How long does it take to learn German? This is the first question that every language learner wants to know. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a bit like that annoying old remark… ‘How long is a piece of string?’… It varies. There are many factors.
The real question that a new student of German should be asking is this… ‘What can I do to speak German faster?’ This is a much better question, and thankfully, there are many time-saving techniques that will help you.
Short-Cut #1–Realize What You Already Know
The first short-cut takes place even before you begin. For English speakers, you have a massive bonus right from the get-go… Since German and English both evolved from the same family of languages, there are many similarities. The most important of these is vocabulary. I have heard wild estimates that up to 30% of German and English words are the same. I think this estimate is a bit over the top, but the good news is that there are many, many identical words. Open a German dictionary at letter ‘a’ and you will notice many identical words. For instance… absolut (absolute), abstrakt (abstract), aktiv (active), Akzent (accent), Album (album), Alkohol (alcohol), Allergie (allergy), and Apfel (apple)… and there are many more. The fact that you already know many German words should give you a massive confidence boost as you set out to learn German!
Short-Cut #2–Learn the Alphabet Straight Away
Make this your only priority at the very beginning. Learn the alphabet, and how to pronounce each of the letters, and letter combinations. For English speakers, you again have an advantage since the alphabet consists of all 26 letters of the English alphabet, albeit with a few variations in pronunciation. By learning how to pronounce each of these letters–on their own, and in common letter combinations–you will be ready to read and pronounce any word you see. It’s a very important step and it won’t take you very long at all.
Short-Cut #3–Use an Integrated Learning Program
It has been shown that the quickest way to learn a language is through conversation. For the average learner of German, this is difficult, since you won’t have many opportunities to talk to a German speaker. So, you should take advantage of the wonderful software programs that are now available. An “integrated” program allows you to learn grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation all at the same time. You will listen to audio lessons, which contain explanations of grammar and colloquial usage, and you will get to interact with the course in a “listen and repeat” style. Most of these programs are broken up into short lessons of approximately half an hour, which are ideal for regular practice.
Short-Cut #4–Memory Tricks
A great short-cut for learning vocabulary is to use memory techniques. What you do here essentially is to link a German word with a visual image of something that is memorable to you. For example, the German word for table is ‘Tisch’. This sounds a bit like ’tissue’, so you could visualize a tissue lying on top of a table. Humor seems to work well here, so if you can visualize something funny, you will be more likely to remember it.
Short-Cut #5–Find Ways to Use It
Once you’ve been studying German for a little while, this last short-cut will really speed up your learning. You need to find ways to use German in real life. This could be something as simple as reading a German newspaper or book, or watching a German cartoon or movie. Anything that requires you to use your language skills in a non-structured format is good. It is important to practise each of the four language skills equally–listening, speaking, reading and writing. For writing, you could find a German pen-pal at one of the many online language communities, and for speaking, try organizing a language swap with a German speaker in your home town. The ultimate, of course, is to study at a language school in Germany, and immerse yourself in the language all around you!
These 5 techniques should help you cut through some of the confusion that you are faced with when you begin learning German. Try them out and see which works best for you! Good luck, and have fun speaking German!