In general, expats in Germany can be divided into four groups:
- The people who don’t bother because “everyone speaks English anyway” (a common misconception), or they work for an international company so they don’t “need” German for work, or they’re just “not really a language person”.
- The people who arrive with every intention of learning German but then work is busy, the kids need their dinner, lessons are too early, lessons are too late, lessons are too expensive, it’s dark, it’s raining, German is hard…
- The people who think they speak German because they can wow their friends by ordering a “Bier, bitte” and actually receive a beer.
- The people who will stop at nothing until they’ve tamed this majestic beast of a language (albeit with the odd misplaced die, der, das, den, dem, dessen thrown in).
Do I really need to learn German?
Well now, that’s a bit of a silly question, isn’t it? You wouldn’t move to Spain without speaking Spanish or England without speaking English, would you? Would you?!? Yet, for some reason, foreigners move to Germany in droves thinking that they’ll get by just fine without learning the language. And, admittedly, in some parts of the bigger cities, it’s possible to do just that.
However, your life here will be so much easier if you reach even a passable level of German. Just think how wonderful you’ll feel if you’re able to function as a normal human being! From little things like ordering your own “Kaffee und Kuchen” or being able to understand what the sweet old lady on the bus is saying to you, to knocking the cynical socks off that world-weary, unsuspecting paper pusher in the Bürgeramt. That, my friends, is what they call Satisfaction.
You’ll also be able to amaze and impress your friends by dropping cryptic, intellectual-sounding snippets into conversations. “Well guys, you know, everything has an end, only the sausage has two. (Pause for effect.) Oh, sorry, that’s what we say in German…” Prepare for your social standing to go up a notch or two.
Online German courses
If you’ve already tried to google “online German classes”, clicked on a couple and then stopped looking for a decent course because you were overwhelmed by the number of resources, then check this out - we’ve compiled some of the resources we like.
Lingoda is best described as an online language school. It has a proper curriculum and fixed hours for classes with native German teachers. The classes are small with up to 5 students. If you don’t like people, then you can also take an individual lesson. If you like classrooms and fixed schedules then Lingoda is for you.
- Online, live language classes
- Native speaking teachers
- Group or private classes available 24/7
- Prices start from €8 per class
Yabla is a video platform. If you enjoy immersing yourself in a new language by consuming content then Yabla is the way to go. It’s similar to turning on the TV in Germany - the main difference is that it’s on demand and you have subtitles. Of course you could also watch shows on Netflix in Germany but, with Yabla, you have original German shows not dubbed American blockbusters so you can also get a bit of a feel for the German culture.
- Authentic German. All videos feature only native speakers, speaking in real German.
- Subtitles. All videos are subtitled and translated. Subtitles make it easy to get back in the game if you get lost.
- Slow play. Click the slow button at any time to slow down the audio.
- Dictionaries. Click any word to see a definition, and then save it to your flashcard list.
- Just €11.95 per month. Unlimited access to a growing library of 2,050+ videos.
Germanpod is for busy people. So, if you only kinda want to learn a language but are not fully invested enough to dedicate real time to it then Germanpod101 might be for you. It mostly offers podcasts that you can download and listen to on the way to work or just before you fall asleep. Germanpod101 claims to offer over 1,400 audio and video lessons
RocketLanguages is Germanpod101 for people who like learning German by actively listening to it rather than falling asleep to it on the bus to work. Rocket Languages offers a pronunciation feature that checks your pronunciation as well as flashcards and other comprehension features.
- Interactive audio lessons
- Perfect your pronunciation
Traditional lessons aren’t for me
No problem! If you’re a sporty person, join a fitness class – you’ll at least learn useful words like arm, leg, head, raise, lower, and “GIB GAS”! If you’re more of the sitting and drinking persuasion, just find your nearest dodgy bar and strike up a conversation with the jolly old codgers who’ve been sitting in the same spot for the last 40 years.
You also have the major advantage of living in Germany. You’re surrounded by the language every day so unpeel your eyes from your Handy (mobile phone) and take note of what’s around you. Read posters, examine advertisements, eavesdrop on that couple on the bus. What did she call him? An Arsch mit Ohren? Arse with ears!? YES! Thank you, German, you absolute beauty of a language!
Listen to the radio, or just have it on in the background. If a film or TV programme is too much for you, watch a couple of ads or listen to a song. If reading a book is too challenging, read a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, an ad. Ask questions – Germans just love Germansplaining and will be more than happy to help you out.
If “ich bin raus” is “I’m out”, is “ich bin rein” “I’m in”?
NEIN! Ich bin dabei!
If I can say “damit”, can I also say “darohne”?
Yes, for a lovably logical people, you’ll soon learn that the language can be anything but.
What are the best apps for learning German?
There are a multitude of apps out there to help you learn German - some are great, some are not, some are free, some have free components, others you have to pay for. The beauty of apps is that you can actually do something useful on your mobile phone instead of just walking around staring at it and getting in other people’s way. You can even start in your home country so you’re a bit more prepared for when you first set foot on German soil. So, quit the little game where you join the brightly coloured ball with the other brightly coloured balls and grow some balls in German instead; even five to ten minutes a day can make a big difference. Here are a few of the more popular apps:
- Duolingo – great for the basics. Starts from pretty much zero and gets more difficult as you work your way up the language “tree”. Good for practising grammar structure.
- Busuu - covers all areas of language acquisition (reading, writing, speaking, listening). Sample dialogues for different situations, including in the workplace.
- Babbel - teaches you new vocabulary and phrases through a mix of sound recordings, images and text. Also has speech recognition to help with pronunciation.
- Memrise - a flashcard app for studying vocabulary.
In case you need more choice then here are some more options: Anki, Wordpic, DeutscheAcademey, Wie geht’s.
If you prefer to learn learn a language from a native speaker but you are not prepared to pay for it then tandem might be for you!
Tandem Language Apps
The best way to learn a language is to actually speak it! HelloTalk and Tandem connect you with native speakers you can chat to for free. Chat with language partners via text, voice recordings, voice calls, video calls! Built-in aids for translation, pronunciation, transliteration, and corrections make conversations run smoothly.
More resources that will help you learn German
- Language courses
- Get a coffee with a German friend. If you don’t have any, go find some. You’re in Germany - there are Germans everywhere. Join a sports club or start looking on Tinder. You can even use Bumble just to find friends!
- Sign up for sports
- Deutsch für Euch
- German audio books - listen to the famous stories by the Brüder Grimm - don’t forget to enable the transcript.
- Coffee Break German
- Der kleine Wassermann
- Der kleine Prinz
- Der kleine König
Audio books for children
- Der Kleine König
- Der Kleine Fuchs
- Weißt du eigentlich wie lieb ich dich habe?
- Das große Einschlaf Hörbuch
- A great exercise for pronouncing German words
- Ruf der Wildnis
- Alice in Wonderland
- Das Gespenst von Canterville
- Das Bildnis von Dorian Grey
- Sherlock Holmes
- Der Räuber Hotzenplotz
- Das Kleine Gespenst
- Der Kleine Wassermann
Write a letter or an email to a friend and ask them to correct it for you.
Learn phrases with pictures
Ready to have your mind blown by the German language? Check out our beginners' guide to idioms and be prepared to amaze and astound your friends! For more idioms check out Simple Germany.
English - direct translation
Now it goes around the sausage.
Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst!
Shit just got real.
You are on the woodway.
Du bist auf dem Holzweg.
You’re barking up the wrong tree.
My hair stands up to the mountains.
Mir stehen die Haare zu Berge.
I’ve got goosebumps.
I understand only train station.
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
I have no idea what you’re saying.
Sorry, but my German is under all pig.
Tut mir leid, aber mein Deutsch ist unter aller Sau.
Sorry, but my German is just the worst.
I think I spider.
Ich glaube, ich spinne.
I believe I’m dreaming.
The devil I will do!
Den Teufel werd ich tun!
I will not do that.
Come on. Jump over your shadow.
Komm schon, spring über deinen Schatten
Get out of your comfort zone.
You walk me animally on the cookie.
Du gehst mir tierisch auf den Keks.
You’re really getting on my nerves.
Holla, the wood fairy.
Holla die Waldfee.
Well, that’s unexpected.
I see black for you.
Ich sehe schwarz für dich.
I think you might be in trouble.
You are such a fear-rabbit.
Du bist so ein Angsthase.
You are such a scaredy cat.
You don’t tick correctly.
Du tickst doch nicht ganz richtig.
You’re not all there.
You don’t have all the cups in your cupboard.
Du hast doch nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank.
You’ve got a screw loose.
You have a bird.
Du hast doch einen Vogel.
You are crazy.
She had a circulation-together-break.
Sie hatte einen Kreislaufzusammenbruch.
I fall from all clouds.
Ich falle aus allen Wolken.
I did not expect this.
No one can reach me the water.
Niemand kann mir das Wasser reichen.
Nobody is better than me.
This is not the yellow from the egg.
Das ist nicht das Gelbe vom Ei.
This is not the best.
It runs me icecold down my back.
Es läuft mir eiskalt den Rücken runter.
My blood runs cold.
Ich bin fuchsteufelswild.
I’m super angry.
That makes me nobody so quicker after.
Das macht mir so schnell keiner nach.
No one can do what I just did so easily.
Now we have the salad.
Nun haben wir den Salat.
Well, here we have what we deserve.
I think my pig is whistling.
Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift.
I believe I’m dreaming.