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How I Learn German

Let's face it, language learning typically leads to so much terminology it's ridiculous. Practically need a dictionary at hand just to know what the damn words are, in order to learn what the damn words are. When someone gives you an explanation as to how to say something it's often met with a ton of gibberish with which not everyone is so familiar.

While I do partake in some of the aforementioned gibberish, I also enjoy a somewhat of an abstract way of understanding, or just... similar to how a kid understands a language. When we're young, we don't have people shoving fancy grammatical terminology down our throats, we just endeavor to understand that something is, rather than why it is. As adults, we get somewhat obsessed with the why, because I guess we're creatures of contrast and sometimes we need to know why something is different to accept it, or maybe that's just me.

Do you learn best when you quit trying to shovel those words down your throat along with the already-extensive vocabulary that a language learner typically learns? Or do those fancy words become a necessity in order for you to properly learn?

With German, there are some things that no amount of terminology seems to teach me, and that I only understand after countless times of seeing it used in different contexts, because that's how we learned as a kid, right?! When mom 'n' pops say "No!" to you grabbing that ❤❤❤❤❤❤ slice of cake, you sort of ascertain that it means the yummy cake is a no-go. Perhaps not at first, perhaps it just becomes a scary sound mixed with obvious unamused body language, but after a while, there's a link between the situation and that word; an association.

I sometimes find I learn better when I 'wing it', rather than constantly ramming my head so far into a book I end up recreating the Never Ending Story, only it's the Never Ending Book of German! Why? You might ask. Because, I may answer, I'm often creating associations between words which typically have some sort of meaning to me, be it someone giving me some sad and memorable news, or something funny happening in a game that has a link to a certain new word I might come across. This, at least for me, has far more of an impact than simply rattling off words from a dictionary that have no real meaning at that given moment. When you have touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing linked to words, it, as far as I know, has been proven to improve the chances of you remembering things; this is why it's common for people with amnesia to use these senses as much as possible in order to hopefully once again remember that which was forgotten.

Just some things for you to chew over. I'd be interested in know where you think you might come in to all this.

September 17, 2015



I've been thinking about this a fair bit recently too.

To me context is key. If I'm able to come across a word in actual use (TV radio or whatever) and recognize it as one I've seen from studies here or memrise it seems like it sticks immediately. The reverse works too, so if I look up a word I read, and then recognize it again later on my own it sticks easily.

A nice example, though not one I've seen in duo questions, is the word "halt". It's used quite often in informal speech and completely threw me the first time I saw it (in a Alltagsdeutsch article on dw.de). I thought it meant "to hold" which was entirely confusing as in the same sentence "halten" was used, so it looked like the sentence had 2 verbs. Needless to say I now remember this very easily.

Learning new words in isolation or even in simple sentences helps, but doesn't seem that effective.

Grammar is much the same, but for the trickier cases nothing except exposure over and over again works.


Interesting. I should try that as well. Could you give some examples of some associations you have with certain German words?


Sure, Blockhause. I'll give you some examples that actaully happened to me quite recently.

I got a game on Humble Bundle called Stealth Inc 2. Since my Steam client—a very popular software managed by Valve that essentailly hosts and sells PC games—is entirely in German, it tends to download and install games in German, too; this affords me the opportunity to learn new words as per the vocabulary typically used in a game.

To the (super long) point...

So, the game was new and fun, and some parts of the game were funny, particularly the German text; this is all very important, as it helped me learn the words I was coming across. die Vorsprung, for example, is the edge, ledge, or 'protrusion' of something... like something you might grab onto in a platforming game. The game was telling me the keys to press, but I'd never seen Vorsprung before. I looked it up and I was like, 'ah-hah!' which I think in itself is important... I dunno why, but that ah-hah almost epiphany-like moment seems to help make things easier to remember, particularly if it's something I've been mulling over for ages.

In the same game I learned what exit is, ... it's ... ähm... something that I've forgotten. ¬_¬ But I know it when I see it. lol. Ah, that's the one... I believe it's Ausgang. (I checked on Google... xD)

I also learned that you hold a button gedrückt in German, not down. Drücke den B Knopf gedrückt um etwas zu machen... is the general gist of what it told me to do. Probably other things I picked up, too. The thing with the game is that I have to read quickly and if I don't, I die... this gives tension, which encourages me to pick things up faster... perhaps a survival instinct wired into us.

Oh, I'll go for an oldy on this one. A long time ago, when my German was utterly horrendous, I had mostly just started out... I remember this super embarrassing moment when I was wondering around a German server on Runescape—yes, I played Runescape—and I distinctly remember telling a bunch of Germans that, and I quote: "Ich kann sprechen Deutsch." Quite embarrassing when they had to correct that, so I felt stupid... obviously. lol Naturally, I never forgot that moment, and therefore what I learned. lol That helped pave the way for me to understand word order in German.

There's been times when someone has rudely had a go at me for my German, well, years ago... haven't had that in a while, thank God. lol Anyway, some of those times definitely taught me to do it right. As much as I hate to say it, 'unpleasant' people can be quite educational at times.

Oh, and here's one last one, also about a game. I've been playing Quantum Connundrum recently, a puzzle game similar to the famed Portal. Anywho, it's of course in German, too. When you die (a moment of frustration, typically—emotion which helps create a stronger memory and gives an opportunity for a connection or association to something; psychology!—the game shows you funny little 'you will never...' bits of text, such as: Du wirst niemals... dein erstes peinliche Date haben. Or something along those lines.

OK, so some things I learn very passively... a lot of my German is kind of passive, in that I can't always just grab it out of thin-air, but should I come across it, I'd recognise it... it's like when you meet some strange person in the street, and you'll go home and totally never think of them again, but if you go out again and see them, you're like, "oh hey, it's him!"


Sorry, there's more I've just thought of... there's music and programmes/films, as well, which can be HUGE. Ever had a funny quote stuck in your head? That's perfect for language! Ever had an annoying but epic tune stuck in your head with lyrics to boot? Awesome for language! I have most of the lyrics from So wie Du warst (by Unheilig) stuck in my head, which is fantastic, because there's a lot of brilliant words in that song; thanks to repeatedly listening to it and just generally being enthusiastic about it (I LOOOOOOOOVE Unheilig!!!!!) I now understand the whole song, as far as I know. xD Same goes for some other songs.

So, music can offer us powerful emotions and thoughts which can easily be used to better remember something. You know the whole 'it's easier to remember the bad stuff but good things are difficult to recall' thing? Well, that's likely because bad things tend to have a stronger, more prominent set of emotions attached to them, so they naturally are easier to remember; perhaps it's nature's way of getting us to totally familiar with the crap, in order to survive. Would you rather remember that a shark will eat you if you piss it off, or would you rather remember that the big rock over there is really fun and that you called it Bob?


haha I enjoyed reading your examples. Thank you for the inspiration (funny you played Runescape :p ). I completely recognise the 'unpleasant people' moment. To me it happened several times in Spain, that people had a go at me because my Spanish wasn't good according to them. It made me feel tremendously sad, but at the same time it inspired me to keep going to prove them wrong. Perhaps I should even thank them, now I think about it ;)


Yeah, I feel the same, only, for me it was demoralising and only served to make me lose confidence in my German, sometimes going months without studying it. :( Those disrespectful sods don't realise just how stupid their words are... they're basically saying, "You should have fluent language from the start. How dare you show our language enough respect to take the time and effort to speak like us." Oh well. xD It took some time, but I finally broke past all that crap and got good enough that they stopped getting at me. (although I'm sure I still make the odd utterly horrendous mistake that makes them think WTF)


I am taking Deutsch Warum Nicht in DW. In the course there is a special character called "X". X is an elf. I remember most of her dialogues, because of her being so special. I agree, most of us learn better when the new material is part of a bigger story, our brain likes associations, not isolated pieces of knowledge.


hahah me too, i do remember most of the dialogues from X... it's funny, I love that course


Yeah. Initially I went with the traditional method of remembering the dreaded tables, all the words that duo presents etc.. But I was overwhelmed with these and stopped doing all those and just accepted new words and forms as they came along.

Now, I don't byheart any tables and surprisingly I have no problems with declensions or plurals or genders (for words that I know of). Whenever I have to use a declension form or plural, I remind myself of any example where I've seen that form and use it. This works very well.


Works for me, too! Although I also did the table-staring thing and did actually find it helpful, but mostly it was experience of seeing it USED that helped me, rather than staring at the table itself... sort of like having the experience but some knowledge to help glue the experience together into something that makes sense to me.


congrats, great story


This is one of the basics of language learning. We all learn better by experience, rather than by teaching. It is like when your parents used to say "don't do that", you understand the lesson, but it is easier to grasp when you make the mistake yourself.

There are several words that I've learned both in english and german because they remind me of situations I've been through when I was first exposed to them, or even non-related situations that for some reason I've associated with that word. There are also cases which I've associated because they resemble another word in my native language.


great tips. thanks


I'm with you all on the points about learning the words, but what constantly throws me is how to ensure when I'm using a possessive or an adjective, how to deal with the feminine, masculine, neuter of the noun it 'owns', describes, etc. It's hard enough to remember the gender of nouns, let alone all the rest! Any tips?


For me, it was a mix of table-staring and simply using, reading, and hearing German often enough to remember, through repetition and essentially pattern recognition. In short: practice makes perfect. :P Unhelpful, I know. I felt lost, too. There's still things that bug the crap out of me, naturally, but I feel some sort of confidence in knowing that I'll figure it all out eventually.


Siebenundzwanzig OMG how do you have 6000 xp


I was taught German at school by learning verb tables, and what endings words take in the dative etc. I thought I was terrible at learning languages as I could never get it. Also having to remember the gender of far more words than in English put me off.

Then I started using DuoLingo, and as an experiment I decided to completely ignore all the grammar lessons, the dative and which verbs take 'sein' etc. Five years later I am still learning and enjoying it, and getting most of the tenses and word genders correct without ever learning them by rote. My theory is that a German child doesn't know about the dative or the pluperfect (do they even have that in German). When you are speaking you don't have time to remember the grammar rules. The German child, and an English child for that matter, says what sounds right. Sometimes they get it wrong and their teacher or parent corrects them, and that is how they learn. That is how I learn, I say what sounds right, if I get it wrong Duolingo corrects me, and I am more likely to get it right next time.

When I say, "Was ist dein Beruf?" I am not thinking "Beruf - that's a masculine word, so it is 'dein' not 'deine'. No, "dein Beruf" sounds right, say that.

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