The 7 Best Online German Classes of 2020
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Decided to learn German and struggling with your der, die, or das? Learning a new language is a challenge but is ultimately incredibly rewarding, opening up opportunities to communicate with family, make friends from other countries, and explore new cultures. If you attain a high enough level in your chosen language, exciting new career prospects also open up, including work as a translator or as a language teacher yourself.
While the best way to learn German would probably be to live in a German-speaking country, not everyone can drop everything and move to Berlin or Vienna; often, the most accessible way to start is online. But it can be hard to find a course on the web to get started—or to continue—learning German.
We've found the best online German classes and considered how people learn best, whether it be through listening, repetition, or memorizing. So, take a look with your learning preferences in mind.
The 7 Best Online German Courses of 2020
- Lingoda: Best Overall
- RocketGerman: Best for Flexible Learning Approaches
- Deutsch-Akademie: Best Budget Option
- GermanPod101: Best for Improving Listening Comprehension
- FluentU: Best for Casual Learning
- Goethe-Institut: Best for Serious Online Learning in a Traditional Setting
- iTalki: Best for Practicing Speaking
Best Overall: Lingoda
Lingoda is a well-respected, online language-learning service that combines flexibility, quality lessons with a professional German teacher, and an affordable price tag. Their system is flexible, allowing you to choose between individual classes, with lessons scheduled at your convenience, and group classes that meet at a predetermined time.
The group class is quite affordable at around $10 per session, and classes generally have fewer than five students. (A normal course at a school is usually as big as 15 students.) Private lessons are about $25 per lesson, but they may be worth the extra cost, depending on your needs.
Lingoda also offers a Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) certificate, which can be useful for students studying abroad or professionals hoping to get a job in a German-speaking country with a desired level of proficiency.
Ultimately, users reported feeling confident in their language skills after completing the service—which some might say is the most critical element to learning a language—and pretty much the best endorsement of a language class.
Best Budget: Deutsch-Akademie
This free app offers roughly 22,000 grammar and vocabulary exercises, 800 hours of interactive online classes, and a free audio course.
In comparison to other popular free apps like Duolingo or Babbel—which have quickly become overwhelming and impersonal—DeutschAkademie is tailor-made to learning German specifically, and has an online forum where a native German teacher will personally answer your questions.
Structured according to the 12 levels of the CEFR framework (A1 to C2), DeutschAkademie allows you to easily jump back into learning German if you’ve already started and guides your continued progress.
However, like many budget options, the free course is best used for practice and less for learning the structure of the language. If you like the free app, the company offers the opportunity to advance to the paid, online live course, which has a placement test and tutor with a small class size, or take part in summer classes in German-speaking cities.
DeutschAkademie is a great introduction to learning German, with the option to keep it casual and inexpensive or to progress to more serious learning.
Best for Flexible Learning: RocketGerman
RocketGerman covers all the bases, no matter how you learn. You start out with a stellar crash course in functional German in a series of podcasts with written transcripts, so you can engage with multiple aspects of the language from the get-go.
Beginning with this approachable (and useful) course gets those of us hooked who are less inclined toward nitty-gritty grammar exercises. You can then move onto the “language and culture” course, which addresses the grammar and vocabulary specificities that the functional lessons gloss over.
There are flashcards for memorizing vocabulary, podcasts for listening comprehension, quizzes to test yourself, and even software for speaking that corrects your pronunciation. The only drawback is that there is no personal tutor with whom you can hone your speaking skills.
They also have a mobile app, which allows you to access the brief, 20- to 30-minute lessons on the go. This is helpful for being realistic about how you learn: The activation energy of picking up your phone instead of sitting at a desk and opening your computer makes a big difference in self-directed language-learning.
Level 1 costs around $60, Levels 1 & 2 are about $120, and all three tiers cost around $180. With each level, you'll have instant lifetime access to your purchase. Best of all, it comes with some financial flexibility: You can try the products for 60 days and if you're not satisfied, refunds are available.
Best for Listening Comprehension: GermanPod101
GermanPod101 is a library of thousands of podcasts and videos in German. All are sourced from native German speakers and revolve around real-life situations, so you will gain a good idea of what to expect from a real conversation with a German-speaker.
The service has “learning paths” ranging from absolute beginner to advanced, making it versatile and useful for all levels (although it's skewed more toward beginners and intermediate learners). If you are more of an auditory learner or want to improve your listening comprehension for more practical conversations, GermanPod101 is the way to go.
The three levels of monthly subscriptions (Basic at around $4, Premium at about $10, and Premium Plus at roughly $23) offer varying practice opportunities. However, the strongest part of the service lies mostly in its podcasts and videos, which are included in the affordable basic subscription.
It's recommended that you look elsewhere for drilling vocabulary, perfecting your writing and reading abilities, and improving pronunciation. Overall though, GermanPod101 is lauded for getting familiar with real-life German and is an excellent choice to include in your self-study.
Best for Casual Learning: FluentU
FluentU is a website and mobile app that gathers real-world German videos—news clips, movie trailers, music videos, etc.—for use as educational materials.
This technique is important because it allows you to start engaging with the language more naturally from the get-go, rather than memorizing theoretical conversations as many competing apps do. It has a quiz feature and keeps track of your vocabulary words. However, it is less of a traditionally structured course and more of a tool to engage with the language. This aspect makes it excellent for more casual learning.
While the app is useful for more practical German, it does not have any features for speech and only has limited written vocabulary exercises. Learning through immersive listening is useful for most people, but other folks will miss out on speech improvement.
However, if you’re most interested in being able to casually understand the language and watch fun clips, FluentU is a great tool to inspire you to get familiar with German. Otherwise, FluentU could be combined with other services that have a more robust practice feature. And at roughly $20 per month for the yearly subscription and about $30 per month for the monthly option, it’s on the affordable side.
Best for Learning in a Traditional Setting: Goethe-Institut
The Goethe-Institut is a highly respected cultural institution dedicated to sharing and promoting German culture around the world, with offices from New York to Cairo.
With courses offered according to the CEFR (A1 to C2), it is easy to figure out which level you should be taking. You get access to a robust online course and meet with a one-on-one tutor, allowing you to practice languages and receive individualized tutoring at flexible times.
The lessons the Goethe-Institut offer are the most traditional of the online German classes—and also probably the most expensive. But while the price tag of roughly $757 might seem hefty, all courses are verified by the German government’s Central Office for Distance Learning.
Plus, you'll receive a certificate of attendance from the respected Goethe-Institut, which could be useful for students looking to study abroad or professionals applying to jobs in Germany. Compared to other traditionally modeled online classes like Berlitz (around $2,500), this is actually quite a good deal for the serious learner.
Best for Conversational Practice: iTalki
iTalki is a language-learning software that connects you with a German tutor for a one-hour video chat. While a lot of programs out there might include a side feature that allows you to connect face-to-face with your tutor or a native speaker, iTalki’s affordability, flexibility, and ease of use earn it the crown for practicing speaking.
Your tutor will be a freelancer with varying levels of teaching experience; the more expensive teachers (who sometimes charge as much as $60 an hour) will have taught at language schools or have a teaching certificate and be able to explain grammar to you. The inexpensive educators (for as low as $4 an hour) are for 60 minutes of casual conversation with a native speaker or someone with high proficiency.
The learning experience with iTalki will vary greatly depending on your tutor, and you could probably spend hours finding the right one. Luckily, many tutors offer a half-price trial lesson for 30 minutes, which we recommend.
How We Chose the Best Online German Classes
We chose the above resources based on a variety of factors. First, we assessed quality from an array of user reviews, which are often the most helpful in judging a course. Then, since the wide array of options out there vary from around $2,500 down to absolutely free, we compared quality to price. Next, and most importantly, was the availability of individualized help, since online self-study often comes with the added difficulty of receiving little personal encouragement, and also ignores the critical question of talking to a native speaker.
Also key was the flexibility of lesson scheduling, given that busyness is one reason to study in a less formal, online setting in the first place. Finally, whether or not the course comes with a certificate was useful to include, since many language-learners require proof of their proficiency.
Learning German is an exciting and rewarding goal and ultimately is an individual process. It’s best to try out a few options and see which one works for you, and most of all not to give up after a few tries. After all, the best language course is the one you stick with.