Illustration of a person with glasses reading behind books

What's the best way to learn German?

Herzlich Willkommen in Deutschland! If you don’t know what that means, you definitely need to read this article. Your life here will be infinitely easier if you learn (at least a little of) the language, and we provide you with some tips on how to do just that here.

Why should I start learning German? 

Learning German is a great way to gain some understanding of the German people and culture. It’s an even better way to give yourself premature grey hairs. Yep, German is not the easiest language in the world, that’s for sure. But hey, you probably already know more than you think you do – Kindergarten, Wanderlust, Wunderkind, Schadenfreude, Hinterland. Now you just need to learn all the words that go around those words. The Duden (dictionary of the German language) helpfully added 5,000 more words a couple of years ago so this may take you a while. But your attitude towards learning the language will make a big difference to how quickly

What kind of expat are you?

In general, expats in Germany can be divided into four groups:

  1. The people who don’t bother because “everyone speaks English anyway” (a common misconception), or they work for an international company so they don’t “need” German for work, or they’re just “not really a language person”.
  2. The people who arrive with every intention of learning German but then work is busy, the kids need their dinner, lessons are too early, lessons are too late, lessons are too expensive, it’s dark, it’s raining, German is hard…
  3. The people who think they speak German because they can wow their friends by ordering a “Bier, bitte” and actually receive a beer.
  4. The people who will stop at nothing until they’ve tamed this majestic beast of a language (albeit with the odd misplaced die, der, das, den, dem, dessen thrown in).

Do I really need to learn German?

Well now, that’s a bit of a silly question, isn’t it? You wouldn’t move to Spain without speaking Spanish or England without speaking English, would you? Would you?!? Yet, for some reason, foreigners move to Germany in droves thinking that they’ll get by just fine without learning the language. And, admittedly, in some parts of the bigger cities, it’s possible to do just that.

However, your life here will be so much easier if you reach even a passable level of German. Just think how wonderful you’ll feel if you’re able to function as a normal human being! From little things like ordering your own “Kaffee und Kuchen” or being able to understand what the sweet old lady on the bus is saying to you, to knocking the cynical socks off that world-weary, unsuspecting paper pusher in the Bürgeramt. That, my friends, is what they call Satisfaction.

You’ll also be able to amaze and impress your friends by dropping cryptic, intellectual-sounding snippets into conversations. “Well guys, you know, everything has an end, only the sausage has two. (Pause for effect.) Oh, sorry, that’s what we say in German…” Prepare for your social standing to go up a notch or two.


Reasons you should learn the German language

  1. So that Germans will stop yelling at you
  2. To live a happy, successful life in Germany
  3. The German language is beautiful - really!
  4. It’s tricky but weirdly satisfying when you figure something out. There’s a logic to every sentence, even if it takes you a while to find it. There are words and ways to express feelings that are not possible in English or pretty much any other language. Check out our beginners’ guide to some idioms below and prepare to fall just a little bit in love with the German language. Need more convincing check here for more reasons to learn German.

How long does it take to learn German?

That all depends on the amount of effort you invest. The good news is that German is closely related to English so things could be worse. Click here to see how long it takes on average to learn other languages.

What’s the best way to learn German?

Unfortunately, learning a language isn’t like buying a Jack Wolfskin bum bag – there is no “one size fits all”. But luckily, this is German and there are tonnes of options out there. Private lessons, group lessons, online lessons, language-learning apps or books, meet-ups… the list is endless so try something on for size; if you find something that fits, stick with it. If not, try something else.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of German classes?

Like anything else, it’s hit or miss. There are loads of language schools out there and most offer a free trial lesson. Volkshochschule is intended specifically for adults and it’s also the cheapest option with classes starting at around €69. Signing up for a course obviously takes commitment so you’ll need to set aside a few hours once or twice a week, or several hours a day depending on how intensive your course is.

It’s a good idea to choose a school close to where you live or work so that even when motivation is low, you’ll feel guilty about not going since you’re practically walking past the door. The good news is that you’ll get to hear a real live native German speaker using the language, the bad news is that you’ll also spend quite a bit of time listening to Vlad from Russia or Yoshi from Japan spewing terrible German in thick accents. Private lessons – in person or online – are the best way to avoid this but, of course, these will be more expensive. Some international companies are kind enough to offer free German lessons to their employees so, if this is the case, make sure you take advantage. 

Find a language school near me:

Online German courses

If you’ve already tried to google “online German classes”, clicked on a couple and then stopped looking for a decent course because you were overwhelmed by the number of resources, then check this out - we’ve compiled some of the resources we like. 

Lingoda

Lingoda is best described as an online language school. It has a proper curriculum and fixed hours for classes with native German teachers. The classes are small with up to 5 students. If you don’t like people, then you can also take an individual lesson. If you like classrooms and fixed schedules then Lingoda is for you.

  • Online, live language classes
  • Native speaking teachers
  • Group or private classes available 24/7
  • Prices start from €8 per class

Yabla

Yabla is a video platform. If you enjoy immersing yourself in a new language by consuming content then Yabla is the way to go. It’s similar to turning on the TV in Germany - the main difference is that it’s on demand and you have subtitles. Of course you could also watch shows on Netflix in Germany but, with Yabla, you have original German shows not dubbed American blockbusters so you can also get a bit of a feel for the German culture. 

  • Authentic German. All videos feature only native speakers, speaking in real German.
  • Subtitles. All videos are subtitled and translated. Subtitles make it easy to get back in the game if you get lost.
  • Slow play. Click the slow button at any time to slow down the audio.
  • Dictionaries. Click any word to see a definition, and then save it to your flashcard list.
  • Just €11.95 per month. Unlimited access to a growing library of 2,050+ videos.

Germanpod101

Germanpod is for busy people. So, if you only kinda want to learn a language but are not fully invested enough to dedicate real time to it then Germanpod101 might be for you. It mostly offers podcasts that you can download and listen to on the way to work or just before you fall asleep. Germanpod101 claims to offer over 1,400 audio and video lessons

Rocket Languages

RocketLanguages is Germanpod101 for people who like learning German by actively listening to it rather than falling asleep to it on the bus to work. Rocket Languages offers a pronunciation feature that checks your pronunciation as well as flashcards and other comprehension features.

  • Interactive audio lessons
  • Perfect your pronunciation

Traditional lessons aren’t for me

No problem! If you’re a sporty person, join a fitness class – you’ll at least learn useful words like arm, leg, head, raise, lower, and “GIB GAS”! If you’re more of the sitting and drinking persuasion, just find your nearest dodgy bar and strike up a conversation with the jolly old codgers who’ve been sitting in the same spot for the last 40 years.

You also have the major advantage of living in Germany. You’re surrounded by the language every day so unpeel your eyes from your Handy (mobile phone) and take note of what’s around you. Read posters, examine advertisements, eavesdrop on that couple on the bus. What did she call him? An Arsch mit Ohren? Arse with ears!? YES! Thank you, German, you absolute beauty of a language!

Listen to the radio, or just have it on in the background. If a film or TV programme is too much for you, watch a couple of ads or listen to a song. If reading a book is too challenging, read a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, an ad. Ask questions – Germans just love Germansplaining and will be more than happy to help you out.

If “ich bin raus” is “I’m out”, is “ich bin rein” “I’m in”?

NEIN! Ich bin dabei!

If I can say “damit”, can I also say “darohne”?

NEIN!

Yes, for a lovably logical people, you’ll soon learn that the language can be anything but.

What are the best apps for learning German?

There are a multitude of apps out there to help you learn German - some are great, some are not, some are free, some have free components, others you have to pay for. The beauty of apps is that you can actually do something useful on your mobile phone instead of just walking around staring at it and getting in other people’s way. You can even start in your home country so you’re a bit more prepared for when you first set foot on German soil. So, quit the little game where you join the brightly coloured ball with the other brightly coloured balls and grow some balls in German instead; even five to ten minutes a day can make a big difference. Here are a few of the more popular apps:

  • Duolingo – great for the basics. Starts from pretty much zero and gets more difficult as you work your way up the language “tree”. Good for practising grammar structure.
  • Busuu - covers all areas of language acquisition (reading, writing, speaking, listening). Sample dialogues for different situations, including in the workplace.
  • Babbel - teaches you new vocabulary and phrases through a mix of sound recordings, images and text. Also has speech recognition to help with pronunciation.
  • Memrise - a flashcard app for studying vocabulary.

In case you need more choice then here are some more options: Anki, Wordpic, DeutscheAcademey, Wie geht’s.

If you prefer to learn learn a language from a native speaker but you are not prepared to pay for it then tandem might be for you!

Tandem Language Apps

The best way to learn a language is to actually speak it! HelloTalk and Tandem connect you with native speakers you can chat to for free. Chat with language partners via text, voice recordings, voice calls, video calls! Built-in aids for translation, pronunciation, transliteration, and corrections make conversations run smoothly. 

  1. Tandem
  2. HelloTalk

More resources that will help you learn German

Speaking

  1. Language courses
  2. Get a coffee with a German friend. If you don’t have any, go find some. You’re in Germany - there are Germans everywhere. Join a sports club or start looking on Tinder. You can even use Bumble just to find friends!
  3. Sign up for sports

Listening

Youtube 
  1. Deutsch für Euch
  2. German audio books - listen to the famous stories by the Brüder Grimm - don’t forget to enable the transcript.
Spotify
  1. Coffee Break German
Audio books
  1. Der kleine Wassermann
  2. Der kleine Prinz
  3. Der kleine König
Audible
Audio books for children
  1. Der Kleine König
  2. Der Kleine Fuchs
  3. Weißt du eigentlich wie lieb ich dich habe?
  4. Das große Einschlaf Hörbuch

Pronunciation

  1. A great exercise for pronouncing German words

Reading

German-English books 
  1. Ruf der Wildnis
  2. Alice in Wonderland
  3. Das Gespenst von Canterville
  4. Das Bildnis von Dorian Grey
  5. Sherlock Holmes
Children’s books
  1. Der Räuber Hotzenplotz
  2. Das Kleine Gespenst
  3. Der Kleine Wassermann

Writing

Write a letter or an email to a friend and ask them to correct it for you. 

Phrases

Learn phrases with pictures

Ready to have your mind blown by the German language? Check out these idioms and be prepared to amaze and astound your friends! 

German Expressions

English - direct translation
German
Meaning

Now it goes around the sausage.

Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst!

Shit just got real.

You are on the woodway.

Du bist auf dem Holzweg.

You’re barking up the wrong tree.

My hair stands up to the mountains.

Mir stehen die Haare zu Berge.

I’ve got goosebumps.

I understand only train station.

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.

I have no idea what you’re saying.

Sorry, but my German is under all pig.

Tut mir leid, aber mein Deutsch ist unter aller Sau.

Sorry, but my German is just the worst.

I think I spider.

Ich glaube, ich spinne.

I believe I’m dreaming.

The devil I will do!

Den Teufel werd ich tun!

I will not do that.

Come on. Jump over your shadow.

Komm schon, spring über deinen Schatten

Get out of your comfort zone.

You walk me animally on the cookie.

Du gehst mir tierisch auf den Keks.

You’re really getting on my nerves. 

Holla, the wood fairy.

Holla die Waldfee.

Well, that’s unexpected.

I see black for you.

Ich sehe schwarz für dich.

I think you might be in trouble.

You are such a fear-rabbit.

Du bist so ein Angsthase.

You are such a scaredy cat.

You don’t tick correctly.

Du tickst doch nicht ganz richtig.

You’re not all there.

You don’t have all the cups in your cupboard.

Du hast doch nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank.

You’ve got a screw loose.

You have a bird.

Du hast doch einen Vogel.

You are crazy.

She had a circulation-together-break.

Sie hatte einen Kreislaufzusammenbruch.

She fainted.

I fall from all clouds.

Ich falle aus allen Wolken.

I did not expect this.

No one can reach me the water.

Niemand kann mir das Wasser reichen.

Nobody is better than me.

This is not the yellow from the egg.

Das ist nicht das Gelbe vom Ei.

This is not the best.

It runs me icecold down my back.

Es läuft mir eiskalt den Rücken runter.

My blood runs cold.

I’m fox-devil-wild.

Ich bin fuchsteufelswild.

I’m super angry.

That makes me nobody so quicker after.

Das macht mir so schnell keiner nach.

No one can do what I just did so easily.

Now we have the salad. 

Nun haben wir den Salat.

Well, here we have what we deserve.

I think my pig is whistling.

Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift.

I believe I’m dreaming.

Learning German is hard. Don’t give up 

Even with the best will in the world and all of the aids that are available, you’ll probably still sound like a bit of a simpleton in the beginning. But just think how much entertainment you’ll provide to your German friends as you directly translate from your mother tongue. “Es ist nicht vorbei bis die dicke Frau singt” (it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings) or “wir spielen das beim Ohr” (we’ll play it by ear) – of course neither of these work in German but it’s always fun to watch a German keel over in laughter. Keep at it, keep asking questions, keep trying new things. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes or laugh at yourself. If you’re losing sleep over die, der, das, a muttered “d…” sound could save your life. You’ll get there in the end!

Not fluent yet? No worries - help is at hand!

How will I know when I sound like a German?

If you can pronounce “Tschechische Chemiker auf Griechisch-Chinesischen Passageschiffen”. And when this makes perfect sense to you: wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach. Then you only need to level up and get yourself properly insured. Your average German has at least five home contents insurance policies and fifteen private liability insurance policies so, if you want to be like a real German, you should too. Click here to get some insurance.

Share it if you liked it!

Other interesting topics for expats

BACK TO TOP

Calculate your offer here

You've read enough and would like to get an offer already? Like everything with Coya, quick and easy: answer these 2 questions to get your quote and get your coverage in just a couple of minutes.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
BACK TO TOP