Teaching Yourself German — six essential tools

So you want to speak German.

Forget Google translate

Use this tool. Forget Google Translate. This tool is amazing.

Grammar Checker

Sometimes DeepL is too good and makes up for mistakes you’ve made. Therefore, before you translate, check the grammar with https://rechtschreibpruefung24.de/

Reverso

I really like this online dictionary. I can imagine ways it could be better, but it’s the one I like the most. Reverso is more than a dictionary. I like the way it gives you examples in context. Sometimes the examples are a bit silly as they are taken from legal documents, but there are always real life examples too. The verb conjugator is also good. This resource seems pretty reliable. Don’t bother using it’s built in translation though because it’s not very good. Google is much better.

I always use Translate and Reverso together to double check everything I do before I feel confident enough to go with it. This doesn’t mean it’s absolutely always right, but it improves the odds. (Ultimately you have to check your work with a human being to be 100% sure. If there’s nobody and you can wait a bit, then use Lang-8)

Lang-8

Lang-8 is a jewel. If you write something in German and you feel confident it is as good as you can make it, you can upload it to Lang-8 and somebody will (maybe) correct it for you and give you invaluable advice (for free). I had an enormously good experience using Lang-8. In return you can correct other learners’ work in your mother tongue. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of system.

I have nothing but praise for Lang-8. I have to say though that my success in having my work corrected had a lot to do with making sure I was writing ‘interesting’ stuff. Where I’ve written something boring or commerical I’ve had no feedback. I definitely recommend trying it when you’re German is good enough to be able to write a few paragraphs.

Quizlet

You can use this to make flashcards. It’s easy to set it up. It’s effective because the investment is low and the payback is relatively high.

There are some definite problems with it. It would be much better if you could give ‘hints’ to yourself, and explanations regarding the reason for why one answer is right and not another. It’s also annoying because when you set up a new test it automatically defaults to something other than ‘true/false’ so you have to set it up properly in the Options button.

Xmind

Use Xmind to make mind maps. If you’re not making mind maps you should start. Mind maps, when well structured, create pictures that are much easier to retain in your memory. Xmind is not online and has to be downloaded. It is, however, free. The advantage of using Xmind and not an online mind mapping tool is that it’s a lot quicker and it’s easier to use. The online tools have clunky user interfaces and are too slow. The downside is that you can’t easily cooperate as a group on a mind map which is too bad because it would make for a nice collaborative exercise.

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Those are my five top recommendations for self-learning the language.

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Peter Merrick is a teacher and has a Ph.D from University of East Anglia. He taught himself German and documented everything and now offers himself as a language coach to anybody learning German. Information is at languagegym.net.

You can read fact/fiction written by students here https://medium.com/fictionaufdeutsch

This collection features articles in a similar vein along with some creative writing auf deutsch. https://medium.com/language-gym-berlin

“Deutsch ist nicht so schwierig, es ist nur nicht gut beigebracht”