Tips for learning German

by Allison Robins

Before arriving in Germany, it’s easy to dream of learning the language and laughing with locals over “Bier” and “Bratwurst.” But when you settle in, the American community and prevalence of English can weaken your motivation to actually learn German. Fortunately, there are numerous resources for getting that extra boost.

With the exception of total immersion, one of the best ways to learn a language the most thoroughly is in a classroom. The flexibility of self-study might be more practical for some, but the discipline and structure of a classroom is often the fastest way to gain a strong linguistic foundation.

The United Service Organizations offers weekly German I courses starting mid-April. The $65 price includes eight weeks of German basics and a textbook, a bargain for a better understanding of the local language.

If cost is a concern, Army Community Service offers a free conversational German class focused on language basics and street smarts. You can choose between an 8-week beginners’ course on Mondays at 6p.m. or Fridays at lunchtime. Visit for dates and registration forms.

For those looking for more immersive classes, the Kaiserslautern Volkshochschule is an adult education center offering German for foreigners. For a college-style language education, take a simple assessment on their website and call to determine the best course.

If you’re looking for one-on-one attention, search the classifieds and Internet for private lessons. Many locals are looking for conversation partners, someone to meet at a cafe and exchange English lessons for German lessons.

Children registered with CYS can attend classes to learn basic vocabulary and common German phrases, and many conversation groups for adults and children meet at MWR libraries.

If your schedule is tight, self-study is an alternative, provided you have the resources and discipline to stick to your goals. Although interactive software programs like Rosetta Stone are popular, they can be costly. Unfortunately, an Army e-learning contract for free Rosetta Stone usage was not renewed after September 2011. However, there are multiple interactive software programs that provide a much-needed audio supplement to books. Reading online consumer reviews is the best way to avoid a costly mistake.

One of the best self-study options is a “progressive language” book like “German for Dummies,” “German Demystified” or “German Made Simple,” books designed to take you from no German background to understanding sentence structure, grammar and basic vocabulary. Designed to begin with basics and advance gradually with each chapter, progressive language books provide a classroom-like structure of lessons, without the time constraints or costs of scheduled courses.
Be sure to supplement language books with audio practice.

If you don’t want to splurge on a software, there are thousands of videos on YouTube and other websites with useful German pronunciation instruction. Listen and repeat until you are accustomed to German pronunciation subtleties. Listening to German music is another motivating way to learn colloquial phrases and pronunciation; look up lyrics and make a homework assignment of translating and eventually singing along. Many German radio stations play a variety of German songs throughout the day, so make sure to switch channels from time to time and shazam your favorites.

As with anything, you will improve much faster with practice. When you’re out of the classroom or away from the books, take advantage of your greatest resource: Germans. Most locals appreciate when you try to speak their language and will almost certainly play along if you ask them to speak German with you instead of switching to English. Try to read the German side of the menu first, and always feel free to ask about a word or phrase when you’re not sure.

With the right resources and determination, you can make your dream of learning German a reality. You’ll understand your surroundings and enjoy your European experience even more.

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