This post is also available in: German
Learning German words is, of course, essential if you want to speak German! Contrary to popular belief, it is not that hard to acquire a large German vocabulary. I’ll tell you how.
This page will cover:
- How to learn German words
- German vocabulary resources
How you can learn German words easily and efficiently
Learning German vocabulary seems difficult to many German learners, especially in the beginning. However, the good news is that the longer you study German, the easier it gets.
You see, there is a huge difference between simply memorizing words and actually grasping the meaning, what we call acquiring a word. As I explain elsewhere in more detail, you can sort of “absorb” the meaning of German words by reading and listening to a lot of German.
Your brain is a pattern recognizing supercomputer! Use it to learn German effectively.
However, there is one problem. How can you grasp the meaning of German words when you barely understand what you are reading or listening to? That’s why the beginning is so tough. Don’t worry, there are strategies to make it all much easier.
The trap of language learning apps
If you are a beginner, there is no way around memorizing the meanings of at least some words. You can do that by using useful apps like Duolingo and Memrise. (Personally, I prefer the latter.)
Don’t fall into this trap though: Use these apps only for a short period of time, as they give diminishing returns the longer you use them. I myself have spent countless hours trying to give my whole tree a perfect score and achieve many points. Then I realized that it’s pointless!
Gamification is great and it’s what makes these apps fun, but never forget that your ultimate goal is the comprehension of German words, not chasing after digital points!
That’s why my advice is to start reading simple texts and listen to German audio as soon as you can. I can’t emphasize this enough, because when you consume German content, you will recognize the same German words and really grasp their meanings, which is much deeper than merely memorizing the translation.
What does “eben” mean? How is “mal” used? How the heck can you make sense of the weird German word “doch“? You could look them all up on Wiktionary and learn all their multiple meanings by heart. Or you could encounter them in context by immersing yourself in the German language and have real aha moments regarding their usage.
But it’s so difficult!
I get it. I also learn languages. It can be hard. You have my sympathy.
The key is to find German learning material that you understand to 70 or 80 % but I know that’s not always easy. Here are some tricks in case all the content you find seems too difficult:
- Read the translation first. Then you know what it’s about and can compare.
I try to provide translations for almost all of my content. Even this whole site is multilingual!
(See the flag in the menu bar or the flags in the sidebar? That’s just two options to change the language.)
- Slow down.
On YouTube and the audio player on this site, you can change the playback speed.
You can also slow down your reading: When I read my first novel in Italian, it was way too early for me. So I simply slowed down and started by looking up every word (and then fewer and fewer words as I worked my way through it). The first sentence took me half an hour, but soon I was able to read much faster!
- Find better content.
There is so much content out there! I’ll talk more about it below but one resource you’d definitely want to check out is the Authentic German Learning Academy where I publish all my best content and which will help you learn German words much easier.
If you find content that’s too easy, but you want to consume it nonetheless, well… speed it up!
- Learn basic vocabulary by heart (apps like Duolingo and Memrise help, but don’t chase points, “chase” comprehension).
- Start reading German texts and listening to German audio as soon as possible.
- Increase the difficulty of the German learning materials you use so that your comprehension is always at about 70 % to 80 %.
German vocabulary resources
Feel free to use the site search to find German words, so you can either see how they are used in context or even find posts that focus on and explain them.
I explain many German words on my blog, these posts are categorized here. In addition, I made a whole list of almost every word or phrase I have ever explained, along with all the relevant links.
By far the best dictionary you can use is Wiktionary, the free dictionary. It will explain German words to you in much detail and with many examples.
As mentioned earlier, Duolingo and Memrise are two apps I recommend, with the caveat that they become a lot less useful over time.
Finally, don’t forget that it’s often much easier to learn German words when you immerse yourself in the language! How that works is explained in detail here.
So, what kind of content can you consume? Well, I publish German audio, texts, and videos. If you’d like a fast track to German fluency, you can join the Academy.
- the site search above or in the sidebar
- Blog category: (Difficult) German Words
- List of words and phrases I have explained
- For easy acquisition instead of memorization:
This post is also available in: German