Five websites to help improve your German

Photo by Waldemar Bran
Photo by Waldemar Bran

Five websites to help improve your German

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Still struggling with the German language? Plenty of apps exist to help you patch your way through sticky situations by translating text or speech between languages (Google Translate, iTranslate). But if you plan to call Germany home for months or years to come, a good command of the language is sure to improve your experience exponentially. Wouldn’t it be great NOT having to rely on that one bilingual friend, neighbor or colleague who always saves you in a pinch?

Here are five wonderful websites offering free content to facilitate learning on your own time and at your own pace:

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s international public broadcasting service does much more than represent the nation across the media landscape; it’s a veritable treasure trove of German-language learning materials. Its vast range of offerings includes over 300 video lessons and 14,000 exercises, delivered via an app or online. Users can improve language skills by listening to the latest news at a normal speed or a reduced tempo. They can also follow the adventures of a Brazilian in Cologne or a hip-hop band on tour. The “word of the week” feature deciphers common German words and idioms sure to baffle non-native speakers. Users can start with a free online placement test to determine their language levels and proceed from there.

Goethe Institut: This highly respected German non-profit institute promotes the study of the German language abroad and encourages international cultural exchange. In addition to traditional classroom instruction offered in dozens of countries worldwide and online courses available at cost, the institute offers plenty of free content on its website. Locate the content under the heading “kostenlos deutsch üben.” Modules sorted by language level from basic to proficient cover topics from sports to careers to everyday life in Germany. On the 24H Deutsche YouTube channel, a young German teacher leads her viewers through everyday social situations packed with natural sounding dialogue. Travel lovers can follow six reality show contestants as they traverse Germany and complete challenges from the Zugspitze to the vineyards of the Rhineland Palatinate. Games and quizzes add an additional element of fun.

Duolingo: This free website promises to help users improve their language skills in just 15 minutes a day. Beginners start with the basics, while those with a more advanced grasp of the language navigate through checkpoints testing skills of ever-increasing difficulty. Triumphant music and badges motivate learners onwards as they collect points. Handy flash cards reinforce vocabulary, while the word bank lists words that have been mastered and those yet to be committed to long-term memory.

Memrise: This user-generated learning platform offers exercises which incorporate reading, clicking on words to form the proper sentence order and finally writing out the phrase in full without prompts. By setting a goal of five, 15 or 45 minutes of study per day, you can collect bonus points to be used toward discounts on the purchase of paid content. Other material on the site includes lessons of various dialects, idioms, and verb conjugations.

Linguee: This online dictionary is invaluable for users who already have a good grasp of the language, but aren’t always sure which word or phrase makes for the best translation in a given situation. When the website translates words from German to English or vice-versa, it also presents examples of the word or phrase within the context of sentences pulled from the web. For example, suppose you wish to employ the idiom “have a blast” in your writing. Search results present sentence fragments such as “hab Spaß dabei,” “eine phantastische Zeit zu haben,” “habe einen Wahnsinnsspaß” or “haben einen Mordsspaß.” Choose the variant that most appeals, run that back through the search machine to ensure it matches the tone of what you wish to say and inflect and conjugate accordingly. Note that on occasion translations do miss the mark; when you can spot these, give yourself a pat on the back (Schulterklopfen) for your ever-improving feel for the language.

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