There is not much to be said – learning German is a good idea. Not only is it one of the most important languages in the European Union, but several million people worldwide learn German as a foreign language. If you come to Germany, Austria or Switzerland, good German is essential for successful and sustainable integration into the labour market and society.
But how to proceed best? Everything is possible, from learning by yourself with a textbook to a private language teacher.
German for beginners – learning German made easy
There are different ways to learn German or to expand and improve existing knowledge. But how do you know which course is right for you? Especially if you don’t start „from scratch“, but already have basic knowledge, it can be helpful to assess your own previous knowledge correctly.
So there is nothing more annoying than sitting in a course that you cannot follow, or vice versa, investing money in further training that does not challenge you and does not get you anywhere. In order to make the right choice, an orientation about the different levels that language learners can reach, should help.
A, B or C? Different levels at a glance
Certainly you have already come across abbreviations such as A1, B2 or C1 while searching for German courses. But what do they actually mean? These are levels that provide an opportunity to classify your language skills.
They are not arbitrarily fixed, but are based on the so-called „Common European Framework of Reference for Languages“ of the Council of Europe. In short, this reference framework describes what you as a language learner should be able to do in order to reach a certain level. This refers to listening, reading and understanding the German language as well as the actual speaking.
At level A, you are a beginner. You will be able to follow conversations in everyday situations, understand easy texts and formulate simple sentences. Level B goes one step further: if you reach it, you can already talk about various topics in German and understand more complex texts. After all, you are almost on a par with a native speaker when you have passed level C.
(Almost) like a native speaker: you speak German fluently and without problems.
It does not bother you to understand even difficult German texts and to express yourself fluently and spontaneously in a conversation.
You can communicate well in German and are able to understand even complex German texts.
You can talk in simple words about various topics in German.
In everyday situations, you can communicate in German and you understand simple texts.
You can formulate and understand simple sentences in German.
The European Reference Framework is only a recommendation, but nevertheless very helpful. Not only are most German courses at the so-called Volkshochschule (VHS), in educational institutions such as universities or online courses based on it, but also the most important language examinations.
Learn German at the VHS or online?
The goal is before the path: Before you decide on a particular method of learning German, you should answer a few questions.
How is my knowledge at the moment?
Assess your language skills realistically. The levels of the European Framework of Reference for Languages will help you. If you find self-assessment difficult, try one of the many online tests and don’t be afraid to take a language placement test at an adult education centre or a language institute.
What do I want to improve?
Think about what’s most important for you: If you’re more interested in improving your grammar, if you might want to increase your vocabulary or even need specific knowledge for the job context.
Which learning method do you prefer?
Do you prefer to delve into exercises independently and alone, to work through texts on your own and to test yourself? Or do you rather need the exchange with the learning group and the teachers in order to really make progress and to have fun?
German course at the VHS
German as a foreign language also plays an important role in the wide range of languages offered by the nearly 900 adult education centres (VHS) in Germany. You can be sure that you will also find a suitable offer at the VHS near you.
The advantages of German courses at the VHS are obvious:
They are not free of charge, but compared to private language schools they are extremely inexpensive.
Anyone can participate in VHS courses, regardless of educational level, background or previous knowledge.
At the VHS you will not be left alone when choosing the right course: Trained employees will advise you.
You will learn in a group under the guidance of experienced language teachers. If you have learning difficulties, you can exchange ideas and receive individual help.
In addition to improving your German language skills, you can meet nice people in the course, form learning groups or even make friends.
Next to classical language courses, numerous adult education centres offer formats in which language skills can be applied and deepened in a relaxed exchange, such as cooking evenings.
However, it should not be concealed that German courses at the VHS can also have disadvantages:
Probably the most serious disadvantage is the lack of time and place flexibility: If you are unable to attend the offered courses, you simply cannot participate.
Depending on your group, the learning pace may be too slow or too fast.
If you don’t show enough initiative and practice beyond the class meetings, the learning success can be small.
Many VHS take a break during school holidays, which can lead to long interruptions in language learning – and without regular practice, forgetting can happen very quickly.
Last but not least, not every VHS is the same. The following tips can help you to assess the course quality:
Pay attention to advanced courses. If there are only a few, this may be a sign that the participants were not satisfied and motivated to continue their learning.
Get a taste of a class. It is often possible to take part in a trial lesson without further obligations. Take the opportunity to find out something about the satisfaction of one or the other course member.
Be aware of the teaching materials that are used and whether they are suitable for you.
German courses at the Fernhochschule (Distance Learning Schools)
Distance learning schools such as ILS offer distance learning courses at various levels – from beginners‘ courses to special courses such as „Deutsch im Beruf“ (German in profession). You receive materials such as study books and language learning CDs and can learn at your own pace. The course structure is professional and the learning materials are of a high didactic standard. A distance teacher will support you individually by e-mail, post or telephone.
Another advantage of distance learning schools that should not be underestimated is that you usually have the opportunity to try out a course free of charge for up to four weeks. In addition, you will receive a certificate afterwards or you can even acquire an approved language certificate. This allows you to prove your language skills when looking for a job – something that doesn’t work so easily if you study on your own, for example with free online courses or apps.
German course online
The charm of German courses at the Internet, apart from the time flexibility, for most people lies in the fact that they assume that they can learn German free of charge.
That is not completely wrong – there are free opportunities to improve your German language skills on the Internet. However, you must bear in mind that you usually have to do so without personal support.
German Courses online (free of charge)
A recommendable contact point for online courses is the Deutsche Welle website. Here you will find a wide range of courses, structured according to…
the level of your language skills
the media that are offered such as audio or video
the skills you would like to improve, such as reading or writing
specific grammatical topics, for example modal verbs or tenses
as well as different topics from shopping to the professional field.
Tip: On the Deutsche Welle website you will also find a placement test in which you can take part without any obligation.
The project deutsch.info ,funded by the European Commission, is an online platform that offers four comprehensive language courses at levels A1, A2, B1 and B2, an overview of important grammar rules, multimedia content and a community for exchange. A nice extra are the „Schon gewusst“ facts, which take up interesting information about life in Germany and Austria.
The Goethe-Institut is also an excellent platform for learning German. The website „Deutsch für Dich“ contains exercises for all language levels that teach German using realistic examples. In the forum you can collect learning tips, ask questions or find language partners. In the chat, learners can exchange ideas with German teachers.
Learn German with Apps
For more and more people it is hard to imagine everyday life without a smartphone. So why not use it for language learning? No problem with apps like Babbel, Duolingo or Busuu.
Many of these apps can be tested at least free of charge, some even offer extensive content at no extra cost. However, if you want to take advantage of the full range of functions, you will have to invest a little money in most language learning apps.
Proof of your German language skills - recognised examinations
The range of language certificates can sometimes seem just as confusing as the opportunities for language learning itself. However, there are some providers who are serious and recognised by many authorities, universities and employers:
Test „German as a foreign language“ (Test DaF): This standardized test is offered at many test centers in Germany and abroad. The test can be repeated any number of times.
„German Language Examination“ (“Deutsche Sprachprüfung”) of the Munich Language and Interpreting Institute
Goethe-Zertifikat: The certificate meets high quality standards worldwide and can be taken at various levels. In order to prepare perfectly, the Goethe-Institut offers practice materials for all German examinations.
In addition to independent test centres, many adult education centres offer examinations for various certificates, such as the „Test für Zuwanderer (DTZ)“ or the Goethe-Zertifikat C1.