Learn German Easily
Created by Lucas Kern
Is German hard to learn? Why you may fail and what to do instead
Is German hard to learn or isn’t it?
Maybe you have a misconception or are not sure.
So when you ask around, a lot of answers simply tell you that it depends, and then try to offer an explanation which leaves you as confused as you were when you first asked.
This article doesn’t give that kind of answer.
Instead, it shows the beauty of the German language and what makes it seem hard, then explains how beginners learn German, the mistakes they make and how you can avoid them, and then finally shows you the best method to learn German by yourself.
Is German hard to learn? – the beauty of the German language
Would you buy this if it was a stuffed animal?
Most people wouldn’t, and not because there is anything wrong with a stuffed spider.
It’s just that their expectation of a stuffed animal is something cuddly and fat, like old papa bear or a toothless lion, but certainly not a huge spider.
As human beings, we tend to consider things which do not conform to our expectations as being difficult, dangerous, unrealistic, etc. so we tend to fear or avoid them.
Which means that if your expectation of a proper sentence is, “I like this tree”, then the sentence “Dieser Baum gefällt mir“, which is directly translated to “this tree like to me” will appear inappropriate and difficult to comprehend.
Here is what one of my students told me:
Before starting to learn German, I didn’t think it was beautiful at all. It felt foreign and mechanical, and I kept wondering why I had to say things in reverse. But after a few months of learning, it started to sound beautiful. Not everything but certain things, and there was a certain charm about holding the verb and waiting to drop it at the end of the sentence.
If you’d like to find out more of this, you can click here to learn German the easy way.
German may lack the musicality and vowel simplicity of French and Spanish, but it has the distinctive benefit of being very efficient, combining separate words into neat (and sometimes weird) blocks of linguistic logic.
driving school – Fahrschule
shopping mall – Einkaufszentrum
long distance relationship – Fernbeziehung
world suffering – Weltschmerz
food and beverage – Lebensmittel
And then we have combinations that are directly derived from their intended meaning
Frühstück – early meal (breakfast)
Handschuhe – shoe for the hand (gloves)
Kühlschrank – cool cabinet (fridge)
Aufzug – train carriage that goes up (elevator)
Mittagessen – midday meal (lunch)
Sometimes the German language may take these combinations too far, but even the longest German word is just made of individual combinations and once you break them down they become really easy to understand.
The German logic also extends to German numbers, because the English numbering system has a pattern that breaks without any explanation at all.
This is what I mean:
After 1 – 12, we get to the teens. So in English we have thir-teen (3 and 10), four-teen (4 and 10), fif-teen (5 and 10) etc. This structure is the same as that in German where the number comes first then the ten-ending, such as drei-zehn (3 and 10), vier-zehn (4 and 10), funf-zehn (5 and 10) etc.
When we get to the twenties, why does the number shift to the end in English? Like this…twenty-one (20 and 1), twenty-two (20 and 2), twenty-three (20 and 3)…how can you explain this?
But in German, the order that was in the teens is maintained.
We have…ein und zwanzig (1 and 20), zwei und zwanzig (2 and 20), drei und zwanzig (3 and 20) etc.
So is German hard to learn if you speak English or is it just different and more logical?
Keep reading to find out.
How hard is it to learn German if you speak English?
We have already seen that German is not difficult, it’s just different when looking at it from an English perspective.
Which means if you speak English, there are two things you will find challenging about speaking German
- Gender of the object
- Case of the sentence
Gender of the object
To shed some light on how gender works, look at this sculpture in Bremen, one of the smallest states in Germany.
- der Hahn – the rooster
- die Katze – the cat
- der Hund – the dog
- das Pferd – the horse
This means some objects are masculine, others feminine and others are neuter, and things get even more complicated when you get to the cases.
Case of the sentence
The German cases have been discussed exhaustively all over the internet, so I want to explain it in the simplest way possible.
And that simple way is that articles will change even more depending on whether the sentence is in the Nominative, Genitive, Dative or Accusative Case.
If we take the dog in our sculpture above as an example, we find that it changes like a shape-shifter when put in different cases.
And this means there will be genuine confusion for someone used to only one form of the.
While there’s a whole universe of explanations about how to master the cases, the good thing is that you don’t have to learn any of them by heart.
Learning the German cases by heart is painstakingly difficult and boring, but I can show you a unique method to learn German and master the cases without memorizing any of them. Click here to find it.
If you’d however like to learn the cases like most people believe they have to (which they don’t), German has six context-dependent ways to say the, which is just crazy from an English perspective.
Here’s what I mean:
Considering the above, is German hard to learn for English speakers?
Now some people may like to group objects and associate a specific gender with them, which makes it easy for them to remember these articles. This may work to some extent, because most fruits are feminine for instance. But what about apples and peaches which are masculine?
And it gets even worse, considering the sun is feminine, the moon is masculine and so is a star, even though they change to feminine in their German plural, so you cannot group all heavenly bodies and give them one gender.
To solve this problem, a lot of teachers advise their students to memorize the article WITH the word.
The problem with this approach is that you will not only have to memorize every word in its singular and plural form, you will also have to remember it every time you speak!
Look at the following table and tell me how many words you can memorize:
That’s a tall order, isn’t it?
And that’s why any attempts to memorize German grammar are futile and cause so many students to give up and think German is too difficult.
If you want to learn German with ease, don’t follow that path.
Use this method instead and you’ll become fluent without memorizing any grammar rules!
If it’s hard to learn German, how quickly can one learn it?
Having 26% of shared vocabulary with English, German is rated as a category 2 language and the two languages are considered quite similar.
In fact there are so many similarities that these English-German cognates may just surprise you.
What this means is that apart from the grammar, learning German is not hard at all. According to the FSI, it will take about 30 weeks to learn German, a study that was conducted with students who spent 25 hours per week in class and three hours of practice daily.
But these studies were done in a classroom setup, and the respondents had a lot of time.
What if you don’t have 25 hours of classroom time and three hours daily for personal practice? It will certainly take you much longer, especially because as a beginner, you are not aware of many options when you first start learning.
It’s not until you have developed some basics of the German language that you realize there are many more options, because once you know a little German then you are in a better position to evaluate them.
And this brings us to our next question…
How do beginners learn German?
For the most part, they go to a German-teaching school and try to learn it using textbooks.
Bad idea – why?
Because when you go to school to learn German, you will have to learn the grammar and take tests which will require you to have memorized the cases.
And if you have read this long then you know what the German cases look like.
So why do beginners almost always start by going to school, find learning German to be extremely difficult, then find an alternative method and wish they never went to school in the first place?
The same reason why people go to school to learn how to code, only to realize they could have learned it by themselves at the comfort of their home.
You don’t have to go to school to learn German. In fact, you can learn it 6x faster and learn to speak better than if you went to school.
But how can this be true when so many people think the German language is hard to learn by themselves?
If German is hard to learn by yourself, here’s the best way to do it
Learning anything by yourself can either be daunting or fun.
I have had many students come to me telling me how difficult they found learning German by themselves to be.
And I also know of many who have successfully done it using different platforms.
But with so many options, how do you know which platform to go with?
It all depends on what you want to achieve.
For instance if you want to enjoy highway speeds you buy a sports car and if you want to go bush-trampling then you buy an off-road vehicle.
So if what you want is to learn German in an exciting and adventurous way that teaches you truck-loads of German vocabulary, you can use a platform called LingQ.
But if what you want is to speed-off from beginner to a fluent German speaker, you can use my method and join over 20000 students who became fluent in German without memorizing any grammar rules.
LingQ has thousands of vocabulary and whenever you encounter a new word, you can click on it and this word will be repeated in successive lessons until you master it.
My course on the other hand teaches you German using funny stories, and all you have to do is to listen, enjoy and answer the questions in the question and answer part.
This makes you have a simulated conversation and that’s how you learn German grammar without going through the torture of memorizing things, just like native Germans learned German – through listening and speaking, not through text books and tests.
With this method you will then start thinking in German and start speaking at a basic level in as little as 2 weeks.
If German is hard to learn, do Germans mind if someone learning German makes many mistakes when speaking to them?
Whenever you think that learning German is hard, you subconsciously wonder how you will be perceived by Germans if you can’t speak their language properly.
Worry not, because Germans are very patient people.
They will treat you with a lot of tolerance, and they will be more than willing to help you whenever you get stuck.
However, there is one major factor that will make it difficult for them to understand you fully:
German grammar is more logical and has more rules than English grammar, which poses more instances of making mistakes.
It may seem like we are going back to the issue of German grammar, but this time I want to show you the challenges that Germans will face listening to you and not the challenges that you will face talking to them.
In this regard, let’s revisit the table we had looked at earlier:
From someone who speaks a language with fewer rules like English, doesn’t this seem like an unnecessary over-complication of the simple things in life?
And so what you may end up doing is to use whichever case you want with whichever noun that you want.
After all, there isn’t much difference between the car and the vehicle, so why should it matter if you say dem Hund or den Hund?
The problem here is that unlike in English, such a subtle confusion may alter the sentence’s meaning drastically and whoever you are talking to will be genuinely confused and try to figure out what you are saying.
This is because this interchange of articles may mean that noun X is doing something to noun Y whereas it is noun Y which is doing something to noun X.
And so your German friend will end up looking like this guy.
Well, obviously the context of the sentence is going to clarify this, but in the brisk moment of a quick conversation, such an error may cause a momentary communication hindrance.
But what is a small error in a conversation?
Think of someone who is learning English saying to you, “I don’t like chickens”. It’s nothing much, and you will understand fully what he or she is saying.
Now think about such an error in every sentence…
And then crank it up to include errors in tenses, errors in meaning, errors in pronunciation, etc. – how effective is your communication going to be?
To put it in perspective, let’s say the same person sends you an email saying he’s about to go on holiday. It reads like this:
“We go to holiday next week and I hope we are have lots of funny!”
Are you seeing how much you have to correct, even if it’s just in your head?
Now the German language has many more areas where one is likely to make a mistake, and inasmuch as Germans are tolerant, they will have a lot of trouble understanding you and they may seem lost or uninterested in speaking with you.
How to avoid making communication errors when you speak German
The most effective way of correcting your mistakes is to listen as much as possible to native Germans talking.
But there are two challenges with this:
- Native Germans speak very fast amongst themselves
- You may not find native Germans to listen to if you live in a different country.
The second option would be listening to German channels, podcasts, movies etc.
This is also quite effective, except that if there are no subtitles you will not gain much and even if there are subtitles, you may find it difficult to find German that is at a beginner level.
Even if you were to find that, you may sometimes want to rewind or listen to a certain word severally to get the pronunciation right, and you may want to speak and see if you got it right, a chance that you may not get in the case of movies and podcasts.
This is why I created lessons that are suitable for both beginners and advanced learners, and they are created in a way that gives you a chance to speak back in the pauses provided.
You also get PDFs to read along so you know how every word is spelt, and the more you advance the more fun it gets.
You can sign up here to try my lessons for free and I wish you all the best if you would like to learn German.
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