While you don’t need to be fluent upon arrival, if you’re looking to settle longer term in Germany, you will need to learn some German.

Outside of Berlin, Germany often doesn’t go out of its way to accommodate non-German speakers, and Germans will appreciate any effort you make to learn their language.

Speaking the language is also a reward in it’s own right: The closer you come to fluency, the more you’ll be able to act independently, make friends with the locals, integrate into society and live a more fulfilling life in Germany.

But how long does it take to learn German?

Learning German – How difficult is it? How long does it take?

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While you don’t need to be fluent upon arrival, if you’re looking to settle longer term in Germany, you will need to learn some German.

Outside of Berlin, Germany often doesn’t go out of its way to accommodate non-German speakers, and Germans will appreciate any effort you make to learn their language.

Speaking the language is also a reward in it’s own right: The closer you come to fluency, the more you’ll be able to act independently, make friends with the locals, integrate into society and live a more fulfilling life in Germany.

But how long does it take to learn German?

Learning German – How difficult is it? How long does it take?

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The United States Foreign Services Institute (FSI), ranks different languages in terms of difficulty and time taken to learn for native English speakers.

On their difficulty scale of 1-5, Germany is classed as a category 2 language, so amongst the easiest.

While it’s not quite as straightforward as French or Spanish due to some fiendish grammar, The FSI estimates that you can still learn German in as little as 30 weeks, or 750 hours.

This figure comes from a study of full-time language students, spending 25 hours a week in the classroom, and a further 3 hours daily in self-directed practice.

Clearly, if you have a full time job and you’re getting to grips with life in a new country, you may not have so much time to dedicate to your studies.

But don’t be intimidated.

Break those 750 hours down into manageable chunks of one hour a day, and you could still learn German to a proficient level in a little over two years.

Why not learn on your own terms?


You may even find this self-directed method more helpful than the classroom.

While formal lessons will help you learn German grammar and vocabulary, they often overlook your main motive: To understand and be understood in the real world.

There’s no substitute for immersing yourself in a culture, and there are plenty of good practices, hacks and routines you can use for self-directed learning.

We’ll explore the different levels of fluency and what they mean, share some top language-learning tips, and ask how long it really takes to learn German.

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How to interpret the CEFR language proficiency scales

Before asking how long it takes to learn German, it’s a good idea to understand what level you’re aiming for.

The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) is a European standard for grading language skills.

They rank proficiency on a scale ranging from A1 to C2.

Let’s briefly break down these rankings:

A1 The most basic level. At A1 you can understand very basic phrases, introduce yourself, and interact as long as you’re being spoken to slowly.
A2 Still a basic level of comprehension, but at A2 you can understand sentences and communicate in routine situations such as shopping.
B1 You’re largely able to interact in basic and familiar situations such as school and work, you can produce simple text, and are able to talk about yourself and explain your reasoning. This is also the level required to apply for German citizenship.
B2 Congratulations! You’re considered an independent German speaker, even though you may not be fully proficient. You can understand most of any text you read, and converse competently with native speakers without strain for either party.
C1 Describes a proficient German speaker. At this level you can express yourself confidently and write clearly on complex topics while displaying command of the German language.
C2 The highest level. At C2 you can understand virtually everything you hear or read, and express yourself fluently, spontaneously and with ease both verbally and in writing.



For most foreigners living and working in Germany:

B1 should suffice for most daily interactions.

B2 would be reasonably expected to perform a job in a German-language working environment. 

Most of the methods and tips we’ll share aim for this level of competence.

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What hacks can I use to learn German fast?

While there’s no magic solution to learning a language quickly, there are plenty of things you can do to give yourself a head start.

Make a habit of learning

Daily practice might sound like a chore, but if you make it part of your routine it will soon feel normal.

The important thing here is forming good habits, and making your hour of daily German practice as natural and unremarkable as brushing your teeth, or checking your emails.

It’s a good idea to build these routines slowly. Maybe start with just a few minutes a day, then half an hour, then an hour.

Even learning as little as ten words a day will translate to 3650 words in a year!

As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits:

The best way of building a habit is making it part of your identity.”

Be someone who is learning German. Stick to the plan, and document your progress.

 

Use every tool at your disposal 

You’d be amazed how many things in your day-to-day life can be used as tools for learning German.

Have you ever considered changing your phone’s language to German as an extra challenge? 

How about only using German-language Google to search the internet?

If you get creative, there are learning aids everywhere, just waiting to be used.

And that’s without mentioning the tailored options available online…

 

How to use free online resources to learn German 

From YouTube channels and German grammar, verb conjugation and gamified tutorial apps, through to free taster online courses and German language learning podcasts, there’s a huge wealth of resources online.

Some of these are genuinely entertaining, as well as being informative.

The great thing about learning online is that you’re more likely to find the most modern, accessible, and forward-thinking approaches. You can also mix and match various approaches depending on which specific skill you’re trying to master.

Using an app won’t get you to fluency though, so don’t kid yourself here!

 

How to get the most from online courses and ditch classroom learning 

If you’re willing to invest in an online course, why not check out Udemy as a great starting point? They have a huge array of high quality courses on all sorts of subjects, and if you’re new to Udemy you can get started for as little as $9.99 or €9,99 per course.

While Udemy is a great start, if you’re serious about learning German  you will need to invest in yourself. Trying to do this on the cheap won’t yield the best results.

The complete course from A1 to B1 from smarterGerman will get you from complete beginner to intermediate level in the shortest period of time. 

Course creator Michael Schmitz’s motto is “learn the best way, not the old way”. It’s true that the course includes a lot of unique ways to teach otherwise quite dull topics, such as catchy songs to remember otherwise tough grammatical concepts.

You can get started with a free taster lesson here, so why not test drive the course to discover whether you like the course’s teaching style.

 

Immerse yourself in the language 

When I was in secondary school, there was a kid in my French class who would listen to French radio stations in his spare time. We all thought he was being a bit of a try-hard, at the time.

But the joke was on us, and his progress spoke for itself.  He was soon outperforming everyone else in the school, and he passed his exams with flying colours.

The lesson here is that immersion, familiarity, and letting a language seep into your subconscious is an incredibly powerful hack for learning.

After a while, you might even try striking up a conversation with the natives.

Which brings us nicely to our next tip…

 

Speak from the start 

Most of your interactions with German speakers will be… well, spoken.

Speaking and being understood is your ultimate goal, so skip the preamble and just dive in!

Get a few basic phrases under your belt, and try them out on the natives.

Even if you make mistakes, most Germans will happily correct you and be impressed that you’re even trying. OK, well, maybe except for in government offices.

Awkward as these first exchanges may be, they’ll give you information, encouragement, and practice all at once: Something many people would pay for in a classroom setting.

If you want to take a more structured approach to speaking German, Italki is a great online platform that matches you with either a qualified teacher or a community tutor to practice your speaking with via Skype or Zoom in a no-pressure setting.

 

Focus on understanding and being understood 

There’s a lot to get your head around when learning a new language, and it can be hard to know what to prioritise.

Remember – your ultimate goal here is to be understood, and to understand others.

Every time you manage to do this, every successful interaction in German – even if it’s just buying milk – will feel like a victory. This is great for your confidence, and will help you to feel like you’re actually getting somewhere.

So enjoy these moments, and allow yourself to start having them as early as possible.

So, how long does it really take to learn German?

 

Ultimately, the answer to this question lies with you.

We said at the start that 750 hours was a reasonable estimate. That’s about 2 hours a day of study for a year. Probably unlikely if you’re juggling work and possibly family commitments on top. 

So, let’s aim for an hour a day. Manageable, especially if you can catch a couple of hours back at the weekend that you skipped during the week.

This would get you about half-way to the magic 750 hours after a year.

So, realistically, you should expect to be at A2 level at the end of year 1.

If you can maintain an hour a day right the way through your second year, then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to be at B2 level by then. This would give you a competent grasp of the language to deal with almost all everyday situations. 

From this point onwards, by immersing yourself in the language, filling your routine with subtle ways to learn in your downtime, and actively speaking to the locals, you can speed up your journey to understanding and speaking fluent German.

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