Teach yourself German for free

I have been pleasantly surprised at how many good resources there are for learning German online. Below are some of the links I’ve found most useful. All of these sites are professionally managed, updated regularly, easy to navigate, and attentive to detail — they’re run by Germans, after all (ha) — and, most importantly, all of them are FREE. I haven’t included anything that requires you to purchase a book, buy software, pay a registration fee, take a class, etc.

First, familiarize yourself with the six levels of language competency outlined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Language, since German as Foreign Language sites rely on these a lot. Take the Goethe Institut placement test to determine your level. The Goethe Institut also has information about standardized tests at each level. Above the B2 level, most of the exams are recognized at all German universities and throughout the business world. I’ve found it useful to just to know such exams exist, since “learning German” is a vague goal but “passing the TestDaF” is very concrete.

Deutsche Welle should be your next stop. This site has more information than one person can use, and it’s updated daily. Most notably, they offer a free online German course for levels A1.1-B1.2. I worked through the last two levels and was amazed at how much information could be conveyed without a human teacher. Things like this raise the bar for online learning; it’s worth checking out just for that aspect alone.

Beyond that, the site has podcasts, short audio and video programs (with accompanying worksheets), world news (“slowly spoken”), general information about German history and culture, and much more. Almost all of the Deutsche Welle audio programs have an RSS feed, so you don’t have to keep returning to the site. The news programs come daily; the topical programs send two or three a week. Each program varies in length from two minutes to about half an hour, at all levels of German. I subscribed to about a half dozen of these.

While I was setting that up, I also subscribed to Deutsch lernen und studieren, Uli Mattmüller’s blog for students preparing to study in Germany. This is one of many sites devoted to preparation for standardized tests, including the TestDaF, Germany’s equivalent of the TOEFL exam. Others sites include Zertifikat Deutsch and the European Language Certificates mock exam site.

For vocabulary work, I discovered Flashcard Exchange, a web-based flashcard program. Make your own, or import others’ card files. (The interface isn’t great, but it does the job.) The VocabulixVocabulary Builder is also useful.

Grammar is probably the hardest thing to search for, not because there are too few sites, but because there are so many. Here are some that I like:

One particularly good grammar site is mein-deuschbuch.de, which has exercises in dictation, reading comprehension, and grammar, organized by level.

If all that gets tedious, find some German-only music on Last.fm, e.g. Deutschpop, Deutschrock, or Deutschpunk, or watch old episodes of the 1970s German sketch comedy Loriot.

Finally, italki and LiveMocha are social networking sites for foreign language learners. You can join italki independently or through Facebook. You can also visit Goethe-Island on Second Life.

Other sites

Beginning level:

  • Talk German, a beginning German course from the BBC, part of their German language section. The emphasis seems to be on vocabulary for travelers, with almost no grammar. Good choice for tourists; not so great if you plan on studying further.
  • German for Beginners, Hyde Flippo’s online course in basic German.
  • Radio Goethe plays exclusively German music.
  • Die Ärzte videos: This is a band I used to like in high school. I doubt they’d see themselves as a foreign language resource, but what I like about Die Ärzte is that all their lyrics use clear, standard German in rhyming quatrains, so they’re easy to understand. They’re usually funny, too, so there’s a payoff for figuring out the translation.
  • On a similar note, the BRAVO Magazine archive has 50 years of pop culture history written in uncomplicated German.

Intermediate/advanced level:

  • DeutschLern.net has grammar and comprehension exercises based on popular songs and movies. They also have a chat forum and allow you to communicate by e-mail with an instructor. Registration is required, but it’s free.
  • Deutsche Geschichte für Deutschlerner is an extended lesson on the history of the Berlin Wall, with comprehension worksheets.
  • KuBus is an archive of about 50 15-minute films about German culture and history.
  • RTLNOW: German television. Mostly reality TV, but programs load quickly and you can hear how people actually speak. ETA: This seems to be unavailable in the U.S. now. Try ZDF,DasErste, or ARTE instead.

Advanced level:


Study in Germany:
DAAD: The German Academic Exchange Service (college & grad school)
Fulbright (grad school)
Council on International Educational Exchange (high school & college)
Rotary International (high school)
German School System (K-12)
Transitions Abroad (all)

Jobs in Germany:
Bundesanstalt für Arbeit
Stellenmarkt von Die Zeit
IT & Telekommunikation
Stellenangebote am Careernet