Are you looking for a way to learn German for free? There are as many ways to learn German as there are individuals. Every day new sites are popping up that promise to help you learn German for free and without hassle. But which ones are worth signing up for? Which ones are a waste of time? Here’s a selection of free German learning sites and services that I’ve tested as a German teacher and life-long language learner.
1. Learn German For Free With Duolingo
Many people are talking about Duolingo on language learning forums and communities these days. It works similarly to programs like Rosetta Stone, showing the learner simple questions and writing or speaking prompts. But is it a good way to learn German?
First of all, working through Duolingo does not replace a full-fledged German course, since it gives virtually no explanations about why something is correct and why it isn’t. The main approach here is to use English as a bridging tongue and learn by trial and error.
Having said that, Duolingo is great for getting started for absolute beginners. It will help you learn a few basic phrases and (depending how far you get) make your first forays into the intricacies of German grammar.
How does it work?
You sign up for a free account and start to learn German for free on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. The software asks you simple questions. You have three hearts. Make a mistake and you lose one. Lose all hearts and you have to start the “level” again from the beginning.
Duolingo features one of the best implementations of gamification in language learning I’ve ever seen, going far beyond mere “badges”, but using video game metaphors of “three lives” and having to complete former levels before unlocking higher levels. If you’re a German learner who likes video games, you should definitely check it out!
UPDATE: According to a 2012 study the service seems to perform quite well when put to the quantitative test.
If you prefer deeper and decelerated approaches to learn German for free, read on.
2. Deutsche Welle, Simply the Best Resource To Learn German For Free
Every German learner should have heard about the wealth of learning materials which is the Deutsche Welle‘sGerman learning program. Deutsche Welle (German wave) is Germany’s international broadcaster; it’s state-funded, and therefore free from advertising or sketchy ways to get at your wallet.
Deutsche Welle offers so much for German learners that it can be overwhelming at first. There are free videos, audios, texts, exercises, vocabulary lists and more, geared at every level of German learner.
A good starting point for exploring this treasure trove is to go to the home page and select your level.
In my practice as a German teacher the Deutsche Welle materials have been immensely helpful, but they are also great for self-study. In other words, the Deutsche Welle is probably one of the best ways to learn german for free online.
Here is only a small selection of what they offer:
- Deutsch Interaktiv is the Deutsche Welle’s self-study course, covering the very basics from A1 to A2, complete with audio, video, 750 interactive exercises and more than 7,000 words. You can check out the course as a guest but you need to create a free account in order to save your progress.
- Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten offers slowly spoken daily news in German. Some of my students subscribed to the feed via iTunes and loved to listen every day on their iPods while jogging or commuting. Each episode comes with a full transcript.
- Top-Thema mit Vokabeln is one of my favourite features of the Deutsche Welle. This section offers short articles focusing on current events with vocabulary and exercises. Each article comes with audio, transcript and downloadable PDF. If you prefer video to audio, there’s a sub-section called Video Thema which offers even more exercises and vocabulary.
- Deutsch im Fokus offers weekly articles about German language and daily life in Germany, complete with vocabulary, exercises and audio.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to learn German for free, Deutsche Welle will become your best friend. It has many more materials for German learners, from its very own telenovela to games. Navigating this ocean of content can be tricky at first. I would recommend to just browse until you find something that tickles your fancy and then take it from there.
3. Dict.cc – The Best Online German Dictionary
Not specifically a learning resource per se, this free German dictionary is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s not bloated with advertising and clicking schemes, the design is efficient and the translations are brilliant, covering many different variations and idiomatic usages.
According to the founder dict.cc “is more than just a dictionary – it’s the attempt to create a platform on which users from all over the world can exchange their knowledge.” It’s a bit like Wikipedia, in that everybody can participate, suggest, correct and discuss translations, resulting in one of the best resources for English-German and German-English translations (the site offers other language pairs, too, but I haven’t tested these in-depth).
4. Learn German For Free By Reading Online Articles
If you like browsing the web and reading articles in German but find it cumbersome to look up and memorize new words, take a look at Lingua.ly. Although the service officially is advertised only for learning Spanish, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic, I’ve found that it also works if you want to learn German.
How does it work? You register for free and install the free Chrome extension. Then, whenever you are reading a German article and stumble over an unknown word, you can get an instant translation and pronunciation by double-clicking it. After you’ve done that a few times, the Chrome extensions saves these words in a library and keeps checking every few days if you still know them.
The pile of words you have to practice is called “inbox” and you get a white-on-red notification bubble right next to your address bar, always urging you to complete all your challenges and keep your inbox at 0.
NOTE: This tool recommends articles based on a learner’s vocabulary level, but so far it doesn’t work for German, perhaps they’ll implement it in the future. But for now, looking up new words and practicing them on a continual basis is still a great way to memorize vocabulary and improve text comprehension skills. If you are determined to learn German for free, give it a go!
I’m using this tool at the moment to expand my Hebrew vocabulary. My inbox is at 141 words … gotta complete those challenges.
5. Tom’s Deutschsseite: a great resource for German Grammar
As an online teacher, I’ve always been looking for good resources and exercises for German grammar study. One of my favorite sources has become Tom’s Deutschseite. Thomas Höfler, the author of the website, put more than 1500 hours of work into this project, resulting in countless practice and explanation pages. And yet, he chose to make it all available for free!
I’m not sure that the site is a good way to learn German grammar in a linear way like a textbook, but if you need help with specific topics, Toms pages are invaluable.
The design of the site may be in need of an upgrade, but don’t let that distract you from the content. Each grammar topic comes with solid explanations, excercise sheets (with solutions) and summaries in PDF format.
Tom also has resources for vocabulary and text study, but I haven’t checked these out, yet.
Take a look at the Table Of Contents for a complete list of topics.
Update: Yet Another Way To Learn German For Free
Another good resource to learn German for free and in bite sized bits is my colleague Kirsten Winkler’s project Deutsch Happen project. Founded in 2005 she has produced a considerable amount of free podcasts, videos and articles about various topics ranging from culture and idioms to everyday German language.
What are your favourite free resources for learning German? Tell us in the comments, below!
blackboard image: Some rights reserved by GretchensFrage