How to Retrain Your Brain to Learn German

How to Retrain Your Brain to Learn German

Learning a language when you are young is easy. When you reach your teenage years, it is much more difficult to train your brain to learn those other languages.

Part of this is that when you are young, it is easier to think in whatever languages you know. As you age, you get in the habit of thinking in just your native tongue.

For those who learn more than one language as a child, it tends to be easier to learn new languages because they aren't in the habit of just thinking in a single language.

What is fortunate about learning German as an English speaker is that a lot of the structure and vocabulary is similar enough that it can be less challenging to get accustomed to some aspects. It will still be a challenge, but the common aspects means that some of it will come more easily.

The best way to learn the language is train your brain to start thinking in German. You should alos make sure to work to retain what you learn, but this blog focuses on how to make the learning process easier.

Fortunately, that is pretty easy when you understand how your brain is processing the language. Then with the right tools, you can start to learn German with a little more confidence and efficiency.


How Your Brain Understand German as a Non-Native Speaker

Part of the problem is that your brain isn't a blank slate. When you are learning German, you start to translate what you learn to English. When you try to form a sentence, you think it in English, then you try to translate it to German.

While this is absolutely understandable initially, you want to get to the point where you can start to think in German first. This requires relearning how you learn the language.

There are two keys to doing this.

  1. Be mindful of how you are thinking as you learn. You can actively engage with how your thought process and work to retrain it.

When you first start learning German, it's fine to focus on just the learning. That's more than enough in the beginning. Over time though, you can start working to think in German initially, instead of thinking in English.

  1. Continue to learn as you go. No matter how comfortable you are with a language, there is always more to learn.

There is a lot of truth behind someone saying they know non-native English speakers who speak better English than most of the people they know. That's because non-native speakers pay more attention to the rules and understand the language from a technical perspective.

Your goal is to learn to sound like a native speaker, and that means continuing to work on it, no matter how good you get.

Glasses on book

Tips and Tricks to Retraining Your Brain

The older your brain gets, the more set habits become. Retraining your brain isn't about fighting with it, but in working with it to establish connects that help your brain better process what you are learning.

This section provides four ways to work to retrain your brain.

Using Rhythm to Get the Cadence

As you actively learn German, it is very likely that you are focused on grammar, vocabulary, and stringing together thoughts. That's normal, and it's definitely expected in the beginning.

Something you should also do is start to develop the cadence of how German's speak. This means taking German sentences and saying them repeatedly to an established rhythm.

You can choose a different sentence every day, with sentences containing new words being particularly helpful - you can reinforce the new word while working on the rhythm.

Once you have your sentence, start to drum on a nearby surface. Speak the sentence while drumming. This helps you to develop a flow as you speak.

This method is particularly useful for people who are kinesthetic learners as it engages more than just the mind. Over time, you will start to have a more rhythmic method of speaking, instead of the halting style people have when they first start learning a language.

If you aren't sure where to start, here are some German tongue twisters to really make you forget the technical aspects and focus on the words and rhythm.

Check the News

As a beginning German student, this may be a bit too advanced, but by the time you are an intermediate learner, you should be able to get an idea of what different news articles cover.

Keeping up with the news means being able to understand a lot more about the people, not just the language. When you consider how much current events factor into music, shows, and other forms of entertainment, it starts to be easy to understand why you should understand what's happening in German speaking countries.

You don't have to fully understand the news articles. This isn't a test and there is no pop quiz. The purpose is to learn to take what you do know and apply it to what is happening.

This is a very natural way of learning a language because you aren't just focused on the language. You are learning about what's happening in the news. This acts as a way of overtaking the language learning, making it more about thinking in the language than about the language.

Here are a few sites you can use to start finding news coverage you can understand.


Start Talking

Find a language buddy and start talking in German with them. You can do this with an app, someone in class, or your teacher. There are plenty of people out there who speak German.

You can look for German speakers in your area. There could be meetups or other ways of getting used to speaking in German with other people.

Narrate Your Actions

When you wake in the morning or are getting ready for bed, talk aloud about what you are doing. It's kind of a fun way of talking with very low stakes.

This has the added bonus of you becoming more aware of things you're doing. Do you want to brush your teeth for two full minutes? Narrate yourself saying you will do that as you apply toothpaste.

Then shift the narration into your head and think about how you feel as you do this same boring task for the recommended time frame.

Self-narration is a great way of better practicing German and learning new vocabulary. You can even tailor some part of your day to cover something you learned during a particular German lesson.



Beyond these tips, there are plenty of other ways to make German a more familiar language. Find shows, movies, music, and YouTube channels that you enjoy. Passively listening to German, even as background noise, helps to integrate it into your mind.

There's a lot that you can do to help your brain be more receptive to the language. Over time, you may even start to have dreams in German. When that happens, you know that you are well on your way to becoming fluent.