Many German learners and German teachers will tell you that watching movies, tv shows or even YouTube videos can help you learn German. What they don’t tell you is how to do this so you actually get something out of it. Stop just mindlessly staring at subtitles. In this post I’ll give you my top 7 tips for watching movies, tv shows or YouTube videos in German for the best language learning results. You will be able to bend what you watch to meet your language learning goals.
#1: Aim Your Video Choice Towards Your Goals
Once you have the basics of the German language out of the way (maybe you watched my Beginner German course or bought my e-book for beginners), I think it is very important to absorb as much naturally spoken German as possible. Watch German films, TV shows, YouTube videos, etc.
One of the worst things you can do is just search for “learn German videos” on YouTube and just randomly click whichever one sounds good. I’m sure those videos are great, but that isn’t our goal for this. We want something that is authentic, but also entertaining, engaging and above all goal oriented. Choose them based on your goals, interests and vocabulary that you need to learn.
If you need to learn vocabulary about school, watch a movie about school in German. If you are trying to learn kitchen vocabulary, watch cooking shows in German. Do you want to become a doctor in Germany? Watch a German doctor TV show. I know they are over the top and exaggerated, but you aren’t watching it for that, you are watching it because the vocabulary is authentic and you can hear how someone might talk in a hospital in German.
If you are looking to pass a German proficiency test, look at the topics that are expected to be on the exam and use those to guide your viewing. You know that the A2 exam is going to have something on it about work life. Watch “Office Space” in German. It is full of office vocabulary. They talk about the things they did in the past, which is also on the A2 exam. And to top it all off, it is a fantastic film.
You know that the daily life vocabulary shows up on every proficiency test at every level, so go back and watch the entire series of “Friends” in German. It is funny and Chandler’s voice is ridiculous in German. The main perk is that they talk about everything in daily life. It is literally just whatever they have going on in their lives. Any of these kinds of shows are perfect for learning about daily life vocabulary in German.
Obviously you don’t have to pick an American show and watch the German dubbed version. Ideally you would find a German show that shows you life in Germany. Maybe “das Leben der Anderen” or “Dark“. Both of those are great for daily vocabulary, but “Dark” is definitely higher level German, as they are talking about time travel theories and alternate universes. I recommend C1 level at least.
#2: Prep Before You Watch
Before you watch anything, I recommend making a list of vocabulary that is likely going to show up in what you are watching. Read the plot summary from Wikipedia in German. Can you understand the plot without looking up any words? If so, you should be good to go. If not, make note of the words you don’t know and make a list. Maybe add related words once you find out what those other words are. If you followed my recommendation of getting the book “Mastering German Vocabulary: A Thematic Approach”, you can look up the topic of the film and see what recommended vocabulary it suggests to go with that topic.
#3: Take Notes While Watching
Whatever you are watching, don’t just watch it. You should take notes along the way. With each viewing take notes on vocabulary and phrasing that you want to learn. If something stands out with grammar that you don’t understand, find out more about that topic. You can google the sentence or part of the sentence that you don’t know why it did what it did. Maybe you saw something that looked dative, but you don’t know why it is dative. You can look on Stack Exchange. I find a lot of answers to random grammar questions there and the users are very knowledgeable.
Take notes on new words you want to be able to use later. Use your notes to make flash cards to help you practice the vocabulary. It is also helpful to write sentences on your flashcards so you see the usage in context. You can always start by writing down the phrase and then looking up the parts later when you have time or it is more convenient to search for things.
#4: The Power of Pause
Don’t be afraid to pause the video, movie or TV show. You are using it as an educational tool and this is often necessary so you can take notes, jot down something you didn’t understand or even to let your brain have a break so you can go get more ice cream. This is also a great way for you to practice your pronunciation. When you hear something that you might want to add to your list, try saying it out loud as you write it down on your vocabulary list.
#5: Watch More Than Once
Never just watch a video once. Normal people can’t memorize an entire movie or TV show in one viewing. While this isn’t really our goal, there is definitely something that you will pick up on the second or third viewing that you didn’t on the first. First watch it without any subtitles. This will be your true test of your listening comprehension and it will also allow you to actually appreciate what you are watching for the art that it is. Next watch it again with German subtitles. This will help you pick up on those words you weren’t quite sure of or you thought it was this when it was really that. For the third viewing watch it with your native language subtitles. This will help you check your comprehension and make sure you didn’t mistake anything in the video.
#6: Watch What You Already Know
I’m not going to give you specific recommendations for what to watch in this video, but I will give this one tip. Watch things you have already seen in English. This will supersede the comprehension of your first viewing. You already know the content of the movie. You can use this to build your German vocabulary before watching it in German. You already know what they are saying, so you can translate in your head instead of relying on the subtitles. Obviously you liked the film well enough when you watched it in English, so when you watch it in German you will be entertained. This is often important for keeping your interest on the topic at hand.
#7: Language Learning with Netflix
My last tip for you is specific to Netflix. There is a Google Chrome extension called “Language Learning with Netflix”. It is probably one of the best extensions ever made besides AdBlock. It allows you to watch Netflix films with two sets of subtitles at the same time. You can set it to pause at the end of each line of subtitles. Click on a word to see the dictionary entry for it. If you right click on a word, you can save it for later. You can even slow down the speed of the video. Seriously. This is a game changer for language learners who want to learn via Netflix. You can check it out on their website here.