I highly recommend Rosetta Stone software. I think this is probably the very best place to start learning German since you need no German to get started. I also recommend Pimsleur CD's (or tapes) for the car.
We would all love to speak German but theological students usually do not spend time learning to speak it. Rather they just learn to read it. This is similar to the biblical languages Hebrew and Greek which are usually read and not spoken.
But language professor Randall Buth at the Biblical Language Center recommends learning Hebrew, Greek, and German by speaking and hearing it. He warns that if you don't cement German in your subconscious with pictures and hear it, you will forget it.
A grammar like German Quickly is specifically designed for people learning to read German. You will not learn to hear or speak it. I would highly recommend supplementing that learning with computer and audio resources.
I used Rosetta Stone, the heavily marketed computer interactive software, after using a number of textbooks and taking a number of classes. I was very impressed with it. It is wonderful to actually learn how to say things correctly and it is enormously helpful for gaining familiarity with the language. It is very intuitive and well-done. The order and photos and variety and functionality are first rate. I was not expecting such professionalism.
It took me about a month to do Level 1 and another month to do Level 2. Wikipedia, "Level 1 . . .takes about 24 hours to complete following Rosetta Stone's recommended course." That sounds right to me. With a strong familiarity with the software, I then motored through Level 3 in only two weeks and Level 4 in three weeks and Level 5 in five weeks.
I would recommend starting with Rosetta Stone and then moving on to classes or German Quickly. By the end of level 1 or the beginning of level 2, you will begin to be confused why some adjectives have different endings or some other grammar question. Rosetta Stone tries to teach you the right answers through immersion but it is difficult to pick up on these details. You will be hungry--I know this sounds crazy--for a grammar book like German Quickly. The grammar book will be a joy because it will relieve your confusion. In comparison to German Quickly, Rosetta Stone does not cover a lot of ground quickly. But what you do cover, you really learn and it is much less painful than a book. It is extremely helpful for gaining a working knowledge of the language. But eventually, you will need to study grammar in a class or with a book to read academic writing.
In December 2009, Rosetta Stone added levels 4 and 5 so that now you can buy all 5 levels together for $699 and free shipping (which comes in only 2 days despite the estimate of a week on the website). Remember each level takes about 24 hours (which took me about a month each at about an hour a day). They also have offers sometimes for $125 off when you order all five levels. There is also a "Six month no-risk money-back guarantee when you buy CD-ROM products direct from Rosetta Stone."
Rosetta Stone also comes with Audio Companion CD's (like the Pimseleur ones described below) that you can play in the car or on your MP3 player to reinforce what you are learning with the computer software but they are mind-numbingly boring whereas Pimseleur are fun and conversational.
Unfortunately, I do not believe Rosetta Stone or TELL ME MORE GERMAN is available from libraries.
- Consider also TELL ME MORE German Performance (10 levels from Complete Beginner to Expert) though I tried the "Free Trial" and was not as impressed with it as I was with Rosetta Stone.
- There are also audio resources to supplement your retention of the language that are available at both university and public libraries. I have used Pimseleur German tapes and CD's in the car and they have been very helpful. I would highly recommend them for improving your familiarity with the language, speed, conversational skills, and your intuitive grasp of the language. They are very well done. Rosetta Stone is a far more serious program but you need a computer and it is expensive. For the car, I highly recommend Pimsleur and you can probably get it from your library. They include lots of repetition. Only part of it will apply to reading academic German works but the short words (for example, the German words for too, I, you, but, and, not, no, yes) which are so easy to forget will be reinforced.
- See also Eric A. Taub's article, "The Web Way to Learn a Language" New York Times (January 28, 2010). Taub describes a number of resources. He incorrectly suggests the Tell Me More has voice recognition when Rosetta Stone does not. He writes, "One of RosettaStone’s main competitors, TellMeMore (tellmemore.com), believes it has an advantage because its software not only teaches words and phrases, but includes a speech recognition component that analyses pronunciation, presents a graph of speech, and suggests how to perfect it." Rosetta Stone products have outstanding voice recognition including the features he mentions. Otherwise, his article is a nice overview of a number of products.
- Deutsche Welle is sponsored by the German government and seeks to promote the German language and has a number of free resources. I listened to the 26 episodes of the Radio D podcast (series 1) while I painted a bathroom. It begins basic but ramps up quickly--probably too quickly--but still might be useful as a supplemental resource. The stories are interesting. See also the Deutsch Mobil for mobile phones.
- The BBC, sponsored by Great Britain, also offers free German language learning resources.
- Babbel (out of Germany) is another new option for learning languages.
- LiveMocha is another new startup.
- MIT OpenCourseWare material available for studying German and French.
- Randall Buth, mentioned above, recommends the out-of-print Learnables Basic Structures German Level 1 Set Book & CD.
- There are also free old Foreign Service Institute training German tapes available online in different places like here. But they are a bit dated.
Conclusion regarding Audio Resources and Computer Interactive Software: I have loved Rosetta Stone. Language learning is too annoying and difficult at the best of times to mess around with inferior products. But Rosetta Stone is expensive. If you are a casual learner, try some of the other options and report back to us. But if you are more driven or desperate, do Rosetta Stone. I also highly recommend supplementing your learning with Pimseleur which is great for the car.
What other audio resources and computer interactive software have people you know found successful?