One of my main focuses is to make sure that the learning is fun and easy. When it comes to easy nothing ever beats the old 80/20 principle of focusing on the small number of areas that promise the biggest improvements.
Learn just 500 words to understand 70-80% of all basic German texts
This also works for learning basic German vocabulary quickly. Being familiar with the most common 500 words of any language generally assures that 70-80% of basic, non-specialised texts can be understood. So the focus should always be to quickly acquire a good knowledge of those terms.
If you already have a general grasp of German, familiarise yourself with those 500 words.
Some words of advice about that list:
You will notice that only the German words are listed in that link, not their translations. This may at first appear awkward, but will ultimately work to your advantage as you will need to find the translations yourself and while doing so will be able to absorb them into your memory much faster.
For those of you, however, who prefer to have the translations right away I have also uploaded the most common words with translations in the area with the training materials.
Use index cards to help you memorise lists of words
When learning vocabulary don’t compile long lists of words, but instead invest in a set of index cards. Write one German term on one card, and the translation on the reverse side. You can now mix and match those cards and memorise the words randomly, and both focus on learning the English translation of German words and the German translation of English terms. If you know certain terms by heart you can even simply put those index cards aside and focus only on the ones that you haven’t learnt yet. The main advantage of learning vocabulary that way is that it is more efficient than the traditional way of memorising them by compiled lists. With those lists you often memorise the order in which the words appear rather than the meaning of the words themselves. Of course, nothing beats learning new words by simply using them in discussions, by reading texts or writing messages, but it is important to be aware of the relatively small number of key words necessary to already obtain a good standard of basic German.
Always memorise the right gender from the start
When learning vocabulary ALWAYS also learn the gender of the nouns right from the start, e.g. “DER Mann”, “DIE Frau”, “DAS Mädchen”. If you learn the correct gender right from the beginning it’ll save you the trouble of having to do so at a later stage when it will be much harder to unlearn previous errors.
Also, if you are just starting up, you may want to focus on first of all learning the Top 100 German words (don’t worry about the additional numbers and abbreviations on that list and just focus on the actual key words), then progress to the Top 200 words, before finally tackling the Top 500. All those lists have also been translated and left in the training material area of this site.