[ Language ] 07 Avgust, 2019 18:07


How I Learned German in 30 Days

This post is my summary of an experiment that I started in January 2015: learn German in 30 days.

Before I begin, I feel compelled to list some resignations:

"I learned German" means that I can have basic conversations in German, as well as understand German quite well (both written and spoken). I definitely have not learned to speak German perfectly.

I do not claim originality of everything in this text; I have been very inspired by the writings of other language students, such as Barry Farber and Benny Lewis.

My mother tongue is Norwegian. This gave me an advantage, since it is closely related linguistically to German.

If you want to learn a language as quickly as possible, you must continue reading. In addition to giving some general advice and, hopefully, inspiration, I have created some resources that I will share in this text that will help you learn German quickly.


I spent between 30 and 60 minutes a day in my 30-day period, so the time investment was not huge.

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Now, let's start.

Five principles of effective language learning

I had the hypothesis that there are five important principles to learn a language effectively. One of the purposes of my experiment was to test if these were good. The five principles are:

Set a clear goal

Speak from day 1

Focus on frequent words

Immerse yourself


Below I will explain exactly how I used these principles to learn German.

1. Set a clear objective

I followed the Key Objectives and Results (OKR) approach to set a goal. My overall goal was to learn as much German as possible in 30 days. More specifically, I wanted to achieve these key results:

Learn the 1000 most frequent German words

Learn 10 German songs by heart

Being able to have basic conversations with my German friends

1 and 2 are good because they are measurable, but the most important key result for me was number 3, which was a bit vague. To make it more tangible, I booked a ticket to Berlin and decided that I should spend the whole weekend with an old friend (German), who spoke only German.


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Also, once I decided that I would go ahead with my plan, I basically announced to the whole world that I was going to learn German in 30 days. The purpose of this was purely psychological, since I would have to stick to the plan so as not to seem like a complete idiot. In fact, during my 30-day period, people asked me "how is the German study going?" To which I could always reply "Sehr gut, danke!"

(I also secretly decided that I would record a video in Berlin speaking in German, which I did on the 29th, but I will save you the discomfort of the video that I finally posted on Facebook).

2. Speak from day 1

I think that one of the biggest mistakes you can make when learning a language is to postpone speech until "you're ready." Learning languages ​​is like going to the gym: if you want to build muscles, anything other than exercising is just postponing.

Specifically, what I did to speak from day one was to find friends who spoke German or wanted to learn German. Then I told them that I would be online for 30 minutes to appear. Every day at 8 p.m. and I gave them my own custom URL. I told them that I would love to practice German with them there. I got 5 people to join in total. None of them were native German speakers, although some already spoke fluently (which I thought was very important!), and some were just beginning like me.

In order to remain in our target language (German) and not return to English or Norwegian, I created a cheat sheet containing essential phrases. This sheet prevented me from being blocked and, in general, was incredibly useful in our online conversations.

Following the analogy of "language is a muscle", I also repeated out loud everything I heard or read in German when I was studying on my own. Compared to just "passively" receiving (listening, reading) German, I think this really makes a difference to strengthen those German synapses in your brain.

3. Focus on frequent words

If you are not familiar with Zipf's law, you will be surprised to know that only the 100 most frequent words represent approximately 50% of all words spoken in German films. Take a moment to reflect on this amazing fact. Basically, this means that any other word you hear in a German movie is a word from that list of the top 100. The obvious conclusion? You need to know those words!

Here I found a list of the most frequent words in German subtitles, and created my own GoogleDocs spreadsheet with the 1000 most frequent words. These words represent ~ 75% of all words in German subtitles. My simple task was to complete the "meaning" column for each word before my 30 days have passed. In other words, I had to learn about 30 words per day. I made intensive use of cognates from English and Norwegian to learn them, and exported the words I had learned to Anki once a week to make sure I didn't forget them.

The frequency list is one of the things I did that worked best. It served as a good anchor on which I could focus my learning.

To test my vocabulary in the real world, I sometimes tried to read German newspapers or books, highlighting words I didn't understand. After reading a page or a paragraph, I would count the words I knew versus those I didn't know, and then calculate the proportion of known words / total words in the text. Towards the end of my study period, I registered about 80–85%, cognates or context that helped me overcome the 75% I obtained from the list of the best 1000.

4. Immerse yourself

I changed my language from Facebook to German. We watched many videos of Yabla.

But what worked best for me was my Spotify playlist with 10 German songs.

Once I learned the lyrics of these songs, I could play them every time and be exposed to German every time I could listen to music. I even recorded myself singing and playing these songs on the guitar. Again, I will save you the shame.

It's hard to choose the lyrics of just listening to the songs, so I would study the lyrics separately before trying to memorize something. I used Lingq, which meant I had the lyrics available on my iPhone, and I could easily track what words were new when studying a new song.

5. Keep a record

The My 1000 main words spreadsheet was excellent for knowing approximately how many words I knew at any given time. Since I had the frequency of each word, I could calculate the total "mass" of German I knew, not just the total number of words, which I found quite motivating.

I also kept a simple journal in Evernote that listed my activities by day. In the end there was only one day when I did nothing at all.

I hardly did any grammar study, which I think was a good decision, since I was only 30 days old and had no ambitions to speak perfectly. However, one thing that I would have liked to do to learn German cases is a set of 4 sentences of the type "Man gave the book to the child", a sentence for each gender + plural. Memorizing these four sentences would probably have been much easier than trying to remember a table of cases.


Once the experiment was over, I would say that I achieved my goal.

I learned the 1000 most frequent words (and probably some more that I didn't track). That's! Either this gave you some inspiration to start your own 30-day language adventure or you think I'm crazy. In any case, let me know what you think of my experiment!


[ Generalna ] 07 Avgust, 2019 17:44
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