How Can I Learn German by Myself

self taught

So, you’ve decided to learn German. Excellent choice! 

Be it for love, work, or just fun, speaking German is a great tool to have under your belt. 

But what if you don’t have time to go to hours of classes every week? Can you learn a language by yourself? 

In a nutshell, my answer as a German teacher, is yes, you can.

Probably you’re asking yourself now “how can I learn German by myself and where should I start?” 

In this article, I’ll take you through simple steps as to how.

Learning German by Yourself in 8 Simple Steps 

  • Through using today’s modern technology and media 
  • Talk to yourself!
  • Make the most of the world wide web
  • Watch German movies
  • Find someone to talk to
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Get a good grammar book
  • Get a pen-pal

1. Learn Basic Vocabulary by Downloading an App

The first step is to find an appropriate app for your desktop or phone that takes you through some basic vocabulary. Get started with simple introductions, greetings, and numbers.

There are many free, easy to use, and fun apps. You can practice whenever and wherever you like.

Activities are fun, stimulating, and varied. Intuitive programming enables the system to recognize which words you have learned well and which words need repetition. You quickly get a sense of achievement. 

Once you’ve learned how to say hi to someone and how to introduce yourself, practice, practice, practice in my next step:

2. Talk to yourself – no, I’m not crazy, honestly!

When I started learning languages at school, I would pass the time on my cycle ride home by counting to one hundred, first in French, then in German. 

Nowadays, I still have to do mental arithmetic and count money in English, but I am now good with numbers due to my practice at a young age.

You can have simple monologues in your head. Practice introducing yourself in German: “Ich heiße Sarah. Ich bin dreißig Jahre alt und wohne in London”. (My name is Sarah. I am thirty years old and live in London”) 

I am not suggesting you have dialogues with yourself in a schizophrenic manner, but practicing everyday situations alone will make you more confident and fluent when you get out there in real life. 

3. Make the most of the world wide web.

Thirty years ago, getting exposure to authentic material in another language was much more challenging than today. 

I went on a school exchange to Germany in 1991. I heard a song from a German band I liked (die Prinzen). I treated myself to the cassette. Yes, pre CD and download times!

I repeatedly listened to try to understand the lyrics of the ten songs on the cassette. In time I could sing along to the music and gradually know about what I was singing. 

Today, the world is your oyster when it comes to accessing music, texts, and videos, all online. 

So, find a catchy song you like on YouTube, put on the song titles, and sing along to your heart’s content.

Alternatively, watch the news online. If you have heard the latest information about an international disaster, for example, an earthquake or volcanic eruption somewhere in the world, find a German news station and learn the vocabulary. 

In my opinion, less is more. By that, I mean watch short videos or read short articles daily.

4. Watch a German movie.

One of the points in my article 6 best reasons to learn German (by a teacher) was the richness of German culture. This repertoire includes excellent movies such as “Run, Lola, Run!” “Goodbye Lenin” or the epic, “Das Boot.” 

Most people watch movies as a way to relax during their downtime. We can’t spend the entire day chilling out in front of the television. That’s just lazy and non-productive.

But if you see it as a means of improving your listening skills in German, it’s more acceptable, isn’t it? 

So, go ahead. Find a German film on Netflix or Amazon Prime and press play. I would recommend turning on the English subtitles for the first viewing at least. It is challenging to understand all characters in one go. 

5. Find someone to talk to.

All of my points thus far have been about activities, which you can do all by yourself. But language is about communication at the end of the day. And that means engaging in dialogues.

Again, this is something you can do from the comfort of your own home. In Germany, many people look for a so-called Tandem partner. That is an exchange of languages, e.g., a German wants to practice speaking English, so he finds a native English speaker who wants to improve his German skills. 

Such a language exchange is possible online and is invaluable for improving your fluency. You should, however, be aware that your partner is not a qualified teacher. So while he may correct your mistakes, he might not be able to explain grammar rules, for example. 

You can find groups on Facebook to meet like-minded people who want to exchange languages or try Apps like Tandem or HelloTalk

6. Be kind to yourself.

At this point, I must stress that learning any language is not something you can do overnight. It takes a lot of time and effort. You will have good days and bad days. 

I have lived in Germany for over 15 years, and this is still the case for me. 

My point here is, don’t feel bad if you are not perfect all the time. It’s a process, and remember, nobody’s perfect, plus you learn best from your mistakes. 

Learning German is no different. It’s not easy to comprehend all the words for “the,” for example. 

As my points above state, it’s possible to have fun learning German. By using various media, you can entertain yourself while learning at the same time.

However, if you feel more studious and want to get your head around the nitty-gritty of German grammar, move on to step seven on learning German by myself.

7. Get a good grammar book.

While listening to songs and watching good movies in German may be fun, and these activities will undoubtedly help your listening skills, sometimes it is necessary to do a bit of “serious work.” 

Therefore, I suggest buying a grammar book. The best would be a book with explanations of grammar rules written in English, with exercises for you to practice. 

I recommend English Grammar for Students of German (O&h Study Guides). It is divided into two sections. The first, as I mentioned above, has English explanations. The second section is in German, in turn, a further challenge for intermediate and advanced learners. 

Try committing yourself to at least an hour a week on improving your grammatical accuracy; then, you will feel more confident in taking on my final stage of learning German by yourself:

8. Get a pen-pal.

We’ve looked at fun, entertaining methods for improving your reading and listening comprehension skills. We’ve also looked at improving your spoken communication and fluency with a so-called “tandem.”

Finally, you want to practice and develop your writing skills.

Once again, life was different 20 years ago. I’d been on my school exchange, made new friends, and wanted to stay in contact. So we became penpals. We wrote to each other once or twice a month, and I waited impatiently for letters from Germany. Via “snail mail!”

Nowadays, you can have more regular contact via email or even chat options. These alternatives mean you can use my “less is more” advice, with shorter but more frequent work.

I found an excellent website where you can find new friends to write to based on your preferences and interests.

Summary – How to Learn German by Myself

To sum up, I am somewhat envious of people wishing to learn German, or any other language today. 

International communication has become so much easier and quicker with the help of modern technology. And learning can be more fun and entertaining with the use of apps and media. 

Get as much exposure to the German language as possible. It’s easy to find ways of learning in a manner that fits your interests. 

In a nutshell, learn a song, make friends, watch your favorite movie in German. You’ll make significant progress. All by yourself 🙂 

Have fun and good luck.

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Sarah Chadwick

Sarah Chadwick

I'm predominantly a teacher of English as a foreign language, with over 15 years of experience in this field. I've lived as much of that time in Cologne, Germany. I speak fluent German, which I am also qualified to teach.

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