Tags: German, Languages.
Table of Contents
- Getting started
- Going Further
- Real world resources
- Online resources
- Related pages
In this article I'll explore some references and pointers for anyone interested in learning the German language. The focus of this article is on the self-learner perspective, but it can be also used by someone learning German with the support of a class. I'll provide you here with everything you need to come from ground zero to a decent level of proficiency in the language of Goethe.
The first thing you are going to need is a textbook. There are many textbooks out there, each addressing a particular type of learner and audience. My favorite series, and in my opinion one of the best ones in the world, is the Teach Yourself Language Series. They have a wide collection of books to teach you almost any language you ever heard about, from Sanskrit to Tagalog. Their books are written by noted language experts and provide you with the basic guidance you need to go from zero to basic and intermediary levels. Therefore, I strongly recommend Teach Yourself German as your first textbook.
Teach Yourself German is a complete beginner course, starting at the basics (Hallo, Wie geht es Ihnen) and taking you to a intermediate level at the end of the book. It comes with 2 Audio CDs, to help you with the pronunciation, and the content of the book is carefully and didactically chosen.
If you prefer not to buy the book, there are also some online beginner resources for free. I have picked a few of them:
- BBC Languages - Learn German: BBC Language Learning center. It has some interesting resources on pronouncing and has a coverage of both beginners as well as of intermediate students.
- About: German Language: Very valuable resource. You must have it bookmarked for constant reference while you're learning the language. It has a broad coverage of topics for learners from all levels, from basic to advanced.
- Exeter University Beginners' German: Introductory, online and free course from the Exeter University (United Kingdom).
- Learning German via Internet: miscellaneous resources to learn German online.
After you've finished an introductory course, like Teach Yourself German, you're ready to take more advanced texts. One natural recommendation is the next book in the series: Teach Yourself Improve your German. Though softer than the previous edition (Teach Yourself Further German) it is a good reference to brush up your skills and work your way to an upper-intermediate level.
As you progress with your studies (if you were brave enough to endure the declension hell) you will notice that you will often be confronted with doubts regarding grammar rules. Unlike English's, German's grammar is quite complex, and so even a basic student will often need a grammar for reference.
My favorite beginner grammar is Essential Grammar of German. It does an excellent job of filtering out the most obscure or not frequently used rules and providing the beginner with a non-overwhelming reference for his grammar doubts. A full fledged grammar at this point would quickly scare you and do more harm than help.
After you've finished the first couple of textbooks, and are at an upper-intermediate level of command of the language, you might then go to more complete grammars. The most authoritative German grammar reference written in English is Hammer's German Grammar and Usage.
A useful online resource is Verbix for Germanic Languages: it conjugates a German verb for you in all tenses and persons. It can be of help when you're unsure at how to conjugate a particular verb.
Dictionaries are essential for learning any language. For a starter, a cheap pocket dictionary will do. Just make sure you buy a good dictionary (from a recognized publisher, like Collins, Duden, Oxford) such as HarperCollins German Dictionary.
After that you will need a more comprehensive dictionary, such as Oxford-Duden German Dictionary.
Finally, the best way to improve on your German skills is to use a monolingual dictionary. One of the best ones is Langenscheidt Grosswörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdpsrache. It is a German-German dictionary, but written for the student of German as a foreign language. It has lots of pictures and the definitions are didactic and often explain aspects of the German culture.
There are also online dictionaries, which can be of help. By far the best one is LEO Deutsch-Englisches Wörterbuch. It has a very comprehensive vocabulary and a good coverage of current words and idioms. Its Online Forum can also be an excellent help for students of any level.
Pronunciation is one of the easy aspects of learning German. Fortunately for all of us struggling to learn the language, German pronunciation is very straightforward. You can always tell the pronunciation of a word from its spelling, and so all you need to learn is a set of rules to be able to pronounce almost anything flawlessly.
If you bought Teach Yourself German, you probably already had access to a pronunciation guide. If you didn't buy the textbook, or if you are stuck on the pronunciation of a word, there's an excellent online reference for German pronunciation: German Pronunciation, by Gary Smith. This the best online resource I've ever seen (or for that matter heard) on German pronunciation. Spare a few hours to dedicate yourself studying it.
Another website that might be of use to you is AT&T Labs German Text-to-Speech Synthesis. There you can have small portions of text in German pronounced by a digital synthesizer. This can help you with the pronunciation of a certain word or phrase that you are stuck at.
Real world resources
Real world resources can also be useful. In learning a language any extra tool you can use is at your favor. There are numerous different language schools and any advice on specific schools will have to be country and even province specific. One institute that can always be recommended though is Goethe Institut. Check their website to see the nearest institute. They generally offer real courses and usually have a public access library with various resources on German language learning and German culture.
There are numerous online resources which can be useful to you in this journey. Here a few of them:
- Lingo24 ContexTrans Context Translation: inovative and very useful free translation service from the Lingo24 Translation Company which displays translations using both words in context. Their paraphrase finder is also noteworthy.
- The Awful German Language, by Mark Twain: a humorous essay on the experiences of Mark Twain as a learner of German.
- A look at the world of German Packaging today: this is more a cultural note than of direct interest to the language learner, but nevertheless, you can never fully master a language without having a grasp of its culture.
- SongText.Net: lyrics to songs in German.
- The Alternative German Dictionary: a somewhat unorthodox German language, covering terms not usually found elsewhere.
- Flashcards in LaTeX - 27/11/2006