Learning a foreign language is difficult. You simply cannot cut corners. There’s no secret trick. But there are things you can do to work smarter and not harder. I’ve put together a list of five simple things that I’ve found have helped me as I continue to tackle German.
Learn your articles
You know your articles for each gender and each case, sure: that’s the easy part. The difficult part is knowing what gender a noun is. In fact, it can seem impossible. While the best tip is always to learn the gender when you learn the noun, there is a trick. While it doesn’t work in all situations or for all nouns, there are certain nouns and types of nouns that generally tend to be a specific gender. For example, diminutive nouns (those ending in –chen, –lein) are neuter. The University of Michigan’s German course has the whole list posted.
Write it down
When you encounter new words, write them down along with their definition. The mere act of writing the word with your own hand can really help with memorization and learning. Keep track of the words. If you’re anything like me, at some point you’ll realize you’ve written down the same word and definition more than once. That’s when you know you haven’t learned the word. So keep track and use it as yet another tool to keep yourself improving.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
They say you only have to expose yourself to something a limited number of times before you will have it memorized. If my poor memory is any reflection of that technique, I wouldn’t put my money on it. But it’s true you only learn with practice, practice and more practice. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exact same thing every time. Read a news article every day. Listen to the radio or watch a video.
Don’t look it up
Don’t look up every single word you encounter for a definition. It sounds wrong, right? Think about it. When I started reading my first German language book, my tutor recommended I not look up every single word. Instead, use your brain and deduce what the meaning is based on context and usage. Of course, there are words you should look up. Looking up the meaning of words in a dictionary can just be too easy. Use your best judgment and challenge yourself.
So not all of us can live in a German speaking country or area. But, thanks to the internet, you can still make friends with a native German speaker. Get yourself a digital pen pal. A couple years ago I used MyLanguageExchange.com, a free website for connecting with other language learners, and met a really nice German woman who was looking to improve her English. Finding a pen pal is a great way to connect and actively practice your skills and make friends — whether it be via email or with video chat sessions.