I signed up for a German program in college and they taught me the very essentials like cases, gender, a general introduction to verbs, counting, and some basic but useful words. But I find sometimes either I don't know enough German rules, or generally lack the vocabulary to converse in German.

But I want to apply whatever little I have learnt. After a general familiarity with the basic rules, I can always use a handy dictionary. So what should I do to start making some basic sentences in German like 'I am going to sleep'. Is it possible? If yes, what more do I need?

I would appreciate the actual things I should focus on - accusativ for example (it could be wildly different since I don't know German)- rather than links towards online German courses. Thanks!

  • Once you tried this, let us know how it went. I'm curious ;) Oct 31, 2011 at 9:58
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    Come visit us in chat :-)
    – Jan
    Oct 31, 2011 at 10:41
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    The question is too localized. Who else is interested to know, whether Anurag Kalia is able to lern essential German in one week? Nov 1, 2011 at 15:23
  • @user I don't think it is localized. I mean, many newcomers who are interested can be impatient and want to start speaking German as soon as they can. Maybe I have presented it in a personal way, because it was really my problem. But it could always be re-written in a form that is palatable to a more general audience by more experienced members of this site, no? And no offence, I am not defending it because it is my question but because it is almost every newcomers question - probably in every field. :) Nov 6, 2011 at 14:00
  • Just to complete the circle, it was impossible. I thought I spoke German. But it mostly a pidgin kind of language limited to me only. I myself cannot understand the sentences I wrote back then. :D Mar 15, 2013 at 14:34

6 Answers 6


I cannot answer definitely, since I'm a native German (and also not a German teacher), but this is my experience:

Yes, you will be able to form basic German sentences and, more important, they will likely be understood, even if not immediately. No, you will not be able to form correct German sentences after a week unless you are a language wunderkind. But you will get better the more you try. And I heard there is some StackExchange site to assist you with learning German. Since you're already good in a Germanic language a lot of things will be easier because of the similarities, but also harder because of subtle differences.

There are a lot of things that intermediate learners and also a lot of natives get wrong, all of which could be the things you'd like to hear now. Things like or , or the use of special vocabulary. None of this should keep you from learning, and none of this will keep Germans from understanding you. There is no point in pointing out some "important" cases to learn, I think, though I would be interested in what others think they are.

I think more important than specific grammar rules like usage of accusative is a general understanding of the way the language works. Your college course should give this to you, and the only way I see in such an early phase is to either read simple books (no matter if specific for learners - children's books may work just as well), or use a self-study book. Note that if you're not just going to read or write German, but rather want to talk German, the pronunciation may be more important than grammar - at least for me, it's harder to understand someone who uses correct grammar, but has terrible pronunciation, than someone with terrible (or let's say basic) grammar but better pronunciation. But I think this is not really something for the first week. After the basics, of course, you'll get plenty of resources to assist you with this.

Be sure to find out whether you learned things correctly, since that is in my opinion where a lot of learners are lacking, especially if they fall for a lot of false friends (this is also true for Germans to learn English, for example). For quick questions, especially if they're not of common interest, you can also try the GL&U chat, which is most of the time (yes, that is a very relative definition - especially if you're in a very different time zone from Germany) manned by one or two German natives that will help you and tell you what you're doing wrong. You'll even find several examples for "I'm going to sleep" in there ;)

A few specific things that come to mind:

  • Learn the proper use of essential words. You'd be surprised how many get words like sein or haben wrong.
  • Form short sentences. German has a strong tendency to form long sentences, but they're not easy to get right (and require, by definition, more vocabulary). "I'm going to sleep" is the right direction, it's simple and an everyday situation.
  • Don't start with all tenses or subjunctive forms. That's something for later, and again something even natives get wrong.
  • When learning vocabulary, learn the gender for nouns, and which cases to use for verbs. This is basically just memorizing (unless you know naturally which one is right), yet it will improve the reception of your German a lot. I'd suggest properly learning any word you're looking up in a dictionary.
  • This is so much better than what I was expecting. The pointers at the end seem quite good. Wow! Oct 31, 2011 at 13:08

There is a classification scheme for judging how good your foreign language skills are and what you are able to achieve at each level. Many organisations give classes to enable you to reach a certain level, and there is learning material available tailor-made for this purpose. I suggest you browse such material to find out which vocabulary and which grammar you need to learn, starting with competence level A1. Usually such material is not used for regular schools, but targeted at adults, especially foreigners trying to learn the language of the country they have moved in to live there. If I remember correctly, for the german language it is estimated to require 600-900 hours of lessons for each level to achieve.

  • I did some research online about German courses (both classroom and CDROM based) and the common european fraemwork. You can see the summary table here. best-learn-german.com/… Jul 1, 2012 at 7:30


One factor is how old you are but personally I was easily able to learn enough German in my first eight days in Germany with only a Lonely Planet German Phrasebook to be able to make my own simple sentences as well as manage all the day-to-day situations like shopping, transport, etc.

My German is still terrible - I am hopeless at genders and cases and my vocabulary is tiny - but still ten years later can use the German I learned in a week in Germany to converse with people that have German as a second language.

I am not good enough to converse with native speakers though because even their basic vocabulary is just too full of words I don't know.

Focus on sentence structure. Things like keeping the main verb in second position and other verbs at the end. What can come before the main verb. When you can "invert" the order and put the verb first in questions and additional clauses. The simple version of the past tense where the second-position verb is a form of "haben" and the verb you really want to use is the one at the end in the infinitive.

I found this fun like some kind of logic game. This got me far and I could try to pick up the "rote" stuff by listening and practice. Like vocabulary, which article to use, how to make the plural, pronunciation, etc.

Personally I don't recommend children's books after trying them for language learning. They seem to focus on the wrong kind of repetition and have "colourful" vocabulary such as lots of farm animals. They become boring very quickly for adult readers. This does not apply though if you have a child to read them aloud to!

Much better are adult oriented books that just happen to have very simple sentence forms. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is my favourite to try to read in a language I'm learning. My second preference is Der Alchimist by Paulo Coelho.

  • i like it! i have actually started speaking the statements. But the limited dictionary is really hurting. i have decided to cover my place with stickers all over. Nov 5, 2011 at 19:05
  • and i really like your recommendations for books. Anyway I wanted to read the alchemist. one more reason to go for it. thanks anyway!! :) Nov 5, 2011 at 19:07
  • I should mention that the Lonely Planet Phrasebooks have had several editions and the grammar section is no longer very good. I think most people are scared of grammar and don't buy books with too much so the publishers cut it down. People learn in different ways and for me their way of summarising grammar was very helpful to get a feel of the mechanics of the language rather than just rote memorizing of phrases. Nov 5, 2011 at 19:12

Despite the language of your post being English, I’ll answer in German (hopefully to make a point) …

Vielleicht (und hoffentlich) ermutigt dich dies:

Ich arbeite an einem wissenschaftlichen Institut. In unserer Gruppe sind Leute aus der ganzen Welt. Einige von ihnen sprechen selbst englisch nur gerade gut genug, dass man sich verständigen kann. Einer aus der Gruppe, ein Italiener, der gut englisch spricht, lernt seit einer Weile Deutsch durch learning by doing. Er hat so seine Schwierigkeiten mit den Feinheiten der Sprache und manchmal führt das zu lustigen Sätzen, aber man versteht ihn und er versteht einen auch, wenn man deutsch spricht. Wenn er etwas nicht versteht oder falsch anwendet, fragt er oder wir korrigieren ihn und erklären ihm, wie man es richtig macht – und das auch auf Deutsch. Auf Englisch greifen wir nur zurück, wenn es anders nicht geht.

Das Ganze funktioniert, weil er von sich aus gerne die deutsche Sprache lernen will, und wir unterstützen ihn dabei so gut wir können. Er ist inzwischen auch ziemlich gut. Inzwischen geht es sogar meistens eher um kulturelle Aspekte beim Anwenden bestimmter Wörter oder Phrasen.

Jedenfalls wünsche ich dir, dass du gerade am Anfang nicht den Mut verlierst. Ich finde, die deutsche Sprache ist vergleichsweise kompliziert, auch weil die Grammatik durch ihre Vielfältigkeit einen signifikanten Beitrag zur Bedeutung des Gesagten oder Geschriebenen beitragen kann.

Hope you could understand the message (nothing wrong with using a dictionary here though :)) and let it be a little motivator to you :)

  • As an anecdote, my German was good enough to talk for hours to a Romanian lady a few months ago who had German rather than English as her second language. But my German is not good enough to read this answer. Nov 21, 2011 at 9:09

Not only you can, you should try it if you want to learn the language!

Don't hesitate to produce ugly, mis-formed and clumsy phrases in the beginning: this is how we learn languages. Even with your native language as a child you did not master it on spot, just after some training and corrections from your parents.

There are many communities in Internet where you can try to post your German phrases and can get correction from native or near-native speakers.


I have been watching some youtube-videos by Steve Kaufmann recently, and his approach to learning a new language makes a lot of sense. He says, the key to success is listening and reading. If you are exposed to the new language regularly, your understanding will increase - and so will your ability to express yourself. You don't have to apply it in the beginning. Of course, you will need to communicate. But that will be easier with a solid basic understanding of the language.

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