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To be honest, it's a bit like English in that you can say the same thing various ways. "With this method", "In this way", "Like so" etc.
One thing about German is that contrary to popular bullshit, it's NOT rigid and it's extremely idiomatic. I've been through periods where I've "found out" that something I was saying was not right, but then later discovered that it was right, it was just another way of saying the same thing. German is, unfortunately, not as easily cornered and captured as people say it is, even at the later stages of learning.
I found that this book is the only real key to getting to the bottom of German after the lessons are over. It's in English and it tells you honestly what you need to know and pulls no punches. Good luck, anyway.
Get this: Hammer's - IMO the best reference grammar book for the German language. Includes just about every nuance and detail.
As for reading, pick up a German copy of a book you read as a child in your native language. Make note of any words or grammatical constructions you are unfamiliar with and look them up as you go. It's a tedious but necessary part of the learning process.
> I just use a textbook as a reference, not as a guide. Whenever I have a grammar question, I can crack it open and find the answer pretty quickly.
For this job, a grammar is better than a textbook. Textbooks are typically sorted starting with "broad strokes about present tense with vocab about household items" and so on, while grammar is like "here is every freaking thing you could ever want to know about verbs, organized by verb topic"
For example, this is the best German grammar available in the English language. It's not a textbook. It's a grammar.
I found Hammer's German Grammar to be the only book that set it out without any bullshit, with the explanations in English.
There's no mystique, no elephants in the room.. It cracked German way open for me - it even explores particles. A must buy.
Damn, sorry to hear that, it hadn't occurred to me that they might be full.
If you want an inside track on Grammar in the meantime, I recommend Hammers German Grammar. It's the book that actually helped me tie up all the loose ends. It's about the only German language textbook out there that's written in English, so you're told how things work in a voice you can understand, for once. Along with the VHS lessons, it's about 50% responsible for my current level of German.
Anyway, I wish you luck. It's a long road that's easy to underestimate, but you'll get there in the end with determination and time.
/r/German might be a better place to ask. The community there is excellent, I've found. But I'm going to second the recommendation of the guy who said Hammer's. It's a tome with all the Grammar you'll ever need. It's great for looking up individual rules and situations, but is probably too in-depth for a beginner student.
Hammer's German Grammar and Usage is comprehensive. Sometimes I find it perhaps even too comprehensive - I'll dive in to find an answer to some question that pops into my mind and not emerge till an hour later when I've finished reading just about every exception and caveat. But If you already understand the basics or you have a simpler grammar book as well, I've found that this is the one that answers every question I have, no matter have obscure or minor a point.
Ok, so for a super systematic grammar overview, you could check out Hammer's German Grammar. It is not a textbook (more of a reference), but it is the best reference grammar for learners in English, and if you like things like Wheelock's, it might be your thing.
I love the Grammatik Aktiv books mentioned above, but if you are missing building block things, you might want to check out the A/B/C Übungsgrammatik series from Schubert press. They are by far less interesting than Grammatik Aktiv, but they have s larger number of exercises on each theme. You might want to take a look at the B-level one, and see how it feels.
If those are too easy, there is a really good more advanced grammar from Hueber Verlag, that covers all of the best complex stuff really quite well, but if you're looking for drills on nouns or cases or whatever, you'll be disappointed here.
Finally, about not knowing noun genders... this is something you really have to just drill. I don't think it is that unusual, to be honest, but there's not a really good way of learning them other than through repetition.
Let me know if you have questions about these, or want other more textbook-y suggestions!
Personally, this book helped me a lot. It has very detailed explanations.
Hammer's German Grammar and Usage
If you are planning of getting Hammer's Grammar, be sure you also get Practicing German Grammar. You can get it as a bundle just like i did, and i believe the price was around 50-60 euro range.
Practicing German Grammar
I made my greatest strides in German in my first three months of study. You should be able to make good progress in two, and you'll have the benefit of immersion. Do everything Alofat says, but I would also recommend you commit hard to this Memrise course (http://www.memrise.com/course/58866/5000-words-sorted-by-frequency-strict-typing/), which is a fast way to learn a good amount of vocabulary.
If you really bust your ass, you should be able to make B1 level by time you're done there. I wouldn't say that if you weren't going to actually be in Germany, but the immersion is going to be a big advantage that you'll have over other students. Milk it and really focus on improving your listening comprehension and speaking ability.
You're going to have a hard time memorizing noun genders and other grammatical structures. You're going to get pissed off wondering why sometimes it's "dich" instead of "dir," why sometimes it's "einen Hund" and sometimes it's "ein Hund," and much, much more. A good grammar book will help you tremendously if you sit down and put the work in. I like this one (http://www.amazon.com/Hammers-German-Grammar-Usage-Fifth/dp/1444120166/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431150113&sr=8-1&keywords=hammer%27s+german+grammar+and+usage) and it pairs beautifully with a sold separately workbook.
To be honest, immersion is a little overrated. It helps, but only as an auxiliary to proper classes.
Take a class. Just take a class, that is the only way I've seen it done and the only thing that allowed me personally to really move forward in the language after years of immersion. The other massive, massive boost, far better than the clunky Anki is Memrise. I count Memrise as having taught me the bulk of my vocabulary, on the train each day going to work.
In summary, it can be done, but you NEED to go to a class, unless you are some kind of freak for language learning.
Lastly, my anchor point now is the book Hammer's German Grammar and Usage - the only book that imho actually tells it like it is, in English, so you stand a chance with the finer points of the language. The very worst German teachers of all are the Germans if you ask me.