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Strategies for Learning German with Duolingo

I have been working on my German streak for 37 days now (5695 XP). I wanted to share the methods I have tried and ask others what advice they have for getting the most out of Duolingo’s German class and Duolingo in general.

First, a little background: I have never learned another langue before and I have very little capacity for passive learning -- so perhaps others on here do not have to force things into their head as aggressively and purposefully as I have to. I have always been ashamed of not knowing anything other than English and I am so thankful for Duolingo, because it has given me a tool that has encouraged me (at 30) to force myself to grow in a way I had given up on. I also talked my father and my 8-year-old niece into following me into learning German (which was much easier than I expected) and it has been fun to be able to have some basic conversation with people in German.

I actually started taking an A1 level German course several weeks before starting seriously with Duolingo and after about a month I decided to stop the course and focus on Duolingo plus other self-studies. I think the course was great (it was with the Goethe Institut), but it was moving at too slow a pace and was taking a lot of my time. That time was frankly better spent on Duolingo. In fact, I stopped when I realized I was learning more German on Duolingo going to and from the course than in the course. That said, the course was invaluable, because it was the commitment that got me over the hump of making learning German part of my every day routine. I will probably take a B1 or B2 level course when I have built up a solid core and want to focus on conversational skills.

How I use Duolingo:

I will start talking about the mobile app because that is where I spend most of my time. As we all know the app and the website give very different experiences. I use both and probably spend 2/3 of my time on the app and 1/3 on the computer. I prefer the computer, but I average 1-2 hours a day on the app that I could not spend on the computer and so have worked to get the most out of it.

I used to think the app was weak when compared to the computer, but that was when all I was focused on was trying to advance through the tree and scoring points. Now I find that I like the app almost as much as the computer. In fact, I may get more out of the app because I am more disciplined about following the steps I outline below on the app than the computer. What I found is that on the app you can build XP fast, if you use it fast, and that was the trap I was falling into. I want to learn German, not beat my dad on XP. For the record, I am beating my dad on XP -- this week, this month and for all time :). I remind him of this on a regular basis ... I am a great son.

The computer forces you to do more (mostly write more), but you are not limited to what you are forced to do. With the app, I now use the following method 7-step method for any of the questions that initially prompt you with a verbal German phrase (write the phrase in English, fill in the blocks, write the phrase in German and say the phrase in German). I also use a similar method on the website. Here are the steps:

1) I make sure to listen to the phrase in German without looking at the screen.

2) Next I visualize the meaning. At this point I try to avoid translating to English, but instead process in German. This is really hard! For one, I spent so much time just translating that it is habit – a bad habit that stands between me and fluency. Also, until you are fluent in the words and grammar used, you only know them in relation to English. My entire goal in this step is to learn to process German as German. For example, if I hear “Der Mann isst die Ente”. I try and just see a picture of a man eating a duck – I actually probably see a duck in a suit (Der Mann ist die Ente), laugh and realize “isst” not “ist” and then see a man looking at a duck that realizes that it is on the menu.

3) Then to build up conversational skills and practice my grammar, I respond in German. For example, if the app say "Der Mann rennt" than I might say back "Nein, ich sehe den Mann. Er schläft." – I tend to be confrontational or funny in these responses. I know humor is apparently hard in a second language, so I figured I would start early and it does make the entire process more fun. I actually find myself laughing to myself a lot. I try to say the responses out loud, but I am not as consistent about this as I should be. The phrases Duolingo gives are repetitive, but I try and mix up my responses and also force myself to practice my grammar by giving longer responses. I also try to avoid repeating the Duolingo prompt before responding. I know many people, where English is there second language, who do this a lot and I figured it is a habit I want to avoid. I also figure that I want to learn how to do all my German processing and thinking subconsciously and this practice helps with that.

4) Now, I translate the German to English in my head. I find the more I do this, that I am not even translating, I just know what it is. I think that is the goal. German to subconscious and subconscious to German is what I want to learn. So if I want to translate from German to English I want to have it go German => subconscious => English. Also, just holding the German phrase in my head this long really helps with internalizing the German.

5) Then and only then, I look down at the screen. Not to read the German (if it is there), but to click play again on the audio. This is my chance to catch mistakes. I catch a lot here and get good insight into where I need for focus. For example, I find my most common mistake, right now, is for my English brain to turn verbs in the second person singular to past tense because of the "t" sound at the end can sound similar to “ed”. I never noticed that I was doing that before I started this process, but now that I know it, I can fight it. If there are any words that I am not 100% on my spelling, I spell them in my head. I am not as disciplined about this as I should be, but it helps. What I do not do yet and I know, but I should is spell them in German, that is use the German alphabet. I know if I did this my German spelling, pronunciation and listening comprehension would be a lot better (youtube ABC-lied Deutsch, I sometime listen to it while going to sleep).

6) If there is a written phrase in German, I read it a few times. This is mostly to build up visual identity, just as the above was about focusing on listening and thinking in German. I want to read, speak, write and listen to German; although highly related, they are different skills.

7) Finally, I answer the question. I also then click on the hints on the prompt (if any) to see if there are other meanings of the German, which I missed. I try and bounce around the acceptable translations to get a feel for the connotation of the German words.

For the English to German, I do something fairly similar, but I start with reading – I figure my English comprehension is just fine. I also skip the visualization. So I guess you could say I do steps 3, 4 and 7. For the website I use the same approach, except right after step 4) I type the German phrase into the computer without looking at the screen. This lets me really focus on my German spelling. I just have to remember to rewrite into English if that is what Duolingo wants – I miss a lot of questions because I accidentally translate German to German.

Needless to say, I do not get XP at the pace I used to, but I am learning German much faster! And because of that I spend more time on Duolingo and I even end up with more XP!

Other type of lessons on the app:

The Duolingo has three other types of lessons: - Select one of three German words, which match an English word. I actively dislike these and wish Duolingo would let me turn these exercises off. They often tell me what words to expect for the rest of a practice session, which erodes my confidence that I know the word when I encounter later in the session. Also they let me know that if I hear a word what to expect. For example, I am still not close to 100% about telling reicht from reich when I hear the two words. However, invariably if I am in a session that is using one of those words, I get a select one of three with reicht or reich in it, which tells me if I hear anything like reicht or reich, which one to expect. These really should be restricted to the lessons and not the practice session. They are the main reason I still prefer the website. I have no ideas how to make them more useful. - Match the words with each other. See above, my comments are the exact same. I have tired to only look at the English or the German ones first and then translate. However, I do not find this effective as they are so mixed up. Duolingo, please let me turn these off. - Select which three German phrases correspond to the English phrase. This is actually very good. It is generally not as helpful as the German to English, but it does force you to consider the variety of the language. For example, I realized that I was just not thinking in second person plural, because I would just use formal Sie in these situations. I would like to turn theses sometimes, but they are generally good as is. What I do is look at the English, think through a number of German phrases with the same meanings and then look at the three German options. If I did not come up with one of the answers before seeing the German options it is a sign that I probably need to explore my understanding of something.

More comments on the app:

I would like to point out that I have a love hate relationship with Apple's word completion in German. I find it really helpful for typing faster, but it quickly learned to focus on Duolingo's words and so I stay aware that if I look at it as I type, it will often cheat for me, and undermine my German learning. Now that I do so much before I look at the screen, I find it mostly helpful, but I actively remember that it wants to help me not learn German well.

The tree:

My strategy for the tree now is to do several (6-8) full new skills than go to the bottom of the tree. I work my way up practicing each skill 5 times if I fell like I know it 100% and 10 times if I am not 100%. This is slow going, but I want to 100% own what I know. If I feel like I am 100% with a skill I tend to be lazy about my 7-sept method, but instead do it only on a few of the words, which means that they go fast. I am about half way through the tree and will probably be starting from the beginning at least 8 more times so I may have to devolve a new level of I know this 100% in my sleep and maybe only practice those once each time or skip them every other pass.

Beyond Duolingo:

Beyond the app and PC, I have found supplemental tools very helpful.

Languages are not my strong point and so I do not passively learn grammar as some can and I have had to be very deliberate about learning the paradigms and other finer points of German grammar. My goal is to learn German grammar instinctively, but it helps me a lot to start with the paradigms and go from there. Also knowing the rules for how to predict gender and what the plural form will be is also invaluable. I know Duolingo has a lot of information embedded in the lessons if you use the website, but they are still not as helpful as a good grammar. I supplement the course with an outside text, "German for Reading Knowledge". "German for Reading Knowledge" is aimed at academics who want to be able to read German. I like that it gives me vocabulary for fields that I am interesting in such as science and history, fun reading and solid grammar. The stories are level appropriate and are interesting, e.g. a short bio of Johann Sebastian Bach. I probably only open it every other day and then only for about twenty minutes. I have tried watching TV (mostly kids) on youtube and listening to the radio. I find that it is cool that I can pick some stuff up, but I miss a lot and mostly because I do not have the vocabulary or grammar, not due to lack of listening comprehension. So I am putting this off until I am further along. But, I give it a try every few days and I am always happy to see that I understand more and more each time. The exception are ABC songs on youtube, which I am using to learn the German alphabet. I know the alphabet, but it takes a lot of work for me to spell a word out loud in German, so I still spell German in English and that just needs to change.

Finally there is the youtube channel Deutsch für Euch, which has my unqualified recommendation. There are over a 100 short lessons that a young woman has made that explain German grammar, pronunciation, culture and everything else someone learning German would want to know. The lessons are fun and very informative. A lot of concepts that I had read about many times were never clear until she explained them to me. She is German, but fully fluent in English and has a good grasp on where English speakers have trouble. I actually think Deutsch für Euch is the perfect compliment to Duolingo’s German course, at least from what I have seen of both courses so far.

Duolingo in Duolingo:

Beyond Duolingo’s German from English course, I have played with Duolingo’s English from German and French from German class. The English from German was from a time before I had developed my 7-sept method and I was finding the app too easy. Now, I continue mostly because I want to be level 25 English! This is not a good reason and so I probably only rack up 100 XP in English a week. The French from German was to force myself the think in German. Again my 7-step method has solved this problem so I do not do it anymore. My plan is to learn another language in German, when my German is further along. I thought I was clever for coming up with this idea, but apparently it is a very common technique called laddering. I want to learn Ancient Greek and Germans are known for their Ancient Greek grammars, so I might do that, but that I at least a year down the road. If I wanted to learn French, I would probably start playing with German to French more seriously in a couple of months and maybe I will.

Und du?

Well, that is what I do and what I have tired. What do you do?

November 15, 2015



I wouldn't advise anyone to give up on the Goethe Institut A1 level course so fast. I had been using Duolingo for about a year and a half with German by the time I enrolled for the A1.1 course. While the first few classes did seem easy due to what was learned with Duolingo, near the end of the course my coursemates and I were learning things that we just didn't learn from Duolingo.

I've since finished the Goethe Institut's A1.1 course and I am almost finished with their A1.2 course in the next few weeks. Especially in the A1.2 course there was plenty that I learned in the class that I just didn't get from Duolingo. I still use Duolingo every day too.

I recommend doing both, the formal courses and also Duolingo. With the classes the teacher eventually tries to keep all of the conversation in German when possible, so you get a lot more exposure to German communication. You also get to work on communication practice with co-students as well. What's been most valuable to me in the courses is the notes that get written on the smartboard that explains a lot of stuff and give plenty of examples, especially when it comes to grammar and sentence structure.

I do agree on also watching Youtube channels to help with German too, such as Deutsch for Euch like you mentioned. The "Get Germanized" channel has a lot of good language videos and lots of culture videos as well. Granted most of his videos are in English, but that's good for beginners. Some of his videos he has both English and German subtitles built into them.

As for tips for helping to learn German with Duolingo, one of the things I do is keep notes on the computer of all of the words taught in each lesson, along with the gender of the nouns and also their plurals. For irregular verbs it's also good to put in the notes how the verb changes.

Good luck in your German language studies. I plan to take the A1 level exam in a few months. Sure I could probably take it now, but I prefer to actually finish all of the A1 courses before taking the exam so that I have a good foundation for building the higher levels upon.


Thank you!

That is exciting you are going to be taking the A1 exam. I think you make a very good point, I did like the course and would not want anyone to avoid it. I ended up doing all but about two weeks of A1.1 and that gave me a lot of foundation. If I had not taken that class I never would have realized how important listening comprehension was and probably would have never gone from dabbling in German to committed to owning the language. Perhaps in a few months I will reconsider taking the A1.2 level course.

The notes are a very good idea. I have not done that yet. I do sometimes use the flash cards on the website, but they are not as detailed as the notes you make.

I will also check out "Get Germanized" tonight. I like listening to German as I go to sleep.


get germanized is too good, i agree with you on that.


I was 36 and never learned a language and always wanted to but always found in very hard. I'm level 19 in German but have only just completed Family 1. The reason for this is what I find what works for me is going over everything a lot. At the moment I seem to be having trouble with Questions 2. So will keep at it until it comes more easily. No one else i know is learning a language so I try and speak German to our puppy where possible. I will try and pick up Deutsch für Euch and German for Reading Knowledge though as they sound really good.


That is really good discipline! I could not do that, but wish I could. I probably really only KNOW (as in own 100% forever) about 1/3 to 1/2 of what I have covered so far in the tree and I am sure I have not done myself any favors moving as quickly as I have. Do you just go over the new material a lot before you move on or are you going back and spending a lot of time reviewing prior sections as well?

Is your puppy a German Shepard?


:) my puppy is a wolfhound x bull Arab. :) but he's going to be multi lingual. I just don't feel so self conscious talking aloud to the dog. I probably do move a LOT slower on the tree but I retain a lot of it. Some classes sink in really fast and some take awhile longer. I usually do the last 4 or 5 classes (review section only) until I can get it pretty much mostly correct. Unless I'm having a lot of trouble (Question 2) which I'll do the all the lessons again as well. Once a week I do the word strengthening review for every class. I work on it slowly here and there through out the day. My aim is that when I finish the tree (and my only goal is to just finish it) is to try and translate in the immersion section. What I love about Duo Lingo though is that it allows people to learn as fast or as slow as they want. Where are you up to?


I talk to myself in German so you are one step ahead of men, talking with(to) your Dog. I have never go back and done any of the lessons themselves again, I should give that a try; thank you for the idea.

I am at A. Pred. 3, but I am just starting a ten 10 of each section I have done review, so it will probably be a week or two before I get to learning that section. I am finding this current review very helpful and humbling. I realized I had completely forgotten the genders of a lot of nouns and I still am having trouble confusing second and third person singular pronouns. I know them, but when I hear "du trinkst mein Wasser", I am just a likely to think in terms of a third person instead of myself. Not because I do not know to translate "du trinkst" to "you drink", but because I have not yet developed fluency with the pronouns du / er / sie / es and the associated grammar. So I find myself responding "Nein, sie ist eine Kuh und sie frisst einen Apfel. Hast du Augen?", instead of something more reasonable like "Wirklich, du trinkst Wasser? Du trinkst nie Bier. Meine Freundin, du brauchst Hilfe!". If I just paused and dissected the sentence, I would never make such a mistake, but my goal is to learn German not to learn how to translate German to English. That said -- as with all things concerning learning -- now that I know this, I am finding that I am fixing this problem.


I also find the hardest part is not always learning the word but it's gender and if the gender changes for plural. I'll have to look into the music and down load it. I'm sure after a couple of run throughs it will come back. It's all there in your brain it just needs a bit of jogging. I'm now up to Data case 2. It's not really sinking in that well - Einem, einer, dem, der, dem, den, gebt. When I finish the tree I'm jumping onto the website meetup.com.au to see if I can find any German speaker catch ups around and see if they'll be patient enough to let me try it out. But that is awhil away yet. I'd also like to learn Polish as I know a lot of Polish people.


Someone recently posted a reference to a blog/course that focuses on Grammar (http://yourdailygerman.com/learn-german-online-course/). It is really interesting in its approach, I am reading a little every night, maybe it will help you.


You have the good methods. The best aspect is the automunization in German which you do. In my opinion, having a routine of translating a text and not getting used to think in the language is the main problem about learning a language. Translating is a complex work for the brain which should be minimized.


I'm impressed with your method. The only suggestion I have is listening to German music in your choice of genre. I enjoy listening to Xavier Nadoo who sings primarily in German.


That is a great idea. I actually have a few bands/ singers I like (e.g. Juli and Annett Louisan), but I have not listened to them since I started learning German!

[deactivated user]

    I just saved this into my German folder on my computer. Thank you! This will be so helpful!


    Thank you and you are welcome!


    Thank you for sharing your method. I think I've been doing my course wrong because I aim at finishing my tree but not knowing 100% of the skills. By the way I found that German music is also fun, I listen to Revolverheld and Mark Forster :)


    I don't think there is a wrong way. As long as you get what you want out of it


    Never heard of Revoverheld, I will have to look it up. I was glad to discover today that there are so many German bands on Spotify.


    Any suggestions in bands?


    Revolverheld is a German band :)


    very interesting ideas


    Great! You are a master! Congrats for your method!

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