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German learning tips

Here are my tips on how optimize your study time. I've been doing this for 2 months and now know more than 5000 german words after almost 4 months of German study.

Learn how to use a Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_repetition), eg. Anki (http://ankisrs.net/). Add every new word to it and it will tell you when you need to review a word again. The easy words will be shown much less frequent than the hard words. If you use the iPhone or Android version, you can study german words while you have nothing else to do (waiting for the bus, friend, etc).

Anki is free and open source and it's available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone and Android. I almost exclusively use it on my Android, except when I input new words, in which case I use my computer. I'd recommend you create an account (it's free) so your phone gets the new words when you sync it.

A very important tip is to NOT add too many words per day. Always start small with let's say 10 new words per day. If you can handle that for a week, you can increase the limit. I'm currently adding at least 50 words per day on average but it's not something I'd recommend to someone who's just starting out. You'll be swamped with reviews and you'll probably give up after a few weeks.

When you know about 1000-1500 german words, you should be able to slowly read some german children books, eg. Harry Potter. What I do is I study Harry Potter intensively. What I mean by that is I add all the words I don't know in the chapter to Anki and study the words and read the chapter. I add 100-150 words which I study for two days, including reading the chapter I got the words from. I also read another book at the same time, but not intensively.

When you read a book, it's important that you also have the audio book. Why is this important? You'll hear the correct pronunciation at the same time you're reading the text. This will teach you the correct pronunciation and your ear will get used to hearing the words. Most audio books don't seem to follow the book completely. Some skip a few sentences here and there, a few paragraphs here and there, and some even skip the first few chapters! The Harry Potter and Eragon audio books follow the books, though. Only sometimes is one sentence missing, but it happens very rarely.

When I knew 500-1000 words, I thought the first HP book was too difficult to read. 4-6 line long sentences, sentences within sentences, lots of words I didn't know, etc, but after doing this for a while (intensive and extensive reading), I have no problem understanding it. So don't give up!

I use Learning with Texts (http://lwt.sourceforge.net/), another free open source program. The installation might look difficult, but if you can follow a recipe you can do this too. Much easier to install than it looks. Google "learning with texts" and you'll find some reviews and installation instructions if you can't follow the instructions on the site. With this program, I add a chapter of the book I'm reading. You can then mark the words you know and add translations of words you don't know. If you eg. add a translation to "schrumpfen", the next time you see the word, you can just hover your mouse over it and you'll see the translation "to shrink, to dwindle".

=Useful sites:


dict.cc gives translations to a ton of german words and expressions into english and many other languages. Its users have also recorded the pronunciation of most/all the words so you can hear a real native german pronounce words instead of a bad computer robot voice. There's also an Android app.


Google translate can sometimes be useful, although I trust dict.cc a lot more.


This site is great if you like to read german grammar in either english or german! :) It sometimes switches back to the german language so be prepared to re-click the british flag from time to time... You can also search for words and find all possible "basewords", eg. if you search for liest, you'll get two results, the verb lesen and the noun Liest. Click "Wort Formen" / "Word Forms" for some useful tables.


I sometimes use this to get translation of words.


Duden is the standard german dictionary. It's all in german though, but still a good site.


A forum with a lot of very knowledgable people who like to study languages. Many of them know a ton of languages.

=Some word tips:


Always learn the plural with the singular! Almost all nouns have both a plural and a singular form, and although there are some patterns on figuring out the plural, it's impossible for a new german learner to know them. And sometimes it's just random.

Eg. if I add the word horse to Anki, this is what I add to the card:

<pre>Front: horse Back: das Pferd, die Pferde </pre>


Always learn the three principal parts (Stammformen). Eg., with fahren it's "fahren / fuhr / gefahren". canoo.net is perfect for this, see this link http://www.canoo.net/inflection/fahren:V:haben:sein Also learn whether the auxiliary verb is haben, sein or both! Canoo.net also lists that.

This is what I add to Anki (translation to english from http://www.dict.cc/?s=schrumpfen):

<pre>Front: to shrink, to dwindle Back: schrumpfen / schrumpfte / bin geschrumpft </pre>

Since the auxiliary verb is sein, I added bin there (I don't add "ich"). Had it been "haben", I would've added "habe".


Like in english, you can create adjectives from verbs. If the adjective has the same meaning as the verb, I don't add the adjective, but instead just add the verb. There's no need for the adjective since you already know the verb meaning. Sometimes, however, the adjective form has a different meaning, and in that case I add both the verb and the adjective.

If you like this post, upvote and others might see the post instead of it being buried at the bottom. If you have any other tips, feel free to post them here (or start your own thread :) )

May 17, 2013



Excellent advice—especially the tips about reading and supplementing with an audio book. Thanks so much for these resources, and also those from Christian, below. One thing that I've found helpful is to work both the phone app and computer versions of Duolingo...sometimes I start a new lesson with the phone app. When I get a sentence wrong, I take a screen shot of the correct answer, then go back and study those.


Thank you so much for your "Tips!"

I already input all words into Anki each day as well as Conjugation Deck/Drills.

Had not thought of the Harry Potter Book/Audio idea was thinking of using a book of Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry that I have with English on Front Page and German on Back but I will certainly do this Harry Potter idea as well.

Thank you!


LATE EDIT-Here is a link for Oxford German Dictonary. http://oxforddictionaries.com/browse/german-english/

Maybe in combination with other Sources it will be helpful.


I got a physical book, "Dracula ein Vampirromann" by Bram Stoker. And old edition. SO hard lol... I will try Anki til I learn about 1.5k words...


Hope you won't end up speaking Romanian ;-)


Sadly I don't get what you mean, scaring me o_o The book does say "roman" on the first page. But the language is pretty German to me. So confused. Contextually confused.


Sorry, my bad. I guess my joke didn't work out too well ;-) Dracula's castle is situated in Romania and there are a few Romanian place names and words in the book. @DivHei, Levi, prunc: If you don't mind, I'll delete my comment and all of your answers to it. It doesn't really contribute to the discussion and apparently I'm the only one who finds it funny ;-)


@DivHei: There's a great (and rather dark) German Dracula movie with Klaus Kinski, directed by Werner Herzog: "Nosferatu – Phantom der Nacht". They talk rather slowly and not too much, so it might be suitable for learners of German. I won't post a link here for copyright reasons but you might find it on youtube. Here's the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7wQ2VUudb4

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@wataya: Don't delete your comment. I found it to be somewhat funny, that's why I said - like they do in the movies - "what's the big idea?" No harm done.


@Levi: 'Somewhat funny', great! ;-) I bought it in a joke store, but had only a single penny in my pockets. You're lucky I didn't bug you with a buck's worth...


(wataya)DON'T delete! Sorry to be so late with my comment the line was long at the "Prince Vlad the Impaler Blood Bank I REALLY needed to make a withdrawal!

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Heeyyy wataya, what's the big idea ? : ))


From your profile: "Native speaker of Hungarian and Romanian" — sounds pretty scary in a vampire context ;)

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@wataya: I agree. FYI I am a Hungarian national, but since I live in Romania I speak the official language too. From what I know user 'prunc' is also Romanian.


I highly recommend not using dict.cc or any other crowdsourced dictionary. They're full of mistakes.

Here are some reliable alternatives:





I can understand your reasoning, but I use dict.cc very often and I have no problems with it so far. Of course I'd be careful using dict.cc and if you're really not sure check on of these sites christian mentioned, but I haven't seen any mistakes on that site.


Yes, I second that.


Great links.

Like Leukothea says, I've had no problems with dict.cc. It's definitely not full of mistakes.


BTW, pons.eu, which you recommend, seems to accept contributions from their users.

<pre>"Close the gap! This is a vocabulary that can grow into a proper dictionary with your help. Submit your own entry - we look forward to hearing from you!" </pre>

I've tried the three links you've added plus dict.cc, and none (including dict.cc) seems to be perfect. Seems like it's best to always check more than one dictionary for best results, especially if it's a less common word.


"PONS updates its lexical database almost daily. In addition, you can, if you wish, compile your own entries in a number of languages and submit them to the PONS editorial department."

The difference is that crowdsourced dictionaries don't have a professional editorial department. The people that check new entries on dict.cc are amateurs. Those people neither have the expertise nor the necessary means (access to corpora) to judge the validity of a new entry.

Here's a wrong entry to illustrate my point: http://www.dict.cc/?s=spanisch+vor

"That's all Greek to me" doesn't mean "Das kommt mir spanisch vor". It means "Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof" or "Das sind böhmische Dörfer für mich". The second entry is correct. "Das kommt mir spanisch vor" does mean "There's something fishy going on here" or "I don't like the look of this".

This is only one of many wrong entries. I don't understand why I should take chances when professionally edited dictionaries are readily available.


Yes, and if you're not already proficient in the target language you probably won't notice these errors. You won't find many obvious errors, but there are many more subtle ones. A dictionary has to be reliable and as christian said, I don't see why I should take chances when better alternatives are available for free.


I've been using the first two links you added. They do seem to have less words in them than dict.cc.

EDIT: apparently village can mean the population too.


I'm not a native English speaker, but I think 'village' can be used to refer to the populace, too. So, this would not be an error. See here: http://en.pons.eu/english-german/village Seems like it's actually dict.cc that is lacking an entry ;-)


"It takes a village to raise a child" - African proverb


Ironic that you give this on a crowd sourced forum :) Most (nearly all) of the useful info on duolingo is crowd sourced.


Great resources. Thank you! Also, there are tons of ways to learn with songs, videos, etc. A lot of ideas in this post: https://www.lingua-e.com/en/free_learning_languages/learning_tips/


Use more than one book in Anki. In particular it is good to add sentences. and I have an anki book for sentences. A good example "Ich muss heute etwas Zeit damit verbringen Hausaufgaben zu machen" "I must spend some time today doing my homework" I would never learn that I need to use damit in this kind of sentence if I wasn't doing the sentence training

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