Learn German grammar the smart way – pain-free and efficient
Many student’s aversion against the language starts with learning German grammar. If it wasn’t for the grammar they would have enjoyed the language and kept learning it. So what went wrong here?
First, it is true that at first glace German grammar appears harder than English or Romance languages like Spanish. But that statement oversimplifies the truth: It’s the beginning of the German language study that is so offputting.
Most languages have a flatter learning curve and at the very beginning, you can start saying many things.
As a beginner of German, however, you are very quickly thrown into the sea of cases, which honestly is not a nice place to be.
Other languages have the scariest and strangest parts a little later on.
But some of German’s scary parts are even present in many other languages, like conjugation. And trust me, German conjugation is a walk in the park compared to French or Spanish.
If you look at it in perspective you’re actually getting a good deal: Quick and less painful in the long run, just like removing a band-aid quickly.
So there are three things to take away here:
- German grammar is not so hard
- The most difficult parts you learn right away as a beginner
- Many pain points are present in other allegedly “easier” languages.
How to learn German Grammar
So with this in mind, we have to be smart about it.
No one likes learning hard things. So the easier, most effective and efficient we can do it, the better, right?
With this purpose in mind here are the 6 rules of my German grammar learning system:
Rule 1: Stick to one resource
Decide ONE resource you’re going to use to learn German grammar. Be it a book or an online course but make sure you have researched it well and then stick to it.
The best surefire way to fail at German that I’ve seen over the years is to fall into the resource trap.
That’s a very unproductive place to be where you jump from one resource to the next, hoping to find some magic pill and never getting actual work done.
So, do your research well to find a resource that matches your needs and then just do the work.
Rule 2: Focus on conversation
60% of initial conversations have very easy grammar patterns. We want to focus on the grammar that you need for those conversations.
✓ Try to create situations that would be real-world conversations.
✓ Create an outline for things you want to be able to speak about and design the grammar around that. An example outline could be:
- Short introduction
- Asking simple questions
- My family/background
- Longer introduction
- Describing someone
- Describing something
- My pets
- My work/school
- My country/city
- My hobbies/free time activities
- My favorite…
If you can learn how to say things simply you can speak about all these topics using mainly simple grammar structures. You can then slowly expand your list and increase the complexity of the topic.
✓ Ideally, you want to find a resource that is practice-oriented and does this work for you.
Rule 3: Practice immediately
Use exercises immediately after learning so you apply right away what you have learned to make sure it sticks!
Have a look at my grammar section where you can find lots of resources specifically designed for that purpose.
Rule 4: Never obsess over a topic
We want to be productive and not get hung up on a topic that might not even be essential for your speaking goal. If you can’t manage to make it stick, just move on and come back to it at some point in the future.
At this point, many students think that German grammar is just too difficult and they get discouraged.
But the simple truth they are not realizing is that they can just skip it and keep advancing. You can save a lot of time learning smarter, not harder.
Rule 5: Follow The 80/20 Rule
Remember, we want results fast! It would be a very bad idea to cram a grammar topic that only makes up 5% of your conversations and that is hard to learn.
Instead, we want to focus on what is easy to learn and makes up 60% of the grammar you actually have to use at this point. If it’s too hard to learn and it’s not that common, don’t learn it!
Again, if you have done your research well you will have picked a resource that does this work for you.
WHAT SHOULD I FOCUS ON?
In the beginning focus on:
- Personal Pronouns
- Verb Conjugation
- Irregular Verbs
- Modal Verbs
- Questions (interrogative sentences)
After a while you can focus on:
- Accusative: this case is the most used and it’s easy to understand and master
- Separable Verbs: Very important! Germans prefer to use a separable verb over a normal verb any time. You can make lots of progress by understanding these pesky little buggers.
- The Perfekt Tense
- Infinitive Clauses
- Relative Clauses
As you advance you can learn whatever grammar topic interests you because you will be perfecting and specializing the base you already created.
WHAT GERMAN GRAMMAR SHOULD I SKIP? (FOR NOW)
- First and foremost, skip numbers, greetings, telling the time and these typical things most courses and books want to teach you in the beginning. They couldn’t be less useful for real-world conversations. As for numbers, 1 to 10 is usually enough for the start and as for greetings you won’t need anything past “Hallo” and “Tschüss”.
- When you are first starting skip some of the major tenses because you are not going to need them. The German present tense is so powerful that it substitutes three major English tenses. You don’t need anything else at that point.
- Skip past tenses until you need them. Then focus on the Perfekt, not the Präteritum because the latter is rarely used for speaking.
- Skip all complex sentence structures in the beginning. Most times there is a way around them, for example, using denn instead of weil turns a complex sentence into a simple structure.
- Learn cases when you need them:
- Skip the Dative case for a long time (depending on how fast you learn)
- Don’t learn the Genitive case at all until you need to really amp up your German. It’s decaying in use and not a smart choice to learn unless you pursue an advanced level.
- Skip Two Way Prepositions. This is another minor error that is not worth the effort until you want to improve your accuracy.
Rule 6: Read and listen
Don’t neglect your reading and listening skills. A huge amount of effort can be spared by picking up grammar structures automatically. Oftentimes the brain can detect patterns subconsciously or help you understand the ones you are trying to learn.
Grammar in your study routine
Whereas vocabulary can be very short bursts of study this is not the case with grammar. Here we need more time, patience and focus.
Between 30 and 45 minutes is enough as a minimum. But remember, the time you need to set up your learning environment doesn’t count. If you spend 20 minutes finding a comfortable spot, looking for resources, figuring out where you have left off then you haven’t been learning German.
A few German grammar resource recommendations
Use Duolingo for the first two or three weeks to get a feel for the German language and to get used to it.
My A1 Grammar bundle is specially designed for busy people: open the PDF, start reading, work through the exercises until you get to the end, done.
I hope this post has enlightened you a bit and got rid of any misconceptions and fears about German grammar.
Don’t forget to take action right now and start working through German grammar!