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How to Learn German Properly: Top Tips On How To Improve Quickly

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Read my new article on how to learn German properly and get my top 5 tips on how to improve your German.

If you have any questions, please use the comments section or send me an email.

Many German students wonder how they could accelerate their progress outside of our intensive German courses. Here are my top tips.

Study Vocabulary Effectively

My first tip is to use an effective method to learn new words. Often, students just write down the same words repeatedly and forget them almost instantaneously. Others rely on the most popular language learning apps without realising that they don't help to retain words long term and only feed their passive vocabulary. Passive vocabulary are words that you recognise and comprehend in texts but aren't able to use when speaking or writing anything in the language. So what's needed is an approach that bridges passive and active vocabulary. And since our brain needs context to retain information, effective methods to study vocabulary contextualise words and use them in a sentence. That's exactly what I recommend. Whenever you want to learn a new word in any language, think of the first thing that comes to mind when using the word in a sentence and then phrase a sentence with that idea in the language.

Let's consider an example. The German word "zeigen" means to show or to display. My first association is that I want to show my students how to study vocabulary. So my German vocabulary sentence would read

Ich zeige meinen Schüler:innen, wie sie Vokabeln lernen sollten.

(I show my students how they should learn vocabulary)

This sentence uses the word in context and reminds me of the meaning of the verb "zeigen" by virtue of the sentence. And since the sentence will stick, so will the verb itself. I then advise my students to write their vocabulary sentence on a flash card and add any important grammar information about the word at the top of the first side of the card. So for "zeigen", I would add "gezeigt" (the German perfect tense form) and write underneath the sentence I would identify the cases because the verb "zeigen" is one of several German verbs that go with the dative and the accusative case.

Ich zeigen meinen Schüler:innen, wie sie Vokabeln lernen sollten.


Learn The German Articles Properly

This brings me to my next point. Since the German articles depend on both the gender and the case of the noun, it is important to learn both. First, you should learn the most important gender rules in German. Even though these rules help to identify the gender of most nouns, there are exceptions which means that some genders simply need to be learned with the word and added to your flashcard for that word. Once you studied the gender rules, you should then try to understand the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive case in German. My blog entry on the topic not only explains the logic of the four cases, but also gives you some tips on how to remember the articles. So go check it out. Beginners should start with the difference between nominative and accusative case and try to understand the other two cases as they progress in the language.

Learn German Prepositions With The Case They Take

Prepositions in German need to be learned in combination with the case they go with. While dual prepositions in German either go with the accusative or the dative case, the remaining prepositions are case specific and only take the accusative, dative or genitive case. Therefore, it is important to understand that the rules for the cases in the absence of any preposition are completely different from the ones that follow after a preposition is being used.

Understand German Word Order

German word order rules are different from English and many other European languages. Beginners in the language should focus on the difference between the syntax in statements and questions with a question word from yes/no questions (see my beginner guide on German word order). From elementary level onwards, you should also learn about the difference between main and subordinate clauses.

Practice The Tenses in German

After practicing how to conjugate German verbs in the present tense, make sure you don't neglect the other tenses in the language. Especially the perfect tense in German should be practiced quite a lot as it's a very important tense in the language that is used a lot. From elementary or intermediate level onwards, you should then consider the other tenses, such as the German future tense and the imperfect tense in German.

Many other topics in German grammar build on the aforementioned tips, you practice the above first before you consider more specific grammar.


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