German Even For Dummies

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German Made Easy: Even Dummies Can Learn German

Learning German is not as much of a time commitment (and not as hard) as you might think. With Babbel, learning German online is easy, intuitive and under your control: learn at your own pace, choose the lessons you want, and review and practice vocabulary on the go. German closely related to English with half of their vocabularies in common. Although mastering the very different accent and pronunciation can be difficult at first, Babbel’s online courses and mobile app include speech recognition so you can quickly become comfortable with speaking. Read the how-to tips below and then test your skills with a free German lesson.

English’s old-fashioned grandfather

English is technically a Germanic language so, even though it borrows more than half of its vocabulary from French and Latin, the core of English comes from German. If there is more than one word for something in English, chances are the shorter, simpler word has a German origin.

For example: words related to the body – die Hand, der Finger, der Arm, der Nase – barely require translation; simple actions like schwimmen (to swim), gehen (to go/to walk), rennen (to run), springen (to jump) and fallen (to fall) are easily recognizable; and many words describing nature and animals have changed very little since they emerged from German – das Wasser (water), der Stein (stone), das Gras (grass), der Grund (ground), der Bär (bear), der Schwein (swine/pig), der Hund (hound/dog).

You can actually think of German as English’s grandfather (Großvater); it can seem old-fashioned and a little strange, but the resemblance is striking.

Teutonic Shift

As English drifted away from German in the middle ages, certain sounds drifted too. As a result, the close relationship between English and German is not immediately obvious. You will start to recognize more and more German words if you remember these consonant shifts:

German – English

  • b > f — halb - half
  • b > v — habe - have, sieben - seven
  • f > p — scharf - sharp
  • v > f — Vater - father, voll - full

  • ch > k — Buch - book
  • ch > gh — Licht - light
  • k > ch — Kirche - church

  • sch > s/sh — Schwester - sister
  • ss > tt — Wasser - water, besser - better

  • d > th — drei - three
  • t > d — Tochter - daughter, tot - dead

  • z/tz > t — zwei - two, Katze - cat
  • z > c — Zirkel - circle

Basic phrases

  • ja / nein – yes / no
  • Hallo! – Hi
  • tschüss! – bye
  • bitte – please
  • danke – thank you
  • Ich heisse… – My name is…
  • Ich komme aus… – I come from…
  • Entschuldigen Sie! – Excuse me / sorry
  • Ich habe eine Frage – I have a question.

Hilf mir! (help me!)

Being able to ask a few questions is a good way to start speaking a language. Not only can you start communicating right away, but the answers to your questions will provide you with new vocabulary.

  • Wo ist die Bahnhof? – Where is the train station?
  • Wohin kommen Sie? – Where are you from?
  • Wann kommst du? – When are you coming?
  • Wie spät ist es? How late is it?
  • Wie geht’s? – How are you? (lit. “how goes it”)?
  • Was passiert? – What happened?
  • Warum? – Why?
  • Wer ist das? – Who is that?

3 genders

Unlike English, which has no gendered nouns (the is the only definite article), every noun in German is either masculine (preceded by der), feminine (preceded by die) or neuter (preceded by das). All plural nouns become die. There is no real logic to which words are which genders. There are some examples that an English-speaker could easily guess (man is der Mann, woman is die Frau), but most articles — der Apfel (apple), die Pflanze (plant) and das Auto (car) — should simply be learned along with the noun.

Verb Conjugation

Verbs in German are always conjugated, which means the verb has a different ending depending on whether you, I, we, she, or they are doing the verb. To get you started, here are a few useful verbs in the I form:

  • Ich brauche… – I need…
  • Ich möchte… – I would like…
  • Ich habe… – I have…

How To Practice Your German

Try your first German lesson with Babbel for free. One of the advantages of the Babbel system is that you are immersed in German from the beginning. The process is easy and intuitive (with lots of helpful hints when you need them), and you can learn at your own pace and set your own lesson plans. Babbel’s German course is affordable, accessible online and via mobile devices, and proven to strengthen your reading, listening, speaking and comprehension skills. You can master German by yourself, or use Babbel’s community features to connect with other learners, find tandem partners and share expertise. Use the tips above and see which level you can achieve.

German Dummy