I’ve been learning German for a while now and here are some of the options I’ve found useful for learning the language. Hopefully they’re useful to you as well. Some of these links are affiliate links, but they’re still my honest opinions.
Duolingo – Free with optional paid subscriptions
Duolingo is the OG of “gamified” online learning at your own pace. I’ve been using it on and off for over a decade, and many people use it as their first or only language learning tool. It supports more than 40 languages.
Duolingo’s interface is drastically different on iOS and Android versus the website, but you’re essentially doing the same translation tasks on all three versions to learn languages, except the web version doesn’t have access to your microphone at the moment so your speech isn’t graded.
That’s a fine way to start, but you may need other tools and resources for learning if fluency is your goal. The text-to-speech synthesis in Duolingo has improved a lot, but it still isn’t perfect and hearing different natural voices, attached to real human faces moving, could be critical to becoming fluent. Duolingo doesn’t have that, and that’s alright but this is why people need more options.
Duolingo is extremely pushy with the Super Duolingo subscription service. The free tier is a good way to check out whats on offer, but the hearts you lose by making mistakes while learning and other roadblocks quickly get in the way of your learning progress if you don’t pay up. Making mistakes is essential to learning, and punishing people for making mistakes is a good way to get people to stop learning.
Maintaining a daily learning streak in Duolingo can also be challenging if you don’t pay up and Duolingo is very focused on streaks. I believe that streaks can be good for some people to keep learning, but they can also be an enormous barrier to progress when they’re lost. Many people start goals in a new year, and inevitably drop them when they falter on the path to their goal. We all the know the example of someone going to the gym a few times a week or exercising daily in a new year, and for me included this is often a barrier because when I step off the gas for a moment the streak is lost and it becomes all too much to continue. Duolingo is geared towards encouraging this kind of behavior.
It has taken me getting and losing multiple long streaks before I’ve built up my current streak of nearly a thousand days in Duolingo.
Duolingo also has online competitive leaderboards which you can opt out of by setting your profile to private. I enjoy the leaderboard competition, but it may push some users away.
Super Duolingo removes ads, gives you a monthly streak repair, lets you review your mistakes, and gives you access to “Unlimited Legendary” which is their legendary levels of learning without paying the gems that you collect by learning.
A Super Duolingo family plan for up to six members exists so the cost can be shared across a group of family and friends, but then you’re the jerk hitting everyone up for their language money which can be a hassle.
Duolingo really wants you to believe that subscribing to Super Duolingo helps them provide free language learning resources to millions of people and that’s true. Learning should be free without burdensome subscriptions, it’s a shame that Duolingo puts so many roadblocks in your learning path if you are a free user. Still, I subscribe to Super Duolingo because it’s one service that I’ve found to work very well for me.
Duolingo is publicly traded and venture capital funded, which means its mission is extremely corrupted by profit-seeking.
Memrise – Free with paid subscriptions or lifetime memberships
Memrise is a lot like Duolingo. It has gamified language learning and made it available in different versions for iOS, Android, and the web.
Unlike Duolingo, Memrise has videos of real people speaking some of the languages it supports. Memrise calls this feature “Learn with Locals” and it is fantastic. You’ll watch a human speak and then answer a quick multiple-choice quiz or type in what they’ve said. Memrise also has a TikTok esque mode called Immerse that plays short videos with subtitles that can flip flop between your current language and your target language. Hearing my target language, German, spoken by real humans who have different speech patterns, is great.
One issue I’ve noticed with Memrise is that the volume in the German course varies wildly. This process is called audio normalization, but it doesn’t appear to have been done to Memrise at all. The Text-to-Speech engine memrise uses can vary wildly between a quieter sound and a very loud sound, as can the videos that are on the service. This may not be a big issue for some people, and may not be an issue with some target languages on Memrise, but it is a problem for me.
Because Memrise has lifetime subscription options, I was able to pay once and then never have to pay again for access to all of the features on the website and in the apps. Good deal.
Memrise is venture capital funded which means its mission is extremely corrupted by profit-seeking.
Anki – Free and Open Source
Anki is a free and open source flash card program focused on repetition for learning anything. The quality of the learning is entirely dependent on the flashcard decks you have access to, but as an entirely free tool it is a great option to augment the other tools.
Because Anki itself is truly free, it does not preclude someone from making paid apps and services around it, but I only use the free desktop and mobile apps.
Your Library – Free
This it entirely dependent on what your local community has. Some libraries have free books in your target language and other free resources or online options. Through Libby I can borrow books in my target language and even comics. Highly recommended. Support your library by using their services. WorldCat.org can help you find your local library.
Libraries are typically funded by taxes. Tax the rich.
Easy Languages (Easy German, Easy English, etc) – Free
Easy German is an invaluable YouTube channel with free language learning with entirely wonderful people hosting and chatting with the public about different language learning scenarios. Playlists group their lessons by type and skill level.
The Easy German Podcast is very fun and a great way to hear natural conversational German.
They also have other channels and resources focused on other languages. Find the entire group of Easy Languages here.
Easy Languages run various Patreons and other methods of obtaining funding from the public.
The Expat Cast & The Germany Experience Podcasts – Free
These podcasts focus on the cultural aspects of migrants moving to Germany specifically and are very enjoyable. Sometimes they also interview repeat migrants and those who are leaving to talk about the challenges of migrating which is extremely valuable.
The Expat Cast is hosted by Nicole, and Shaun hosts The Germany Experience. Both have a slightly different beat but they’re also friends and appear on each other’s shows so they got grouped together.
Slow German Podcast & YouTube Channel – Free
Slow German is a terrific podcast with very slowly read German audio that is perfect for a more intermediate to advanced learner trying to just cram as much possible audio into their learning process though there are also some episodes for “absolute beginners.”
Annik Rubens does a terrific job hosting. The YouTube channel has much of the same content but organized into playlists that can be helpful but those are also accessible from the Slow German website.
Like the Easy Languages products, Slow German has various public funding methods.
Deutsche Welle Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten Podcast – Free
Deutsche Welle (DW) is going to come up a lot, they have a ton of content for learning German, but this is where I recommend starting if you’re interested in another podcast. The Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten program is another slowly read podcast that covers the news. This has the additional challenge that the news isn’t entertaining and can be less fun, but it is an excellent resource for hearing detailed journalistic language.
Deutsche Welle is a public company under the thumb of the German state.
Deutsche Welle Nicos Weg – Free
Nicos Weg is another Deutsche Welle product, but this time it is a comprehensive video series available both on dw.com with interactive quizzes and more, and on YouTube as a show to watch. The video series is a soap-like drama covering the experiences of Nico moving to Germany and learning the language along with the viewer. This video from DW explains the show:
Deutsche Welle is a public company under the thumb of the German state.