How to find the best online German course

How to find the best online German course

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Thanks to internet connections and webcams, learning a new language has never been so cheap or convenient. But with so many German learning resources competing for your attention, how do you sort the good from the bad? Michael Schmitz, creator of smarterGerman, shares his tips for finding a course that works for you. 

Let me cut to the chase: it’s the 21st century and online learning is the way to go. Not only is it more efficient and more economical for the student, it also allows for a much better learning experience. 

The problem with learning German online isn’t that there aren’t enough learning resources, but quite the reverse: there are too many of them, and you have no way of determining which would actually be best for your needs. 

In the following article, I’ll share the essence of my language learning experience with you. I’ve been learning languages on and off for the last 30 years. For the last 22 years, I’ve been working as a German tutor, giving private and group lessons. I created several online German courses and I’ll help you find the best German language course out there. 

But first, I want to make things crystal clear, so that you can read this article with peace of mind and focus on its true message: 

A necessary disclaimer 

I offer my own set of fantastic German online courses, covering levels A1 to C1, and so I’m aware that I must come across as biased writing about this topic. However, not only do I hereby swear that what I have written here is as honest as it could be, but also that every word comes from the heart.

To be successful, a business has to make its clients successful, and happy with what they purchase. If we’re talking specifically about language courses, the student has to feel like they will ultimately earn back the time they need to make the money the course costs them. This can only be accomplished if the manner of teaching makes the students learn faster and with more joy than with other available materials. 

This is what I had in mind when I set about creating my course, and I’m going to share with you exactly which principles I built it around, not simply to make you sign up for one my lessons  (although I’d be overjoyed if you did), but so that you can see how any German course out there measures up. 

How can you tell if an online course is any good?  

The perfect online German course doesn’t exist (yet). But here are the most important criteria I’d look for in any course that I’d consider worth my money and - even more importantly - my time.  

1. The course adapts to my needs and not the other way around 

I can work with the course whenever and wherever I want. That means there are no live classes involved, as that would mean that I’d have to be in class at a fixed time that I didn’t choose.  

2. A clear course structure and usability are key 

The ideal German online course provides a crystal clear structure and a smooth user experience that will allow me to focus on learning German instead of having to organise my downloaded resources or attempt to keep track of what I have already worked on and what I need to do next. 

I also want to experience a smooth workflow, as it always takes me time to get back into the learning mode if I get interrupted. It also means that the course materials are available and easily usable on a mobile device. 

While this matters especially for beginners, it is still greatly beneficial for intermediate and advanced students, as there will always be gaps in one’s knowledge. And I can leave it to luck to discover these gaps - which might be a bit embarrassing at times - or approach them systematically and save myself the pain of a faux pas. 

Many beginners are simply not able to make wise choices in regard to which materials to work with and how to organise their language learning, as it requires hundreds of hours of experience to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff - and not all learning materials were created equal! I want the online course to take the burden of choice off my shoulders for a while so that I can simply enjoy the ride. 

3. I need to understand in order to learn 

If they teach you German using only German, get out while you still can. This so-called monolingual approach is THE number one reason why thousands of German learners struggle with learning German in the first place. 

You might have heard that German is a difficult language to learn. That’s simply not true. It’s only difficult when someone tries to teach it to you using an approach that hasn’t been properly thought through. 

It’s a lot of work and you are going to sweat, no word of a lie, but with the right approach (and a sufficient amount of time) you’d even become a master of quantum physics. You don’t need to be a gifted language learner to become fluent in German.

Part of every highly efficient and effective approach to language learning is being taught in English (or your native language). Full stop.  

4. I need proper feedback and a connection 

If I never get a chance to listen to myself and if nobody ever mirrors back to me my mistakes or my pronunciation, I won’t learn quickly, nor will I ever be able to speak the level of German that will allow me to express the real me.  

Proper feedback should come instantly and also allow me to learn from it. If someone tells me that I am wrong and immediately tells me how it is done properly, all I feel is that I’m a failure and that others know better. You wouldn’t believe how often I hear from German learners that they get corrected by Germans in a way that makes them feel like throwing in the towel.  

Alongside the main course, a good German course should offer meet-ups or get-togethers in which German learners and teachers can connect and discuss questions and problems, outside of lesson time. 

5. I can be my own worst enemy  

While some people like to be put under pressure when they work on a task, most German learners that I’ve met do not. The ideal German course would allow me to define the amount of pressure I’d like to put on myself and also helps me keep an eye on how I’m actually doing. 

My worst enemies are my own expectations. They are the only reason why I ever get frustrated with others and myself. I can’t avoid them and I also wouldn’t want to avoid them, but they need to be kept in check if I want to enjoy my German lessons. 

But even when I worked with private tutors, there was only so much they could and would do in this regard. Looking back, I assume that was because they were not particularly aware of the psychology behind language teaching and learning, and also because they simply didn’t have the time or, in some cases, they didn’t really care.  

Learning any language is a precious but also vulnerable experience. A bad teacher, an unfriendly encounter with a native, a frustrating experience with a half-heartedly-created online course - all of these could feel like a deep blow from which it took me weeks to recover, IF I managed to recover. My motivation is even more vulnerable than trust, because with trust I still have the benefit of the doubt. 

So, what makes a German course ideal for you?

The above points are ideals that can serve as guidelines for finding a course that will keep you motivated on your German learning journey. There is no such thing as the ideal German online course - but there are some out there that come pretty close. 

Learning with a machine will never feel as human as with smarterGerman. Michael offers courses to suit all abilities via his website. Once you’ve given one a go, share your experience here in the comments section below! 

Michael Schmitz


Michael Schmitz

I think, therefore I am.

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MartinBonner2 16:59 | 30 May 2021

Very disappointed by this article. Firstly I find it hard to believe that live classes are actively bad in general (I think they would be good for me for example). It reads very much like "my courses don't have live classes, therefore I should downplay them". Secondly, German _is_ hard to learn. The US State Department (who has a lot of experience teaching people languages) published studies of the average number of hours it takes its employees to learn different languages. German was surprisingly difficult.

Michael Johanne... 17:04 | 2 June 2021

Hi Martin, I mention the disadvantages of live classes and if you have any counter point that we could discuss, please mention it here. The sole assumption that you have trouble believing that and that they might be good for you (why?) doesn't really allow for a deeper discussion as it is rather anecdotal evidence. I've worked in such classes for 13 years and studied my profession over many years at uni and privately. I've talked to many German tutors. That doesn't mean that you can't learn in such classes or that they won't be good for YOU. It just says that your personal preference or experience can not be generalized. Learning German is a lot of work. No doubt about it. But look at French, Finnish, Hungarian, Japanese and many other languages. German is definitely not among the most difficult languages out there. The dep. of defense put German in category III I think (I being the simplest). That's their judgement very likely based on their experience with soldiers. Soldiers are possibly also a special category of learners. The dep. also offered and still offers language materials online which are hopelessly outdated as they seem to be from the sixties content wise as well as didactically. As I also wrote in my article, while I am doubtlessly biased and try to present my work here, I also give everyone the chance to test everything thoroughly before even investing a single cent. My expertise and professionalism enable me to make a mostly objective recommendation based on over 20 years of experience with language teaching as well as more than 30 years of learning them. That doesn't mean that your point of view in invalid. In fact, I am convinced that what you write is perfectly true in your case. But if you make such a general and indiscussable claim against my points, you just need to reason better and more precisely against specific points I make in this article or deliver scientific proof that defies what I claim. I'm always excited to be proven wrong as that means I can improve my work even more. I'm not attached to anything I wrote above IF it shows that I was mistaken. So far though, I haven't been proven wrong too often and for sure not on the points I made in this post. Looking forward to hearing from you Michael