How to Think in German: 8 Tips to Make Your Brain a German Speaker

Imagine waking up every morning and having your thoughts flow effortlessly (pun intended, haha!) in German. You open your eyes and the first words that come to mind are “Guten Morgen!” You start planning your day, thinking about what you need to do, all in German. This is the reality I’ve created for myself by training my brain to think in German

It’s an incredible feeling and has been a game-changer for every language learning journey. Thinking in German has not only accelerated my progress but has also made the learning process much more enjoyable and rewarding.

In this blog post, I’ll share with you 8 tips that have helped me make my brain a German speaker. These strategies will teach you how to think in German!

Herr Antrim, a German Teacher actually has a great video on how you can start thinking in German:

1. How to start thinking in German: podcasts, radios, movies, TV shows…

One of the best ways to start thinking in German is to surround yourself with the language as much as possible! And I mean to REALLY surround yourself. Immersion is the key to training your brain to process and produce German naturally.

Listen to German music, German podcasts, and even radio shows throughout your day.

how to think in german listen to radio in a cozy living room

You can easily learn German with music, download songs and podcasts to your smartphone or PC and play them while you’re exercising, commuting, or doing chores around the house. Even if you don’t understand everything at first, your brain will start to pick up on the sounds, rhythm, and structure of the language.

Watching German TV shows on Netflix and movies is another fantastic way to immerse yourself in the language.

First, turn on the German subtitles to help you follow along and make connections between the spoken and written language. As you watch, try to focus on the pronunciation, word order, and phrases used by the native German speakers.

Over time, you’ll find yourself understanding even if you don’t turn on the subtitles.

2. Speak German out loud to yourself: narrate your actions

Speaking German out loud to yourself is a powerful way to train your brain to think in the language.

Even if you don’t have a conversation partner, you can still practice speaking by narrating your actions and thoughts throughout the day. (Just make sure no one thinks you’re a crazy person!)

Let’s say, you’re getting ready in the morning.

You might say to yourself, “Ich putze mir die Zähne” (I brush my teeth) or “Ich ziehe mein Hemd an” (I put on my shirt). When you’re cooking dinner, describe the ingredients and steps in German, like “Ich schneide das Gemüse” (I cut the vegetables) or “Ich koche die Nudeln” (I cook the pasta).

You can also ask yourself questions in German and then answer them – just imagine it’s a task from a textbook.

This helps you practice forming complete sentences and trains your brain to formulate thoughts directly in the language. Start with simple questions like “Was ist meine Lieblingsfarbe?” (What is my favorite color?) and gradually progress to more complex ones as your skills improve.

3. Keep a journal in German: practice spoken German

Writing in German is another excellent way to make your brain think in the language.

Start by keeping a daily journal where you write a few sentences or paragraphs about your experiences, thoughts, and feelings in German.

Don’t worry about making mistakes or not knowing the perfect word for something. The goal is to get your thoughts down on paper in German, even if you have to look up some words in a dictionary. As you write more, you’ll find that the words and phrases come to you more easily and your sentences will start to flow more naturally.

You can also use your journal to practice specific grammar concepts or vocabulary themes. You can challenge yourself to use a particular verb tense throughout your entry or to use 5-10 new words you learned that day. This targeted practice will help reinforce what you’re learning in your German lessons and make it easier to apply those concepts when thinking and speaking in real-time.

4. Use mental associations: use your brain in more ways

Creating mental associations between German words and images, feelings, or personal experiences can help embed the language in your mind. When you learn a new German word, take a moment to visualize it or connect it to something meaningful to you – it’s actually a great exercise not just for German language learning but for creativity.

how to think in german speech bubbles

When you learn the word “Apfel” (apple), you might picture yourself biting into a crisp, juicy apple and recall the sensation and flavor. Or when you learn the word “Freude” (joy), you might think of a specific moment in your life when you felt overwhelming happiness and associate that feeling with the word.

These mental associations create strong connections in your brain. This will make it easier to recall and use the German words when you need them. You can even create silly or exaggerated associations to make the words more memorable. The more vivid and personal the association, the more likely it is to stick in your mind!

5. Think about how to translate from English: pay attention to word order

When you’re first starting to think in German, it’s natural to rely on English as a… crutch. You might find yourself thinking in English and then trying to translate your thoughts word-for-word into German. While this is a good starting point, it’s important to gradually train your brain to think directly in German.

One way to do this is to consciously translate your English thoughts into German throughout the day. When you catch yourself thinking in English, pause and ask yourself, “How would I say this in German?” Take a moment to formulate the thought in German, even if it’s not perfect.

As you practice this, you’ll start to develop a feel for German sentence structure and word order.

You’ll also begin to notice the differences between English and German expressions and learn how to express ideas naturally in German.

6. Learn common phrases and expressions

German sayings and common phrases are the backbone of natural, fluent German.

Make a point to learn a new German expression or phrase every day. You can find lists of common idioms online or in German textbooks. As you come across them in your immersion activities, jot them down in a notebook or on your phone.

Try to use these phrases in your own thinking and speaking as much as possible. For example, instead of thinking “That’s great!” in English, think “Das ist ja super!” in German. Or instead of “I can’t wait,” think “Ich kann es kaum erwarten.

By learning these common phrases, you’ll naturally discover chunks in German. What are chunks? They are natural building blocks of the language that native speakers use all the time. Click the button below and gain access to the German Conversation Based Chunking Guide, with essential chunking lists, my favourite resources to learn German and access the Practice Worksheet Library.

7. Follow the latest news in German: listen and view the news

Reading the news in German is a fantastic way to expose yourself to a wide range of vocabulary, grammar structures, and current events. It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about German culture and society.

how to think in german by reading the breaking news on a tablet in a dark office setting

Find a German news website or newspaper that covers topics you’re interested in, whether it’s world news, sports, technology, or entertainment. If you’re a beginner, look for articles that are specifically written for German learners – Nachricthen Leicht is a great example of this.

As you read, try to focus on understanding the main ideas and context rather than getting hung up on every unfamiliar word. Look for cognates (words that are similar in English and German) and use the surrounding sentences to discover the meaning of new vocabulary.

You can also keep a list of words you want to look up later and add them to your mental associations – so you combine the previously mentioned tips.

8. How to think in German: patience, consistency, habit-building

Learning to think in German is a process that requires patience, consistency, and a commitment to making it a daily habit. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but with regular practice and exposure, you’ll start to see progress.

I have a project called Tiny Trust Builders which focuses exactly on this – building good, healthy and lasting habits. Go check out the website now to learn what Tiny Intent Builders, Tiny Trust Builders and Tiny Skill Builders are!

Set aside dedicated time each day to practice German – whether it’s through immersion activities, speaking out loud, writing in your journal, or studying new vocabulary and phrases. Even just 15-30 minutes a day can make a big difference over time.

And finally, try to make thinking in German an enjoyable and natural habit. Find activities and resources that you like to follow.

The more you can associate positive emotions with thinking in German, the more motivated you’ll be to stick with it and reach fluency!

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