Learning Vocabulary Effectively


Welcome to our second blog post! In this post, we will be talking about all things vocabulary. German is a beautiful language, but it has LOTS of words (Fun fact: German linguist Wolfgang Klein found over 5.3 million lexical units, or “words” to you and I, in the German language between 1994 and 2004). A common question we get asked is, “How do I learn vocabulary?” Therefore, in this blog post we will be giving you some useful tips and tricks that we have used, and continue to use, ourselves. Los geht’s!

The Humble Notebook

The simplest way to learn new words is to write them down in a notebook. Writing a word down can be up to 7 times more effective in helping move it to memory compared to reading or speaking it. However, simply writing the words down won’t get them into your long term memory! You need to recap on new vocabulary regularly in order to cement it in your brain (see the other tricks below for methods of recapping vocabulary).

A helpful trick is to divide your notebook into 4 columns: one for masculine words, one for feminine words, one for neutral words and one for other words and phrases (e.g. adjectives, adverbs, verbs, idiomatic expressions etc.). This really helps if you are a visual learner and will help you learn the article (der/die/das) with the word easier also.

“The Shoebox Technique”

This technique requires the following materials: three containers (I use shoeboxes, hence “The Shoebox Technique”), coloured paper in 6 different colours and stationary. It works as follows:

  1. Label each container. Label the first Short Term, label the second Medium Term and label the last Long Term.
  2. Cut the coloured paper into small pieces suitable for writing words and phrases onto.
  3. Every time you learn a new word, write the German on one side of the piece of paper and the English on the other side. Use different coloured paper for different types of words: (1) masculine words (2) feminine words (3) neutral words (4) verbs (5) adjectives and adverbs (6) phrases (e.g. Das ist mir egal). Then place your new words in to the Short Term box.
  4. Devote a specific time to recapping on Short Term words each week. This should only take 5-10 minutes and involves selecting words randomly from the box and reading the word aloud, writing it down and translating it.
  5. When you are confident that you know the spelling, meaning and pronunciation of a word, move it to the Medium Term box.
  6. Devote a specific time to recapping on Medium Term words each fortnight in the way you did with Short Term words.
  7. Repeat the process for Long Term words, which should be recapped on each month.
  8. After a while your shoeboxes will become quite full. Since recapping and recalling is learning, you should never take words out of your boxes. Instead, as numbers increase, set a limit to the amount of words you will choose during a recap session from any respective box (e.g. 30 words). The more the better, but take a break when you feel your concentration fading. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!


Now we get to the 21st Century in terms of vocab learning! Our favourite apps for learning vocabulary are Quizlet, Memrise and Duolingo.

Quizlet: This is hands down our favourite way of learning German vocabulary. In Quizlet, information is organised into “study sets” that users add to their accounts and these work like digital flash cards. You can either search for study sets made by other people or make your own, simple! Students can play games with their Study Sets which involve learning, writing, spelling or playing with their flash cards. Vocabulary lists and self-tests can also be saved and printed. It’s also very useful for subjects with lots of definitions, such as Biology or Business. And what’s best is that you can do all of this for free!

Memrise: This platform uses staggered repetition of flashcards to increase the rate of learning, similar to a digital version of our “Shoebox Technique”. You choose your language and level and then start learning.

Duolingo: I am sure that a lot of you are familiar with this one. Duolingo is the most popular language-learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world. Again, it is based on the methodology of repetition to learn a language. Download it and see for yourself how it works!


The best way to learn a language is to expose yourself to it. However, you probably aren’t going to move to Germany, Austria or Switzerland before you sit your exams, are you? Thankfully, in today’s world, never before has it been easier to expose yourself to a language. Whether it’s reading, watching movies or TV, listening to podcasts, songs or radio, your options are limitless. Here are some of our favourite exposure platforms.

Reading: Deutsche Welle is a really good platform for reading about news in Germany and the rest of the world through German. To help people learn German, they also have a Media Center with Live TV and Podcasts and a section dedicated to learners of German. A great feature is their “Top Thema” where you listen to and read a text on a current theme and complete exercises on it afterwards, all completely free!

Movies: Netflix has some great German content. Simply search “German” to browse the selection of German series and films. Sometimes, however, this content is more suited to native speakers. In this case, what I like to do is watch something I am familiar with (Shrek, for example) and watch it dubbed in German with German or English subtitles, depending on the difficulty.

TV: Tagesschau would be the equivalent to the RTÉ News in Germany. A feature we really enjoy is called ‘100 Sekunden’. Here, the main new headlines are given in 100 seconds which is great for a quick blast of German. Otherwise, “Die Sendung mit der Maus” is a popular daily German TV programme for children, but with interesting and universal themes explained in easy-to-understand German.

Podcasts and Songs: Spotify has great content in this regard, but you can also find content online and on YouTube. You can download the “Top 50 in Germany” playlist on Spotify or search for other platlists such as “Made in Germany”. When listening to a German song, you should listen a few times and then search for the song text online. In terms of Podcasts, “Hintergrund – Deutschlankfunk”, “Was jetzt” and “Slow German” are great for news.

German Radio: WDR, one of the national broadcasters in Germany, has great radio (and TV) options online and on their app.  They have 5 different stations, as well as another station aimed at teenagers and young adults, called “Cosmo”, with music and stories aimed at this group. Whatever your taste is, they definitely have something for you, so check it out!

As with anything, passively listening to something is much less effective than active participation. When reading, watching or listening, note down the words you don’t understand and replay parts where you got lost. Remember the aim isn’t to understand every single word, but rather to understand the meaning of the content and tune your eyes and ears to the German language in preparation for exams.

Other Tips

How can you make learning vocabulary easier? Some of the following tips should help:

  • Learn vocabulary in themes: Learn words in groups based on one theme (e.g. school).
  • Put new words into context: When learning new words, read sentences with them in it and write your own sentences using the new words. Linguee is great for this!
  • Learn synonyms to new words: Synonyms are words that mean the same as another word (e.g. ‘böse’ and ‘wütend’ are synonyms for angry). This also helps you vary your language.
  • Learn antonyms to new words: Antonyms are words that mean the opposite to another word (e.g. ‘gut’ and ‘schlecht’ are antonyms). You will be able to increase your vocabulary quickly this way.
  • Learn word families: Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern such as the same letters or sounds. For example, when learning the verb ‘wohnen’, you could make a list of associated words such as ‘das Wohnheim’, ‘die Wohnung’, ‘der Wohnort’ etc.

Hopefully this blog post has provided you with some useful tricks for learning vocabulary effectively. As always, if you have any questions please get in touch and be sure to tell your friends!

Viel Spaß beim Mitmachen!

Beste Grüße

Ihr Deutsch Online Team

Be sure to check out our Vocabulary and Useful Phrases Guides that are available to aid your study in the area of vocabulary.

P.S. We will be doing a separate blog on German series, films and podcasts with more information for German learners, so watch this space!