6 Free Ways To Learn German In Berlin

Living in Berlin for most people does not require them to speak so much German. The supermarkets normally sell many international products or where you do not need to know the name of said product. For example, vegetables and fruit tend to be the same or very similar around the world. There may be, of course, a lack of local or exotic products available, or coffee might be ordered in a different manner (Italians!).

You can still get by with English.

Or can you?

That’s another topic entirely.

Living in Berlin

Most expats complain that they are unable to practise their German, or that Berliners often switch to English after the first utter of a grammatical mistake.

I feel their pain. Even despite studying German at University in the UK, I still struggled to get my words out in a more casual, informal setting. By living in the country, this acts as a catalyst to you language learning, even if you think you are making no effort at all. How is this? Expats are constantly looking at road signs, words, listening to announcements no matter how big or small.

Learning Small Bits of German For Free

  1. Reading signs in Public Transport

If you’re on a journey, take a look at the different signs within the carriage of the tram, U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Regionalbahn, or ICE train and notice the patterns. If you’re a native English speaker you might recognise many words. English is a Germanic language after all.

Often the same or similar words come up which is a great way to learn new vocabulary in context; in my opinion, this is the single, best way you can improve and learn German.

2. Watching or Reading the News

There are different newspapers out there which vary in register, formality and tone. You could try out with a tabloid with slight racist undertones for some sensationalist headlines which are easy to read.

But I hope you’ll know move on sharpish, once you tire of it. Berliner Kurier is a cheap newspaper which is often available in gyms, and costs around 0,99EUR.

I like watching ARD on Apple TV or Youtube, they have this programme called Tagesschau 100 Sekunden which does all the headlines in 100 seconds. Bam! If you don’t understand anything, this really doesn’t matter. The act of listening to some Hochdeutsch (German without an accent) is good for your language learning.

3. Speaking to Berliners

This is my secret tip. If you go to some events, meet-ups, house parties, clubs, do sports (Germans love sports) then try to befriend some Germans. If you can’t befriend them, then speak to randoms (in the späti, shops, cafés) and crack out the phrases you learned. A few sentences here and there will stick in your mind if you repeat “schönen Tag noch” enough.

Remember, Germans need time to get to know you. You can’t be too friendly and full-on at the beginning. They will consider this inauthentic. Be real, reliable, and punctual as much as you can - and don’t worry about not doing the whole conversation in German. A good dose of Denglish will help you out in many situations.

Sounds obvious, but remember to keep contact as this is how you continue the friendship without them thinking you’re just a tourist on holiday.

4. Get a tandem partner

The best way to improve and get someone to listen to you (a tricky one where most are glued to their phones) is to get a tandem partner. Lots of people in Berlin are looking for language exchanges and possibly an excuse to check out the array of coffee shops in Berlin (this might just be me, however).

Take a look at this rather basic search engine here and you’ll see what people offer and which languages they are looking to practise.

5. Watch Netflix* in German

I know it’s a challenge to watch a film entirely in German. Try to pick a film you’d really want to see which is originally in German with German/English subtitles - as dubbed is not ideal to follow mouth movements etc.

I’m a bit of a strange nerd, so I watch all my series (in English) with German subtitles. If I watch a German film then I will watch it with German subtitles. Previously I used to need English subtitles but it means you tend to just read the English and not think about the language.

Dark (series)
Die Welle
Das Leben Der Anderen
Oh Boy
Lola Rennt
4 Blocks (series set in Berlin, available on TNT )
*Netflix may not be free but a trial is

6. Duolingo

This app is a classic that even the most basic Jonny Foreigner* knows about. Or at least has installed it in their phone and failed to get even a two-day streak.

I know of some people who have managed to complete the game. I’d recommend playing this if you’re on a mundane commute (turn off the sound and the voice options) and the small exercises will mean you can expand your vocabulary bit by bit.

Fluency Overnight

Many who pick up a new language tend to just see the end result. They don’t see the hard graft that’s gone behind it, the vocabulary sheets and conjugation tables. If you really want to get to B2, C1, or C2 level German, my best advice is to practise every day (even if it’s 10 minutes) and definitely make the most of all the free ways to learn German in Berlin.

Find inspirational ways to learn vocabulary and practise cases on instagram with the hashtag ‘#languagelearning’ or on Twitter to see what the rest of language learners are dealing with. It can be very amusing.

The Secret Linguist.