This question is slightly related to an earlier question about studies on language requisition, but is more interested in practical/anecdotal evidence rather than 'scientific study'.

During school and subsequently at university I studied German as a second language (English being my first), during this time and through several extended trips I became fairly fluent in both written and verbal communication.

In recent years I haven't had any need to use the language, and even on trips to Germany have used English rather than German.

If I pick up a newspaper or overhear people on the bus, I can still get a fairly okay gist of what's going on, but couldn't really translate and would completely struggle to comment/reply.

My question is how best to go about regaining fluency in German, I've considered two real possibilities, both of of which have drawbacks:

  • Start from scratch with a beginners course and work forward. Whilst this would obviously do the job, its tediously dull since the very basic vocab and grammar is still familiar. There is of course the possibility of skipping forward but its hard to know how far to go.
  • Try and read newspapers/listen to TV with the aid of a dictionary and verb tables. This seems more sensible, but I'm unsure of whether this is actually a good way to regain the knowledge or whether it would just help me to understand a specific passage and nothing more.

Any advice appreciated.


6 Answers 6


In my opinion, start reading books and watching videos (all in German of course).

Start with difficult stuff, stuff that only fluent German speakers could easily understand. If the material is too difficult to understand properly (that is at your discretion) then start going for material that less fluent speakers would understand. Continue until you reach a point that you are very comfortable with that level of German.

At this point, you should know where your weak and strong points are and learn according to your weak points (and your strong points to as a review of some sorts as well).


I was in a similar situation with Korean, and I found that when I started re-learning it, beginner material was too easy, but I had large holes in my knowledge in intermediate and advanced materials; however, it was hard to know what I didn't know. After randomly studying different things and feeling either bored and/or frustrated with them, I decided to take the national language proficiency test (TOPIK) to see where I stood and what I needed to improve.

I found it really helpful because it was a very concrete goal with lots of study materials that usually drill more than teach. It really helped me fill in a lot missing vocabulary and grammar, remember how to write an essay again, etc. Unfortunately, the test didn't have a speaking section, so it didn't help me much there, it still helped fill in missing knowledge, which I noticed time and again helping me in real conversations.

I don't know if there's a similar test for German, but even something like the SAT II would probably help in a similar way.


I believe that by "going 21st Century" and using the Internet, and then doing the following will help you quite a bit to re-learn much of the German you apparently believe that you have forgotten:

  1. Obtain a copy of Barron's "German Grammar", which is a small, inexpensive, pocket-sized reference grammar intended for relearners, as it says in the book's "Preface": "It should also be useful for those who have had some German previously and want to "brush up" on their grammar." The book is available on these Amazons: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk. and Amazon.de.

  2. Acquaint yourself with and use the German language articles in the German language Wikipedia (de.Wikipedia.org) and it's companion dictionary (de.Wiktionary.org).

  3. Acquaint yourself with and use the "Gesprochene Wikipedia" Portal in the German language Wikipedia by going to that Wikipedia's home page, and in the "Wikkommen bei Wikipedia" box at the top of the page clicking on the linking phrase "Gesprochene Wikipedia" where the spoken articles (as done in audio books) are listed alphabetically in the following categories: Geographie, Geschichte, Gesellschaft, Kunst und Kultur, Religion, Sport, Technik und Verkehr, and Wissenschaft und Philosophie.

The Barron's "German Grammar" is listed for purchase on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.de. Before you decide to purchase the book be sure to read all of the reviews of the book on Amazon; all of them very good. I've found it to be absolutely a very good and handy book for a quick review of German grammar. Reading through it quickly it seems as though the "re-learner" was foremost in the author's mind!

The Wikipedia Foundation offers Wikipedias in English and more than 150 foreign languages, many with an accompanying Wiktionary. Their value to the re-learner is in the variety of topics that are covered. The "Gesprochene Wikipedia" Portal in the German Wikipedia is remarkable because (a) it combines written and verbal word recognition for vocabulary building, and (b) it provides word and sentence pronunciations and intonations, which are very useful as your speaking skills improve as your vocabulary builds and your knowledge of German grammar returns, and (c) it helps with improving your ability to close your eyes and understand what is being said, i.e. your ability to understand spoken German will help you make the difficult transition from knowing written German well, to knowing how to speak in German properly and with the confidence you'll have to engage in conversations with other German speakers.

PLEASE NOTE: You will find that you can't use the link to an article in the "Gesprochene Wikipedia Portal" listing page to link directly to the text of a spoken article you want to hear being read to you. The easiest way (I've found) is to (1) physically type in (or copy and paste) the name of the article into the search box at the top of the spoken-articles listing page (or the search box at the top of any Wikipedia page) to bring up the article, and then (2) go down to the very bottom of that selected article's page to the box where the speech control slider is located, and initiate the reading of the text with that control. It's awkward, I know, but at first it is the really the simplest way to get started simultaneously reading the article and hearing it read to you. After you get used to working with gesprochene Wikipedia articles you should be able to develop your own techniques for controlling the Wikipedia-formatted .OGG audio files to do backups and repeats more easily.

When you get to the point in your re-learning exercise where you want to begin writing your own sentences in German (as exercises or whatever) I suggest you can use either of two available translation applications (Google and/or the Russian Yandex browsers) that will help you write grammatically correct sentences in German. Using either of the translators (translate.google.com and translate.Yandex.ru) is like having your own "digital tutor" right there with you, along with two 'blackboards' to write on and read from. Yandex.ru is in Russian, but because it is literally a "Translator person "(Russian: 'Pereвод"цк"), you can set up the translation for Russian-to-English, you can highlight/copy, and then paste unknown Russian abbreviations, words, and phrases into the Russian source box to obtain the English translation. The same procedure, of course, goes for German language elements, especially when you want to break down and have translated the profuse "multi-word" words one always finds in German language text.

Since the two 'digital tutors' carry extensive dictionaries with them, you can take your time in looking for and finding the last of your 're-learning' tools: a hard-cover print dictionary that you believe best meets your 'word look-up' needs.

Then finally, using YouTube teaching and entertainment videos is another "21st Century" way to 'immerse' yourself in German culture. If you access the website "www.de.YouTube", then type "Videos auf Deutsch", your video selections will be (mostly) German-language videos. The selections can be simply regrouped by entering the appropriate German word or phrase for your particular category ("Katagorie") of interest in the YouTube search box.

The rest is up to you.

  • 1
    To help anyone wanting to use the Yandex.ru translator, German = Немецкий" (neh-mets-key), and English = "Английский" (ahng-lee-ski). Clicking on the arrow bar between the two language boxes toggles the contents of each box, with the contents of the former target box now becoming the contents of the source box, and being translated accordingly. Apr 18, 2017 at 1:29

I'm thinking about the same problem with refreshing my Italian. My approach is to use Duolingo - you can quickly go through the things that you already know and focus on topics that are weaker. Plus, it's very addictive with its gamification element. I spent 20-30 minutes daily for the past 20 days and managed to go through most of the words a learned for 6 years in the elementary school.

The disadvantage is that if you want to refresh your grammar - it might be difficult to reverse engineer it from these exercises. You might want to complement your Duolingo training with some grammar textbook. The listening is also synthetic to some extent - listening to radio can help with that as well.


Since you speak German I think it would be already a good exercise for you if I continue by writting the rest in German to you but in order to avoid trouble I will just add a German translation for you.

So what I would do if I had forgotten about a language or if I lost confidence in speaking the language I once spoke before I would try to regain it by joining teamspeak servers of a game I play and that got a nice and big community. For example, I play warframe. You can play the game in English, French, German, you name it. Then look for a German clan and ask if they have a teamspeak server and if you could join.

That way you could play together with them and listen to the language try to speak it yourself. Everything like that. You could also download the app called Tandem and search for a practising partner. I can offer to help you if you want. It is an app to find someone who speaks the language either as a native or as someone who is just really good with it and then you practise with him. Talking about everything you two would like to talk about.

I got a partner for my Japanese but I mostly help him to improve his English since I can't force myself to learn Japanese because I am also very occupied with my French which is very demanding already to speak it every day and then I have to relax in the evening.

Anyway those are some of my ideas. Teamspeak for speaking and hearing and tandem to do something for the writing, pronunciation, and the listening.

Also was ich machen würde, hätte ich eine Sprache vergessen/verlernt oder das Selbstvertrauen zum Sprechen der Sprache verloren, welche ich zuvor gesprochen habe, würde ich versuchen auf einen Teamspeak Server eines Spiels zu gehen, welches ich spiele, welcher eine nette und große Gemeinschaft hat. Als Beispiel.: Ich spiele Warframe. Das Spiel gibts in English, Französisch, Deutsch, und viele weitere Sprachen. Anschließend suchst du nach einem Deutschen Clan und fragst, ob du auf ihr TS kommen kannst oder du dem Clan beitretten darfst.

So kannst du zusammen mit ihnen spielen, der Sprache zuhören und versuchen Sie zu sprechen. Du kannst dir aber auch die App Tandem runterladen und einen Übungspartner suchen. Ich kann dir gerne dabei helfen. Die App dient dazu jemanden zu finden, der entweder ein Mutterspracher ist oder die Sprache beherrscht und dann übst du mit demjenigen. Ihr könnt über alles mögliche Reden, was euch beiden gefällt.

Ich habe einen japanischen Partner, allerdings helfe ich ihm mit seinem Englisch, da ich zu sehr mit meinem Französisch beschäftigt bin und ich mich nicht aufs Japanische konzentrieren kann.

Jedenfalls sind diese einige meiner Ideen. Teamspeak zum sprechen und hören und Tandem zum schreiben, Aussprache üben und zuhören.

I hope this is fine for the moderators since this is about languages and it should not be limited by an added translation for practise.

  • @Hatchet thank you very much for the correction. I will try to learn from them and improve my writing :)
    – VarmintLP
    Dec 7, 2018 at 7:20

If you are going with option 1, i.e. starting from scratch, you could try those a-word-a-day apps like Beginner German -https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.shex.beginnergerman. It would be an uphill climb, albeit a relatively short climb seeing you are only revisiting. In any event, going it about the long way is usually a more reliable method in the long run, I'd think.

  • Do you have any relation to the linked application? Undisclosed promotion is not ok, but disclosed is.
    – Tommi
    Dec 7, 2018 at 10:27

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