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Learning German words – tips & tools

Author: Jadranka Bokan

Tips & tools for learning vocabulary

Learning words is very important if you wish to produce (speak and write) in any foreign language. I would dare to say that it’s more important than learning grammar.

Continue reading this post and you will find out where to find online:

– original word pronunciation (applies only to German)

– authentic example sentences (for all languages)

– learning partners (for all languages)

– how to create your own flash cards and always keep them with you (for all languages)

-how to organize your words in mind maps (for all languages)

– which tools for learning words you could use while doing anything else on your computer or while using your mobile phone (for all languages)

– word lists for exams at levels A1-B2 (only for German)

-and of course, the text is filled with many many useful learning tips (for all languages)

The following web sites and tools will be mentioned:

free online dictionaries (only German)

-sentence dictionary: Foboko

“Search” feature on Twitter

find a speaking partner – websites

Quizlet app

Semper app

flash cards tool

free online picture dictionaries

add-ons for Chrome: Eachword, myVocabu, ReadLang

-create mind maps: GoConqr

– GI app for learning words at the level A1: Deutschtrainer (only German)

GI Wortliste A2  (only German)

GI Wortliste B1 (only German)

Basic German Vocabulary (B2)

Aaaand finally… Here goes to the tips:

Learn in context.

Always write down (and try to memorize) example sentences for a new word and preferably choose to combine that new word with words that you already know well.

For example, if you should learn the word das Vergnügen (pleasure), try to memorize it within at least one example: das mache ich aus purem Vergnügen or das Buch ist ein tolles Lesevergnügen.

If you cannot find a suitable example, bare in mind that free online dictionaries always contain many example sentences. However, they can be sometimes complicated, like in DUDEN. That is why I recommend PONS. PONS also contains an online vocabulary trainer.

If you can’t find as many examples as you wish or if you are not sure that the examples that you have are the most common ones, you could look for suitable sentences as examples at Foboko. It is a so called ‘sentence vocabulary’. Just pick the language and type in the word that you need examples for.

Another valuable source for the most common usage of words is the Search feature at Twitter. Just type in the needed word and press Search.

Attention: don’t try to memorize all possible meanings of the new word that you are learning. Concentrate on finding as many examples as possible for just that one meaning of the word that you are currently learning and preferably find the one example that you like most and that you will be able to remember easily.  Otherwise you will end up frustrated and will eventually give up.

Repeat words regularly. Pixabay
Repeat words regularly and learn them in a context. Pixabay

Learn the correct sound of the word. 

Make sure that you learn the correct pronunciation of the word that you are learning. Online dictionaries make this possible. All you have to do is to find the new word and then click on the speaker icon in order to hear the correct pronunciation. 

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Use new words actively.

It’s important that you use the words that you learn actively which is why it is so important that you find a learning/speaking partner. With a bit of a luck, you will find a native speaker as a speaking partner.

However, if that doesn’t work, find someone who you can trust and practice with them or just speak to yourself (yes, you can engage in a dialogue with yourself).

Also, try to use new words and not the old ones. Check out how your German can sound more like A2 than A1.

Attention:  Don’t be afraid of making mistakes!

Use words actively. Pixabay
Use words actively. Pixabay

Repeat newly learned words regularly.

As soon as we learn something new, we start to forget it. Forgetting is like a “thief” that comes in certain intervals of time. Since we know that, we can prevent forgetting and “be at home”, when it comes to “visit” us.

In other words, we should repeat the words when the odds to forget them are the greatest: 24 hours after learning, 7 days and 3 weeks after learning.

Attention: make sure that you don’t get bored.  Don’t repeat words that you have repeated many times over and over. Basically, you should have 3 piles of words – the newest ones that should be repeated regularly, then the ones that you have already learned but that still need to be repeated once a week and those that need to be repeated only once a month. For this purpose you could use a “word box”. You don’t have to buy it, you can just use an old shoe box and place your flash cards in it.

Learn ‘relevant’ words.

“Relevant words” are those which you need in a daily conversation. How can you “recognize” them? Here is how: when you  are speaking to a person and would like to tell something but you can’t  find a word – that is the relevant word. tollpatschig (clumsy), sich emportarbeiten (to work hard and succeed), Quereinsteiger (career changer) were my relevant words which I needed always when I was talking about myself in German. I learned them instantly and never forgot them.

You can learn anywhere. Pixabay
Learn and repeat words anywhere. Pixabay


Mind maps are an ideal solution if you are trying to memorize many  words at once or if you are learning phases (Redemittel). GoConqr enables you to create your own mind maps online which is ideal because you can correct mistakes if you make them or even save and edit your mind maps later. All you have to do is to navigate to the above site and sign up (you can do so via the Facebook button). Once you are in, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the mind maps icon.

Keep your new words close to you <3.

As we all got used to, you can create flash cards for your new words. You could either buy sets of empty cards and write your new words (with many examples) on them or you could use some online applications or even create your own paper flash cards.

The later solution is much better because you can install the app in your phone and keep your words always with you. That way you can repeat them while waiting in traffic, post or anywhere else.  I would recommend that you use the Quizlet app. It enables you to create your own flash cards or use flash cards from other users (both learners and teachers); you can also use images as ‘translations’ and record your own voice; you can practice your words through several different types of games (flash cards, write, spell, match and test).

If you would like to use existing flash cards online, try out free online picture dictionaries where you will find words that are associated with pictures which is very convenient.

If you prepare your words in an Excel file you can create your own flash cards by using this flash cards tool.

If you prefer flash cards with pictures, then you could create your own photo cards.

In addition, there is a Chrome add-on that is a must. If you are sitting or working long on your computer, you could install the Eachword add-on for Chrome. After you add your words to the list (one by one), they will appear out of the blue on your screen in intervals that you determine by yourself. That is very convenient! 🙂 There are also other useful Chrome add-ons: My Vocabu and ReadLan.  They will help you in real time while you are reading new texts on the Internet. Just highlight the word in the text that you are reading and its meaning will show up. Those words will then be stored in a list that you can then work on and learn at a later point. To find out more about these add-ons, where to find them and how they work, click here.

Also, there is another app that can be installed on your mobile phone and make words from your Quizlet list pop-up on your screen every time when you unlock the screen or start other apps (Facebook, Viber etc.). It is called Semper and it is supported by Android. If you are using i-Phone, please check whether it is available in your country.

There are word lists and specialised applications. Pixabay

Learn and practice for exams – A1 to B2 level

If you would like to learn and practice your vocabulary from A1 to B2 level, try out this Vokabel Trainer. Memrise can also guide you through different levels of learning German and you can even create your own flash cards (mems) and embed them in the application.

Goethe Institute has provided an app for learning and practising words at the A1 level. Goethe Institute has also provided lists of words for different levels: GI Wortliste A2 ; GI Wortliste B1

Basic German vocabulary provides you with a solid list of words that you should know at the B2 level. Used examples cost about 25 EUR.