How quickly or how easily one can learn a foreign language depends on a variety of things. So many things, in fact, that we often forget the many natural obstacles we face when trying to pick up grammar and vocabulary.
Many of us have probably heard that age plays an important role and that children have an easier time acquiring a language than an adult. And while that statement is true to some extent, it could be misinterpreted as "the older I am the harder it will be to learn a language", which can set a bit of a discouraging tone right from the beginning.
Another way of thinking about it is that children simply acquire languages differently than adults, and while they may absorb a language quickly, or "automatically", adults have a much easier time comprehending and memorizing grammar, they may just need different tools.
We may also forget that we may have an easier or harder time learning a target language based on our native tongue. For example, a person whose native language does not have gendered nouns, personal pronouns or articles may have a really hard time grasping the concept of "he/she/it" and "an apple" vs. "the apple".
Many native English speakers who are learning German, for example, struggle with the concept of nouns with genders, and the fact that many plural nouns are spelled differently from their singular form. Verb conjugation is very different as well: Whereas in English we mostly have to remember to add a third-person-s, German verbs can have vowel or spelling changes, they sometimes separate and sometimes stay together. Some verbs build the present perfect with "haben" (to have), some with "sein" (to be), some can use both, and with some, it depends on the region. It is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged.
"Practice makes perfect!" is certainly a good mantra to live by for a language learner, but it is just as important to know where to look for help. Live instructors are wonderful, as are many language apps.
Here is a list of the best online resources to help you with your German:
When learning conjugation in German, it is important to check for vowel and spelling changes (Ich esse, du isst - I eat, you eat), and to pay attention to how the verb behaves in other tenses. Sometimes a vowel change does not appear in the present tense, but in the preterit, so (depending on your level), always look up the preterit (simple past) conjugation of the verb, as well as the participle. (Ich esse, Ich aß, Ich habe gegessen). A wonderful website to use is www.conjugator.reverso.net. You simply type in a verb, and the conjugator shows you how the verb is conjugated in all the tenses and moods, including if the participle is formed with "haben" or "sein".
When learning nouns, always do two things: learn its gender (masculine, feminine, neutral), and learn its plural spelling. While there are irregular plural nouns in English as well (One deer, two deer), the spelling changes in German are a lot more complex, and the gender of a noun is not easily deduced (and sometimes doesn't even seem to make sense). A great resource for this is www.verbformen.com, which shows you the declension of the noun in all the different cases. In the example below, it also shows you if nouns, such as "der Nachbar" (the neighbor) have spelling variants, similar to neighbor or neighbour.
There are many online dictionaries, and ultimately, students should use one that they feel most comfortable with. However, sometimes just looking up a word on Google isn't going to be good enough, because there are other elements, such as prepositions or reflexive pronouns, that are extremely important to pay attention to. For example, if we look up the verb "interessieren" on Google, this is what we get:
First of all, "interested" isn't quite the right translation, and what this entry completely leaves out is that the the verb "interessieren" is a reflexive verb and it is often used with a preposition, both of which are very important piece of information when trying to use this verb correctly in a sentence.
A great resource is Leo.org, which includes all these different elements, and it comes with audio samples. If we look up "interessieren" on Leo, we can see that the verb is used reflexively, that it often comes with a preposition, and it even tells you what case the preposition is followed by.
You can, of course, combine resources. We can use Leo to find those important details. and Conjugator to look up the conjugation of the verb.
Understanding grammar and memorizing vocabulary is one thing, but even the best of us makes spelling mistakes occasionally. There are many great online spell checkers. One that works very well for German is rechtschreibpruefung24. The suggestions are accurate, and the checker picks up case misuse, spelling mistakes and punctuation errors.
5. CORE Languages
You don't need to be enrolled in a course to use our online training material. Our German courses are broken down into bite-size grammar modules, each about specific grammar topics, designed to help you build strong grammar foundation. In the above example of "interessieren": We can use Leo to look up that "sich interessieren" is a reflexive verb, and to learn and understand what a reflexive verb is, and to practice other reflexive verbs, you can look up our grammar module on this verb topic.
If you have found other helpful resources, feel free to share!