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Learning German: what you need to know

There are dozens of ways to learn German. But some methods will be more effective than others.

The best ways to learn German are 1) structured, 2) easy to use, and 3) tailored to your learning style. The options might vary from person to person, depending on the time and money you have available. 

  • You can hire a private teacher who can create a personalised lesson plan and follow your progress.
  • You can make your own study plan using free blogs, apps, and websites, although this also takes much more effort and discipline.
  • Or, you can get the best of both worlds by enrolling in a customisable elearning program which combines personalised lessons with engaging tools, such as GlobalExam’s General Deutsch

Can You Learn German for Free?

As you surely know, the internet is filled with blogs, Youtube channels, and applications that can help you learn German. All it takes is a quick Google search and thousands of results will spill across the page for free. 

So the question isn’t “can I learn German for free” — but rather, “how can I learn German for free?”

Aside from the most popular sources mentioned above, you can also find volunteers, free tutoring programs, and native Germans who are happy to pair up for a language exchange.

The German alphabet looks very similar to the English one. It has just four extra letters: the three Umlaut vowels (Ä,Ö,Ü) and a ligature (ß).

Compared to English, German pronunciation is very easy to learn, as each letter has very well defined sounds. In other words, you can easily tell how to pronounce a word even if you’re reading it for the first time!

There are just a few features of German pronunciation which are new to most learners. Once you get the hang of them, pronouncing German words is a piece of cake!

Let’s go over the basic German pronunciation rules:

1) The Umlaut Vowels

One of the things learners notice right away is the presence of vowels with the “Umlaut” sign: ä, ö, and ü. Though these may look like sounds from another planet at first glance, they’re very easy to say! Each of these vowels has a short and a long version. Here is how to pronounce each one :

German Umlaut Vowel

Pronunciation equivalent

German word example

English translation of German example

Ä (short)

Like “e” in “men”



Ä (long)

Like “a” in “laid”



Ö (short)

Like “e” in “men” with lips rounded



Ö (long)

Like “a” in “laid” with lips rounded



Ü (short)

Like “i” in “mitten” with lips rounded


to press

Ü ​​(long)

Like “ee” in “seed” with lips rounded



2) The German Diphthongs (Double Vowels)

German has a few combinations of vowels which are pronounced a little differently than you might think. Fortunately though, each vowel combination is always pronounced the same way (contrary to English vowels, which can represent practically any sound!). Here is a chart showing the German diphthongs and how to pronounce them :

German Diphthong

Pronunciation equivalent in English

German word example

English translation of German example


Like “eye”




Like “ou” in “house”




Like “oy” in “annoy”



One tricky vowel combination to keep in mind is “ie” – though this looks like a diphthong, it’s actually not. It’s pronounced the same way as “ee” in “bee”

3) The “ß” (scharfes S)

Another letter that you won’t recognize is the ß, called “scharfes S” (pronounced “shar-fes es”). Though this letter looks a little strange, you’ll be relieved to hear you already know this sound very well — it’s pronounced the exact same way as a plain old “S”

Its purpose was to help readers figure out pronunciation: it signals that the vowel that comes before it is pronounced long rather than short, and the ß always makes a hissing “s” rather than a “z” sound.

However, especially in recent years, this letter is being used less. The Swiss even dropped it completely years ago. 

4) The changing “s” sounds

The letter “s” behaves a little funny in German sometimes — specifically, when it’s found in the combination “sp” and “st” at the beginning of a word. In these cases, the “s” is pronounced as an English “sh” sound. For example, “Spaß” (fun) is pronounced “shpass” and “Stuhl” (chair) is pronounced “shtool”. 

It’s important to note that this doesn’t happen when “sp” and “st” are found in the middle or at the end of a word. So for example “fast” (almost) is pronounced almost the same way in English, with just a slight difference in the “a” sound. 

What if you need a “sh” sound with a vowel, or a consonant other than “p” or “t”? That’s when you use the consonant combination “sch”. This is basically the German way to spell “sh”. You’ll find this in words like “Entschuldigen” (excuse me) and “schön” (pretty), as well as “Schmeck” (taste).

5) “v” and “w”

One of the biggest differences between German and English pronunciation is the consonants “v” and “w”. The “w” is pronounced like a “v”, and the “v” is pronounced like an “f”. And what is an “f” pronounced as? Still like an “f”. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s very simple once you get a bit of practice. Based on this, the way to pronounce “Volkswagen” is actually “folks-vagen”. Who knew most of the world has been saying it wrong all this time ?

Take a look at the basic German grammar rules down below:

Informal and formal “you” — “du” and “Sie”

A German grammar concept that it’s important to learn early on is the informal and formal “you”. When you meet someone new, an older person, or someone in a formal context, you have to address them with respect. Germans do this by using the respectful pronoun for “you”: “Sie”. When you’re speaking with friends or children, you can use the informal “du”

Eventually, as you grow closer to a German, they may suggest you start speaking casually and switch from “Sie” to “you”. When this happens, you’re welcome to graciously accept. But until then, it’s better to play it safe and stick to “Sie”, as speaking casually to someone who isn’t expecting it can be seen as an insult

German Nouns and Genders

You might already be aware that some languages, such as Italian, French, and Spanish, have masculine and feminine genders for nouns. Well… Germans are one step ahead and threw in a third one, the “neuter” noun gender!

The definite articles are “der” (masculine), “die” (feminine) and “das” (neuter), and the indefinite ones are “ein” (masculine), “eine” (feminine), and “ein” (neuter). 

Each noun has a given “gender”. Some of them seem intuitive: for example, “die Frau” (the woman — feminine noun) and “der Mann” (the man — masculine noun). However, a few others seem arbitrary or downright illogical — for example, “moon” is a masculine noun (“der Mond”) and “girl” is a neuter noun (“das Mädchen”)!

It’s best to learn the noun genders right from the very beginning. The German language is full of articles, so it will be very noticeable — and a little distracting — if you keep using the wrong ones! 

Verb Conjugation and Position

Verbs are one of the most important parts of the German language — or any language for that matter. We can’t possibly talk about German grammar without mentioning them!

Unlike English, German conjugates its verbs differently to each person. In other words, the verb takes on a different ending for “I”, “you”, “he/she”, “we”, “you (plural)”, and “they”. While this means there is slightly more to memorize, there are some patterns that you can learn that simplify the task. Others are irregular and must be memorised separately. Here are some common German verbs and their conjugations below :


(to be)


(to have)


(to go, to walk)


(to like)


(to be able to)

ich bin

du bist

er, sie, es ist

wir sind

ihr seid

sie, Sie sind

ich habe

du hast

er, sie, es hat

wir haben

ihr habt

sie, Sie haben

ich gehe

du gehst

er, sie, es geht

wir gehen

ihr geht

sie, Sie gehen

ich mag

du magst

er, sie, es mag

wir mögen

ihr mögt

sie, Sie mögen

ich kann

du kannst

er, sie, es kann

wir können

ihr könnt

sie, Sie können

One thing you will notice is that verbs tend to be found in certain positions in German sentences. For example, you’ll usually find a verb in the second element of the sentence. So for example, you can say “ich habe kein Geld” (I have no money), with “gehe” in the second position after the subject “I”.

Now here comes the fun part. As long as the verb stays in the second position, you can swap around the other words in the sentence. This might require some changes to the other words, but the sentence will still make perfect sense. So you could also say “Geld habe ich nicht” (literally “money have I not”). This allows you to put more emphasis on a certain part of the sentence and change the tone of what you’re saying. Cool, eh?

You’ll be sure to learn all about this and other fun features of German a few weeks into your German course

German Cases

Now we come to one of the trickier parts of German grammar. Unfortunately, the complexity of German nouns doesn’t end with the three genders — there are also four cases you have to learn to work with: Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ, and Genitiv.

Essentially, the cases are changes that happen to the endings of nouns and their associated articles and adjectives. These tell the reader without a doubt what role the noun is playing in the given sentence. Is it the subject? The object of a verb? The destination of a movement? The location of a “static” action? The cases will make it clear. 

For example, in the first sentence below, “apple” is the subject of the sentence — “der Apfel”. We use the nominative case, which means there is no change to the noun or its article. But in the second sentence, “apple” is now the object — what do I see? I see the apple. Now we have to use the accusative case, so “der” changes to “den” to show this. 

1) Der Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch (The apple is on the table)

2) Der Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch (The apple is on the table)

Once you become comfortable with this, it’s actually one of the things that makes German fun. Since the role of each noun is obvious right from the way it is spelled, you don’t have to rely on word order to understand the meaning of a sentence. As a result, the order of words is much more flexible, and you can play around with it to create different emphasis, rhythm, and rhyming in German. 

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves — first learn the basics, then you’ll get to this fun part !

As English is a Germanic language, and obviously so is German, you’ll easily recognize a lot of German vocabulary words. For example, the words below should look very familiar:

  • Apfel - apple
  • besser - better
  • Buch - book
  • Bruder - brother
  • gut - good
  • Haus - house
  • und - and
  • Vater - father

You might be surprised to find some English words are taken directly from German. Here are some examples: 

  • Angst 
  • Delicatessen
  • Doppelganger
  • Hamster
  • Kindergarten 
  • Knapsack 
  • Leitmotif
  • Spritz
  • Wanderlust
  • Waltz

One thing you should always keep in mind, though, is that the pronunciation can be surprisingly different. For example, you’ll know from reading the pronunciation section above that “waltz” is in fact pronounced “valz” in German. Similarly, “Spritz” will be read “shpritz”

Now let’s go over the most common German vocabulary words and phrases.

Most Common & Basic German Vocabulary Words

Guten Tag

Good afternoon

Guten Abend

Good evening


Excuse me


Thank you


You’re welcome

Es tut mir leid

I’m sorry



Auf wiedersehen


Ein Kaffee

A coffee

Ein Bier

A beer

Most Common & Basic German Phrases

Es ist schön, Sie kennenzulernen

It’s nice to meet you

Das Wetter ist sehr schön heute

The weather is very nice today

Wo finde ich den Bahnhof? 

Where can I find the train station?

Darf ich bitte vorbei?

May I please pass?

Wie viel kostet das? 

How much does this cost?

Ich möchte bitte ein Glas Wein

I’d like a glass of wine

Wo ist die Toilette?

Where is the bathroom?

Einen Moment, bitte.

One moment, please

Können Sie mir helfen?

Can you help me?

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Do you speak English?

Looking for the best way to learn German online? Check out GlobalExam’s online courses! 

Here is everything you need to know to get started. 

Types of courses:

Sign up for private lessons and have a native German teacher all to yourself for 30 minutes. You can book time slots of your preference directly in the teachers’ calendars. They’re guaranteed to have availability that suits you, as our teachers are located all over the world! 

If you prefer a community atmosphere, go for our 1-hour group lessons. You’ll be learning with up to 5 other students, keeping the course both focused and fun. These lessons are led by a native teacher as well as an assistant, and include many types of group and pair activities with direct help from the teacher


You’ll tell the teacher your needs and preferences for customised lessons.

Are you a beginner or intermediate German learner?

Then General Deutsch would be theperfect program for you!

This is an online course specifically designed to help you learn or improve your German

With General Deutsch, you’ll get:

  • Structure that is “academic” but also fun and engaging.
  • Detailed corrections
  • Review cards that you can access anytime

What does the General Deutsch aim to achieve?

To motivate learners like you to continue learning while avoiding the typical frustrations  of learning in many traditional courses (at school, in academies, with free apps, etc.). 

The best way to understand what it can offer you is to see for yourself. Try it out today!