Rocket German is an online German course and app from Rocket Languages. It comes in three levels making it suitable for beginner to intermediate German learners.
Rocket German doesn't have quite the same flashy marketing as bigger names like Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur or Fluenz. It's also nowhere near as cute as that Duolingo owl. But you'll see a lot of people talking about it because it seems to offer a whole lot, without costing the earth.
On first glance it can be a bit hard to understand exactly what you're getting with Rocket German: There are podcast-style lessons, a grammar course, and a bunch of other tools for each lesson with a sugar-dusting of gamification, badges, awards and other trinkets.
So how does it actually work?
Let's take a look.
The first place you start in Rocket German is with the "Interactive Audio Course".
The Interactive Audio lessons are essentially podcasts. You can listen to them on your computer, download them to a music device, or access them through the app. They're all around 20 minutes long, which is a good length for me: Long enough to learn something, but not so long that it gets dull.
Confession time: In the past I've hurled a lot of criticism at language audio courses for teaching useless stuff at the beginning. Stuff like how to book a hotel room over the phone. Who does that anymore?
But Rocket German teaches you something much more useful: Within the first three interactive audio lessons you've learned how to how to order both tea and coffee in German. Now that's some useful language skills.
The Interactive Audio lessons are structured around a conversation. When the lesson starts, you'll hear a Pretty Intimidating Conversation, and then over the next twenty minutes Lena and Paul will break it down.
In these audio lessons you'll do a lot of pronunciation practice (occasionally right down to individual syllables — useful for those really long German words) and you'll learn a bit about how the words work.
Most importantly, you'll learn how to use all those words and constructions in a variety of other ways, so you can quickly start joining in real life conversations.
Update: The Interactive Audio lessons were re-written and re-recorded in 2020 with a new (American) host and two native German speakers. The previous host was a little grating. If you read other reviews that mention an annoying host... they're probably referring to the old versions of the lessons.
Overall I found the audio lessons taught me a surprising amount of useful German in a short space of time. They strike a nice balance between:
Most importantly, what you get out of these lessons is a whole lot of motivation. Motivation comes from being able to see great results in a short space of time, and that's what these lessons deliver.
They don't necessarily go into a whole lot of depth, but that's where the next course component comes in...
The audio course covers the most essential German you need to survive, and it gets you "functional" fast. But if you want to become fully fluent in German, the audio course isn't going to get you all the way there.
So Rocket German also comes with a more detailed written grammar course that can be used alongside the audio course. (They call it the "language and culture" course, but it's mostly grammar and vocabulary, with a few extra cultural insights included.)
This is more like a traditional-style German course. They cover in greater depth all of the nitty-gritty that the audio course skims over. The explanations are straightforward, and there's a lot of that lovely clear audio built-in, so you can practice hearing and speaking the words.
If you don't like learning all the technical grammar points in these lessons — that's ok. I'd recommend that you just stick to the interactive audio lessons, which are much easier to digest.
Once you start to get a little bit more curious, or you bump up against something you can't figure out, you can come back to these lessons.
(Curiosity is the best fuel for learning!)
One of my biggest weaknesses when learning a new language is that it's tempting to skip through the material too quickly. I think I understand it, so I move onto the next section. Then it all evaporates from my memory when I need it most.
Rocket German gives you a bunch of tools at the end of every lesson to make sure you've fully mastered every single angle of the material before you move onto the next step.
It tests your listening, your writing, your pronunciation, and your ability to find the right words when you're under pressure!
The tests use a self-rating system (so it's up to you to be honest) and spaced-repetition (so if something is difficult, you'll keep seeing it until it's easy). I've found these exercises challenge me to slow down and really learn the material, and my recall and confidence is better.
One of my favorite tools is the flash card game — simple but effective.
If you've ever been afraid to speak your German out loud, for fear that nobody would understand you... you'll like this next feature.
Every single audio example in Rocket German has a voice-recording tool built in, so you can record your pronunciation and see how good it is.
The tool is based on similar voice recognition technology to the technology in your phone that lets you give it voice commands.
The idea is that if you can get it to understand your German... you'll probably be easily understood by an actual German-speaking person. Right?
There are three difficulty levels that are supposed to require more refined pronunciation. In my testing I didn't notice much difference between the levels, but it could simply be that my German pronunciation is sehr gut.
You can try it out on the Rocket German website, about halfway down the page.
When it comes to value for money, Rocket German has it in spades. For under a hundred bucks (at the time of writing) you get what is essentially three language courses:
The course gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility to find your best style of learning, and it provides motivation to keep going and (in a way) become addicted to practicing your German.
The "most essential language first" approach is very effective in the Interactive Audio Course. After going through these lessons I felt like I could drop into a German-speaking area and muddle my way through pretty well, even if I didn't understand the finer points of the language. The addition of the "language and culture" lessons means that when I do want to learn those finer points, I don't need to buy anything else.
With a friendly community, responsive support team, no ongoing fees and 60 day money-back guarantee, Rocket German offers an effective course and excellent value. Gold star for you, Rocket German!