My German learning resources

My opinions about ways to learn the German language

As I have previously mentioned here, I am currently learning German. I have a very good reason to as I have a German girlfriend but I am unable to talk with her mother as I cannot speak German. This, to me, is the best incentive to learn German.

I have bought and used various books and other resources to help me learn. I have a particular style of German in mind that I want to learn. It is the common everyday informal language used amongst family and friends as that is how I normally experience German. I want to join in the conversation when I am with my girlfriend when she is hanging out with her friends or with her family.

Ich bin fremd hier…

Most of the books and resources teach German as though I aim to be a tourist (admittedly I am when I visit my girlfriend in Germany) but it is not what I want. I don’t need to make reservations in hotels or say “Ich mochte ein halbes Kilo Trauben bitte” (I would like half a kilo of grapes please). I have never asked anyone anywhere for half a kilo of grapes! Come on!

I need the funkier, scruffier, more flexible phrases that are used amongst friends and family. One of the things that I find most language learning resources do not teach is interjections, exclamations and curses. There is a need for these. How would one shout something out when you do something wrong or see something crazy? Wie sagt man Holy Shit auf Deutsch?

I need to know nice phrases when talking to my girlfriend. You know that nice, cute, sweet stuff that people in love like to tell each other. I am sure my girlfriend does not want to know that I know how to make a reservation in an hotel or ask where I can buy a bag in a department store. It’s just a little stiff and formal. Actually screw that, it’s not just a little stiff and formal, it’s completely formal!!

This is my second biggest complaint about these German resources. They teach German as a boring subject rather than the language of love and friendship. Maybe I just need to find other books and resources for those kind of phrases.

My number 1 complaint

The biggest complaint that I have about these resources is that they teach me knowledge of the language but they do not teach me how to speak it. I know what words mean and how they sound like but the books and Duolingo do not teach me how to hold conversations in the language. This is the main reason to learn any language. It is the main competency in any language!

Talk German Complete (BBC)

The first resource that I bought to help me relearn German was the box set Talk German Complete from the BBC. It contains three books and four CDs all contained in a hard, cardboard box. The three books are Talk German 1 – The ideal course for absolute beginners, Talk German 2 – The ideal course for improving your German and Talk German Grammar – Your essential guide for learning German.

Talk German complete box

The books, CDs and the box are all bright red so it makes it a very vibrant package. The two learning books are short (144 pages) and are well laid-out, have lots of images and boxes and other illustrations to help make language learning easier and more enjoyable. There are Kontrollpunkts (control points) after a few chapters to revise what you have learned.  These Kontrollpunkts are very good as it makes you remember and revise what you learned a few chapters before.

A nice feature of the books are the short explanations of German and Austrian culture at the beginning of each chapter.

The extracts in the books are matched with tracks on the CDs so it is easy to follow. The books are also work books so you are encouraged to fill answers in on the page. Sometimes there is not enough space to write everything but it is a minor complaint.

The back of the books have transcripts and answers, a grammar, and a bilingual glossary to help find more information about words and meanings. This is useful if you can’t remember the page where you learned something.

Living German – A Grammar-based course

Living German

I saw this book in the International Books in Baile Átha Cliath and it struck me as a very good way to learn German. It was first published in 1957 and has been updated and modernised in some ways. Some is the operative word as it does not stray from being a grammar-based course. While the BBC Talk German box set may be modern and colourful, Living German is sterner.

The cat is let out of the bag in the preface. It says “It has remained popular during a period when language teaching methods have changed constantly . . . This book continues to be useful for learners seeking an organised course which pays careful attention to the systematic building of grammar and vocabulary”. In other words, learners are warned that the book is going to be teaching grammar and in a rigid manner.

The book is 426 pages and has a CD included. The book is in black and white and has a few images, maps and diagrams.

Each chapter begins with a text in German, following by a German-English glossary to explain new words in the text, then followed by grammatical information and then exercises. Even though learners are encouraged to write out examples and translate texts into German, there is no space provided to that so one must have a notebook when doing the exercises. It is a minor complaint and understandable as the book would have to be much larger and longer if it was to provide space for writing.

There is a pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book and then the learning chapters. The chapters are divided into two parts. I am not at the stage yet where I can tell what the difference between Part One and Part Two is. Perhaps Part Two is more difficult. There is a wealth of extras at the back of the book after the 43 learning chapters. There are self-assessment tests, the alphabet, a key to the exercises, a grammar summary, strong and irregular verbs, vocabulary, audio content and German life and culture.

Having studied a few chapters, the grammar-based approach is clear. The first few chapters are easy to understand with short sentences and frequent repetition. Surprisingly, the book does not begin with introducing yourself as one might expect e.g. Ich heiße Seanán. Ich komme aus Irland.

In many ways I like Living German but I would not mind it being bit more modernised with colours, images and text boxes. I think that the method would be enhanced by these.


Duolingo is wildly popular with language learners. I have used it before to improve my French so I was ready and happy to learn German with it. I find that I mostly use it when I am on the bus or traveling somewhere. Occasionally, I use it at home.

It is very easy to use (as long as you have a connection with the web). It begins by teaching you words and then phrases and then adjectives and other grammatical information. It does not teach grammar but phrases.

It has themes such as work, travel, animals, clothing etc. It is very easy to use and the units are very small and quick to complete.

The words and the phrases are bite-sized so they are easy to learn.

My major complaint with Duolingo is that while I can quickly learn words from it, it does not teach me to speak. It has helped me a lot to know new words but it does not get me to speak – it gets my fingers to touch the screen a lot. I do not have to answer anyone.

Dictionnaire d’Allemand 100% Visuel

Dictionnaire d'Allemand 100% visuel - Larousse

Another resource that I picked up was a German-French visual dictionary from Larousse. What I really like about this is that I can actually learn two languages at once. This book is a riot of colour and images (which is fantastic). Not only does it offer images of things along with their German names and French equivalents, it also offer extra tid-bits of information about words and things. For example “un bon pote” is “ein guter Kumpel” in German. This is precisely the sort of stuff that I want to learn and be able to say when I am talking to my girlfriend and her family. Bravo Larousse!