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Memorization versus Understanding?

Let me just start this out with an apology, because I'm not sure if this is the kinda thing I should be posting here, and maybe you guys are tired of getting asked this. Sorry, but thanks for your time C:

So I've picked up trying to learn German again, and I'm concerned that I'm just memorizing the answers, but I'm not really learning sometimes.

I don't quite know how to explain, like I've done quite a few lessons, but there are just some words that don't.... "click" for me, I guess. So I can see them and make the connection that it means whatever, but later on in an exercise I'll have completely forgotten or just blanked on the translation.

Does anyone have an ideas for how to fix this?? Would writing exercises help?? Would Anki/memrise help(/how do those work)?

thanks for your time!

August 5, 2017



you could try creating sentences that contain the words but in a different context


....that makes so much sense, clearly I'm not the smartest apple in the bunch lol. Thanks a lot!


Oh no, please! You're fine! That's completely relevant and I've personally never seen a discussion similar to this! I thought, "Oo, this must be a good one. Let's see." XD Anyway...

I have the same problem too! Honestly, we all probably do.

But what I personally do is think of how the word or a letter of a word looks like the object or whatever it is it's describing. And if that doesn't help, then I just see and find out if there are any other words in another language that look or sound the same that mean the same thing.

And what Qiunnn said, I've honestly never even thought of, but it's a great idea! I'll start doing that, too. :D

Other than that, the only option we have is to repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat until we kind of memorize it by force... Though memorizing is completely different than truly understanding the word or phrase and making it click! :)

I hope this somewhat helps..


I do the same thing but with the color of the word if it has a link to the word or object in english maybe write the connections down for very difficult words


Yes, that's smart! :D Especially in this case, learning German. We all know just how tricky and complicated ages German can really get. There are plenty of words made up of many smaller words.


Okay! That makes sense, and I think I've kinda been doing that subconsciously, trying to make connections. I know the only reason I remember that it's der Bär, is because of the word wunderbar :p

Guess I'll have to work on making connections between words then! Danke C:


Hahaha! I see what you mean. :)

Und ja! Kein Problem!!!! :D Bitte!


You're fine and you're progressing just like all of us. You remember some and some just seems to slip away. But repetition is the key.


My psychology teacher pounded into our heads that there is a difference between KNOWING something and UNDERSTANDING something. To know is to have the ability to retrieve. To understand is to be able to see how it all fits and links together. For instance, an example in English, what does a tree and a marker have in common? A tree grows in the dirt. Dirt is a material on the earth. Dirt contains rocks. Rocks are used to build factories. Markers are built inside a factory. That's just one rather cookie-cutter example, but try to forge neural connections between all of the different words and you will have a way easier time understanding what they all mean and how they click together. =)


ohh... the line of all languages you learn surprised me!!!


Hehe, thanks. I'm not focusing on all of them at once, though. =)


Try doing flashcards of some sort, and writing sentences, but don't stress too much. It sounds like your receptive (understanding) vocabulary is growing faster than your productive vocabulary. That's kind of normal, look at how kids learn, or even how you learn specialized subjects in your own language. You understand the word long before you can easily come up with it in speech.


Do you mean when you have to translate a sentence to English you just know the answer even you don't know the meaning of every word? Because I have that! It's like learning with an empty head :(

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Johann, you could be describing me to a T. I am using Anki and am making up phrases that I think will help me. I put English on the front of the card and the translation on the back so it forces me to remember the German.

Also, I had taken German in HS and college (I didn't do well) but then picked it up when I was stationed in Germany fairly well. But that was a LONG time ago and so it is like starting over. I am determined this time to stick with it.


To learn German I think you need to do both, memorize and understand. When I struggle with a word, I look carefully at how it's spelled, then say it silently in my head. Repeating exercises definitely helps. Eventually the words stick. But to learn German you also need to know the grammar. If you don't understand the nominative, accusative, dative and genitive cases, and how word endings change in each case, learning German can be very frustrating. The notes provided with the lesson are very helpful. Sometimes you'll need outside sources to help figure things out. It's not an easy language to learn, but well worth the effort. And you'll learn a lot in the process. I wish you luck.


Depending on which kind of words you're talking about, there are some words in the early lessons of the course that are not really important in the beginning, like certain clothing or food items. I would just go on and do the next lessons. My experience is that the more relevant a word is for me personally, the better it sticks.

Another thing that you can try, especially if your goal is basic conversational fluency: Language exchange via text chat. I recommend Speaky, it's a nice app that I use a lot at the moment (I'm German, learning Spanish). This way you'll quickly know by heart how to say things like hello, how are you, etc.


Hi, as a german I can only agree. This language is hard to learn! I had english at school and I had the same problems. Some words never came to my mind when I needed them and the grammar... :-( grrr. And still I have to look in the dictionary and my english is far away from being well, so please excuse my mistakes.

Here some tips. They work for me and they also worked for friends learning german.

Go on youtube and look for a german soap (for the beginning with english suptitels) and watch. Take your favorite movies, movies you know well and look them in german. You can do the same with books. Films for children are a good start (I watched He-men only because it was the only series I understood something).

It doesn´t matter if you don´t understand everything. If you hear the words in different situations again and again the will be one situation you think "ah that´s it". And you get a feeling for the language especially our dreadful grammar^^.

Use your interests. For sure there are german bands playing your favorite musik style. Listen to them and try to understand, translate them for yourself. You have a hobby? Look for german contents about it. It´s much less boring then learn vocabularies.

Use the dictionary. There are many online you can always use on your mobile. leo.org is my favorite because you can save the words you looked up but there are many more. There are english words I learned in the 6th grade and still I have to take a look in the dictionary because I forgot them again or have to look again how to write them. Let me tell you for us germans your spelling is unfathomable. (yes I looked up the word hehe). It´s just the way it is. You will always need a dictionary.

Don´t torture yourself. Nobody is perfect and even if you make mistakes you know german (more or less) others don´t know at all. Just have fun! I´m impressed by everyone who trys to learn our language it´s NOT easy.

greez Angel

[deactivated user]

    I totally get what you mean! It's funny (or frustrating) that sometimes I have absolutely no trouble memorizing a long or difficult looking word (like aggiungere) but then am stumped by a simple common word (like quello).

    As for the memorization vs understanding well... you have to do one before the other. Memorization is mandatory. Understanding is optional. Hahahaha..

    As for what technique will help you that all depends on you. There is alot of advice and it's usually very helpful. You just have to find techniques that work for you. Maybe flashcards is the thing for you. I like memorizing sentences and using vocabulary to make thousands of sentences from just 1 memorized sentence. Some people study for a solid hour. Yet others find that the same amount of time broken up throughout the day works better. Maybe you can start practicing with native speakers of you target language? Maybe youtube videos will help? It really doesn't matter which technique you use so long as it works for you and you apply it!

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