minutes I will guide you through the German Perfekt-tense in an unusual literary way. Forget grammar as you know it, welcome her as your new friend. As the title suggests I will not start with Adam & Eve but jump (almost) right to its use. Because useful it is indeed.

Some language learning philosophy!

When I studied English in school, I suffered from bad teaching, today even more than in those times. Things are merely presented but rarely explained. Explaining things not necessarily means to tell why they are the way they are but rather unfold their logic, their beauty. As we are using language every day and as it is one of the core-aspects of civilization, it is ridiculous to assume that language and with it grammar is senseless, unexplainable. „You just have to learn it!“ is what I‘ve have heard too many times. These times are over. Everything follows some logic or can be learned much more efficient than most of you know. Follow me and I will show you a beautiful garden Eden. Welcome back to the Paradise.

The  Präteritum is the Perfekt

The German Perfekt-tense seems to compete against its fellow the Präteritum tense. Concluding from your English learning experience, and maybe even French language tortures you might be tempted to think that there is a complex system behind these two, explaining in ridiculous detail when to use which. You couldn‘t be more wrong.

Let me reveal the secret to you, when to use the Präteritum and when the Perfekt:

Perfekt is used whenever we speak, Präteritum whenever we write.

The exceptions prove the rule

That‘s it. No double bottom. Yet I feel urged to explain a bit more in detail. „Speaking“ can also mean that someone is writing in so called „direct speech“, a dialogue e.g.; adressing someone directly in a letter usually is done in Perfekt-tense.

And also the Präteritum is used for certain verbs that are listed below even if they are outspoken (or in written dialogues, see above). These are:

  • sein — war
  • haben — hatte
  • können — konnte
  • sollen — sollte
  • wollen — wollte
  • müssen — musste
  • dürfen — durfte
  • mögen — mochte

There are Perfekt forms of these words and they are also fine to be used. Although this is mainly a matter of dialects, you would be perfectly understood and still sound proper. Even the people from Lower-Saxony, whose German is considered to be High-German, would ask „Wo bist Du gewesen?“ as well as „Wo warst Du?“.

The German Indifference

So is there really no difference in using any of these two tenses? Well, to be honest, there is absolutely no significant difference. If there is one, it must be so insignificant that it would only confuse you and not improve your German at all!

Back to Shakespeare

The initial intention was to show you when to use the Perfekt with „haben“ and when with „sein“. And you might have already heard some kinds of rules like these:

„Those verbs that use „sein“ must satisfy two conditions: 1) they must be intransitive; 2) they must indicate a change of position or of condition. In the example “Wir sind nach Hause gegangen,” the verb “gehen” 1) takes no direct object and 2) describes motion from one place to another.“ [source known to the author]
After „intransi…“ my brain took a walk. Then the author also gives some examples of exceptions that are totally confusing. Let‘s take a clearer look at this…

The rule that those verbs who indicate a change of position use “sein” is a bit helpful as most of the „sein“-verbs are verbs of movement. But there are some illogical exceptions like e.g. dancing, sitting down (but not standing up), lying down (but getting up ), turning around and a few more that do not use “sein”. Also some verbs can use both „haben“ and „sein“. Depending on if you use an object yourself. Like e.g. „Ich bin mit dem Flugzeug geflogen.“ [I have flown in an airplane] but „Ich habe das Flugzeug geflogen.“ [I flew the airplane (myself).] These examples show that this matter is not too clear, therefore it would make sense to just learn those special sein-verbs by heart and be done with it for good.

Take a look at this almost complete list of those verbs that use sein. Don‘t you think that‘s manageable? But afterwards let me tell you a little story in which you follow me on a trip through Europe on the lookout for the essence of being.

List of Verbs that use „sein“ in Perfekt-Tense

“Movement from A to B”

  • gehen,laufen,rennen, joggen,wandern
  • klettern,fallen,steigen,fahren,reisen
  • fliegen, reiten, umziehen,fliehen,gleiten
  • kommen,springen,kriechen,aufstehen,sinken
  • schleichen,eintreten,schwimmen,einbrechen,rutschen


  • geschehen,einschlafen,wachsen,sterben,aufwachen
  • passieren,bleiben,werden,sein,verderben

These are 35 verbs only (not complete). From these even more verbs with sein can be derived with the help of prefixes. E.g. as „gehen“ uses „sein“, its derivates with the prefixes an-, ab-, auf-, unter-, aus-, ein-, mit-, nach-, zu-, durch-, um-, vor-, zer-, ent-, (not with über- oder ver-, be-though) use „sein“ as well.

It’s Always the same Story

Close your eyes after every sentence and imagine it as vividly as you can. Anyone able to remember the smell of a fish, the taste of a lemon, the look of any familymember or friend with closed eyes is able to do so, so no excuses here. There is no „right“ way of imagination. You do it your way but take your time. The time invested in imagining this story is saved in plenty later on. By the way… should you not know Hamlet, don‘t worry. Wikipedia does wonders. You will figure out his profession by the end of the story.

Young Hamlet was quite a lazy bum. He always had trouble getting out of bed (aufstehen). Whenever he woke up (aufwachen) he instantly fell asleep (einschlafen) for at least two to three times. But he grew up (auf.wachsen) and a miracle happened (geschehen). Hamlet became (werden) a strong, good looking, active man. Whenever something happened (passiert) in his father‘s kingdom, he almost run (rennen) there and stayed (bleiben) until the problem was history. He even took care of the rotten (verdorben) plants in the castle‘s garden. One day though, his father broke into (einbrechen) a frozen pond on which he had been sliding (rutschen) to have some fun. Due to the cold he freezed to death (erfrieren), unfortunately he didn‘t die (sterben) instantly but was still poking along (schleichen) the castle‘s long hallways at night. When he finally died, he ascended (auf.steigen) straight to heaven or for those who don‘t like happy ends: he descended (ab.steigen) straight to hell.

In this short story there are 17 of the above verbs and mostly those that are difficult to fit into any rule. If you go through it a few more times like described above (imagination) these words will become second nature and you will naturally use them with sein as they are strongly associated with Hamlet and his world famous „to be or not to be“. Most probably he had the German Perfekt-tense in mind when he said this.

I will conclude this article here, wishing you lots of success in your endeavour to learn the beautiful German language.

Fare thee well.

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