If you’re serious about learning German and making real progress you need to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. After all, it is the most natural way to learn. Babies and children don’t spend time studying grammar, they spend countless hours listening to their parents speaking.
But how to do that in the most effective and most of all, painless way?
By listening to German speakers as much as possible, you’ll learn everyday language and sayings that you won’t learn in grammar books. You’ll pick up idioms and colloquial phrases that add character and interest to the language.
Adjective endings and other grammar concepts will also come to you more easily when you have picked up a certain phrase from listening to German speakers talking. For example if you hear the phrase ich wünsche dir einen schönen Tag. Eventually those highlighted adjective endings with just sound ‘right’ and you won’t need to think about them.
How much time should I spend on immersion?
If you’re like me and learning German as a hobby and for the sheer enjoyment of it, immersing yourself in the language can be an absolute pleasure. How you begin depends on your current level but you need to start off small and build up your immersion time in order to form a habit.
I will go into more detail on actual immersion ideas in a minute, but when you start, aim for 10 minutes of immersion per day. This could be watching a short YouTube video in German, or reading a few pages of a German book at the correct level for you.
Aim to add 10 more minutes per day. You can always increase your immersion time faster than that if you’re enjoying it.
How much time you spend absorbing the German language will of course depend on what is going on in your life. But I would encourage you to look for opportunities during your day where you have unused or ‘wasted’ time. This could be during your morning commute, on the school run or waiting in a queue.
You can even replace your entertainment time with German. Even if you’re a relative beginner, there are TV shows and books that are ideal for immersion and if you’re around B1 or B2 level and above there are countless hours of TV shows and endless books for you to enjoy.
How to Get Started
Let’s divide our German immersion strategy into the four pillars of language learning; reading, writing, listening and speaking. For all round benefits you need to spend time on each pillar.
Reading for pleasure, rather than reading in the form of a grammar book can be so beneficial for improving language learning. This is because, once you get into a story and start enjoying it you will pick up words, phrases and grammar in a natural way without really noticing it.
You will encounter the same words and phrases many times and in different contexts. Reading works well because it effectively works as a spaced repetition system. You’ll encounter a new word or phrase, then a few chapters later it might appear again. Your brain is reminded of the word before it has a chance to forget it.
Fortunately this amazing learning opportunity is open to all levels of language learners. Even if you’ve only just started learning German, there are many graded readers, books written for adult German learners, to choose from.
Andre Klein’s ‘Dino Lernt Deutsch’ series of short stories is a great way to begin reading in German. The series follows the adventures of the title character Dino, who travels around Germany in order to practice his German. They are aimed at around A2 level, and are funny and engaging. You will learn a lot of everyday speech, sayings and even idioms.
The key with reading early on in your journey learning German is to not panic when you don’t understand a word or sentence, just carry on. You should be able to work out what’s going on by the context. If you don’t it doesn’t really matter.
As your level increases it becomes even easier to find reading materials. You can move up to the next level of graded readers such as Andre Klein’s short crime stories for German learners, Baumgartner & Momsen or Olly Richards Short Stories in German for Intermediates. Both of these are suitable for around B1-B2 level.
You still get the advantages of having books written specifically for German learners, slightly simpler grammar and lots of everyday sayings and speech. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can get on Amazon and search for German language fiction, in which case the sky’s the limit!
There is even a specialist monthly magazine for German learners called Deutsch Perfekt. This is a personal favourite of mine, it’s really interesting, covering topics including life in Germany, news and current events, German culture as well as a few grammar exercises thrown in for good measure.
The best thing about the reading pillar of German immersion, is that it’s so easy to fit it into your day. Just keep your book or magazine in your bag and start reading whenever the opportunity comes up. It’s especially nice to do this during your lunch break or if you’re commuting by train or bus, rather than just mindlessly scrolling through social media.
Writing in German helps you to process what you have read and heard and to make sense of how German sentence structure and grammar works. It will improve your speaking skills because writing gives you time to process a sentence and check that it is correct. If you have already ‘rehearsed’ a sentence by writing it down, you’ll find it easier to get it correct when you speak it.
The best way to immerse yourself in written German is to start a diary. Depending on your level you may just start with writing about what you did that day. At the beginning, aim to write a few sentences every day. Even if it was just a normal day, repeating the same sentences or finding different ways of saying the same thing will work in a similar way to spaced repetition.
When you come to say these things out loud, they will come to you easier and more fluently. If you’re stuck for ideas, you could write about your daily routine, who you spoke to and what you talked about, what you did to improve your German that day.
Because not all of us live thrilling lives all the time, if you want to get even more creative you could start writing a book in German. You can write whatever your imagination and writing ability allows.
On a more practical level, why not switch to German for more mundane writing tasks such as writing a grocery list, or a to-do list. Because these lists tend to have some variation, but also many repeated words, you’ll successfully retain loads of everyday words and phrases.
Listening / Watching
Now we’re into pure entertainment. It’s time to put your feet up and relax in front of the TV. However this is another perfect opportunity for German immersion! When you spend time listening to natural German dialogue on a TV show or film, you’ll hear German as it’s actually spoken in real life. This means you can pick up idioms, slang and all kinds of everyday speech that you won’t find in grammar books.
And there is so much to choose from. Not only are there countless YouTube channels in German, including the German version of Peppa Pig (Peppa Wutz) for beginners, there are thousands of hours of German programming in the ARD and ZDF Mediathek. I actually wrote a whole post on how to watch German TV shows online.
On most TV shows you’ll be able to switch on German subtitles (Untertitel). So if the show you’re watching is a little difficult to understand, having the subtitles on (in German) should help you to follow the story.
For even more learning opportunities, some TV shows offer audio description for the visually impaired (Audiodeskription). The well known crime series Tatort on ARD has audio description on most of the episodes in the Mediathek.
If you want to get the maximum immersion from your time watching a TV show, pop these on. All those moments where there is no dialogue are filled with a commentator describing what is going on. This is a great way to learn because you’ll see yourself what is happening, so it makes understanding what the commentator is saying easier. A great way to learn words and phrases in context.
If you find yourself on the road a lot, or you have a long commute by train or bus, you can use this time to immerse yourself even more in German. The graded reader books I mentioned in the ‘reading’ section also have audiobook versions which can easily be downloaded onto your smartphone.
You can also download some of the many free podcasts for German learners. Like books, there are podcasts aimed at all levels of German learners.
If you’re a total beginner, a great one to get you started is Coffee Break German. It is hosted by native German speaker, Thomas, and Mark who is completely new to German. They start from the very basics and cover 40 lessons before moving onto season 2, where Mark moves into an intermediate level. There is quite a lot of English used, which I find spoils the immersion element, however it is needed for complete beginners.
If you’re looking for a more informal podcast for German learners, there are plenty to choose from. The following podcasts are recorded entirely in German, so you won’t be distracted by any English explanations.
Easy German’s weekly podcast is an intermediate level discussion between the two presenters Cari and Manuel. They talk about all sorts of topics from Germany and around the world.
Another favourite podcast is Auf Deutsch gesagt in which host Robin covers a different topic in each episode. Often he will interview a guest which is great if you want to listen to many different accents. After the interview, Robin goes through all the vocabulary used in the conversation and explains the meanings of words (in German).
And finally, the most important language skill, if you actually want to use the language. You might think that if you don’t actually live in Germany, this could be a tricky one to immerse yourself in. And yes, living in the country where your target language is spoken so that you have to use it yourself will improve your speaking skills faster. However this is another way to get loads of speaking practice.
Thanks to the internet, we can now communicate with anyone in the world with relative ease. There are a few language exchange apps available where you can find a language partner. My personal favourite is Tandem. Best of all, it’s totally free!
So how does a language exchange work? Basically, you use an app to find someone who speaks your target language (German), and who wants to practice their target language (English). You have a mutual arrangement where you each spend time speaking each language. Normally I arrange a 1 hour phone call, and we spend 30 minutes in German and 30 minutes in English.
Once again, what you talk about depends on your level, but I started at A2 level and found all my German, Swiss and Austrian language partners really patient and supportive. I still talk to the same people over a year later.
Of course there are endless things to talk about, language goals, hobbies, what you did during the week, your plans etc. You can try to replicate life in Germany, use some of the time to role play everyday situations such as ordering at a cafe, asking directions or arranging a night out with a friend.
When you’re in your 30 minutes of German time, make sure your partner doesn’t switch to English if you’re struggling, in order to ‘help’. Ask them to find another word, or to rephrase something in German. If you don’t know a word yourself, describe your way around it.
How much time you can dedicate to speaking immersion depends on your lifestyle. When I wasn’t too busy with work, I aimed to speak with one language partner per day. I’ve had to scale this back for now, but having language partners who I now consider friends makes me accountable, and it’s never too long before I want to speak with them again.
So there you have it! I hope you found this post interesting and useful. Immersing yourself in German, or any target language is so beneficial and can be woven into everyday life. The best thing is it’s completely flexible and can adapt to your lifestyle. Just make a commitment to fill those spare gaps in your day with German and watch your language learning skyrocket!
Written by Emma Jackman
Emma Jackman is the founder of Emma Loves German an all round resource for German learners. I write articles on speaking, reading, writing and listening in German as well as grammar tips, frequently used phrases and other language learning tips.