German for Beginners: Learn German Basics Online for Free

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Whether you are an absolute beginner or you want to brush up on your school knowledge of German, there are plenty of free German language courses for beginners available online to help you get started. But, before you begin learning German you should define your goals. Some people may only want to learn a couple of basic German phrases to impress their German friends on an occasional visit to Germany, some may wish to acquire vocabulary needed to understand written German, while others may be planning on moving to Germany for study or work. You have to decide what you want to achieve and how much time you are willing to invest so that you can choose the right approach. There are so many free German online courses for beginners as well as lessons for more advanced students that you can easily get lost.

The Beginner’s Worst Fears

German is generally considered to be a difficult foreign language to master because of its complex grammar and extremely long compound words that are hard to pronounce. But, in fact, at least for an English speaker, German is not too difficult. Also, many local dialects, which are still in use, are thought to make understanding problematic. You should not worry too much about that either as foreigners are rarely confronted with German dialects. Nonetheless, there are a few basic facts you may need to know before you begin learning German.

German Pronunciation

For most people who speak English or some other European language German pronunciation is not too difficult. However, there are two vowels called “umlauts” that you will not find in English. These are ö and ü. Also, some German beginners may have difficulties pronouncing the German “ch” and can be tempted to substitute it with “sh”. Some native Germans as well as many French who speak German as their second language do that too.

German Grammar

All German nouns have a grammatical gender that is reflected in their article (der, die or das). For most nouns you will have to learn their gender by heart as there are no grammatical rules to give you a hint. Knowing the grammatical gender of a noun is necessary for declension. Likewise, you will need to learn plural forms of most nouns by heart. In addition, unlike English, German has formal and informal forms of address and, therefore, two second-person pronouns, both in singular and plural. This may sound confusing at first hearing but it is nothing to worry too much about as there are exact rules for this.

German Dialects

There are many local and regional dialects in the German speaking world and some German native speakers, especially those in Austria, Switzerland but also in parts of Germany, commonly use them in everyday communication. Some of these dialects are classified as separate languages and differ significantly from the standard German language called “Hochdeutsch”. However, all German native speakers are taught standard German at school and will use it when speaking to people outside of their community.

The Best Free German Lessons for Beginners

Most of the free courses you will find on the net also include German lessons for beginners but not all of them are suitable for absolute beginners. Many of them are too ambitious and skip the basics while instructions are only given in German. However, the majority of German learners will agree that for complete beginners it is important to find a course that has instructions in their native tongue or their second language such as English. From level A2 onwards they should be able to use lessons that are in German only. Some of the best free resources for learning basic German online (where the language of instruction is English) are:

  • German lessons with Eva is a great channel for all those who are looking for a painless approach to learning German language. A German teacher Eva will in 30 lessons (divided into three course units) help you get to grips with German pronunciation and grammar and will teach you the most important German phrases and words.
  • Deutsche Welle has developed German lessons for absolute beginners, in addition to courses and exercises for intermediate and advanced students. The course called Deutschtrainer, consisting of 100 video lessons with full transcript and explanation in English, is the most basic course. Each lesson can be downloaded either in MP3, MP4 or FLV format. Likewise, Nicos Weg A1 is an introductory German course for absolute beginners. It is followed by Nicos Weg A2 and the series ends with an intermediate course B1 for those who wish to advance their knowledge yet further. The beginner courses A1 and A2 consist of 18 lessons each and will teach you to ask simple questions and build sentences in simple past, present and future tense.
  • Goethe Verlag offers 100 free German lessons for beginners who have some basic knowledge of German language (level A2). Each of these lessons consists of simple English sentences that you are asked to translate into German. You are provided with the initial letter of each German word in the sentence to help you with the translation. If in trouble, you can listen to the audio recording of the translation. This will also help train your German listening comprehension. Mobile apps of this German course are available for download for a small fee.
  • The German Project presents 15 well structured free basic lessons for beginners, each with audio to make sure you get the pronunciation of the German words right. The entire course is clean, well explained and entertaining to keep you wanting more.
  • Fotokiste – Leben in Deutschland is an entry course developed by the Goethe Institute for absolute beginners in German to teach them the most basic expressions used in common everyday situations. Each lesson contains an audio with an illustrative image and a transcript of the conversation on a particular topic such as shopping, health, travel or accommodation, followed by relevant exercises.
  • Erste Wege in Deutschland is another free course from the Goethe Institute for those who have just moved to Germany or are planning to move to Germany but have very little knowledge of German (levels A1/A2) to help them make the first steps in Germany. Learners will accompany a young lady called Nevin travelling by bus, visiting a doctor, making friends, searching for a flat, signing a mobile contract or looking for a job. The course has just eight episodes, each consisting of a video and exercises. This is quite an innovative approach to teaching a foreign language. Check it out to see whether it is your cup of tea.
  • Learn German with Anja is an unconventional and a fun way of learning German basics with a German native speaker. There are around 150 video lessons to help you with pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and listening comprehension.
  • Duolingo is a free German course for beginners and pre-intermediate learners. You can create your own profile (though it is not necessary) and start learning German basics right away. If you are on a pre-intermediate level you will first need to take a placement test before you can start taking free lessons. This course should teach you to communicate on a basic level when visiting a German-speaking country and is equivalent to the level A1, perhaps A2.
  • LanguagesOnline is a language learning platform of the Department of Education and Training of Victoria State in Australia that offers free resources for language teachers and students. Besides other languages, there is also a free interactive German beginner course. In 35 lessons you will learn basic vocabulary such as greetings, numbers, the names of animals, body parts, family members, colours, days and months, foods, clothes, school items, words that describe weather and how to tell the time. This is a very basic course suitable for total beginners. For each lesson, you can download worksheets in PDF format.
  • Deutsch im Blick is a beginner’s course from the University of Texas. Just follow the “Site index” link (it can be found in the second sentence, near the middle of the page) to download all necessary learning materials such as the PDF textbooks, podcasts and videos. Everything is free and no registration is required to access these resources.
  • LiveLingua currently offers eleven free online German courses, while the first four of them are beginner courses. They are an improved version of the German language courses by the Foreign Service Institute (the US federal government’s primary training institution). For each course you can download free eBooks (PDF format) and audios (MP3).

Where Else to Look for German Beginner Courses

Please note that German courses for beginners listed above only include those that are specifically tailored for adult learners. Hence, you will not find German beginner courses for children amongst them. Likewise, beginner lessons that form part of more comprehensive courses for German learners of all skill levels including German beginner lessons on downloadable PDF files as well as YouTube videos for beginners were omitted from this list. They can all be found under the corresponding links above.

In addition, most German courses that are available as applications for portable devices are also ideal for beginners. Therefore, visit our section on mobile apps for German learners to find out whether you would like to use them as a practical alternative to courses that were primarily designed for viewing on larger screens.

Beginner German FAQs

Is German easy for beginners?

It depends on the native tongue and other languages the person speaks. For English speakers and speakers of Romance languages German is relatively easy because of common lexical roots. Unlike English, German is a phonetic language and, therefore, reading and writing are straightforward. Moreover, German is a highly standardized language which helps when you wish to learn the language properly.

How do I start learning German?

Check out some free beginner courses online such as those listed on this page to find one that suits you best. As the very first thing you should learn how to read and pronounce the letters of German alphabet and their combinations so that you can read German words and texts correctly. Then the journey may begin with the first expressions, phrases and grammar basics.

Can I teach myself German?

Yes, to certain extent you can because there are plenty of free (as well as paid) online resources for learning German on your own. You can easily learn the German basics (A1 level) all by yourself but then you will also need a conversation partner (it can be an online tutor or a free language-exchange partner) to teach you correct pronunciation and to correct your most common mistakes.

Can I learn A1 German in 1 month?

Yes, but only if you put in enough time and effort. Normally, to succeed at the German A1 exam you need 60 hours of class lessons and at least as much time or a little bit more (say between 60-90 hours) of self-study. That is altogether 120-150 hours of studying German, or in other words, 6-7.5 hours of study five times a week.

Is A1 German fluent?

No, A1 level is a beginner level, the so-called survival German. At A1 level you will understand some basic words and a few common phrases when people speak slowly to you and will be able to build very simple sentences. You should also be able to read German texts and pronounce German words even though you won’t understand their meaning.

What is A2 German level?

A2 German refers to elementary German which is one level above beginner German A1 and one level below intermediate German B1. It is the second of the six levels of language competence according to the CEFR (European Framework of Reference for Languages). At this level you should understand simple sentences and expressions occurring in the most common everyday situations and be able to express yourself in a simple manner in familiar situations.

How long does it take to get to German A2 level?

To reach German A2 level from A1 level you will normally need about 120-150 hours of consistent study. That amount should include 60 hours of class lessons and 60-90 hours of self-study. This is about as long as to get from zero to A1 level. However, it can take much longer if you are not motivated enough and do not study consistently.