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Learning German words – tips

Author: Jadranka Bokan

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 grammar. It’s at least so in German.

Tips for learning vocabulary

Learn in a context. Always write example sentences for your new words, preferably with words that you already know. This means that you connect  new words with things that you already know. For example, if you should learn the word das Vergnügen (pleasure), try to memorise it within at least one example: das mache ich aus purem Vergnügen or das Buch ist ein tolles Lesevergnügen. Free online vocabularies always contain many example sentences. However, they can be sometimes complicated and too extensive, like DUDEN. 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 examples at Foboko. 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  Twitter. Just type in the needed word and press Search. Attention: don’t try to memorize all possible meanings of one new word. Concentrate on finding as many examples as possible for just that one meaning of the word that you are currently learning. Otherwise you will end up frustrated.

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 offer this option. All you have to do is to click on the speaker icon and hear the sound. 

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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. Also, try to use new words and not the old ones. Check out how your German can sound more like A2 than A1Attention:  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

Use flash-cards. You can 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 Quizlet. It enables you to create your own flash cards or use flash cards from other users (both learners and teachers); you can also use pictures and record your own voice; you can practice your words through 3 different types of games (match, write and test). If you would like to use existing flash cards, try out Days of Deutsch where you will find words which are associated with pictures, word of the week and nouns grouped by gender. 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.

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