Basic German: Your First Steps to Learning German

Arm yourself with a good dictionary because we are going to learn some basic German. There are many reasons to study the German language. First of all, there are 180 million speakers and it’s the most spoken language in Europe (yes, more than English). It’s also the third most demanded language by companies (7.3% of job offers request knowledge of German) etc…

But, how can you learn German? Where to start? Is it really a difficult language?

I can’t give you a straight universal answer because there are both hard and easy aspects. It all depends on how different your native language is from German, whether you speak other languages etc.

But, here is how I will do it. I will give you the most basic things to help you start. Of course, I am not a language teacher and this is not a language academy, so don’t expect wonders from this article. If you want the best and cheapest solution towards learning German in detail, I would recommend an online course. Any course.

Until then, let’s see if German is the language for you.

How to introduce yourself in German

Let’s start with the simplest and most basic German: Introduction. Before starting a conversation with an unknown person, you say ‘hello’ and you say your name, right? Well, in Germany you can start a dialogue with ‘Guten Morgen’ / ‘Guten Tag‘ (‘Good morning’ / ‘Good day’), ‘Guten Abend’ / ‘Gute Nacht‘ (‘Good afternoon’ / ‘Good evening’ ).

If you want to end a dialogue and part ways, you say ‘Tschüss‘ (informal) or ‘Auf Wiedersehen‘ (formal, meaning ‘when we see again’). Both are used to express ‘Goodbye’.

But, to introduce yourself, you say ‘Mein Name ist …‘ (‘My name is …’) or ‘Ich heiße …‘ (basically the same as ‘My name is …’ or ‘They call me …’, which is a more literal translation). Or you can just say ‘Ich bin …‘ (‘I am …’).

The German Alphabet

The German alphabet is practically identical to any modern Latin alphabet. Of course, there are some notable differences that you should take into account. There is the’ ß ‘(also called’ Eszett ‘or’ Sharfes S’); it is pronounced as an elongated ‘s’. Also, the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’ can carry umlauts which can completely change their pronunciation. For example, ‘ü’ is pronounced as ‘u’ but half-way going for ‘e’, something like ‘ue’. In the same style, ‘ä’ is pronounced something like ‘ae’, while ‘ö’ like ‘oe’.

Basic German Vocabulary

Here are some words that will help you enter the German language easier.

  • Numbers: ‘eins‘ (one), ‘zwei‘ (two), ‘drei‘ (three), ‘vier‘ (four), ‘fünf‘ (five), ‘sechs‘ (six), ‘sieben‘ (seven) ; ‘acht‘ (eight), ‘neun‘ (nine), ‘zehn‘ (ten).
  • Colors: ‘gelb‘ (yellow), ‘blau’ (blue), ‘weiß’ (white), ‘schwarz’ (black), ‘rot’ (red), ‘grün’ (green), ‘grau’ (gray) , ‘braun’ (brown), ‘violett’ (purple), ‘orange’ (orange), ‘rose’ (pink).
  • Days and months: ‘Montag‘ (Monday), ‘Dienstag‘ (Tuesday), ‘Mittwoch‘ (Wednesday), ‘Donnerstag‘ (Thursday), ‘Freitag‘ (Friday), ‘Samstag‘ (Saturday), ‘Sonntag‘ ( Sunday).
    Januar‘ (January), ‘Februar‘ (February), ‘März‘ (March), ‘April‘ (April), ‘Mai‘ (May), ‘Juni‘ (June), ‘Juli‘ (July), ‘ August ‘(August),’ September ‘(September),’ Oktober ‘(October),’ November ‘(November),’ Dezember ‘(December).

You would have easily cracked these words just from knowing English. There are many other similar words, so don’t panic! Both languages ​​share the same root, which will make your learning much easier.

Little by little, day to day (without haste, but without pause) you’ll learn new vocabulary and you’ll incorporate new words into your conversations.

Pronouns in German

Personal pronouns in the nominative:

  • First person singular: ‘ich‘ – ‘I’.
  • Second person singular: ‘du‘ – ‘you’.
  • Third person singular: ‘er‘ – ‘he’ / ‘sie‘ – ‘she’ / ‘es‘ – ‘it’ (a neutral pronoun).

 

  • First person plural: ‘wir‘ – ‘we’.
  • Second person plural: ‘ihr‘ – ‘you’.
  • Third person plural: ‘sie‘ – ‘they’

 

  • Formal: ‘Sie‘ – ‘you’ (always with capital ‘s’ for a formal tone).

Now try to include them in your texts and conversations in German. There is nothing better than putting into practice what has been learned to strengthen your knowledge. Once you master these, remember that there are also possessive, reflexive, demonstrative pronouns, and more. Remember: learn without haste, but without pause!

Nouns and genders in German

German has 3 different genres: masculine, feminine and neutral. Each of these correspond to the articles ‘der’, ‘die’ and ‘das’. The main problem here is that the genders of different words do not necessarily correspond to those of your language.

There is no rule that determines what types of words have one or another gender. As with almost every language, the best thing to do is memorize them through practice. In time you will remember that the word ‘car’ is of neutral gender ex. das Auto, and that the word ‘train’ is of masculine gender ex. der Zug etc. It’s important because it’s tightly connected to declensions.

And speaking of nouns, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • All nouns in German are capitalized. There is no exception for this Ex: ‘Das Haus’ not ‘das haus’.
  • The formation of the plural in German can be a little more complicated compared to other languages such as English or Spanish where plural is formed with ‘-s’ or ‘-es’. In German on the other hand we can find ‘-e’, ‘-en’, ‘-n’, ‘-er’, ‘-s’, etc. Through use you will easily memorize them.

Verbs in German

Verb conjugation in German is relatively easy. It is quite similar to the conjugation of verbs in English.

To get the picture, take a look at this video.

The dreaded German declensions

This is perhaps the most “thorny” topic in the German language. Unlike some other languages, pronouns, adjectives, articles and names are declined in German. Luckily, there are only four declensions (accusative, genitive, dative and nominative), which cannot be said for languages like the Finnish where there are 15!!!

The declensions are an aspect of the German grammar that complicates things the most for German language students. There is no other way around this. You have to learn it. But, through regular practice, soon you will end up being under control, and it will be the moment when you have mastered the German language.

My advice? Avoid declensions in your first stages of learning German and focus on other simpler aspects of the language to get the feeling right.

Beware of the most common errors in German!

The order of the words within the sentence, the prepositions, the ‘Umlauts’ … there are strict rules about this. Every word has it’s own respective place in a sentence, so try to learn and abide by these rules.

I sincerely hope that this brief guide was of inspiration for you and that you will continue making your first steps in learning German. Go little by little, without getting tired of the language. There is no rush. Have fun!

Source: La guía del alemán básico: tus primeros pasos

Translated and adapted by Nikola Gizharovski

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