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!

Podcasts are the New Listening Trend that you CANNOT Ignore

There was a time, maybe back in 2008 (and I am so old that this seems like last year to me), when you would have heard the word "Podcast" and rightfully passed it by. Podcasts have been around since the 1980s but were always reserved for the nerdier folks among us. Maybe research scientists? Programmers?

The world is ever changing, and today though it's a different world. Podcasts are the best new way of getting into anything that you are excited about. A podcast (don't forget you can listen to the Fluent podcast too!) is a pre-recorded discussion, story or radio show. The beauty of these simple listening resources is not just that they are usually available for free, but that they are slowly on their march to completely replace the radio. You can download and listen to them anywhere, especially if you own a smartphone.

Personally, I have had so much fun making more podcasts this year. I have had the opportunity to share giggles and intelligent conversations with my colleagues among the learning landscape, and to give you guys an opportunity to hear my voice and get more insight into what I am like! In today's blog article, I'm going to give you the complete guide to what podcasts are all about and how you can use them as a language learner. Even if you don't care about languages at all, don't pass this article by because you are going to LOVE these.

How to Listen to a Podcast

The most common way for most users to subscribe to a new podcast is through Itunes itself (example link. The process is that when you click the "Subscribe" button, the app you are using will automatically know that you're interested in having it download any new episode that comes out. Often, they will also fetch the last published episode for you and put them in a convenient queue, meaning that you only have to hit "Subscribe" once and you'll always be up to date. There's also a podcasting app that now comes with IOS 8 on the iPhone. It looks like this:

If you want to see downloading and playing podcasts in action, and encouragement from a wonderful lady "on the dark side of eighty-five", here's a helpful video featuring podcast and American public radio master Ira Glass.

Here are some other listening possibilities beyond what comes built into your computer:

  • For listening on your phone and on your web browser, Stitcher is an excellent on-demand service combining radio and podcasts. It's available on all kinds of platforms including Android devices.
  • Downcast for IOS and Mac and Overcast for iphone are also fab, each with their own really useful advantages. Each of these lets you put together playlists grouped by theme, and in Overcast you can even set up priority podcasts that are listed at the top whenever a new episode becomes available.
  • For Android users, I've heard good things about Beyond Pod.

Fab Language Learning Podcasts to Try

Number one: The Creative Language Learning Podcast with me, Kerstin Hammes. This podcast brings together interviews and tips that help you learn any language, coupled with tips of the week and current news articles. You can also find it on Stitcher.

The amount of podcasts that language learners can download at level A1 is absolutely immense. They're almost imposssible to count. The easiest place to find one that might be right for you is to type "__ (insert your target language) learning podcast" into the iTunes store or straight into a search engine. The category you will want to look for is Education > Language Courses. Here's an example of what's on offer for German learners:

german podcasts in itunes

How Useful are Language Learning Podcasts?

Personally, I'm not sure if a podcast alone would really serve me all that well when I'm trying to learn a new language. I'm a visual information processor and always itch to see how words are spelt and what they look like. So as a consequence, podcasts don't offer the learning experience that I crave when I'm serious.

Here's where I think language learning podcasts belong in your "routine": They're probably about as useful as Duolingo, in the sense that the most exciting use for a podcast is to create a useful add-on and immersion tool, allowing you to spend more time processing the target language.

My Favourite Podcasts

Whether you are learning English or not, I can definitely recommend This American Life and its recent spin-off, Serial. I also love most of what's made by the wonderful 5by5 Network, though their podcasts tend to be a bit more nerdy than I am. There is a wonderful writing show called "Write for your Life".

I'm currently looking into French podcasts too and found hundreds of resources about my kinds of stuff: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, entrepreneurship and music. I have also tried and enjoyed this Welsh learning podcast and Olga Mitchell's "Speaking Russian" podcast, which actually both went a long way to building my speaking confidence.

One Final Note as a Podcaster

Making a podcast is a labour of love and does take a little bit of time and work, so please do appreciate the effort that your favourite podcasters and bloggers are putting into their work. If you enjoy my own little piece of work, the Creative Language Learning Podcast and want to help support me in making more, better, greater ones, then you can now become my personal patron on the Patreon website. The system is now live and I'll be telling you more about it on the blog in the near future.

What are YOUR favourite language learning podcasts?

Language Learning Website AudioLingua Provides Free Audio In 10 Languages

Hey guys, it's Kerstin here - your new editor at Fluent! Well, really I'm still just Kerstin from Fluent, the Language Learning Blog, but I want to take a second and celebrate our new writers. I hope you like their contributions so far!

Today I just want to share a website with you that I've recently discovered. It's called AudioLingua and offers free native speaker audio on everyday topics and in 10 languages. What an absolute gem.

You can search the tracks by language, level, gender of the speaker, age of the speaker and their length. They are all submitted by real people, so that means natural language content and relevant topics and expressions. Here's an example in German at B1 level:

Using AudioLingua As A Tutor

In my own sessions, I've used the A1 content from different examples to practice listening with students. I left them to listen to various examples a few times, and then asked:

What do you know about the speaker?

When working with a student in 1 to 1, I have the great advantage that I can figure out exactly what they understood. I repeat difficult sections as many times as necessary and focus on specific words, giving hints and explaining as we go along. This way I can try and help students to find as much of the meaning as possible.

After discussing the text, I also put in some comprehension exercises such as "Did the speaker say she lives in Berlin?" and so on.

Depending on the level you're working with, these can also be great prompts for writing homework or for asking a student to prepare a spoken response.

How to Use AudioLingua As An Independent Learner

If you haven't got a teacher or language partner on hand, the most important thing is to remember that you have time - this means no skimming and no "I get the gist".

A few suggestions:

  • Select tracks at your level on the CEFR
  • Before you listen to a track, look at the description and note the themes, try and remember words you know about this subject and say them out loud
  • Have the first listen
  • Listen again, this time pausing the track and trying to make notes
  • On your third listen, things should start coming together. Now, I'd recommend that you type up your notes in a transcript and post them to a native speaking friend, a teacher or the community on italki to check yourself

Of course there is also a great option of downloading every track, so you'll be able to use them as podcasts on the go. Repeat the input more than you think is necessary - this sounds odd, but trust me that you should begin to get bored before you have really learnt the language.

Get Involved

Any native speaker can become a language teacher with AudioLingua. You can support this great project by recording yourself as you read out a simple text in your native language, and sending it to the AudioLingua project. Please go to this page to read the manual and the submission form. For such a great resource, I hope you'll find the time to submit a recording. I know I definitely will!

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!

Fluency Masterclass, Part 3: Listening

Welcome to the next part of the Fluency Masterclass. These four articles feature my best tips on how to boost your proficiency in the four core skills of language learning. I believe that balanced core skills are the best way to become fluent and confident. These Masterclass articles are designed to give language learners of any level new inspiration, and a focus on the core skills

Language Learning Core Skill: Listening

I'll let you in on a secret: My listening skills aren't really world famous. I have a tendency to guess ahead in conversations and get excited, cut in, intterupt and so on. Hey, it keeps life interesting! But as with all weaknesses, it's good to work on them a little. So my tips are in fact good advice for listening in any situation. I have found them helpful for improving my attention span and communication skills.

Transient

1) Listen from Day 1

Listening is so important in language learning. It's closely connected to the learner's comfort level and pronunciation skills, and in addition to that it presumes NO language knowledge at all! There is no pressure on learners to respond or produce language, no rule that says you have to pay full attention all the time, and it can be pretty entertaining too. So my advice really is this: Listen from day 1. In fact, make that day 1 about learning your new alphabet and copying the sounds you're hearing. The BBC, for example, has some excellent alphabet resources.

2) Make notes, repeat and summarize

This is such a simple and effective exercise. I recommend you start working on it in your native language before moving on to foreign language situations. Next time you find yourself listening to someone talking at length, especially in a face-to-face situation or on the phone, get out the notepad. Make notes of the most important points of what they are saying, and ensure you don't miss any. If a real notepad and pen are likely to come across just a bit odd, try and make mental notes.

This technique is in fact part of a communication approach called active listening. It emphasizes that it is important to identify the message. In language learning, this means: Don't get stuck on words you don't know. As long as you know what the main message is, stage 1 is complete. Repeat the audio a few times to fine tune every word.

3) Use a transcript - or make your own

Transient

A big part of language learning success is in recognising which sounds correspond to which letters on a page. Click to Tweet this

Remember that we are not focusing on one core skill in order to block out the others. Listening is easily combined with other skills. You can read along using a transcript. Or in order to improve your writing skills, write your own version of the transcript and then compare it with an official one. You'll be training your spelling, listening comprehension and speed all in one go!

4) Bring back the music

I wrote about the many benefits of making music a part of your language learning on the Fluent Language blog last year. If nothing else, it's fun! Music is such a great and obvious place to start for learning a language. You can work with specific materials aimed at language learners like the Teach Me Everyday series, or just get right in there and work with songs. Why not read up on how to do it on this blog article.

5) Use a really wide range of sources

Your target language has many sub-sets of language groups, and in real life situations you may never know which one you are going to encounter. So especially when you work on listening skills, it's important to cast the net wide. Take turns listening to the news, rap songs, local dialects and whatever you can get hold of. To get you started, note that many news services do a simplified language version of their own news casts, for example DW in German, RFI in French or Sveriges Radio for Swedish.

There is a wealth of further materials out on the web all about this topic, for example the following articles:

Got more tips? Comment away, I want to hear it!!

And while you're here, don't miss what's new on my blog by joining the Fluent Language Learning Newsletter.