How To Learn German

Looking for the best way to learn German? You’re going to need to learn correct pronunciation, a frequency dictionary to form your base vocabulary, and a good grammar book. You’ll also benefit from a thematic vocabulary book for specialized vocabulary, and maybe a book or two, once you learn your first 1,000 words. Make sure you read our Method articles for top advice and tips, then check out some of these recommended resources (pictures are links).

Learn German with these resources

1. Pronunciation

Note: As a faster (and more effective) alternative to the following pronunciation resources, check out my Kickstarter project. It will make the first steps of German much easier for you because it takes advantage of how your brain works (and how to re-wire it) in a way that traditional tools just can’t.

First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English – the video tutorials here should help. Once you understand that, start working on German.

Modern German Pronunciation book cover

Modern German pronunciation seems to be the best book on the topic now. Use internet resources to give you some audio input too, which is essential. If you want to jump to free internet resources, check out Wikipedia’s German Phonology page and this pronunciation guide with recordings.

Overall, most of German’s trickiness comes in the form of vowels. I did a whole survey of this back in 2012, and you can see the results over here. Still, there are a few Achs and Ichs that might be tricky in the beginning. In terms of consonants, you’ll need the [ç] (“Ich”), [x] (“Bach”), and the uvular R [ʁ] (“Rache”). If you want to really polish your accent, then get a good clean [l] (“Last”), where the back of your tongue stays down and only the front comes up. Vowels, as mentioned above, are a bit of a disaster. German has 15 vowels, many of which are brand-new for an English speaker. You’ll get most of them from the French pronunciation video, and my German pronunciation trainer is available right here.

There are also some Anki flashcards for German to improve your pronunciation, such as the German alphabet, German IPA Pronunciation, German minimal pairs, and other useful goodies.

I’ve made a base vocabulary list of 400 words to start you off! As I talk about in that article, I find it easiest to translate those words using the short dictionaries at the end of a Lonely Planet phrasebook: they’re cheap, short, and they give you good, standard translations for your words (just ignore the ridiculous pronunciation guides).

2. Your base vocabulary

You can also access Anki decks to boost up your German vocab, like the German alphabet, German Top 2000 Words, and many more.

Later, when you’re ready for sentences, you can go back to your phrasebook and grab some. After that, try these:

Routledge German Frequency Dictionary book cover

Frequency dictionary

The Routledge Frequency Dictionaries series is excellent, with example uses and everything. Get this at the beginning to direct your vocabulary work!

Mastering German Vocabulary book cover

Vocabulary books

Duden German Monolingual Dictionary book cover

The Mastering Vocabulary series is a wonderful set of books that contain core vocab for just about any field/topic you can think of. They’re great for adding to your vocab once you get your first 1,000 or 2,000 words from a frequency list.

Then, you can graduate to a monolingual dictionary

The Duden Band 2 Stilwörterbuch has great descriptions of the differences between related words, like the difference between anhören, zuhören, and plain old hören, all in simple German with a bunch of examples. It’s my dictionary of choice. Be absolutely sure you memorize the gender of each noun from the beginning, or you’re going to be running into problems for the rest of your German studies!

Another word frequency resource

If you search around on the web, you can also find a neat set of sentences that are ranked based upon how frequently the words within those sentences show up within the language, then create Anki decks to store them, with Text-to-Speech recordings of each sentence and translations. They’re a nice resource to mine for useful content. I’d suggest finishing the 625, then looking through them in order for new words or new grammatical constructions, and then learning those new chunks via New Word cards, New Word Form cards, and Word Order cards.

3. Grammar book

Hammer's German Grammar Textbook cover
Hammer's Practicing German Grammar Workbook cover

I’ve never seen a grammar book with better reviews than Hammer’s book. Get it with the workbook.

Rosenberg’s beginner guide to German book cover

If you’re a real beginner, then you might like Rosenberg’s German: How to Speak and Write It beginner guide to start out, then move on to Hammer’s books.

Rankin’s Handbuch zur Deutschen Grammatik book cover

Intermediate students might prefer Rankin’s Handbuch zur Deutschen Grammatik. Each section is a self-contained grammar workshop on a single theme, so you can spend a week focusing on just a single chunk of your German. It sounds like they haven’t changed much between the 4th and 5th version, and the 4th version is easier to find used, so I linked it here.

Book cover of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novel in German

4. Book-type book

You can read anything that you enjoy. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading. The German ones are actually affordable via Amazon.com.

5. Other resources

No German resource list would really be complete without dict.cc and dict.leo, a pair of pretty phenomenal bilingual dictionaries. For monolingual dictionaries, go with the Duden Band 2, mentioned above, or try Duden’s online offerings. Linguee is a lovely dictionary resource, in that it shows you multiple example sentences for each word and tells you about each word’s relative frequency in the language. (This is currently available in English, Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese.)

the Anki language learnersthis Anki language learning blog for other Anki tips and tricks for learning German.

Assimil German with Ease book cover

Assimil

The Assimil series is a sort of special language-learning resource that I discuss in a blog post here. It doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories above, and I think it works best as a sort of supplemental source of German input. Here’s the beginner German version with CDs.

Minimal pairs

A reader has suggested a great resource for minimal pairs that could easily be used in Anki.

Dictionarist

Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages including German.

6. Try the Fluent Forever app

By the way, did you know the book is now an app? You can check out the Fluent Forever app right here to accelerate your German language learning.

Discover our immersive method rooted in neuroscience, designed to take you to fluency in < 30 minutes a day through four steps:

  1. Train your ears with pronunciation lessons
  2. Learn vocabulary through images instead of translations
  3. Learn grammar naturally through stories relevant to you
  4. Practice your speech to fluency with native tutors

Ready to start your journey to German fluency? Download our Fluent Forever app right now!