Sprechen Sie Deutsch? No?
Well, maybe you should. It may not be as easy as Italian or sarcasm, but it is not as complicated as Russian or Arabic either. So if you are looking for a foreign language to learn, which has a close relation to English, then German is an excellent choice.
German though is not considered to be a “sexy” language. With Spanish, you can go to Spain (obviously), Cuba, and most of central and South America. English is your passport to all over the world. French is the language of love and philosophy. Italian is the language of romance and Renaissance culture.
But unless you are a classical music fan, or a fan of Goethe or Schiller, then you may decide German is not worth your time. German also suffers a bit from its connections to the war. When people hear “German”, they think “Hitler”. Which is very unfortunate and needs to change. You can blame the History Channel for this, with their endless WW2 documentaries.
But I have been here in Germany for 15 years (and on and off for nearly a decade before that). I can tell you that the German language is extremely fun. Plus, you would be endearing yourself to Tina and Danny, our two resident Germans. And me of course, an honorary German.
Why Should I Learn German?
Let’s look at the facts.
95 million people around the world speak German as their first language, and they have some great vocabulary (try saying Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. If you can do it, I would be seriously impressed!).
German people are fun to talk to, and the German movie industry has been bringing out some great movies in recent years (the two best ones in my opinion are Der Schuh des Manitu, and Traumschiff Surprise. Ironically, given the serious nature of Germans, films such as these means that German comedy is on the rise.
Then, the country itself (as well as Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein) is a beautiful place to visit. Oktoberfest anyone?
German books and music are also fascinating if you can understand it in the original German. The Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” are wonderful if you can understand them in German.
And German “schlager” music, or volksmusik (folk music), is absolutely fantastic.
Are you convinced that German is the language to learn? Here are 10 web resources you can use to get started for absolutely no cost at all.
First of all, you are going to need a really good dictionary. Lots of people swear by Leo.org (Android iOS), but Dict.cc is the one I have always used. You are probably looking at your paper dictionaries and wondering what’s wrong with them. Well, there’s nothing wrong with them, but if you have a smartphone, you can download the Dict.cc app (Android iOS), and have your translation queries answered in no time at all.
What makes Dict.cc stand out is that it is kind of like the “Wikipedia of online dictionaries”. Everyone is encouraged to add vocabulary, and correct existing entries if they feel it is incorrect. So just like the regular Wikipedia, you can’t rely on a translation 100%, as anyone can say anything. But everything is monitored, and in all the years I have been using Dict.cc, their translations have been of remarkably good quality. To stop random trolls, a user has to verify one of the existing pending translation changes, before they can submit a new one.
Much has been said about Duolingo in the past, and I am utterly in love with it. I have made more progress in the past year with Duolingo, than I have in the last 20 years with dry boring textbooks. Duolingo offers many languages – as well as German, they also have popular choices such as French, Spanish, and Italian, while others may want to do a more complicated language and choose Russian.
Duolingo works along the lines of the flashcard concept. You can log in with your Facebook credentials, and have your Duolingo-using friends up on the scoreboard with you. So it turns into a game to see who can amass the most points in a week. Then you start getting hit with questions where you have to type what you hear, translate what you hear, and translate phrases into the microphone. Questions are repeated constantly to see how well you really remembered.
It goes without saying that a good microphone is needed for Duolingo.
Memrise is one that I am only just starting to warm up to. It follows the same flashcard principle as Duolingo, but instead it gives you grammar and sentences, and you have to pick it out later from a multiple choice question.
If something looks complicated, you can tell Memrise to keep a record of it, so it knows to test you again on it (and you have a record for your own reference). You are tested on words and phrases repeatedly until it is convinced you have aced it. You can hear words and sentences being spoken aloud by the site, and even tell it to ignore certain words and phrases if you are sure you don’t want to see them again.
What’s amusing is that Memrise gives you the English translation, and the literal translation which, quite often, are two totally different things. Looking at the literal translation makes you realize that you can’t translate and speak German literally. Quite often, verbs go at the end of a sentence, not at the beginning. As the famous saying goes, “you never know till the end of a sentence whether a German wants to kiss you or kick you“.
The German Professor is for both teachers and students of the German language, and it covers a huge multitude of subjects. Whether it’s the top 500 German words, or verbs, or something as simple as the numbers, it is all there, easily explained. There is a small video section which could use an expansion, and there is an amusing tongue-twisters section with audio help.
One downside to The German Professor is that, like real-world professors, she sometimes tends to get a bit long-winded when discussing grammar points, and eventually you tune out. But that is outweighed by the sheer amount of information here, including free German books to download, and where to get German food outside Germany.
Deutsche Welle is a very famous brand when it comes to learning German. They are actually a television broadcaster, but they also offer German language classes. Courses can be subscribed to, via RSS and iTunes. Each course has MP3 files and transcripts so that you can follow along with the dialogue much more easily. And of course, plenty of exercises. Got to do that homework.
What separates Deutsche Welle from its competitors is that they offer German language courses for different native speakers. So German for French people (for example). Or for Hindi people. There is a huge number of nationalities to choose from. Just go to this page, scroll down to the bottom, and you will see the menu.
There’s a lot to choose from, and each course consists of audio files and PDF files. Some even have video files. You can subscribe to be notified when new updates are added to a course, read reviews by past users, and receive recommendations on what to study next.
There is the added convenience of keeping everything on your phone and tablet. So you can do a bit of boning up on your grammar on the bus to work.
Ah, the good old BBC! Where would language learners be without the Beeb by their side? However, as far as German learning is concerned, the Beeb seems to have walked off and taken a holiday. Visitors to the German page are informed that the “page has been archived and is no longer updated“.
But I still included it because the German section still has a lot of very useful resources which will remain online in some shape or form. British students studying for their school GCSE exams can download study notes. There’s an introduction to German, with each section containing a video clip.
When you need to learn some last-minute German because your boss is sending you on a business trip there, you can start learning the essential phrases. You can also learn key phrases and the alphabet by downloading short MP3 files.
When you are speaking to a German, it can get rather easy to lose the thread of the conversation, because Germans speak quite fast. That’s been my experience anyway. So “Slow German” aims to do what the title says, and slows everything down, so you have more of a chance catching all the words. The text is provided on the page, and it is spoken via podcast. You can subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe via social media to get the latest podcasts.
A simple concept, but a very good one. I have made some good progress using this site.
As I said at the beginning, the German movie industry has brought out some really good movies in the recent past. German TV is nothing to brag about in my opinion, but the movies are good. This is where Netflix comes in.
To use the German Netflix outside Germany, you need a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Netflix is cracking down on proxy servers, but some VPN’s have found ways around the block. One of them is Tunnelbear, which I highly recommend.
Once you are in, you can easily find stuff by browsing around. Or you can save a lot of time (if you use the Chrome browser) by installing Super Browse. This gives you a drop-down list of all the Netflix categories. Just start typing “German” and the category “German Movies” will pop up.
Along the same lines as Netflix, YouTube also offers countless videos in the German language, not all of them stupid amateur videos. TV show clips are uploaded, as well as movie trailers, and clips from movies themselves.
Also, as with Netflix, you need a VPN to see the German version of YouTube’s front page. However, direct links to videos will not require a VPN.
So What Did I Miss, Mein Herr?
The good news is that if you are determined to master German, the web is a fantastic classroom. Whittled.co has its own exhaustive list on German learning resources for all levels. But I am sure there’s room for more.
Are you currently learning German? If so, what online resources have I left out? Please teach me a lesson in the comments