What Should I Know Before Learning German?

If you are considering to start learning the German language you are probably interested in some information about the learning process.

While German is not particular difficult for English speakers, it will take you a long time to learn. There are big differences between written and spoken standard German, and Germans generally talk neither of those two, as they all use some kind of dialect. You will need a clear goal and a reason that keeps you motivated to study the language for a long time or you will not succeed. You should be ready to invest some money into yourself, since this will boost the speed of your learning greatly.

There Are Two Kinds of German

Well, actually, there are three different kinds of German. The written, the spoken, and the dialect.

One thing that can often be a problem when learning German is, that there is a big difference between written and spoken German.

There are certain particles and words that you will rarely encounter while learning German but hear all the time if you are in Germany.

On top of that there are a couple of words which are very prominent in German everyday speech that are hard to understand for English speakers.

I have written a whole article on this subject, so I will just shortly cover a couple of examples for you here.

Firstly there is the use of words like doch, for which there is no adequate translation in the English language. The word doch is being used to counter a negative phrase.

Let’s look at an example. For the sake if simplicity, I will write this in English and show you how and where you would have used the word doch.

A: “I am better at speaking German than you”

B: “No you are not”

A: “Doch!”

As you can see doch is used to counter the previous phrase. It can take a lot of practice until you will have really understood this, and it is hard to learn this through anything else then talking to Germans.

Another thing that often times happens is that Germans tend to use cases wrongly after certain prepositions that require you to use genitive.

Genitive is more and more vanishing from spoken German and using genitive in these cases will make you sound like you are from the last century.

The last thing I want to address here is the usage of the perfect in spoken German. Germans almost exclusively use perfect in everyday speech and tend to avoid präteritum, except for some specific verbs.

To Germans, präteritum sounds kind of old fashioned except for these specific words, and using it will have the same effect that I already talked about earlier.

You will sound weird. Of course there are rules, that tell you when you should use perfect and when präteritum, but we tend to ignore these in everyday conversations.

Knowing this can save you a lot of trouble, as you can initially ignore präteritum completely and focus on perfect. Perfect is not only easier for beginners to learn, it will also

Germans Don’t Speak The German You Learn

When you come to Germany for the first time, you will immediately notice that Germans don’t actually use the standard German that you learned so far.

Instead, every part of Germany has their own dialect that they either talk completely (it happens rarely) or mix into standard German.

You will sometimes hear words that will not make any sense to you if you are not from this region (even if you are a German) and there are other words which are closer related to standard German that you can understand rather quickly.

Let me give you some examples for these words so that you have a better understanding of what I am talking about.

Nichts (standard German, translates to nothing, will change to nix in dialect)

Nein (standard German, will change to nee in my local dialect)

Kartoffel (standard German, translates to potato, will change to Krumbeere in my local dialect)

As you can see, you will have no chance of understanding the last one if you are not from my region. Maybe it will help you to know that other Germans will be equally as confused as you if they hear this word (I usually don’t use it).

Especially in rural areas you will encounter a lot more dialect than in the big cities, so be prepared for a lot of interesting conversations when you decide to visit some smaller villages in Germany.

Why Are You Considering Learning German?

This is one of the most important things that you should be clear about, before you decide to start learning German as it will determine if you will actually walk this path until the end, or stop in the middle.

Everyone has different reasons. Some need German because of their work, others just like how the language sounds and in other cases people want to move to Germany. Regardless of what your reason is, make sure that you actually know it.

There will be ups and downs on your journey to mastery, and if you do not have a good reason why you want to do this, you will not be able to push through these down phases.

There will always be moments when your life is stressful, when you feel like you are not making any progress at all or when you are just not able to find enough strength for regular studying.

Often times you will feel overwhelmed by the mass of information there is to absorb.

A solid reason and motivation will help you to overcome those things as you will be able to remind yourself why you are doing this and why it is absolutely worth it.

German has a lot of dialects

Seriously a lot of dialects. I live in a very small region of Germany called Saarland. Saarland is, if you do not count cities, the smallest federal state of Germany.

Even though it is the smallest, it has one official dialect, and more then twenty unofficial (those that I know of) ones.

This doesn’t mean that we do not understand each other, but you will find transitioning from the classroom to speaking German out in the wild, very hard.

Often times words in dialects will sound nothing like the same word in standard German (called Hochdeutsch, which means high German)

For example: the word Kartoffel (potato) will be called Krumbeere in my dialect.

We swallow endings, change consonants and even substitute combinations of letters. When we get visitors from other parts of Germany they will often times be kind of fascinated to listen to us talk in our local dialect.

They are German native speakers, and they can have troubles with understanding specific phrases, so it will be almost impossible for you at first.

There is no region where Hochdeutsch is spoken. Everyone uses some kind of dialect. Some are more thick, like Bavaria or Saarland, while others are not.

Of course everyone can, in theory, speak Hochdeutsch, but unless you request them to, they won’t do it.

For me speaking Hochdeutsch feels like talking a different language. It’s weird, I m not used to it, and it always sounds kind of wrong.

Even though I try to limit my usage of dialect while traveling in Germany, it still happens to me quite regularly that I will get asked what a specific word means.

If you are interested to read more about this topic you can check out this article here

German Isn’t The Hardest Language on The Planet

English is closely related to German that many people consider them to be sister languages. A lot of

Words are shared between the two languages or sound very close to each other. You will have a much easier time memorizing German words than with other languages that are not related to English at all.

Pronunciation is straight forward and the words are oftentimes spoken exactly as you would write them.

Once you mastered pronouncing all the 26 Letters of the German alphabet, you will be able to read out any German word. Of course you will make mistakes with stress, but these are minor things that are corrected effortlessly.

On top of that, the German language has patterns for the placement of the verbs which is most of the times rhythmical and easy to use.

This means that you will be able to use reading to pick up frequently used patterns in German very easily.

German is widely spoken (the most spoken language in central Europe) and a lot of people are interested in it.

It makes learning German much easier since there are many resources online which you are able to access for free, and even better ones, if you are willing to spend some money.

I have written a more in depth article about how hard it is to learn German

You Don’t Need to Know Everything

In fact, you need to know very little. There are a lot of subjects in German grammar that rarely get used, and for other subjects you can get by just fine without knowing them, for example perfect and präteritum.

It can be a tremendous help to figure out which parts of the grammar are essential and which parts are not.

You will be able to speak just fine with only a little bit of grammar. It is no problem at all to say almost anything you want, while knowing only the essential grammar.

The problem for people who learn German is to figure out which parts of the grammar you actually need and which parts you should look at first.

Leaving out the unnecessary grammar topics in the beginning will help you to quickly get to a point where you can start speaking and experience success.

This can be a great boost for motivation and accelerate your speed of learning. If you are able to speak and read in German early on, it will make your progress much smoother from there on.

Don’t Be Unrealistic

I personally consider this as important as having the right motivation. Don’t make the outcome the goal. What do I mean with this sentence? Don’t tell yourself that you want to learn German in one year, as it can created some problems later on.

Let’s say you did make this your goal anyway, and after three months you notice that you barely grasped half of the A1 level.

You will compare this to the nine months that are still left for you to achieve your goal and you will notice that you will not be able to meet the goal at this pace.

This will make any progress much harder and it can have a heavy impact on your motivation.

You will quickly start to feel overwhelmed by all the work that you still have to do before reaching your goal and it can easily lead to you giving up.

If you would have instead set your goal as something like: I want to be able to have a small conversation in German, then you can say that you are almost there.

What I want to say with this is, choose small objectives along they way as your goals and adjust them as soon as you meet them.

This will keep you motivated because no matter how effective you are with your studying, you will still make some progress to reach this goal.

You Will Have to Invest A Lot of Time

Keep in mind that learning German is hard work. This does not apply only to German but to any language.

You will have to work through a lot of material, learn a lot of grammar and do a lot of repetitions until you are able to speak fluently.

This will take time and success might not be clearly visible to you at first. You will have to invest a lot of time and you will spend countless hours practicing.

At the beginning of each level of German there will be a lot of new things, in fact so many new things, that you can feel like you are starting at the beginning again.

Can You Afford It?

There are many ways to learn German inexpensively and without spending a lot of money, you can even do it completely for free if you choose to do so. But payed courses usually will help you to learn German much more quickly.

Of course you will spend some money on it, but it will save you a lot of trouble and frustration. You will be guided on your path to fluency and can rely on advice of teachers and the structuring of the courses.

There are tons of courses out there that are very good, but choosing the right one for you can be a difficult task. Make sure you test out your favorite courses before you spend some money on them.

You can start courses at any point and at any level of German, but I would recommend that you get some basic knowledge before starting your first course.

The material for beginners can be easily learned by yourself. Knowing the beginners stuff will help you to follow courses better and gives you some confidence at the same time.

Know What to Do

If you are just starting out with this, make sure you have the right plan. Since you already know your motivation and also your goal, make a plan that will have you work towards that.

You want to be able to have a small conversation in German? Then make sure that you learn the necessary words and grammar to do so.

You most likely will not need something like Futur 2 or the Plusquamperfekt to achieve this goal. Focus instead on the things that are needed to reach your goal.

You will still be able to pick up the other stuff later, it will be even easier for you after you got some basic knowledge.

Make sure that your plan meets the way of studying that suits you the most. You hate memorizing vocabulary, then don’t focus on that to much and try out some different methods.

I can promise you, that if you will force yourself to study in a way which you don’t like, you will be able to persist until the end.

Try to have as much fun with this as possible. Learning a language can be a lot of fun if you chose to do it in a way that suits you best.

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