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Getting Started with Learning German

german for beginners
die Läuferin – the (female) runner / Image by Ryan McGuire via Pixabay

Learning German: Useful Questions for Beginners

Are you having trouble with learning German? You are not alone. How to get started with learning the German language. Some important questions for beginners before you start your journey.

I love my job and I am really passionate about it. I want my students to learn German very well and damn fast. But being fast on my feet at least as far as languages are concerned and being highly rational I do not always find my expectations matched.

People often just want to have fun in classes or just not be alone with this mighty task of learning German. Nothing wrong with that. I enjoy that a lot myself. But there are also students that prefer to do boring and tedious grammar exercises over and over again and then compare the answers in class, although they could easily check them themselves. This goes beyond my understanding and I would never do that in class unless I am lazy or badly prepared for my lesson, which in my case is never. It is simply a waste of time.

What on the other hand is valuable, are the questions that occur while doing an exercise in class or at home. This is where learning can take place and where the student’s and the teacher’s attention is undivided. Over the years most of these questions repeat themselves and there are a few core problems, every learner of German is experiencing sooner or later:

  • the articles der, das, die
the cases, mainly the dative and the accusative
the adjectives and their uncontrollable endings
the irregular verbs aka past tenses
the prepositions and their appropriate cases
  • the vocabulary of course

just to name the more important ones. These require usually a lot of effort and persistence and almost never have I met a colleague or student that knew how to make these issues go away in an appropriate time. And this is not only about German for beginners. People living in Germany for 10 or more years still struggle from bad grammar. That should not have to be. So let me introduce you to some powerful, because efficient and effective, techniques to take the edge from German grammar once and for all…

How to get Started? German for Beginners

Well, if you are going on a journey, you usually think about your goal first [exceptions prove the rule] and then plan the route, or simply type it into your navigation system. The same applies when you want to learn German or any language actually. If you want to learn how to speak it wouldn’t make sense to visit a writing course. Most students (I’ve only seen around a thousand, but that should do for same basic statistics) have pretty vague goals if it comes to learning German. “I want to learn German.” That’s like saying “I want to cook.” You might end up with Spaghetti and ketchup instead of a fine Moroccan parsley squash pastry spoiling your senses. So the very first step should be to become clear about your goals.Here are some questions to help you defining it:

  • Where do you want to use your German? In a social, scientific or professional environment? Which means would you like to use German at work or just around friends, cooking courses or soccer games? Or would you like to study at a German university?
  • How much time have you got & would you like to spent on learning German? Hours per day? How many months?
  • What level would you like to reach in that time? There are some standardized levels that indicate your proficiency called GER. They reach from level A1 (beginners that are already able to write German letters) to level C2 (very sophisticated, native-like German). Just to give you an idea: The German government requires some migrants to pass the B1 exam. To reach that goal they have 600-900 lessons. This should enable them to deal with most everyday situations using German. These are special classes though and “normal” students usually take around 500h to reach this goal. If you are planning to work or study in Germany the B2-level is the minimum you’ll have to master. For some studies you will have to pass the C1-level-exam.
  • How would you like to learn? In a class? Individually? With or without a tutor? I guess it all comes down to the costs here. Many people attend classes just because they (think they) can’t afford a private tutor. And besides that, schools offer plenty of lessons in short time, giving you the feeling that you get a lot for your money. Don’t be fooled. Do you really think schools would want you to learn German as fast as possible? Wouldn’t that mean, they earned less money? And then, why are private lessons more expensive anyhow? Because the tutor has to prepare more for one student than he has to for 12 or even 20 students? Again, don’t misunderstand me. Schools are there for a purpose and of course they are not (only) money making machines but also want to provide something to others beyond that. But they have to find a compromise between these two goals (earning and contributing) and that surely isn’t letting you know that there are faster ways to learn German. They are usually not doing this on purpose. They are just not interested in it and simply adopt to the market’s demand and their co-competitors. Nothing wrong with that in our type of economy.


Private Tutoring is the Better Economical Choice

So let’s do some short and simple calculation. Intensive classes with approximately 12 students (rather more) cost around 300€ (around $400) per month. Intensive often means that you have approximately 80 lessons (á 45min) per month, usually divided in sessions of 180min per weekday. So one lesson costs around 3,75€ (around $5). A cheap private tutor from that same school would cost around 35€ ($40). That makes it roughly ten times more expensive. But now the hook: in class you would have to divide the teachers attention and the possible actual practice time by 12 as he has to focus on 12 students instead of solely you. So you get the same quality (not really but later more on that) as a private lesson for the price of 3,75€ x 12 (as you need 12x more time to have the same amount of attention and practice). So one equally valuable class-session costs you 45€ ($60). That’s 50% more than a private tutor would cost you (from that school! Freelancing tutors are usually even cheaper). But that’s only when taking a class is comparable with having a private session with a tutor, which it isn’t. The teacher-student relationship in class never reaches the same depth and level of skill-analysis as it does in a private setting. Imagine searching for oil and having to dig in 12 different places at the same time instead on focussing on one spot. It not only postpones the individual’s success but also the positive feedback for the teacher, making his job less rewarding. Also the teacher has to multitask and no matter if it’s a woman or a man, that never reaches the same quality of work than focussing on one project at the same time.

As I have written before, taking classes in a school-environment can make sense to you but if your aim is to advance fast, you might consider taking private lessons with a professional. You wouldn’t even have to take the same amount of lessons than you would have to in class. A lesson or two a day would do at the beginning and later on you reduce that amount to three or even two times a week, saving lots of money and above all: time.

The most Supporting Environment to Study

Be aware of possible distractions. Not everybody can work at home. Maybe there’s a nice library near you or a silent café. In summer there are nice spots in the parks.

What material do you need?

Above all you need some kind of dictionary. Every once in a while I have to teach other classes than mine and find people without dictionary. Not because it is their first day or week but because they are too expensive (the dictionaries, not the people), too heavy or they simply “forgot” them at home. Some come with very tiny books lacking a lot of elementary vocabulary needed even for the first months. We are not talking about rare cases, I would actually say in the lower levels such as German for beginners these students make up to 1/4 of the class. Imagine a plumber coming to your house trying to fix your pipes with his Bob the builder toolkit made of finest plastic. What results would you expect? The same is valid for German learning. There’s only a few tools needed, make sure they are of the best quality available. Electronic devices are a gift to the language learner. So are apps for smartphones. Make use of them. Second important material is a workbook. Usually the school or the tutor provide you with the working material, of course they will charge you one way or the other, but still… But the book should be userfriendly. Could you use it to study at home or would you need a teacher to explain the exercises and the grammar? Does it come with an answer key and CD or at least MP3? Is there a glossary available? That would speed up the vocabulary learning quite a bit. Are the texts interesting enough to keep you interested (most probably not really due to the generality of the subjects, but having no other option)?

Final Advice

Last but not least I strongly recommend to get two grammar books. German learning material like a German grammar (A1 – B1: German for beginners) explained in your native-language, so you at least have a chance to understand the underlying structure of the German language. And maybe one book explaining your native language’s grammar to you, so you can compare phenomena with German in case you think your native grammar skills are weak. This makes an invaluable toolkit for many students. If you are serious about studying or working in Germany, find out where you are heading to and then plan your route and make sure you have the resources needed. Gute Fahrt.

smarterGerman’s grammar courses are excellent tools to accompany your German language classes. Just click on the image below to find out more.

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