We, the parents, don’t speak much German. Our daughter has been going to a German school for two years (start at 4) and is fluent by now. However, the teachers say that she lacks some vocabulary.

She’s already watching movies in German, seeing mates from school, reading and writing a little bit. We know it will improve in the future without doing much.

What are some interesting ways to improve her vocabulary?

  • 1
    In a nutshell: speaking with German speakers, listening to German in films, radio, cartoons, reading German books (as soon as she can read fluently) etc.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 12:37

4 Answers 4


A lot of initial language knowledge is transferred through the parents, especially at an early age. So the more words you know and use, the more your child will learn as well. Get a lexicon for children (like: a real lexicon, not just a book with pictures and words beside them.) and explore it together - the explanations will lead you to new words you do not know yet (and extend your child's knowledge about the world in general).

A thesaurus can help you to discover new meanings of words you already know or other ways to say the same thing. Employ this newly unlocked knowledge in your conversations.

You can also use your regular shopping trips to learn a lot of everyday vocabulary: What is in all these cans and packages? Can you find Küchenpapier? Which way do I have to go to get there? How do you call this long stick with brushes at the end? Since everything is labelled, you always have a solution at hand.

Read, write, talk and listen as much as you both can. New words one has encountered over the day is a valid dinner conversation (and sometimes even more interesting then all this grown-up talk).

Play with words. Especially since German allows compound words, you can use it to create new ones or take them apart to figure out what they might mean. Also sometimes switching, adding or removing a single letter can yield unexpected results and as far as my experience goes, young children enjoy these "nonsense conversations" a lot:

Krankenkasse (health insurance)
kranke Kasse (sick register/budget)
Krankasse (a register/budget for/from/of? cranes)
Kranklasse (a class about cranes/for crane driving)
Krakenklasse (a class full of octopi)
klasse Kraken (awesome octopi)
Krakenkranklassenkasse! (A budget for lessons to teach octopi driving cranes)

And finally, be patient and don't despair. Formal language, bureaucratic language, common language, slang, dialects and trade specifics can make for an overwhelming mix even native speakers struggle with from time to time. Encourage your child (and yourself) to ask what a specific word means or how something is called. The truth is, that sometimes Germans don't know either.

  • +1 for Krakenkranklassenkasse and welcome to Language Learning!
    – fi12
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:58

You can do your daughter a great service by motivating her to read. In the scientific literature, this is known as extensive reading or reading for pleasure. There is a lot of research evidence on the benefits of extensive reading on vocabulary size and other aspects of linguistic development.

The report Reading for pleasure: A research overview from the National Literacy Trust cites the linguist Stephen Krashen:

When children read for pleasure, when they get “hooked on books”, they acquire, involuntarily and without conscious effort, nearly all of the so-called “language skills” many people are so concerned about: they will become adequate readers, acquire a large vocabulary, develop the ability to understand and use complex grammatical constructions, develop a good writing style, and become good (but not necessarily perfect) spellers. Although free voluntary reading alone will not ensure attainment of the highest levels of literacy, it will at least ensure an acceptable level. Without it, I suspect that children simply do not have a chance.

So try to find out what types of stories she likes; many libraries now have books that are adapted to very young learners.


Audio books haven't been mentioned yet.

My daughter listens to them as background noise on repeat.

She picks up phrases from the dialogues and sometimes she asks about sentences she does not understand. (I have never seen this happen while watching TV.)

Additional, check out the questions related to language on Parenting Stack Exchange: there are a lot of related questions regarding children learning languages.


One thing that hasn't been mentioned to that extent is that you as her parents need to learn German. If you want your daughter to learn German, you must lead by example. It does not matter if your German is bad, it is much better if your daughter talks with you in bad German than if she talks to you in your native language. It is good to use both languages, but from my experience, children who don't talk German at home have a much more difficult time learning German.

And also, if you are planning on staying in a German speaking country for a while, it might be a good thing to learn German yourself ;)

  • Welcome to Language Learning Dakkaron! This is certainly a point that has been looked over.
    – fi12
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:59

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