The following tips to learn German are personal recommendations that you probably won’t get from a teacher. But it is worth giving them a try.
Picture Dictionaries are books that differ significantly from what you would expect from a regular dictionary. They are made up of different themes – such as “At the airport” or “in the supermarket”. They will show many pictures – mostly things and situations that fit this specific theme and mention the words below the picture in English and German – and maybe many other languages. You might think this is just for kids. But any adult can get such a great deal of information out of a picture dictionary. It makes learning fun, visual and context sensitive. Most people learn better in a visual way. So these mostly 2-sided themes will help you tremendously because they summarize the most relevant vocabulary for a theme clustered together with pictures that are fun to look at and to browse through. I use them myself regularly and it just doesn’t feel like you are learning – it’s as relaxing as going through a magazine. But the amount of content you pick up this way is amazing. Think of it: It resembles much more reality than learning pairs of printed words. A word is just an abstraction of something real. So when you are learning pairs of words you are dealing with two abstractions tied together. However, we tend to think in pictures. Your mind has to do two things: Translate the picture in your mind to an English word, translate the English word into the German word by looking up that word pair you memorized. So when you look in picture dictionaries you get the words associated directly with pictures in your mind.
Sometimes a picture dictionary is the only way to explain a certain thing to a non-native speaker, because in many situations we cannot explain what we mean even in our own language – particularly certain types of food or special technical terminology.
Another unusual way to learn German – as well as any language is through advertisements. Why ads? Because ads are made by professional marketing experts for just one thing: Transport a message clearly and quickly and get in your memory and make you remember it. That’s exactly what you want when you learn a language. A teacher or a textbook author does not come close to the effectiveness of the communication professionals in the agencies. So while you may not like to be bothered by ads in your own language you should take a look at them in the language you want to learn. Certain phrases will store themselves in your brain instantly remain in your memory for a long time. Most of them are short, funny and easy to remember. Eh, it’s advertisement isn’t it?
When you hear a word in German that does not resemble anything you know in English try to think if this word reminds you of anything funny or strange that your know. The more unusual the association the better. Consider the German word ‘Kissen’ which means ‘pillow’. Just think of yourself kissing your girlfriend/boyfriend on a pillow. This association makes sense and is easy to memorize. The best thing: It involves emotions. Emotions are a great accelerator for memorizing and remembering things. It doesn’t even have to be positive emotions. Negative feelings work as well. Anything that is not boring will make you remember the words you wanted to remember.
What You Should NOT Do
Although it might seem tempting DO NOT use music and song lyrics to learn German or any other foreign language. Most songs contain either a form of dialect, inappropriate slang or rude language. Many songs play with language by falsifying it and twisting it around. Some use very old-fashioned and poetry-style language. So don’t use it.
Don’t read German newspapers. Most of them are very political and use a terminology which is extremely hard to understand. The sentences are extremely long, so usually when you get to the end you cannot remember how it started. Newspapers are clearly for the advanced language learner. So please stay away from them in the beginning.
This article was first published in our German Language Knowledge Base.