How Hard Is It to Learn German? A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners and Intermediate Learners

Is German a hard language to learn? This is a common question that many English speakers ask when they're interested in learning German.

The answer, however, is not so simple. It depends on various factors, such as your motivation, your goals, your learning style, your native language, and your previous experience with foreign languages.

In this article, I'll provide a comprehensive guide for beginners and intermediate learners who are wondering how hard German is to learn. I will cover the main difficulties and benefits of learning German, as well as some tips and tricks to overcome the challenges and make the most of the advantages.

Similarities Between German and English: Why German Is Easier Than You Think

How long does it take to learn German? Well, according to the United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI), German is a language of medium difficulty, taking around 900 classroom hours. But I'm going to show you how you can learn German faster than you would in a classroom.

One reason why German is easier than you think is that German and English are both Indo-European languages that belong to the same Germanic branch.

This means that they share a common ancestor and have many words that are similar or identical in both languages. These words are called ‘cognates’, and they can make your life much easier when learning German.

According to some estimates, about 60% of the words in English and German are cognates, which means that you already know more than half of the German vocabulary without even studying it.

For example, the words for the months, the numbers, the colours, and many other everyday words are almost the same in both languages. Here are some examples of common cognates:

English: accent - German: Akzent

English: affair - German: Affäre

English: alone - German: allein

English: apple - German: Apfel

English: athlete - German: Athlet

English: baby - German: Baby

English: banana - German: Banane

English: battery - German: Batterie

English: blue - German: blau

English: book - German: Buch

However, you should also be careful not to fall into the trap of false cognates, often known as ‘false friends’, which are words that look or sound similar in both languages, but have different meanings.

For example, the word “gift” in English means a present, but in German it means poison! The word “bald” in English means having no hair, but in German it means soon. The word “also” in English means in addition, but in German it means therefore.

To avoid confusion, you should always check the context and the usage of the words, and consult a reliable dictionary if you aren’t sure.

You should also learn some tips and tricks to identify and use cognates, such as changing certain letters or sounds, or adding prefixes or suffixes.

For example, you can often change the “y” in English to an “i” in German, such as “party” to “Partei”, or the “th” in English to a “t” in German, such as “mother” to “Mutter”.

You can also add the prefix “un-” in German to make a word negative, such as “happy/unhappy” or “glücklich/unglücklich”, or the suffix “-er” in German to make a word comparative, such as “happy/happier” or “glücklich/glücklicher”.

Another reason why German is easier than you think is that German has only six tenses, compared to English’s twelve, and no continuous forms. This means that you don’t have to worry about the difference between “I do” and “I am doing”, or “I did” and “I was doing”, or “I will do” and “I will be doing”. You just have to learn the present, the past, the future, the conditional, the subjunctive, and the imperative, and how to form and use them correctly.

All of this means that you can make rapid progress in the beginning.

Difficulties of German Grammar: How to Master the Complex Rules

While German has some aspects that are relatively easy for English speakers, it also has some aspects that make it harder than you expect.

One of the main difficulties of learning German is its grammar, which can be complex and confusing. In this section, I will cover some of these challenges: the cases and the genders, as well as the compound words and the pronunciation.

German Grammar Rules Can Be Complex and Confusing

One of the most daunting aspects of German grammar is that it has four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. The cases indicate the function and the relationship of the nouns and the pronouns in a sentence, such as the subject, the direct object, the indirect object, or the possessor.

Depending on the case, the articles (the, a, an) and the endings of the nouns and the adjectives change. For example, the word for “the” in German can be “der”, “die”, “das”, “den”, “dem”, or “des”, depending on the gender, the number, and the case of the noun.

Another challenging aspect of German grammar is that it has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. The gender of a noun affects not only the articles and the endings, but also the pronouns and the adjectives that agree with it.

For example, the word for “he” in German can be “er”, “sie”, or “es”, depending on the gender of the noun. The word for “beautiful” in German can be “schön”, “schöne”, “schöner”, or “schönes”, depending on the gender, the number, and the case of the noun.

To make things more complicated, the gender of a noun is not always logical or predictable. For example, the word for “girl” in German is “das Mädchen”, which is neuter, not feminine. The word for “sun” in German is “die Sonne”, which is feminine, not masculine. The word for “key” in German is “der Schlüssel”, which is masculine, not neuter. There are some rules and patterns that can help you guess the gender of a noun, but there are also many exceptions and irregularities that you have to memorise.

To master the complex and confusing rules of German grammar, you need to learn and practise them regularly. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you memorise and apply the grammar rules:

  • Use flashcards, which help you test your knowledge and recall by showing a question on one side and an answer on the other. For example, you can use flashcards to learn the gender of the nouns, the meaning of the words, or the translation of the sentences. You can make your own flashcards or use the ones that are already available on the platform, Langua.
  • Use mnemonics, which are memory devices that help you remember information by associating it with something else. For example, you can use the acronym NAGD to remember the order of the cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative. You can also use the rhyme “Der, die, das, wer, wie, was” to remember the nominative articles for each gender.
  • Use visual aids to help you organise and display information in a clear and concise way. For example, you can use a chart to show the declension of the articles and the adjectives for each gender, number, and case. You can also use a chart to show the conjugation of the verbs for each person, number, and tense.

How to Learn German Fast and Effectively? The Best Tips and Resources for Success

Learning German can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it can also be challenging and frustrating at times. To learn German fast and effectively, you need to have a clear plan, a consistent practice, and a variety of resources.

In this section, I will share with you some of the best tips and resources that will help you achieve your German learning goals.

Set SMART Goals and Track Your Progress

One of the first steps to learn German fast and effectively is to set SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART goals will help you stay focused, motivated, and accountable, as well as measure your progress and adjust your strategy if needed.

For example, instead of saying “I want to learn German”, you can say “I want to learn 10 new words a day, complete a lesson a week, and have a conversation with a native speaker a month”.

To track your progress, you can use different tools, such as a journal, a spreadsheet, or an app. For example, you can use a journal to write down what you have learned, what you have practised, and what you have struggled with. You can use a spreadsheet to record how many words, lessons, and conversations you have done, and how much time you have spent. Or you can use a complete platform like Langua to learn new words, review old ones, and test your skills.

By setting SMART goals and tracking your progress, you will be able to see how far you have come, how much you have improved, and what you need to work on. You will also be able to celebrate your achievements, reward yourself, and stay motivated.

Study with a German Tutor

One of the best ways to learn German fast and effectively is to study with a German tutor. A German tutor can provide you with many benefits, such as:

  • Personalised feedback and guidance. A German tutor can assess your level, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and tailor the lessons to your needs and goals. They can also correct your mistakes, explain your doubts, and give you tips and advice.
  • Lots of speaking practice. A German tutor can help you improve your speaking skills, which are essential for communication and fluency. They will engage you in conversations, ask you questions, and challenge you to express yourself. A tutor can also help you with your pronunciation, intonation, and accent.
  • Classes designed for you. A German tutor can design the classes according to your tastes and interests, making them more fun and engaging. They can also adapt the classes to your learning style, pace, and preferences, making them more effective and efficient.

You can check out German tutors here. Browse through dozens of qualified and experienced German tutors, and choose the one that suits you best. You can also read reviews, watch videos, and send messages to the tutors before booking a lesson.

Use a Variety of Learning Methods and Materials

Using different learning methods and materials will help you develop all the language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), and avoid boredom and frustration. They will also expose you to different aspects of the German language and culture, such as vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, idioms, slang, history, literature, music, and more.

Here are some examples of different learning methods and materials that you can use:

  • Podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to improve your listening skills and learn new words and phrases. Langua curates the very best podcasts for learning German from around the world, and categorises them by level.
  • Movies and videos. Movies and videos are a great way to practise your listening and speaking skills, learn new words and expressions, and enjoy German-speaking culture. Some of the best movies and videos for learning German are Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) and Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others).
  • Books and newspapers. Books and newspapers are a great way to improve your reading and writing skills. Some of the best books and newspapers for learning German are Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Der Spiegel, and Deutsche Welle.
  • Music and songs. Music and songs can enhance your pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm, as well as learn new words and idioms.
  • Flashcards are a great way to learn and review common words and phrases, as well as grammar rules and patterns. You can make your own flashcards, or use the ones that are already available at Langua, such as the 5,000 most common German words.
  • An AI language partner is a great way to practise your speaking and listening skills, as well as your grammar and vocabulary, anytime and anywhere. You can use Langua’s sophisticated AI language partner to have conversations in German on topics such as hobbies, travel, work, or family.

By using a variety of learning methods and materials, you will be able to learn German faster and more effectively, as well as enjoy the process and the results.

A final word

In this article, I've tried to answer the question: how hard is it to learn German? As you can see, the answer is not straightforward - it depends on various factors, such as your motivation, your goals, your learning style, your native language, and your previous experience with foreign languages.

We have also seen that learning German can be both challenging and rewarding. On the one hand, German has some complex and confusing grammar rules, some long and hard-to-pronounce words, and some sounds that are not found in English. On the other hand, German also has many similarities with English, such as a large number of cognates, a relatively simple tense system, and a rich and expressive vocabulary.

With the right resources and a dedicated plan, it won’t be long before you can converse in German with confidence. Viel Glück!

Melanie Abdo

About the author:

Melanie Abdo is an experienced German language teacher. She has taught German as a Foreign Language (DaF) at various institutions, including the Lebanese German School Jounieh, German Culture Center Jounieh, and online platforms, catering to students of all ages and levels (A1 to C2). She is skilled in preparing students for official language exams, such as Goethe Certificates. She holds a Master's degree in Export Oriented Management from the University of Applied Sciences and a Teaching Diploma from AUL University. If you're considering taking German classes, you can view Melanie's profile here.