Home Language HacksGerman Is German Hard To Learn? PLUS 7 Common German Mistakes to Avoid

Is German Hard To Learn? PLUS 7 Common German Mistakes to Avoid

by Michele
0 comment
Is German hard to learn - 7 German Grammar Mistakes to Avoid
The Intrepid Guide contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I will earn a commission which helps reduce the ever-increasing costs of keeping this site active. Thank you for your support.

Wondering if German is hard to learn? Don’t get tied up like a pretzel 🥨 Find out what it takes to learn German plus how to avoid the 7 common German mistakes students make.

Emma from the language blog Emma Loves German, learned German as an adult. She’s here to share her experiences on what it’s like to learn German, share some useful tips to get you started and common pitfalls to avoid. Ready? Here’s Emma!

German has a reputation for being a difficult language to learn. Some of us may have been taught German at school and may have been put off by the complicated grammar and terrifyingly long words.

Most people’s experience with the German language is listening to WWII documentaries or films. As such, German has the reputation for sounding harsh and scary, but I’m here to convince you that it absolutely isn’t and that it’s easier than you think to learn it!

I started learning German in 2019, having travelled to Germany for years and never spoken a word of the language. My German friends spoke excellent English of course, so I just didn’t bother to learn it.

In 2019, when I decided to actually make an effort to communicate with my friends in their native language, and to be a better tourist, I discovered what a fascinating and beautiful language German is. Surprising, right? Plus, when you really want to learn German, it’s not as difficult as you think!

When it comes to language learning, what does ‘hard’ really mean? 

The feeling of a language being hard is very subjective and depends a lot on your mother tongue, other foreign languages you may know,  and what proficiency you want to achieve. 

How long it takes to get fluent depends on several factors. According to the FSI (Foreign Service Institute), they have divided languages into four groups of difficulty for speakers of English and have calculated how long it takes them to reach minimum professional proficiency (ILR 3, CEFR C1). German falls into Group 2, which is essentially the second ‘easiest’ group as you only need to spend 36 weeks (900 class hours) to reach an advanced level.

German is from the group of Germanic languages which include Norwegian, Swedish, Afrikaans, and Dutch. So, if you have any knowledge of these languages, it will make learning German a bit easier. ‘Related’ languages that belong to the same group often have quite a lot of shared vocabulary and their grammatical structures are similar in some way, too. 

For an English speaker, German is relatively easy to learn (unlike Russian or Japanese). These two languages belong to different groups (English is a Germanic language), but still, share some similarities. Find out how long it takes to learn different foreign languages here.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why learning German is easier than you think
  • How to Master German grammar 
  • 7 common mistakes in German and how to avoid them
  • 4 misconceptions about learning German that are holding you back
  • The Verdict: Is German hard to learn?
  • How to learn German: Top 6 Best Resources for Learning German

Why German is easier than you think

Is German hard to learn - Why German is Easier Than You Think

1. English is a Germanic language

Being an English speaker means we have a big advantage when it comes to learning German. English has Germanic roots, and while English has been heavily influenced by Latin and Romance languages, we still share a lot of vocabulary with German. Take a look at the following words in German and English and see how similar they are:

  • freund = friend
  • haus = house
  • ratte = rat
  • maus = mouse
  • apfel = apple
  • buch = book
  • kaffee = coffee

You can pick up a lot of German vocabulary fairly quickly because so many nouns look and sound similar to their English counterparts.

2. You already know loads of German words

If you’re intimidated by the sheer number of German words you need to learn, let’s make things a bit easier. You already know a tonne of German words, even if you haven’t even opened your first German textbook yet!

English has adopted words from the German language which have been integrated into English so well that you might not even think about them being German. Here are some examples:

  • doppelgänger
  • kindergarten
  • wiener
  • abseil
  • rucksack
  • poltergeist
  • wanderlust


Then we have the German cognates. These are words that sound or look identical or very similar in German and English. Fortunately, there are loads of cognates to give you a headstart with your German vocabulary. Here are some examples:

  • wasser (vas-ser) = water
  • wind (vind) = wind
  • winter (vin-ter) = winter
  • vater (far-ter) = father
  • restaurant (rest-au-rant) = restaurant
  • chance (sharns) = chance / opportunity
  • see (see) = sea
  • tee (teh) = tea
  • sand (zand) = sand
  • land (land) = land / country
  • knie (k-nee) = knee

False Friends in German

A word of warning though, there are a number of ‘false friends’ in German and English. These are words that look like the English word but have a completely different meaning in German. Here are a few common false friends in German you won’t want to mix up! Here are some examples:

  • bald = soon
  • chef = boss
  • fabrik = factory
  • gift = poison
  • bad = bath
  • handy = mobile phone
  • oldtimer = a classic car
  • rock = shirt

3. German is a phonetic language

One of the things I love about German is that it’s a phonetic language. There are a number of rules to learn for German pronunciation, but once you know them you can have a go at saying most German words and be understood.

For example, there are no silent letters like the English silent ‘g’ in ‘gnat’ or ‘k’ in ‘knife’. Also, there are no mystifying words like ‘through’, ‘thorough’ and ‘rough’. In other words, you almost always pronounce the word the same way it’s spelled.

How to master German grammar

Is German hard to learn - Berliner Fernsehturm at sunset


One of the things I see German learners struggle with a lot is the fact that German assigns its nouns genders. German uses three of them, masculine, feminine, and neuter. They can be tricky because they don’t usually have anything to do with the genetic gender of the subject in question: how can a table be masculine and a lamp be feminine?

Luckily, there are a few rules that can make learning the gender of German nouns a bit easier. Here are some examples:

  • People and occupations usually have a gender that is obvious: man (masculine), woman (feminine), child (neuter – could refer to a boy or girl). For example, kellner (masc. Male waiter), kellnerin (fem. female waitress).
  • Words ending –ung, -keit, -heit, -schaft and -ei are feminine
  • Many, but not all words ending -e are feminine
  • Words ending -chen are neuter


While we’re talking about noun genders, let’s have a look at the German articles. Each gender is assigned an article. In German, like in English, we have definite and indefinite articles. In English ‘the’ is the definite article and ‘a / an’ is the indefinite article.

In basic sentences definite articles (the) look like this:

  • Der (masculine)
  • Die (feminine)
  • Das (neuter)

And indefinite articles (a, an) look like this:

  • Ein (masculine)
  • Eine (feminine)
  • Ein (neuter)

So , our nouns can look a bit like this:

  • Der / ein Tisch (the / a table, masc.)
  • Die / eine Lampe (the / a lamp, fem.)
  • Das / ein Laptop (the / a laptop, neut.)

When you start learning German I would urge you to learn the correct gender / article every time you learn a new noun. Trust me, your future self will thank you for not having to go back and learn the correct article later on. Knowing the correct gender for each noun is essential for speaking German correctly. Do yourself a favour now and make it easier on yourself later in your German learning journey.

One of my favourite tips for learning articles is to use coloured post-it notes for as many household objects as possible: Blue for masculine, pink for feminine and yellow for neuter. Write the correct article and noun on the appropriately coloured post-it and stick it on.

My office looked quite colourful after I stuck:

  • Der Tisch (blue post-it) on the table
  • Die Tür (pink post-it) on the door
  • Das Fenster (yellow post-it) on the window

You can see where I’m going with this! Now just imagine how many nouns and articles you can learn if you apply this around your home or desk at work.


German people are known for being very logical and their language is no different. Unlike in English, there are no crazy words that are spelled nothing like how they are said like ‘thorough’ or ‘tough’.

Once you learn how the German alphabet sounds and how the vowel combinations are pronounced, you can have a go at saying any German word and it’ll probably be understandable to a native speaker, even Geschwindigkeitsüberschreitung! (speeding)

Let’s take a look at some of the German vowel pronunciation rules:

  • ei = sounds like ‘eye’ (nein = nine)
  • ie = sounds like ‘ee’ (mieter = meter)
  • au = sound like ‘ow’ (August = ow-gust)
  • eu = sounds like ‘oi’ (Euro = oi-row)
  • äu = sounds like ‘oi’ (träumen = tr-oi-men)

There are also 4 extra letters in the German alphabet which need to be learned, these are:

  • ä = sounds like ‘ehh’ (anfänger = an-fehn-er)
  • ö = sounds like ‘err’ (schön = sch-err-n)
  • ü = sounds like ‘oo’ (über = oo-ber)

Formal or Informal?

Unlike in English, German uses two versions of ‘you’, a formal and informal version.

  • Sie = you (formal)
  • du = you (informal)

This made me quite nervous at first as I was worried about using the wrong one. However, it really is quite simple.

The first thing to remember is that using ‘Sie’ is never incorrect. If you use ‘Sie’, the other person will let you know if ‘du’ is acceptable. You will not embarrass yourself so don’t be afraid to use ‘Sie’ if you’re unsure.

There are a few guidelines to help you know which one to use:

Sie = formal situations, whenever you talk to someone you don’t know who is older than you. Used in cafes, restaurants and shops. Any professional environment.

du = used for friends, family and children. Often used among people who don’t know each other if they are the same age or younger than you. Often used on social media.


In German, there are 4 grammatical cases; nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. The case that is used depends on how the noun is used in the sentence. Remember how we talked about the articles earlier on? All those articles are used in the nominative case. They will change depending on which case is used. I won’t lie to you, the German cases are a complicated topic, so I’ll give you a brief overview.


This is the version you’ll find in the dictionary. When a sentence is talking about a subject, we use the nominative case:

  • Die Frau (subject) wohnt in Deutschland = The woman (subject) lives in Germany
  • Der Mann (subject) arbeitet in der Bäckerei = The man (subject) works in the bakery


When we introduce a second object into the sentence, that new object (which isn’t the subject of the sentence) becomes the direct object. The subject uses the nominative case,and the direct object uses the accusative.

  • Das Kind (subject) isst einen Apfel (direct object) = The child (subject) eats an apple (direct object)
  • Der Mann (subject) liebt die Frau (direct object) = The man (subject) loves the woman (direct object)


If we now have 3 objects in the sentence, the object which receives an action from the direct object takes the dative case and is known as the ‘indirect object’.

  • Ich (subject = nom.) habe den Schlüssel (direct object = acc.) dem Mädchen (indirect object = dat.) gegeben = I (subject) have given the key (direct object) to the girl (indirect object, receiver)
  • Der Mann (subject) schickt seinem Chef (indirect object, receiver) eine E-mail (direct object) = The man (subject) sends his boss (indirect object) an E-mail (direct object)


The fourth and final case is the genitive. This case indicates possession.

  • Das Haus meiner Eltern = My parents’ house
  • Die Spielzeuge des Kindes = The child’s toy
  • Das Auto meiner Mutter = My mother’s car
  • Den Job meines Vaters = My father’s job


Adjectives add information to a language and are used a lot in German. Unlike in English, adjective endings change when they appear in front of a noun. The ending (usually -e, -en or -er) that is added depends on the case, gender and quantity the noun is describing. If the adjective appears after the noun, no ending is added.

Let’s look at the adjective freundlich (friendly) as an example.

  • Das ist eine freundliche Katze = That is a friendly cat
  • Die Katze ist freundlich = The cat is friendly

In the first example, the adjective goes before the noun so it needs an ending to be added. In the second example, the adjective is after the noun, so no ending is needed.

This is a complex topic and one that can be tricky to master. My advice is to listen to and read German, and notice when an adjective ending is used. Once you get good at spotting adjectives, you should be able to hear the endings.

I recommend learning set phrases or “chunks”, that way the phrase will come to you when you need it and you won’t need to think about what adjective ending is needed. For example:

  • Hab einen schönen Tag (have a nice day)

Verb Conjugation

Conjugating verbs in German can feel intimidating, but once you learn the rules, you’ll be conjugating without even thinking about it. Just like how we say in English ‘I am’, ‘you are’, ‘he is’ we need to learn the same rules for German.

Using ‘haben’ (to have) as an example, generally, most verbs are conjugated as follows:

  • ich habe (I have)
  • du hast (you have) (informal)
  • er / sie / es hat (he / she / it has)
  • ihr habt (you (plural) have)
  • Sie / wir haben (you (plural) / we have)

Pay attention to how the end of the verb changes after it’s been conjugated. The infinitive verb (haben) has its ending -en removed, and a new ending replaces it. This general rule applies to a lot of German verb conjugations. There are irregular verbs that are conjugated differently, but if you remember these rules for regular verbs you’ll be able to use many of them correctly.

7 Common mistakes in German and how to avoid them

Is German hard to learn - Reichstag Building with pretzel

1. Don’t overuse the future tense

In German, the future tense can sometimes be overused. As a general rule, if you are using an adverb of time such as nächste Woche (next week), morgen (tomorrow), heute (today) etc. in your sentence, you don’t need to use the future tense. Present tense + adverbial of time works best. For example:

  • Ich fahre morgen nach Hause (I am driving home tomorrow)

is better than:

  • Ich werde morgen nach Hause fahren (I will drive home tomorrow)

2. Use the past tense for feelings (if needed)

If you want to describe how you are feeling, make sure you use the past tense for the adjective if appropriate. When I first started learning German I said ‘ich bin langweilig’ (I am boring) rather than ‘ich bin gelangweilt’ (I am bored). Another example is:

  • Ich bin aufgeregt (I am excited)

rather than:

  • Ich bin aufregen (I am excite)

It can be easy to forget to use the past tense because this rule doesn’t apply to most ‘feelings’ adjectives, for example as:

  • Ich bin traurig (I am sad)
  • Ich bin neugierig (I am curious)
  • Ich bin glücklich (I am happy)

3. Don’t mix up friends and romance

This is a very common mistake in German. In English, we have very clear distinctions between ‘friend’ and ‘boyfriend / girlfriend’. The different words tell us the relationship status with a person.

However, in German the words ‘Freund’ and ‘Freundin’ can mean both male friend and female friend, and boyfriend and girlfriend respectively. This can create some confusion and sometimes embarrassment for beginners. So, how do we tell them apart?

It all comes down to the words we use before ‘Freund’ or ‘Freundin’. For example:

  • mein Freund / meine Freundin = my boyfriend / girlfriend

The ‘my’ part indicates possession, so that’s how we can tell that someone is talking about a romantic partner. For example:

  • ein Freund or eine Freundin von mir = a friend of mine

This is commonly used to establish that the person in question is a platonic friend.

4. Don’t say ‘ich bin heiß’

Another potentially embarrassing German faux pas to avoid is when you want to express how you feel about the weather or temperature. You need to avoid the obvious English way to translate this.

In German, we use ‘mir’ which essentially means ‘to me’. You can say ‘mir ist heiß’ which means ‘to me it is hot’. You are expressing how the temperature feels to you.

If you were to say the obvious phrase ‘ich bin heiß’ you would be saying that you are a hot person. In German, this is taken to mean that you are horny! Definitely, one to avoid, although you’ll probably give your friends a big laugh!

5. Avoid confusing ‘du’ and ‘dir’

One of the first things you’ll learn in German is how to say ‘how are you?’ It’s a common conversation starter but also a common source of mistakes for German newbies. Let’s look at an example:

  • Hallo! Wie geht es dir? (Hello! How are you?)
  • Gut danke, und du? (Good thanks, and you?)

In this case, you would think that ‘und du?’ (and you?) would be the obvious way to send the same question back to your conversation partner. And often ‘und du?’ is a great way to keep a conversation going when you first start speaking German.

However, whenever you are returning a question back to someone, you need to match the personal pronouns that were used to ask you the question. Here are some examples:

  • Hallo! Wie geht es dir? (Hello! How are you?)
  • Gut danke, und dir? (Good thanks, and you?)
  • Dein Onkel, geht es ihm besser? (Your uncle, is he feeling better?)
  • Ja, es geht ihm gut. (Yes, he’s well)
  • Hast du viele Hobbys? (Do you have many hobbies?)
  • Ja sehr viel, und du? (Yes many, and you?)

6. Do you say ‘You are right’ or ‘You have right?’

Which of these two sounds correct?

  • Du bist Recht (you are right)
  • Du hast Recht (you have right)

This is another example of when you need to ignore the English translation. In German ‘du hast Recht’ is the correct way to say ‘you are correct’.

7. ‘Ich bin’ or ‘Ich habe’?

Do I say ‘Ich bin’ (I am) or ‘Ich habe’ (I have)? This mistake haunted me for much of my early German learning journey. In English, when we use the past tense we can just say ‘I have driven to Germany and ‘I have washed my car’.

But in German which auxiliary verb we use, either ‘sein’ (to be) or haben’ (to have), changes depending on which other verb we are using in the past tense.

If the verb is describing movement or a change of state we use ‘sein’. Some examples are: laufen (to run), fahren (to drive), gehen (to go), fliegen (to fly), aufwachen (to wake up), sterben (to die). For example:

  • Ich bin nach Deutschland gefahren (I drove to Germany)
  • Ich bin gerade aufgewacht (I have just woken up)
  • Mein Vater ist gestorben (My father died)

Most other verbs require ‘haben’.

  • Ich habe mein Auto gewaschen (I washed my car)
  • Ich habe meine Freunde getroffen (I met my friends)
  • Meine Freunde haben mir ein Geschenk gekauft (My friends bought me a present)

For more, check out my guide to 13 Common German Grammar Mistakes You Make and How to Fix Them Immediately

4 Misconceptions about learning German

Is German hard to learn -

1. ‘I’ll embarrass myself in front of native speakers’

Never let the fear of embarrassing yourself prevent you from using a language. In my experience, native German speakers are very friendly and patient and will be thrilled that you are even trying to speak their language.

Native speakers will always understand what you mean. It doesn’t matter if your pronunciation is a bit off, or your grammar leaves a lot to the imagination. Just start talking and the locals will be amazed.

2. ‘I’ll never understand those long words’

Those intimidatingly long German words are easier to understand than you think. As you learn more and more German, you’ll be able to understand longer words. The reason words in German can get so long is because they are made up of shorter words that are joined together. These are known as compound words. A word that looks long in German could be made up of 2 or 3 words in English. For example:

  • Waschmaschine = wasch (wash) + maschine (machine) = washing machine
  • Sprachkurs = sprach (language) + kurs (course) = language course
  • Schreibtisch = schreib (writing) + tisch (table) = desk

3. ‘German is a boring language’

Following on from the previous point, German is absolutely not a boring language. Many nouns act as descriptions rather than words, many of which are very endearing. It’s great fun to learn new German words because you never know what you’ll discover next! Here are some fun examples:

  • Erdmännchen = little earth man (Meerkat)
  • Nilpferd = Nile horse (Hippo)
  • Handschuhe = hand shoes (gloves)
  • Regenschirm = rain shield (umbrella)

If you’re a bit of a grammar nerd like me, you’ll have plenty to sink your teeth into! You’ll never stop learning new things, so it’s impossible to get bored. You’ll also get to experience a different culture and the extensive German TV and film industry should keep you interested for a long time.

Still not convinced? Check out these 50 amusing German phrases that will brighten your day and watch this video hilarious German idioms.

4. ‘I Can’t Pronounce The German R’

The German R sound is something that can worry people new to German. It is a sound that English speakers struggle with because we don’t have that sound at all in English. It is a soft R sound that is produced in the back of the throat, a kind of guttural sound. In case you’re unfamiliar with the German R, you can hear an example here:

As an English speaker, you’ve trained your mouth your whole life to make English sounds. Now you need to retrain your mouth and activate your throat to produce a new R sound in a way you have never done before.

Think of it as gym training for your mouth and throat. At first, it’s difficult, your muscles are new to this and don’t know how to move in the correct way to get the desired result. All you can do is practice. Listen to German audio and try to imitate the sounds you hear. Do this in private whenever you can, so you get used to these new sounds coming from your mouth without feeling self-conscious.

The more you practice the better you’ll get. The more you do it the easier it will become. Eventually, you will crack the R sound and be able to use it when you need to because you have established muscle memory.

It’s entirely possible to achieve the German R even as an adult, it just takes dedication and practice. If all else fails, you can still speak German and use a more English sounding R, you’ll still be understood.

Is German hard to learn - Brandenburg Gate at sunrise

The Verdict: Is German Hard to Learn?

In short, no! In my experience, if you’re willing to put the work in, German is not too difficult to learn. German was my first foreign language, but for me, it’s a hobby, and I dedicate much of my free time to studying it.

While it may not be the easiest language to learn, it certainly isn’t one of the hardest. Since English has Germanic roots, you know many German words already. Some words are identical to English and others are very similar. This gives you an edge and gets your foot in the door.

There are many similar phrases as well. Try saying these examples aloud. I bet you can guess their meaning without even reading the translation:

  • was ist das? = what is that?
  • wie viel kostet das? = how much does that cost?
  • ich habe = I have

With its four grammatical cases and noun genders, German grammar might be more complicated than English, however, there are a lot of simple rules as well, which once learned, can increase fluency and accuracy. Once you know the rules for its sentence structure, you can make up your own sentences fairly easily with just a bit of practice. Viel Spaß und viel Glück! (Have fun and good luck!)

How to learn German: Top 6 Best Resources for Learning German

Is German hard to learn - Berliner Fernsehturm

What is the easiest way to learn German? By enjoying the process and having fun! Winston Churchill nailed it when he said:

Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. 

And as Leonardo da Vinci once said:

Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

Here are 5 ways to get started learning German, today!

  1. Join an online language course – Go from beginner to a solid intermediate-level with the power of StoryLearning thanks to German Uncovered created by polyglot Olly Richards. 
  2. Go on a language holiday like I did. Study abroad in German and make a holiday of it!
  3. Use a language app like Mondly to mix things up and keep you motivated
  4. Listen to a podcast like Coffee Break German
  5. Book a lesson on italki or to practice your conversation
  6. Feeling self-conscious? Improve your German accent and pronunciation with native German speaker and online educator, Kerstin from Fluent Language.
  7. Push past the plateau with Weekly German Workouts by Dr Popkins. If you’re at a solid upper beginner, starting intermediate level with your German, or an intermediate student looking to consolidate), this is your chance to speak more confident German in a matter of weeks. Weekly German Workouts is created by exceptional polyglot, Dr. Gareth Popkins from How to Get Fluent, he’s also a great friend of mine. Dr Popkins is one of the most passionate language learners I’ve ever met. He brings so much personal experience to his courses which is hard to find. Join Weekly German Workouts here.

A big thanks to Emma for sharing her invaluable insights and tips. To find out more about German, make sure you check out Emma’s language blog Emma Loves German.

Like it? Pin it for later!

Is German hard to learn - 7 German Grammar Mistakes to Avoid

Learning German? Then you’ll love these…

Want to know more about learning languages? Start here!

Over to you!

Which of these German tips did you find the most useful? Do you have a funny story to tell when you got something wrong? Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
Like what you see? Subscribe using the form below to have all of my posts delivered directly to your email.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.