How to learn German vocabulary so you can actually remember it.

In today’s post I am sharing with you my tips on how to learn German vocabulary and remember it.

At the time of writing I am tutoring three young students who have all asked me the same question: What’s the best way to learn German vocabulary? A peculiar question given that they all learn languages at school and therefore one would assume that they are told how to learn new words.

I noticed that all of my young students are mainly provided with handouts, don’t have their own German exercise books and write everything in one exercise book. This is very, very different from how I learnt languages at school.

When I learnt English, Latin, Russian and Spanish we were all using a book, an additional exercise book and were told to keep an exercise book just to write our vocabulary in. At least once a month we would have to do a vocabulary test and teachers (certainly in the first few years in my English lessons) would also check the vocabulary exercise books.

I asked my sister if things have changed in the way languages are taught in German grammar schools these days and she confirmed- nope it hasn’t changed. She learnt them the same way as me.

So what I recommend to my young students and my adult students is to buy an exercise book and write down every new word they learn. And if they prefer using index or “flash” cards I suggest investing in those.

How do you write down the vocabulary?

Nouns:  All German nouns come with a gender – der (masculine), die (feminine), das (neuter) – so when you write them on your cards or on the first column of your exercise book (if it doesn’t two column, draw a vertical line in the middle of each page) you write your nouns with the correct definite article. Example

  • das Auto (n) – the car
  • die Katze (f) – the cat
  • der Hai (m) – the shark

However that’s not enough – you also want to write down the plural ending of these nouns

  • das  Auto (n), sing, die Autos (pl.)
  • die Katze (f), sing, die Katzen (pl.)
  • der Hai (m), sing, die Haie (pl.)

If you are using index cards you obviously write down the German words on the front, the English translation on the back.

Index card front - noun

Card with noun – front

Index card - back noun

Card  with noun – back

Writing down German verbs:

In German we have to conjugate verbs in all tenses, this means you have to make sure you learn how they are conjugated in each tense.

So here’s how you write them down;

  • trinken – to drink
  • ich trinke
  • du trinkst
  • er, sie, es trinkt
  • ihr trinkt
  • wir trinken
  • sie trinken
  • Sie trinken

You also want to write down the past and perfect tense:

  • ich  trank (perfect tense)
  • du trankst
  • er , sie, es trank
  • ihr trankt
  • wir tranken
  • sie/Sie tranken
  • ich habe getrunken (past tense)
  • du hast getrunken
  • er,sie, es hat getrunken
  • ihr habt getrunken
  • wir haben getrunken
  • sie/Sie haben getrunken
Card with verb - front

Card with verb – front

Card with verb - back

Card with verb – back

If you don’t have enough room on your cards – just write the other tenses on additional cards.

All other words like adjectives, pronouns, prepositions etc. you just write down in your book/ or on your card. When writing down prepositions it’s also worth noting which case is used in conjunction with their use and that they often have several meanings.

  • bis, durch, für, gegen, ohne and um govern the accusative
  • aus, über, bei, gegenüber, mit, nach, seit, zu and von govern the dative

Some prepositions govern both accusative and dative case: und, auf, hinter, in neben, über, unter, vor and zwischen.

  • anstatt or statt, trotz, während, wegen are prepositions governing the genitive case.

For example:

bis  – preposition used with the  accusative case – means: until (referring to time) or by

Example:

  • bis nächste Woche – until next week
  • bis zu diesem Augenblick – until this moment

referring to place – means as far as, up to

Example:

  • Ich fahre  nur bis Köln – I’m only going as far as Cologne
  • Bis hierher und nicht weiter – so far and no further

It can also mean – down to (and including), all but or except

Example:

  • Das Abteil war bis auf den letzten Platz belegt – The carriage was full down to the last seat

I hope you get the idea.

Writing down your vocabulary is only the first step. The next is actually learning the words.

When using your exercise book you could simply cover one side and then learn the other – saying out loud those words helps.

If you use cards you can shuffle them and use either side. It’s good practice to learn the words both ways – so you want to cover just the English translation and learn them and then cover the German words. Practice at least 10 minutes per day. Picking a number of words you want to learn per day is also a good method.

Obviously you don’t just want to learn pronunciation and saying these words, but also how to write them. Either create your own random vocabulary test – or ask your parents/ partner to pick words and create a test for you.

These days you can find an app for everything and that includes vocabulary apps. If you have smart phone or tablet you might find  downloading these apps useful. A lot of them are free too – you might want to check out www.memrise.org which offers lots of different vocabulary lists.

However I don’t recommend to solely rely on these apps, because they don’t allow you to write things down and only jog your memory by using very simple multiple choice tests. I firmly believe that the physical act of writing words down helps your memory. It might seem like “a lot of work” but it really works.

Please note that these tips don’t just work for the German language.

I hope you liked this post.

Thanks for reading.

Let me know how you get on.

If you enjoyed this post – please make sure to comment below and share 🙂

 

 

Helen White

I am a bilingual journalist, jewellery designer, German tutor, and translator – and I am passionate about cats.

Helen White – who has written posts on Helen Kaut Press.


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