Learning German With TV Shows: The Most Effective Strategies and Resources for Your Study Routine

Here's a dream scenario: Watch an hour of German TV every day. Within two months, you will understand everything.

German with tv shows

Think that's impossible? Well, you're kind of right. No passive activity is going to give you a huge result if that's all you do.

But working with TV, podcasts and radio shows does deliver excellent results. It's not just a great addition to language learning routines that lack interaction. Using content like this also saves your lessons and study time from terrible dullness.

Just remember to do your work and think about where these fit into your study routine.

In today's article, I'm sharing recommendations for German shows that fit into your study plan and help you get big results.

So How Difficult Should A Show Be?

Opinions vary on how much of your input you should understand in depth for it to count as helpful for your language learning.

Intensive Listening

Intensive listening and watching helps learners develop better listening comprehension. You should want to work more in-depth with your materials, and aim for shows that you understand well. Make sure you are happy to spend an hour or two on the subject. The key expression here is comprehensible input, meaning you work with language that you actually understand.

There is no embarrassment in going for the "this is right for me" label, let’s not be over-ambitious. Slower speeds and easier vocabulary are helpful and mean that you can get the full effect out of the time you put in. Understanding more words is going to help you absorb German grammar naturally.

Extensive Listening

Got no patience for feeling like a learner? Then watch and listen a little above your level. No need to go straight for the intellectual talk rounds, keep it realistic and find a show about what you love.

This approach is best if you’re all gung ho about your learning and want to approach it with zest, speed, and intense practice sessions. You’ll be pushing your boundaries and get a fast sense of progression. The cost? Rapid learning loses thoroughness. The benefits of working with natural input are fast vocabulary expansion. And as Ron Gullekson described on the Creative Language Learning Podcast recently, it helps him to feel good being out of his depth.

So pick your level of challenge first. Now, let’s think about the topics and materials that are likely to work for you.

How To Find a Show That Works For You

Millions of language learners have bought translated versoins of the Harry Potter books. Materials for lower reading ages help you enjoy a good story while learning a language. And what's more motivating than wanting to know what happens next? I think it’s brilliant, and encourage you to look for the kinds of things you enjoy in a foreign language.

Books have a huge advantage: They move at your speed and allow you to pick your own level of engagement. You can skim or speed-read for that immersion effect ("extensive reading"). For "intensive reading", give your text the full study treatment. Olly Richards covers more infomation about reading in this recent IWTYAL article.

Reading and listening are both important, of course. They are two of the four core language skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing). If you want to learn more about core language skills and get tips on how to focus on them, check out my book Fluency Made Achievable.

Right now of course, you're not looking for a book. We're ready to listen! Here are my favourite shows to add to your learning routine:

Designed for German Learners:

  • Learn Out Live Audiobooks

André Klein is awesome, you already know that if you’ve checked out his written materials in the Dino lernt Deutsch and Aschkalon Fantasy book series. Over the last year, André has also worked on adding audio versions of his popular stories. If you like an engaging story, these audiobooks are perfect practice material and the right choice for learners at A2 or higher. The books are read by the author himself and put you right into the middle of the story. The background sounds bring the story to life. André focuses on practice and pronunciation to help you learn German. Here’s a sample so you can try it for yourself:

With this telenovela, Deutsche Welle has produced something incredible for language learners. The show is a professionally produced telenovela. Its story focuses on the adventures of Brazilian student Jojo as she moves to Germany and starts her new life in Cologne. There’s romance, music, and grocery shopping. It’s great for speakers upwards of B1 level. The website offers worksheets and exercises to make each episode into a full learning experience. If you’re working with a tutor, this is a great one to share. The addictive Jojo effect is good for extensive learning, because every short episode will make you want to watch the next one. German teachers, check out this page for guidance on how to teach with Jojo.

Slow German with Annik Rubens is a culture and language podcast narrated by a native German speaker. Annik tells stories about what Germans get up to in everyday life. She talks about current affairs and offers transcripts and exercises in the paid premium edition.

Ready to engage with German at a higher level? Then this podcast from Deutsche Welle is a great resource. This slow news show comes out every day and offers German learners an insight into current affairs. It's recorded at slow speeds to help you focus on understanding as much as possible. The language is not simplified, so this podcast is suitable for learning levels C1/C2. And if you’re not finding this enough of a challenge, you can check out the same broadcast at the original speed.

Logo is a kids’ news show that has been going since 1988 and enjoys huge popularity in Germany. The show’s web version features written articles, videos and images to help explain what's going on in the world. I like using Logo’s written articles because they have a great way of explaining current affairs and offering background insights and straightforward answers. If read things like Reddit’s “ELI5” (Explain like I’m Five), this news show is perfect for you.

When listening to radio shows or watching TV in German, remember materials for children are not designed for learners. The speakers will be talking quickly, and sentence structures are not be simplified. These materials don't offer transcripts or exercises, either.

Logo is made for native speakers, but its clear explanations make it a fab choice for German learners.

I reviewed Yabla here on Fluent Language a little while ago and I'm still ever impressed with their language learning content. The Yabla player offers one of the best multi-media experiences for learning that I've seen so far. Slower speed, multilingual subtitles and regular reports from all walks of life make this more than just one show.

Yabla is the kind of thing you should check out if you wish there was a whole TV channel just for language learners.

How To Use Your Time Wisely

No matter which of these programmes you choose to check out, remember the purpose of your activity.

  • Are you taking a serious study approach to your material?
  • Or is this something you're adding onto basic study to give yourself more motivation?

Each approach is valid. Still, you can't expect great results from minimal input. An hour of watching German TV with English subtitles is fun and keeps you interested. An hour of watching Jojo sucht das Glück while reading the transcript, adding new words to your notebook or flashcard deck, and then working through every exercise? Yep, that's going to deliver a BIG result. It's also going to make you more tired.

The key is for you to think about what you really want. If you want to understand more spoken German, it's pointless to work with materials above your level. That is just not how immersion works.

Ultimately language learning isn't down to genius or age or talent. You do the work and you get the results. There could be nothing simpler in the world, and still it's tough to consider.

What are your views about studying with TV shows and radio?

Which do you use for your own language lessons? And what are YOUR real results from building these into your learning routine?

I'd love to hear from you in the comments, especially if you're using materials in other languages!