I started the PhD program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of last year, and one of the things I knew going into it was that I was expected to learn German as one of the two research languages that were required for my program. I spent about a month looking for resources to start studying the languages because I wanted to start on my own rather than take the course offered at the Seminary. I worked on German throughout last summer and have tried to keep up with it as much as possible. Alas, I am still a beginner, and am planning on taking the course offered through the Seminary in the fall. Das ist, wie es geht.
However, I have found a number of helpful resources for working on the languages and I wanted to post them here for others who might be trying on their own, or want some things to supplement their formal study. I would like to try to update it when I find new resources, so let me know in the comments section if there is anything that you have found helpful. Two caveats: First, I found a lot of things by asking others, so these are not all original with me. Second, I really am still just a beginner, so don’t take my advice as authoritative. I just wanted to suggest some resources for those who are just starting out.
When I started out last summer I used the online program Duolingo, which from what I have heard is like Rosetta Stone, but free. They introduce very little grammar, and it consists mostly of exposing you to the language and starting you off by getting you to translate back and forth between English and German right away. I found it pretty helpful, but it needs to be supplemented by some grammar. A middle range grammar that was recommended to me is German Made Simple by Leitner. There is more grammar to it than using Duolingo, but still fairly easy to use. More rigorous is April Wilson’s German Quickly. It is more of a traditional grammar and contains a lot that just needs to be memorized. (I will confess that since I did Greek and Hebrew by the traditional grammar heavy memorization method, I shied away from that with German. Thus in the fall I will be working on improving in that area.)
I found quizlet to be a helpful program for memorizing vocab. You can make your own flashcards, and the program will develop them into games and quizzes to help you memorize them. Also, if you just type what you want to study into their search engine, chances are there is already someone who has made flashcards you can use (my account is found under the name Noah_Kelley3; feel free to use the cards I have made). If you are using a particular grammar book, you can type the name of it in and see if someone has developed cards for it. Also, some people have cards for “theological German,” so search for those too. (I found this website that has a document with lots of theological German vocabulary on it. I started to adapt it to quizlet, but it is a ton of work so I don’t know how far I will get.)
In addition, I found a number of helpful suggestions for using German to practice reading skills. On the simpler side there are German children’s books and cartoons I have watched with my kids (I translate that for them and they enjoy it). There are some short stories that you can download for free that are about a step up from there (see Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis here). There are also some young adult novels that I have looked into (Momo and Tintenherz were both recommended).
In terms of more specifically theological works to practice, it was recommended to me that I get a German Bible to read (I got the Schlachter 2000 version). Also, Helmut W. Ziefle’s Modern Theological German is often used. the first half consists of a reader of German theological works with vocab (Luther, Schlatter, Barth, Bonhoeffer, etc.), while the second is a dictionary. I also cannot recommend highly enough Luther’s Shorter Catechism (Der Kleine Katechismus). It was designed for heads of households to teach their families, and so it provides the most foundational concepts of the Christian faith in basic terms. For example, from the Ten Commandments (Die zehn Gebote):
Das erste Gebot
Ich bin der Herr, dein Gott. Du sollst nicht andere Götter haben neben mir.
(1) Was ist das?
Wir sollen Gott über alle Dinge fürchten, lieben und vertrauen.
In addition, Luther’s 95 Theses are online. These are helpful because they are all separate statements each about the length of a proverb (strengthens your church history too 🙂 ). There are other works by Luther available online here that are slightly more advanced (his Forward to the Old Testament doesn’t look too bad, but On the Freedom of a Christian would take me quite a bit of time with the dictionary). You can find a number of them here. Another somewhat simple help to beginning theological German readers is the German version of the Got Questions? website. I started by translating the question categories, and then with the help of google translate, have worked through some of the articles as well. Though it is slightly more advanced, you could also try working through the Barmen Declaration, which is about four pages long. There are also some other historical creeds and confessions in German here. Finally, there are some Theological German blogs out there that are helpful such as Theological German/Theologisches Deutsch and German for Neutestamentler.
I hope this is helpful, and let me know if there are any other resources that you are aware of that are helpful for those who are learning German for theological/biblical studies.