Seven countries list German as their official language and a further 42 boast minority German-speaking populations. All told, more than 130 million people speak this language worldwide; indeed, it is the most widely-spoken language in the European Union.
Whether you're a student hoping for a place in any of Germany's fabulous universities or a professional thinking about opening a branch office there - you may even work for a company that already has offices there, learning German is essential.
Not that we're discounting people who study German just for the fun of it... learning another language is beneficial in other ways, too.
So, how can you get good at German? Superprof provides that answer.
How Best to Remember German Words?
As a beginner German student, your vocabulary-building exercises will be easy: you'll learn common words used in everyday life. Words for food, clothing and other objects and persons; you'll also learn adjectives to describe them all.
You may be pleasantly surprised at how similar those words are to English ones.
Think of Vater and Mutter, two words you'll likely learn early on. Aren't they just like Father and Mother? The list goes on: blau/blue, rot/red, braun/brown... these similarities are no wonder. English is considered a Germanic language; lots of our words started out in Germany.
For a while, it will be pretty easy to cruise through German vocabulary lessons. You can draw parallels between words you know in English to help you remember them. For words that are wildly different from ours, there is any number of memory tricks to help you.
Here's a good one: rhythm. We'll use the verb 'gehen' to illustrate. As you walk, simply say the word, one syllable per footfall. Ge-hen, ge-hen... as you go, you are internalising that word's meaning.
Language learners often use this type of association to remember new vocabulary; another favourite trick is mnemonics. Closely related to the association memory device, mnemonics rely on a variety of tricks to help you remember information.
Perhaps the most famous mnemonic in English is the I-before-E except after C rule.
As you progress from beginner to intermediate German lessons, you'll find that not all German vocabulary is nice or easy. Indeed, some of those words can be downright frightening!
Fun fact: German academics host a yearly, tongue-in-cheek competition to see who can come up with the longest word. these words are made by mashing together as many one- and two-syllable words as possible. So far, the reigning champion monster-word is 80 letters long!
Fortunately, such monstrosities are just for fun; they don't become a part of everyday vocabulary. Unfortunately, several mashed-together words are used regularly in Germany.
Learn all the secrets for how to memorise them in our complete guide for word retention.
Weaving Listening Into Your Day
There are a lot of chicken-and-egg scenarios for curious minds to contemplate. For German students, one such would be whether listening to German boosts vocabulary retention or knowing more German words increases listening skills.
Either way, listening to German music, news and podcasts as you go about your day will help you build your language skills.
It's not as simple as plugging your earbuds in and having at it, though. Nor it is a matter of listening to German-language recordings all day, every day, whether you're doing other things or not. To maximise your listening sessions, you have to gear yourself up for it.
Do you like to walk, run or ride a bike? Those are perfect times to also listen to German. Is there a chore you must do daily - cooking, washing up or cleaning your room? Those would also work well as German-listening sessions.
The trick is to avoid German becoming just background noise over which you live your life. You have to get yourself in the right frame of mind to make the most of those sessions so, as you engage in a timed activity, you may also treat yourself to a timed listening session.
Of course, nothing says you can't sit down for some serious listening practice; German podcasts are ideal for such sessions.
Podcasters often provide transcripts to go with their 'cast. If you can, download - or, better yet, print those texts out so that you can follow along while the narrator speaks.
Pro tip: have a highlighter in hand to mark the words you don't know; look them up in your dictionary later and try to use them in a sentence a few times. That will not only help grow your vocabulary, but it will also give you writing practice as well as listening practice.
Getting Extra Writing Practice
Going further with the chicken/egg hypothesis, let's talk about writing in German.
You don't exactly have to know what a word means and how to use it in a sentence to copy it correctly. However, as you practise writing in German, you should have some idea of what you're writing, otherwise, you're practising penmanship more than mastering any German.
Still, there's a way to benefit from copying advanced-level German texts from newspapers and books even if you're not yet an advanced German learner: look up every word you don't know and use it in a sentence or two. Naturally, you'd write your original sentences down.
If you've only relied on your textbooks and class materials for German texts to copy - maybe you've not yet checked for suitable texts online, you could get extra writing practice by writing stories and dialogues from the vocabulary you just learned in class.
Writing in German will drive home the complexity of this language by forcing you to master syntax.
Word order in German is vastly different than in English. You might not pick up on the difference in sentence structure during your listening sessions - you'll likely be more focused on how words are pronounced and translating the phrases to understand them.
Likewise, as you learn new vocabulary, where each word fits in a sentence - and how their placement reveals the sentences' meaning is usually not even discussed.
However, the more writing practice you get in, the more you realise that the German language's word order is a critical aspect of learning the language. There are ways to capitalise on that knowledge...
Tips to Boost Your Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension is not an easy skill to master in any language, including your native one. That's why, from our earliest school days, we are tasked with giving our interpretations, sometimes by discussing what's just been read and other times, by writing essays.
One reason reading comprehension is so difficult is because understanding is subjective. What you get out of a work depends on your life experiences and how you see the world, and how the text is written - an engaging one will give you a more positive vibe than one that's not so fun to read.
The critical aspect of understanding German texts is not to translate them but to capture their nuance, understand their context and draw conclusions from them - just as you would for English texts.
Naturally, to understand German printed material, you have to know enough German to get what it talks about. Beyond that, though...
As you learn how to speak German, you should also learn about German culture and history. For instance, how could anyone not familiar with the uniquely English spirit of 'Keep calm and carry on' understand how we're able to manage during this pandemic?
The same is true about Germany and her people. Those authors write from a distinctly German perspective, be they news journalists or philosophers.
So, to understand the ideas they put into print, you have to have an idea where they're coming from if you want to boost your German reading comprehension.
Build Speaking Fluency
You may/may not know that speaking fluency is not the same thing as being fluent in German. By fluency, we mean how well you can speak German at the level you know.
The Free Dictionary defines 'fluently' as 'ability to express oneself readily and effortlessly'. In that sense, speaking German fluently means speaking with confidence, fully aware that you may make mistakes and that those will help you improve your speaking ability.
One of the most maddening aspects of being a language teacher must surely be when students are too shy to speak or too scared of making mistakes to let their voices be heard. Please don't be one of those language students! You'll gain nothing by keeping your mouth shut while others sing out; indeed, you may even grow frustrated with your lack of progress in German class and drop your studies altogether.
Theoretically, you could learn German by spending hours copying texts, always having German radio on, combing through every German book you can get your hands on and attending every class. None of that guarantees you will be able to speak German.
If you want to speak German fluently no matter what level you're at, you have to speak German. That's all there is to that.
Language learning builds on four inter-dependent skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. If you're confident in the first three skill areas, let that confidence drive your speaking efforts.
Superprof has dedicated an entire article to tips on how to get better at speaking German.
We also have hundreds of native German speakers scattered all over the world so, even if you're concerned about what your fellow learners might think of you, you can still build German speaking skills with someone who cares about how well you can speak German.