Despite claims like 'learn German in 30 days", there are no real shortcuts to speaking and writing fluently. However, our tips will help you to learn German more effectively.
It all starts with you!
The best tip is to get immersed in the language and practice, practice, practice! If you can cut yourself off from everything but German for a period of time, do so; this can be a real help. Read newspapers and magazines, watch television and films and listen to the radio. Get as much personal contact with people as possible. Chat with neighbours, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, barmen, etc. - anyone is a good target for getting a bit of practice in. The more you are exposed to German and the less you use your native language, the quicker you will learn. Memorizing grammar rules is wonderful, but nothing beats practical experience.
Television is probably the quickest way to increase your level of listening comprehension. It's free and you are guaranteed to hear people speaking naturally (and fast). The more you listen and watch, the quicker you will find yourself picking up words and phrases. You will be surprised how much you can learn in a way that is 'relatively painless'.
To get started many people take a German language course. You can find out where language courses are offered at advice centres from charitable organizations, at universities or from the local town hall. There are also many towns and cities that offer German language courses at Volkshochschulen, which are schools for adult learning. There may be an international cultural centre in the area that offers language courses. Commercial language schools that offer courses can be found in the Yellow Pages under Sprachschulen (language schools) or on the Internet.
Note that the difference in price between various language courses is not always an indication of quality. In choosing a course, the number of teaching hours should be taken into account as well as the number of people per class. If you need to gain a basic knowledge of German in a short timeframe, there are intensive courses that will give you a 'kick-start' in the language. Otherwise, it is generally advisable to learn at a more measured pace over a longer period of time.
For many immigrant groups, language courses are subsidised by the state and are therefore cheaper. EU citizens, foreign workers and their dependants from countries that have a special work treaty with Germany can visit language courses at a reduced rate. Find out from local language schools whether you have a right to a subsidised course and if places are available.
If your time is limited or the idea of a language course doesn't appeal to you, you could take private one-to-one classes. Depending on the teacher, this is a very good way to learn. It is also usually the most expensive; typically, rates start at €15/hour.
Most language schools can arrange private lessons, but it is usually much cheaper to contact a private teacher directly. Quality will vary depending on the ability and experience of the teacher. This can have a large impact on your progress, especially if you're a beginner. When choosing, make sure you feel comfortable with the person and the way they are teaching. If you feel you are not getting on with a teacher, don't be afraid to change.
Language exchanges (Sprachaustausch, Tandem) are a good way to get free conversation practice. They work by pairing up with a German person that wants to learn your language. You switch between the two languages, helping each other. This is also a great way to meet new people and make friends. Most universities and language schools either maintain lists of potential German candidates or at least have a bulletin board with postings.
If you're serious about learning the language, invest in a big edition of the Langenscheidt Wörterbuch. These will give you the most updated and comprehensive information about modern German. If just starting out, get yourself a pocket-sized bilingual dictionary with your own language and upgrade to a larger dictionary when you need it.