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Is German Hard to Learn? Yes – But in a Good Way.

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You might be one of those folks who wishes they knew German.

But wanting to know German is different from learning German or wanting to learn German. The people who just long for the day when they know German are usually the ones asking “Is German hard to learn?”

But here’s the thing. Every language out there is hard in one way or another, even the ones that are close to your native language. Whether the difficulty comes at the beginning of the journey or in the middle, you’re never going to get off easy.

The challenge is the fun of it! And besides, do you really have that much to worry about when it comes to learning German? 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning German Table of Contents
  1. Is it Hard to Learn German?
  2. The Hardest Parts of German
  3. The Easiest Parts of German
  4. Where Should You Start Learning German?
  5. Advice to a New Learner
  6. The Advantages of GermanPod101
  7. Conclusion

1. Is it Hard to Learn German?

Traditional German Tree Image

German has this bad reputation of being difficult. Centuries of students from all around the world have been stuck translating German back and forth from their native languages, usually long and dreadfully boring passages made up to illustrate some grammar rule or another. Hemingway himself studied German and wrote his experiences down in an essay, where he talked about the struggles that English-speakers face when learning this difficult language.

But what makes German so hard to learn?

The only reason that German seems so difficult to people is that it has grammar rules that other languages don’t.

German is a language with relatively high “inflection,” meaning that the words in a sentence change based on their grammatical roles. For example, you have to add different endings to the adjectives and the articles in order to show which part of the sentence is the subject and which is the object.

Like English, German also has a lot of set phrases and verbs that go with specific prepositions. Adding a different preposition or prefix to a verb can change the meaning completely. Just like how, in English, a business can “go under” if the rent prices “go up.”

There’s also the question of pronunciation. After a handful of spelling reforms, German is spoken much like it’s written, but there are some consonants and vowels that don’t exist in English. It’s especially tricky because some of them are almost like their English counterparts, but just different enough to cause confusion.

These factors definitely make it sound like German is a tough nut to crack. Don’t worry, though—with every difficult feature comes an easy one to balance things out. 

2. The Hardest Parts of German

A Kid Stressed about His Homework

Let’s go into a bit more detail on the things that scare people the most. 

Look up any information about why the German language is hard to learn, and the number-one answer is “the cases.” Those are the word changes we alluded to earlier. 

Interestingly enough, German is one of very few European languages in which the article is affected by the grammatical role instead of the noun. Look at any of the Slavic languages or Latin, for instance, and you’ll see that the noun itself has to change!

German has four cases: the nominative (subject of the sentence), accusative (direct object), dative (indirect object), and genitive (possession). Nominative is the “basic” case with the dictionary form of the word, so you can strike that one off your list of things to worry about right away.

The genitive is slowly being phased out, except in formal language and in set phrases, so you only really need to recognize it until you’re an intermediate learner. That leaves just two cases you have to choose from, and honestly, it becomes second nature to think in that sort of “framework” after enough practice. 

3. The Easiest Parts of German

Oktoberfest Decorations

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom here. German is related to English, and that means there are some delightfully easy things about it.

First of all, the verb system. Anybody who’s ever studied a Romance language (like Spanish) or a Slavic language (like Russian) knows that the verbal system in other languages can be very complex. 

In German, the tenses of verbs are made with helping words, like in English. English doesn’t really have a future tense—we just say “I will do.” German doesn’t either: ich werde tun. And although the word order changes around a bit, this holds true even for rarer and “more complicated” tenses.

  • Es wird getan sein.
    “It will be done.”

Also, there are quite a few words in German that are easy to guess the meaning of. English and German    share an ancestor language, so a lot of the basic, core vocabulary comes from the same root. 

Once you hear that Das Buch means “the book” and Das Schwert means “the sword,” these words are super-easy to remember when you see them again. You’ll even unconsciously pick up on the sound changes that connect German and English roots.

And even better, there’s now a second wave of common vocabulary: words loaned from modern English into German! Das Management and Der Computer are just two examples. They mostly come in the form of tech or business words.

4. Where Should You Start Learning German?

Someone Turning Up the Volume

The best way to start learning German is to begin with audio.

German pronunciation is a pitfall for a lot of people, because it has subtle vowel changes from English that are hard to pick up on your own. If you start by listening to German instead of reading it, though, you’ll hear the differences early on.

An easy place to start is with GermanPod101 or a YouTube German-learning series where you can see the German transcript of what you’re hearing. That’s a great way to match each word to its correct sound right from the beginning.

After that, you should go through a quick set of pronunciation drills. YouTube is fine for this, too, though you can just follow the instructions in a German textbook. 

This may sound like a lot of work before you really get going, but laying a proper foundation is absolutely crucial to achieving a good command of German later on. 

There are far too many people out there who started speaking before they were ready, and ended up hitting a wall in the intermediate stage where their constant mistakes continue to hold them back.

Avoid that fate—study methodically at first, and then let loose later on! 

5. Advice to a New Learner

A Woman Reading and Writing Late at Night

Now that you know what makes German hard to learn, have you decided it’s not too bad after all? Great! Here’s some advice for new learners:

Since German has a lot of little things that have to be memorized, just embrace it.

Take a two-pronged approach: set aside a bit of time every day to go over the declension charts and review the core grammar rules. You’ll quickly find that this stuff locks itself into your memory pretty easily. Be patient with yourself and slowly write out the charts over and over until they’re second nature.

At the same time, it’s important to work with real native German material right from the start. Again, GermanPod101 and YouTube are treasure troves for this. You can find interesting content, slow it down, read the transcripts, and break it down into chunks you can understand.

Understanding is way more important than being able to speak right away, because everything depends on your ability to know what’s being said to you or what you’re reading.

Your brain will subconsciously pick up the patterns of natural German speech. This means that when you want to actually speak or write, it’ll be easy because you’ll also know the theory of German grammar.


6. The Advantages of GermanPod101

Obviously, the flagship podcast series from GermanPod101 is the main attraction on our website. With hundreds of episodes covering hundreds of topics, there’s always something new to learn. Plus, it’s all broken down with clear explanations and advice for learners.

Also, don’t miss our excellent grammar and pronunciation guides, where each sound and each case is explained by experts so that you can follow along, no matter your current level.

One huge thing you can take advantage of right now is the GermanPod101 YouTube channel, which has a great series of videos designed for listening comprehension from absolute beginner to advanced.

Each of those videos has slow and clear native-speaker audio acting out dozens of realistic situations, such as buying things in shops, talking with friends, and interacting with people at work. Each dialogue gets played twice, once without subtitles and once with subtitles, so you’ll automatically make the connections you need. 


7. Conclusion

Honestly, the best way to find out if the German language is hard or not is to try learning it yourself. Although there are definitely things you’ll have to spend more time on than others, no language is really “more difficult” overall than any other.

With German, you will have the initial handicap of it taking longer to be able to form simple sentences, especially compared to a language like Indonesian, where the words just fall into place.

However, you’ll also have a huge advantage if you know English, because you have a great base of shared vocabulary and cultural knowledge. That advantage only grows if you know French or another Romance language.

When you get to the more advanced levels, you’ll see your vocabulary grow exponentially because you’ll already have learned all the roots you need to create those impressively long German nouns.

The path begins today. Take the right first step by checking out GermanPod101, and see how far you can go!

If you’re learning the language already, which parts of German do you struggle with most? What things are easier for you? Let us, and aspiring German learners, know in the comments!

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