Do you want to know for sure if German is hard to learn?
As someone who has personally studied multiple languages and speaks half a dozen, I think the answer is… complex.
Denisa from Spring Languages (a project I’m a co-founder) explains why it’s so hard to learn German (and how to master it anyway)!
The secret lies in your attitude towards language learning: with the right mindset and techniques – such as Conversation Based Chunking method -, even seemingly difficult languages such as German can become much easier.
Read on to find out what I mean when I say ‘hard’ and the best strategies for mastering this beautiful language that millions of people have been studying around the world. Is German hard to learn? Here’s the answer!
1. German language: the most spoken native language in the European Union
If you’re looking to learn a new language, German is definitely worth your consideration.
Although it’s well-known for its challenging grammar and complex sentence structure, it is also a rich and rewarding language to learn.
It’s the most spoken native language in the European Union and is used in many fields such as science, technology and music. It’s also language that opens doors to influential literature, business, and culture.
If you’re looking to engage with locals in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or any of the other German-speaking regions, learning German is a key that unlocks authentic experiences.
German is also a good starting point if you plan on learning other Germanic languages like Dutch and Swedish.
With lots and lots of resources online, including the best apps to learn German, textbooks, and language exchange programs, there’s never been a better time to begin your journey with German.
Let’s debunk some of the myths on whether German is hard to learn!
2. German words are looooooong – but easy to learn
Now, onto one of German’s notorious characteristics: its compound words.
Yes, German words can be quite lengthy, but there’s a reason – they are often descriptive, precise, and pack a lot of information into a single term.
The truth is that these lengthy words are actually composed of smaller words that are cleverly combined together.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any long words in German but let’s take an example:
|Life Insurance Companies
|Federal Constitutional Court
|General Data Protection Regulation
|Animal Welfare Association
There is a simple trick to comprehend these lengthy words – just break them down into smaller parts!
The German language has a unique characteristic of stringing words together to form a new, longer word.
This is exemplified in the word “Lebensversicherungsgesellschaften“.
Here, we can break down this long word into three smaller ones:
- “Leben” – This translates to “life” in English.
- “Versicherung” – This translates to “insurance”.
- “Gesellschaften” – This translates to “companies”.
So, “Lebensversicherungsgesellschaften” is really just “Life Insurance Companies” in English.
It’s simply the combination of:
Leben + Versicherung + Gesellschaften = Life + Insurance + Companies.
I know this might be hard at first for someone fluent in Spanish or another Romance language, because the concept of combining shorter words is less common.
But the more short German words you become familiar with, the more effortless it becomes to grasp the meaning of the longer ones!
And it’s always fun to learn more about German.
You can also learn “chunks”. These are common group of words that go together, or some of the most common German phrases. If you learn them together, instead of memorizing every word separately, you’ll understand complex sentences and you’ll even learn some grammar rules – even if you don’t realize it at first!
3. German pronunciation is difficult to learn
There are lots of funny videos on the internet where people try to say German words in a funny way.
But actually, German is easier to say than many other languages because the letters always sound the same.
This is different from English, where the letters can sound different depending on the word.
So, while it’s fun to copy how people say German words, it’s also important to know that German is organized and predictable.
If you understand the patterns, it’s easy to say the words correctly.
Of course, words like Streichholzschächtelchen (little matchbox) can seem like tongue twisters. 🙂
Once you’ve got the hang of the phonetic rules, you’ll be able to pronounce almost any word you come across.
Consider the often-feared ch sound, as heard in ich (I), nach (after), and Buch (book). This sound varies slightly based on its location in the word and the vowels that surround it, but with practice and exposure to chunks of spoken German, you will quickly get used to it.
4. Master German genders and nouns with patterns
People who don’t speak English as their first language might not like this fact.
German has three genders:
But many other languages have them too, so this might not even be such a big surprise!
Each noun in German is assigned a gender – feminine (die), masculine (der), or neuter (das).
The gender influences the form of certain words related to the noun, like adjectives and pronouns. This gender agreement system provides a context to the sentence and is instrumental in understanding the meaning of conversations or written texts.
The articles change based on the case (nominative, accusative, dative, or genitive) – more on this later!
There are also patterns and certain endings that can indicate the gender of German nouns.
Most nouns ending in:
The ones ending in
And the ones ending in
5. German cases and german grammar are considered hard?
In German, there are four different ways to talk about things:
Each case represents a different grammatical function and requires changes to certain words in a sentence. It’s like a special code that modifies nouns and adjectives based on their roles.
For instance, the nominative case indicates the subject of the sentence, like Der Mann (The man), while the accusative is used for the direct object, as in Ich sehe den Mann (I see the man).
Let’s take a look at the following simple sentence:
Ein Mann liest ein Buch. (A man is reading a book.)
This is the nominative case of the sentence. Now take a look at the following list to understand the differences between the cases in German:
- Nominative (Who or what is doing the action?): “Ein Mann liest ein Buch.” (“A man is reading a book.”)
- Accusative (Who or what is receiving the action?): “Ich sehe den Mann, der ein Buch liest.” (“I see the man reading a book.”)
- Dative (Who or what is indirectly affected by the action?): “Ich gebe dem Mann, der ein Buch liest, einen Apfel.” (“I give an apple to the man reading a book.” )
- Genitive (Used to show possession or relationship): “Das ist das Buch des Mannes, der liest.” (“This is the book of the man who is reading.”)
(Please note that the examples are a bit expanded to incorporate the specific cases.)
Hopefully, this short summary helps you to better understand German cases.
6. German sentence structure is part of German language learning
German sentence structure can catch learners off guard because it’s flexible in one sense and strict in another.
Main clauses have a relatively fixed S-V-O (Subject-Verb-Object) order, but when it comes to subordinating clauses, things can get…. shuffled. And there the verb often jumps to the end of the sentence.
Take this simple sentence:
Ich lese das Buch. (I read the book)
and compare it with a sentence containing a subordinate clause:
Ich weiß, dass er das Buch liest. (I know that he is reading the book).
Notice how “liest” (reads) jumps to the end in the second sentence.
Sure, here are a few more examples of sentences with subordinate clauses where the verb is positioned at the end:
- Ich denke, dass sie das Spiel gewinnt. (I think that she wins the game.)
- Er sagt, dass er uns morgen besucht. (He says that he will visit us tomorrow.)
- Sie glaubt, dass ich die Wahrheit sage. (She believes that I am telling the truth.)
- Wir hoffen, dass es morgen nicht regnet. (We hope that it does not rain tomorrow.)
- Er ist froh, dass er die Prüfung bestanden hat. (He is happy that he has passed the exam.)
In all these sentences, notice how the verbs “gewinnt“, “besucht“, “sage“, “besucht“, and “bestanden” are positioned at the end of the subordinate clauses.
7. How long will it take to learn German?
The time it takes to learn German varies depending on several factors, including your native language, prior experience with other languages, and the learning strategies you employ. If your mother tongue is English or another Germanic language, you’ll find some aspects of German familiar.
Experts often refer to the FSI’s language difficulty rankings, which estimate that an English speaker may need approximately 750 class hours to reach proficiency in German.
It’s also up to your own dedication, your habits and how consistent you are with those habits. I have a habit-building strategy called Tiny Trust Builders that will definitely help you with building good and healthy habits.
If you combine Tiny Trust Builders with Conversation Based Chunking, you will significantly improve your chance of speaking German in no time!
8. Is German Hard to learn? It’s easier with Conversation Based Chunking
Learning a new language like German might seem like a big mountain to climb at first, but don’t worry!
Just like building a big, beautiful castle with small Lego blocks, you can learn German bit by bit
One really fun and simple way to do this with is something we call Conversation Based Chunking.
Imagine you’re playing with a new puzzle.
Instead of trying to put together all the pieces randomly, what if you could find small groups of pieces that already fit together?
That’s what we do with Conversation Based Chunking.
We learn small groups of words (we call these “chunks”) that are used together in real conversations. Instead of learning the words “Kann” “ich” “helfen” separately, we learn “Kann ich helfen?” all at once.
This way, we can use this chunk of words in our own conversations, just like using a completed part of the puzzle.
This makes learning German easier and a lot more fun. So, with some practice and fun games of finding chunks, you’ll be speaking German in no time!