smarterGerman Review – A Unique And Challenging Course

Quick Review
Summary: smarterGerman is much different than every other language learning course I’ve tried. Each lesson corresponds with a chapter from a German crime story. Through these lessons, and lots of exercises, this course will help you reach the B1 level. Unlike most courses where there’s a lot of spoonfeeding of information, this course pushes you to use your critical thinking skills.

Quality 
Michael, the course creator, is an excellent teacher
Thoroughness 
There are abundant exercises to practice every aspect of German.
Value 
It’s a bit expensive but still good value.
I Like
Michael’s teaching philosophy will not only help you improve  your German, but also your approach to language learning.

 The learning cycle will help you practice reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, and grammar.

 Learning through the help of a story.

 The songs interspersed in the lessons provide a nice change of pace and sound great.

 It’s a challenging course, even if you’ve already studied some German.

I Don’t Like
It can be very intimidating as an absolute beginner to German.

Students who aren’t very committed to studying German may struggle.

It’s not cheap.

Price: The Everyday German Course (A1-B1) costs $360 excl. VAT/GST. The B1 Exam Hacking Course costs $69 excl. VAT/GST. The bundle which includes both of these courses costs $411 excl. VAT/GST.

smarter german review 1

I first heard about smarterGerman while putting together this huge list of 130+ resources to study German.

I was immediately intrigued by the video about using Amazon’s Alexa to help you study German. Upon taking a closer look at their Everyday German Course, I was encouraged by the number of lessons and all the components contained within each lesson.

So, in order to write a really in-depth review of the course, I decided to try it out myself.

I’m a complete beginner in German. I probably only knew about ten words before starting the first lesson. I’ve only VERY briefly used Lingodeer to study some of the absolute basics of German.

In total, I spent about 5 or 6 hours working through some of the early lessons of smarterGerman’s Everyday German course (A1-B1). I then spent another couple of hours jumping around to see how the structure of the upper levels compared with the lower ones.

In my experience of trying a ton of language learning resources, I haven’t ever used one quite like smarterGerman. This course is truly unique in its approach to teaching a language.

Some basic info about smarterGerman

Before taking a deep look at what’s contained within each lesson, I think it’d be helpful to give a broader overview of the Everyday German Course.

Throughout the course, there are 54 lessons. Each lesson corresponds with a short chapter of a crime story, “Die Tote Frau im Garten.”

The lessons are designed to take you from a beginner student up to the B1 level. Michael, the creator of sG claims that experienced language learners might be able to reach B1 in 90 days if they invested 3-4 hours daily.Screen Shot 2018 12 14 at 1.37.44 PM

It’s worth noting that this study time only includes the time you spend on the course. You’re highly encouraged to use the accompanying Memrise course. The time you spend studying with other resources, such as Glossika (though I prefer Speechling) or a tutor is also not included in the total study time.

Michael claims that a tutor is not really necessary when working with his courses unless one wants to specifically practice for the B1 oral exam. Although it may not be necessary, you would definitely benefit from occasional lessons with a tutor.

While the German government says that 2800 words are needed to reach the B1 level, Michael believes that it can be reached with only 1200 words.

While reaching B1 in 90 days may sound like an extremely ambitious claim, it’s worth noting that it would require a serious amount of effort to do so in that time.

My first impression of smarterGerman

The course was created by Michael Schmitz. It quickly becomes obvious that Michael has a lot of teaching experience – not just in the way that the curriculum is designed but also by looking at his teaching methodology.

It doesn’t take long to see that he has no intention of teaching you every little thing that you find in other courses or grammar books. In most language learning courses, the content is spoonfed to you. For other courses, it’s rare that you really need to logically think through problems and come up with an answer on your own.

If you think about other subjects you studied in school, the teachers that had the most impact were likely to be the ones that pushed you to think and solve problems for yourself. This is how Michael’s course works.

He doesn’t give you a list of vocab words to learn or tables to memorize. Instead, he creates a space for you to learn German. He’s more of a facilitator, there to help you out and explain things when necessary.

This is even evident in the comments section of the course. It’s not uncommon for someone to ask a question and for Michael to respond with a question of his own.

This isn’t the type of course that you can passively sit through and expect to get anything out of. It’s pretty exhausting to work through and requires you to keep pushing yourself forward.

It’s hard, but still very enjoyable.

As an absolute beginner starting out with the course. I quickly felt overwhelmed. I’m sure even if I had studied German before, I’d still have felt overwhelmed. But I felt a bit like I was being thrown right into the deep end.

But, bear with me, this isn’t as bad as it might sound. My initial reaction was just caused by how different Michael’s approach is compared with most language learning resources.

One of the first things you’re asked to do is to read the first chapter of the story as you’ll find it below.

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Needless to say, I understood almost nothing – at least that’s what I thought. Reading through the text again with translations, which is the second step to take, helped some, followed by another reading for understanding, and the final reading with audio made it a bit better still.

But it wasn’t until watching his analysis video that things really started to make sense. He takes the time to go through each text sentence by sentence to explain how the words are similar to English and different ways to analyze the text to get a better understanding and make educated guesses as to the meanings.

Instead of memorizing all of the words, it feels more like you’re learning how to figure out a text for yourself.

If you follow along with the Memrise course (as suggested) you’ll find yourself remembering much of the vocabulary and content of the course texts you’ve studied anyway.

Still, even if you do everything you’re suggested to do, and more, you’re likely to struggle through the course. I don’t say this as a negative, in fact, it’s the opposite. You’re likely to learn much more from a course in which you make mistakes, learn from them, and continue on compared with one that doesn’t require much deep thinking.

It’s seriously challenging but…

Seeing the comments of other students makes it clear that even if I had a bit of previous German knowledge that this would still be the case. Michael is quick to encourage students and relieve their performance anxiety.

He’ll often say that you shouldn’t aim to answer 100% of the questions correctly before moving on. He welcomes mistakes as part of the learning process. Throughout the course, you’ll also get better at correcting your own mistakes as that is what you are being encouraged and guided to do as part of the learning cycle Michael has created.

smarterGerman is mentally taxing at times. Going through the course can be exhausting – and that’s a good thing. Sure, you could try learning German by matching pictures to words with Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, but that’s easy. More often than not, you can answer questions on those platforms correctly without actually learning much German.

With smarterGerman it’s the opposite, you’ll learn more German but still make a lot of mistakes as you do so. These mistakes are what leads to your learning.

Lesson components

Each lesson looks at a different chapter of the crime story, “Die Tote Frau im Garten.” With the help of this story, you’ll study all aspects of the German language.

Each lesson is structured pretty similarly, though many lessons have a few additional components such as songs, extra articles, or videos.

The lessons contain…

  • Reading and learning vocabulary
  • Writing a dictation
  • Grammar
  • Preaching
  • Active listening
  • Interactive exercises
  • Writing
  • Secretary technique
  • Oral dictation
  • Extras

I’ll now dig a bit deeper into each of these components for a detailed look at what it’s like to work through a lesson on smarterGerman’s Everyday German course.

Reading and learning vocabulary

Starting with reading and learning vocabulary in this manner was much different than I’d encountered in other courses. Instead of learning some key vocabulary before reading, you are simply given a text to work through

The texts seem to become a bit longer and more difficult as you progress through the course. However, my German isn’t good enough to say that this is definitely the case.

Below you’ll find part of the text from Lesson 37.

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The first time you read, you aren’t meant to understand everything. There’s likely to be a lot that you don’t understand, which is completely normal and okay.

When you read the text, you’re meant to simply notice and mark any unknown words to get an overview of your current knowledge and the difficulty of the text.

Next, you’ll read the text for understanding.

Here, there’s a translation after each line. It’s a literal translation, so the English may seem a bit funny, but it makes it easier to understand the German. Michael suggests visualizing the sentences to make them easier to remember.

For example, if it says, “Thorsten drinks a sip of tea.” then imagine a man name Thorsten taking a small drink of tea. Try to make it a vivid image – Where’s he sitting? What’s he look like? What’s he wearing? Etc. This doesn’t take much time as images will come quickly to your mind and not every sentence needs to be visualized.

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The third step is to read the text again.

Next, you’ll read the same text again without translations. As you read, you should try to bring to mind the visualizations you did in the previous step. This will make it easier to remember the meaning of each line.

After that, you’ll read the text one more time, but this time, you’ll listen to an audio recording of the text as you read.

This step will help you improve your pronunciation and hopefully, you’ll understand the text a bit better after this final reading. It’s alright to pause the audio a few times to make it easier for your brain to keep up.

There are also two recordings – one slower and another is normal speed. It says “fast version” because, for a beginner, “normal” speed might feel pretty fast.

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Following the fourth reading is a short multiple choice comprehension quiz.

It’s very straightforward. You’ll be asked a few questions and need to answer it based on what you’ve read in the story.

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Finally, after all of this, there’s an analysis video which typically lasts somewhere between 20-40 minutes.

In the first two lessons that I studied, I still felt completely overwhelmed at this point because of my lack of prior German knowledge. The analysis video is said to be optional, but for nearly everyone, I’d recommend watching them – especially in the beginning.

In these videos, Michael takes you through the reading one sentence at a time. Upon my first readings, I felt like I had absolutely no chance of understanding a text like this on my own. It was far too difficult for me.

But, seeing the way he breaks things down is super helpful. I didn’t realize how many words could be similar to English or how some spelling changes could make it easier to guess the word. He also gave simple suggestions such as removing the ending to try to figure out the words.

Of course, you won’t be able to understand every line of the text in this manner, but it’s a start. Michael adds so many useful observations in these videos. There are many things I wouldn’t have ever thought about on my own.

That’s the strength of Michael’s teaching method. It’s much more in the spirit of teaching you how to learn rather than merely telling you the answers.

Writing a dictation

The next step in the lessons is writing a dictation. The dictation will help nearly every area of your German – listening, reading, writing, and grammar.

For this step, you’ll take the audio from the current chapter which is provided within the lesson. Again, there are a few steps to this and the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out.

Here’s the description from Michael about how to approach your first listen of the dictation…

Screen Shot 2018 12 09 at 12.08.43 PM

He mentions not to worry about trying to write all the sentences down and recommends beginners to pause every few words to write down what they’ve heard.

As you move through the course, or if you already have a higher level of German, you’ll be able to listen to longer portions of the chapter. In the beginning, just a few lines will likely be enough.

As a beginner myself, I found it to be really challenging. I’m sure if I had also tried to listen to full sentences or complete the entire text, that it would have taken me a really long time and been a frustrating experience.

You’ll listen to the audio twice in this manner, the second time filling in what you’ve missed on the first listen.

After that is the second step of the dictation. Again, I’ll let Michael explain…

Screen Shot 2018 12 09 at 1.11.47 PM

In this step, you’ll compare your writing with the text from the chapter. I highly recommend following Michael’s advice.

I was tempted to just go through and fix all of my mistakes right then, but you’ll really benefit much more from simply highlighting where those mistakes happened and holding off on fixing them until the next step.

When you finish highlighting your mistakes, you’ll need to spend some time trying to figure out what was the cause of those errors.

For me, I hadn’t spent much time learning German pronunciation before taking these lessons. So, several of my mistakes came from a lack of knowing how German sounds and letters correspond to each other.

If you’d like some extra help, I’d suggest occasionally working with a tutor or language exchange partner in addition to this course.

I’ve found that italki is easily the most convenient and affordable place to find a tutor. They also have some additional free features that are really useful. For example, there’s a notebook section where you can have your writing corrected by a native speaker, you can also post general questions related to learning German, and there are lots of people that are interested in doing language exchanges.

The third round of the dictation is exactly the same as the rounds before. Except now, you’ll want to wait a few hours before trying it a third time.

I found rather large improvements from following the earlier steps and then coming back for a third attempt.

Again, the goal here isn’t to get everything correct. You don’t need to have mastered the text before moving on and you’ll likely still have a lot of questions at this point.

With a lot of other courses, you may expect to be able to answer 95% or more of the questions correctly, but that’s not how smarterGerman works. You’ll likely have made lots of mistakes, but that’s alright and it’ll get better as you move through the lessons.

Grammar

Many language learners feel that grammar is really difficult and boring. In my own studies, I’ve found that learning grammar really simplifies things and makes life much easier.

That seems to be Michael’s philosophy as well. He recommends using grammar to relax. While I may not go as far as to call grammar relaxing, there’s no reason for people to dread studying it.  Learning grammar can save you a ton of time and help avoid countless misunderstandings.

The grammar lessons on smarterGerman are meant to take about 15-20 minutes to complete.

The first part is always a short video, typically between 2-6 minutes long, in which Michael explains the grammar point. There is also always a written explanation below each video but you should still both watch the video and read the text.

One thing you’ll notice from the videos is that they appear to have been recorded over a span of several years as Michael’s appearance changes throughout them.

I believe the videos may have been originally recorded for his Youtube channel before he decided to put together this course.

This doesn’t matter all that much but was initially a bit surprising to see the changes in his appearance with each video that I watched.

After learning about the grammar point, you will practice it by answering some multiple choice questions.

Screen Shot 2018 12 09 at 4.57.22 PM

Preaching

The next step in the course is called Preaching. This is a method that basically drills grammar structures into your head by practicing speaking sentences using them.

Like most things in this course, Michael provides the structure, explanations, and examples for you to do it, but it’s actually on you to follow through and complete each exercise.

With this technique, you’ll first need to write some triggers on a piece of paper, notecard, or anywhere else really, or if available, could use Alexa to assist you in your preaching. You’ll need to learn the gender for each of these triggers before you can start the main exercise.

As an example, for the preaching component of exercise 1, Michael used the following words as triggers –

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You’ll then want to memorize the gender of each of these words and write them down. This exercise will help you to form grammatically correct sentences using as few words as possible. His example sentences using the above words were…

Screen Shot 2018 12 09 at 5.14.08 PM

The goal is to create your own sentences and get comfortable speaking them out loud. So, you’ll want to think of your own triggers. There’s no need to actually write the full sentence down anywhere. You’ll simply see the trigger word and then say the sentence.

While everyone will be a bit different, Michael recommends preaching at least twice per day for around 10 minutes each time.

He also recommends using a transcription software, like speechnotes.co which automatically transcribes what you say out loud. This gives you some free and easy feedback about how clear you’re speaking and about some more obvious grammatical issues of yours.

You should also record yourself every now and then so that you can hear your own speech. If you’re able to have a tutor look over your recordings occasionally, that would also be helpful.

It may be worth using Speechling for this task. It’s a service that lets you get feedback on your pronunciation from a native German teacher. Typically, you record yourself mimicking sentences, but you can also use the freestyle mode where you record any sentence you’d like.

Active Listening

Here, the instructions for the active listening section are pretty simple.

You’ll listen to the same text that you used in the previous exercises. By now you’ll likely be somewhat familiar with it, though if you’re like me, you’ll find that there are still lots of spots that you’re not exactly sure what is being said.

Basically, you’ll listen to the text again. The first time that you listen, you’ll almost certainly want to pause often to digest what was said and maybe to look up the meanings of some words that you forgot.

The second time you listen, you’ll want to pause a bit less often. By the end, you’ll want to listen to it fully without stopping and be able to understand most of it.

Again, there’s no need to feel stressed or overdo it if you struggle with some parts. Afterward, you’ll have to answer some multiple choice questions about the text.

Interactive Exercises

We’re not yet done working on this lesson’s chapter of “Die Tote Frau im Garten.”

In this next step, you’ll be given the chapter with some words missing.

First, you’ll read each sentence and try to guess the missing word. If you’re not sure, you can click on the hint to help you figure it out. Finally, you can listen to the audio to confirm your answers and to fill in any that are still missing.

You aren’t given a word bank, so you’ll have to remember the correct spelling. When you finish, you can submit your answers to receive a score and also show all the correct answers.

Screen Shot 2018 12 04 at 4.09.19 PM

For the first 12 lessons, this will act as the final exercise.

As you get further into the course, additional exercises will be added, including a writing exercise (starting in lesson 13), the secretary technique (starting in lesson 27) and an oral dictation (starting in lesson 31).

Writing

For this section, you’ll want to start out by writing short texts, only around 40 words to start. As you go further into the course, you can slowly make them a bit longer.

First, you’ll want to find a topic to write about. Michael gives you lots of suggestions but I’m sure you could also write about something else you’re interested in.

Then, you’ll write the first draft in English or your mother tongue. After that, you’ll want to simplify it so that it’s easier to translate.

Next, you’ll translate your simplified text into German WITHOUT using a dictionary. If you don’t know a word in German, you’ll write it in English.

After finishing the writing, you can go and look up the words that you didn’t know with a dictionary and add them.

You’ll then want to take a break before going back in and making any corrections to your text. You’ll go through it a few more times, checking for different things like verb endings and personal pronouns.

If you have a tutor, it’d be smart to have them read through your writing and check it for errors but Michael has a very clear idea about what a proper correction looks like. He suggests that you should never get presented the correct answer to your mistakes right away. It is sufficient if your corrector simply highlights the words that are incorrect.

Another great option, which is completely free, is to post it into the notebooks section of italki. Then, a native German speaker will come in and give you feedback on your writing. The downside of using italki for this is that people will go ahead and correct your mistakes for you, taking away the learning opportunity.

You can also share your writing in the comments section of the course. Michael often provides feedback to students there. It is an optional feature of his course though and it might take a couple of days before you get your feedback.

Secretary Technique

The Secretary Technique is much like the Preaching exercises you did earlier the lessons.

Here, you’ll think about a topic that you can talk about for up to two minutes. You’ll then write up to ten keyword triggers to help you remember what you’d like to talk about next.

Then, with the help of a tutor, language exchange partner, or an app like speechnotes.co, you’ll record yourself speaking about the topic, using your triggers to guide you.

After you’ve finished speaking, you’ll look at your transcription and, if you decided to record yourself, listen to the recording. Recording yourself is optional and very work intense. So Michael advises you to only do it occasionally. You can go through them and notice any mistakes. You can then correct them as you did in the writing step earlier.

You’ll want to practice a 2nd or even 3rd time as well. In total, this should take around 30-45 minutes to complete.

I really like this exercise and think that it’s an excellent way to improve many aspects of your German.

Oral Dictation

With the oral dictation, you’ll work with your current chapter “Die Tote Frau im Garten” text that you’ve been using throughout the lesson.

I’ll share Michael’s explanation for how this works…

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It’s important that you record both yourself and the original audio together at the same time. That makes it easier to notice the differences between yourself and the recording.

Modeling a native speaker in this method is extremely useful for improving your speaking rhythm and pronunciation.

I’ve mentioned Speechling before, but it’s worth mentioning again here. I think it’s an excellent tool, even if you don’t upgrade to a paid plan. For free, you can listen to lots of sentences and record yourself saying the same sentence.

What I really like, is that your recording then becomes sandwiched between the native speakers. So, you’ll hear a recording, then you’ll record yourself saying the same thing, and after that, you’ll hear the native speakers recording again.

It’s a really effective way to improve your flow, pronunciation, and overall confidence in speaking German.

Extras

Besides the main components of each lesson, there’s still quite a bit of extra stuff that’s worth talking about.

First, Michael gives tons of great advice for learning German. This is in the form of articles and videos around lots of different topics, for example; overcoming your fear of speaking German, taking breaks, whether or not your expectations are realistic, and a bunch more.

Another thing that I really liked throughout the course is the number of songs. These aren’t just random songs, all of them are original to smarterGerman. The quality of these is what really struck me. They actually sound great. Plus, the lyrics are simple and repetitive enough to help you remember whatever topic they relate to.

Another well-planned aspect of this course is that after every five lessons, there are two review lessons.

Next, Michael has gone ahead and created a Memrise course that corresponds to the text of each lesson. Memrise is basically smart flashcards that are a bit more fun. Cards show up to be reviewed at intervals that make it hard to forget and doesn’t waste your time on things you already know by heart.

In the Memrise course, Michael has split up the chapters of the story into small chunks of a few words each. Each flashcard also has audio and translations. Reviewing in this manner helps you remember words within their context.

I would strongly suggest following along with the course using Memrise.

How much does smarterGerman cost?

smarterGerman isn’t cheap. It’s more expensive than a lot of online German courses, but it’s also a lot better than most. The price is pretty fair in my opinion.

It costs $360 excl. VAT/GST to purchase the Everyday German Course (A1-B1). You could also pay in 1,3, or 6-month installments if that’s more convenient for you.

Buying the course gives you access to the materials forever as it’s not a subscription but rather a one-off purchase.

You can also try the intro and the first lesson of the course for free. And, if you do end up buying the course but decide it isn’t right for you, you can get a full refund within the first 30 days. All you need to do is write a short email to Michael within those 30 days.

There’s also a B1 Exam Hacking Course which costs $69 excl. VAT/GST and a bundle which includes the Everyday German Course and the B1 Exam Hacking Course for $411 excl. VAT/GST instead of $429 .

I didn’t try the B1 Exam Hacking Course, so I can’t comment on that.

Final thoughts

I was really impressed with smarterGerman. It’s definitely a good course.

I was also really surprised. Although I’ve tried out tons of language learning resources and courses, I’ve never actually taken a course quite like smarterGerman.

I’ve never seen a course that really guides you to teach yourself. Most others will give you lots of information but require very little if any, critical thinking.

The lessons on smarterGerman are really exhausting to go through. They’re far more challenging than you’ll find in other courses.

german resources

The techniques in this course can help you learn to be your own teacher. Of course, you’ll still need some help from others since you’re not yet a fluent German speaker.

It’s also unique in that it’s suitable for both beginners and even those who have already studied a fair amount of German.

For absolute beginners, it’ll be very intimidating in the beginning, but it’s still doable. It wouldn’t hurt to study a little bit with some other resources first, but I don’t think it’s necessary to do so. You’ll start to pick up on things very quickly.

For those with a bit higher German level, I still think you’d get a lot out of this course. The strategies you’ll learn will be helpful forever. Plus, since it’s not structured in the typical way of most courses, you’ll learn a lot of different things.

Overall, I was really impressed with smarterGerman. If you’ve read this far and think it might be a good fit, I’d suggest trying the first lesson as it’s free to do so.

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