If you’re learning German, subtitles are your friends.
It’s simply much easier to understand the language if you can see and read the words as someone is speaking (or butchering Nena’s “99 Luftballons” for the millionth time).
Teachers also know the power of videos and subtitles, so whenever you learn a language in a formal setting, the teacher is likely to have an arsenal of videos and movies to help you get a feel for the language and culture.
If you’re not learning in a classroom, there are also plenty of resources available out there to choose from, whether you’re a complete beginner or an expert who’s been living and breathing the language for years (it’s always good to brush up!).
But can watching videos really help with learning German? The answer is yes!
And do you want to know an even better way to do it? With subtitles!
How Can Watching Videos with Subtitles Help You Learn German?
If you’re not in a country interacting with people whose first language is German, it can be difficult to develop an ear for how native speakers actually pronounce things. By watching videos, you’ll be able to better understand local accents, which in German can vary widely based on where the speaker comes from. When you add subtitles, some of those trickier accents become a little clearer.
For whatever reason, some people seem to think using subtitles to learn a language is “cheating,” but that’s definitely not true since subtitles can be useful in surprising ways. For example, even in Germany, when someone on TV has a thick regional accent (looking in your direction, Bavaria), subtitles are often added for viewers (who are native German speakers!) because even they might not understand the speaker!
Moreover, subtitles can help you understand what vocabulary is being used. When you’re following along and don’t quite understand what is said, you can pick it up visually from the subtitles. This in turn makes it easier to remember what was actually said and it’ll help you recall new vocabulary.
The most important thing to note, however, is that the subtitles should be in the foreign language and not your own. A 2009 study from the Max Planck Institute shows that subtitles in the foreign language support comprehension of local dialects, whereas using subtitles in one’s own native language were less helpful. The reason is that the subtitles assist in understanding the sounds and words that are being said.
In conclusion: watching German videos with subtitles (even in English) can be helpful, but you can optimize your learning by turning on the German ones.
Tips for Finding German Videos with Subtitles
But where can I find German videos with subtitles, you ask? Modern technology has made lots of options available.
For starters, there’s YouTube. YouTube can be a great resource for learning German since it has a lot of great channels geared towards German language learners. You may not know it, but many videos actually have closed-captioning or subtitles that you can turn on manually. If you’re doing a search, YouTube has an easy filter to show only videos with subtitles.
For example, if you enter “Learn German,” there’s a small box at the top left of the search results that says “Filters.” Click on that, and under “Features,” select “Subtitles/CC.” And voila, the search results only show videos with subtitles. If you don’t use the filter, you can also easily tell which videos have subtitles because they’re marked with a little white “CC” box in the search results.
When you’re actually watching something on YouTube, you can then turn on the subtitles by hovering over the play options at the bottom of the video window. On the right side, you’ll see the same “CC” box and you can switch them on there. Some videos may have additional subtitles not in German or English which can be selected by clicking on the cog wheel next to the “CC” option. But remember: watching the video with German subtitles will help you more than subtitles in your native language!
For some paid services and other sources, one thing that might be helpful is using a VPN, or virtual private network. Essentially, a VPN makes it appear as if you’re using the internet in Germany rather than the United States (or wherever you are). By using a VPN, you can access content as if you were in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. With a safe and reliable VPN service like HideMyAss! VPN, you can really make the most of the internet and have peace of mind while browsing.
However, be careful: Depending on where you live (in real life), using a VPN may not be legal, so check your local laws before using one. Additionally, using a VPN doesn’t always work—some sites and services are able to detect that you’re using one and may block your access to their content.
Amazon Prime offers another streaming video service similar to Netflix. Your access to the various features or even the service itself may depend on where you live. And as mentioned earlier, you could use a VPN to access it as if you were in a different country. Like many online streaming services, Amazon Prime also allows users to have access to subtitles, which can help you learn German.
6 Places Online to Watch German Videos with Subtitles
There are many great options so it’s tough to know where exactly to start. Here’s a mixed list of YouTube channels and German sites where you can watch videos with subtitles. Note that the German sites might not be accessible outside of Germany—in that case, read the tip above about using a VPN.
BookBox is a YouTube channel that features videos with children’s stories being read aloud. The videos, which include subtitles, are read fairly slowly since the channel’s goal is to help kids learn to read. But if you’re beginning to learn German, BookBox is perfect because of the slower pace and the straightforward vocabulary. The videos are also all under seven minutes long, so you can easily fit them into your daily schedule if you’re super busy.
Recommended video: “Die Heinzelmännchen und der Schuhmacher” (“The Elves and the Shoemaker”) is one of those stories that everyone in Germany knows. In Cologne, where the story takes place, there’s actually even a fountain depicting it because it’s such a beloved part of the city’s cultural history.
Easy German is another YouTube channel that’s ideal for intermediate to advanced learners. The videos cover a range of topics from grammar to everyday street talk. There are also videos that tackle specific vocabulary and cultural topics, like vocabulary to talk about being sick, or interviews about what Germans think of Facebook.
The people in the videos speak at a conversational speed, so the videos are excellent for practicing listening comprehension while following along with the German and English subtitles.
Recommended video: “Train Rides in Germany and Austria” highlights the differences between riding the train in both countries, but is also helpful for hearing the contrast between German and Austrian accents. Of course, taking the train is generally an important part of living in either Germany or Austria, so it also gives you local insight into the pros and cons.
Deutsch lernen mit DW is from Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster. The nice thing about their YouTube channel is that their videos are all categorized by level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, so there’s something for everyone regardless of how advanced you are. The videos cover topics like grammar, shopping and living in Germany.
Recommended video: It’s not exactly one video, but rather a whole telenovela series: “Jojo sucht das Glück” (“Jojo Seeks Happiness”). This series follows a Brazilian student who has moved to Cologne. It boasts a high production quality and is pretty entertaining. Intermediate learners will grasp vocabulary quickly and be able to follow the speed of conversation without any problem.
WDR is one of the public television networks in Germany, and they produce a wide range of content. Some of the content is online, including the news, which is always easy to follow if you’re up-to-date on current events. Content with available subtitles is marked with a clickable “UT” (an abbreviation of Untertitel, or subtitles) in the video.
Unlike the YouTube channels mentioned previously, WDR content is produced for the German market instead of for German learners, though it’s still accessible for all levels of learners. Their Media Center might be blocked outside of Germany; if that’s the case, try using a VPN, as outlined above.
Recommended video: Any video from “Die Sendung mit der Maus” (“The Show with the Mouse”) is bound to be interesting. It’s a famous show for children, but adults like to watch it just as much because it often explains things that you would never think about, like how a washing machine works or the secret to snowboards. Although the language is easy for children, the content is really appropriate for anybody.
ARD is another public broadcasting channel with its own online media center. Unlike WDR, the ARD content is probably better for intermediate to advanced learners because they have many made-for-TV movies. Like WDR, in order to watch videos with subtitles, make sure to choose videos that are marked in the search results with a “UT.”
Recommended video: Any video from the show “Tatort” (“Crime Scene”), which is more for advanced German learners. The show “Tatort” has been on since the 1970s and lots of Germans spend their Sunday evenings watching it. It’s similar to American shows like “CSI” or “Law & Order” and certainly worth checking out.
Like WDR and ARD, ZDF is also a public broadcasting network whose content is available online, but possibly limited to specific areas. If you go to their sub-site for audio programs and shows with subtitles, scroll down to the bottom where it says “Verfügbare Videos mit Untertitel” (Available videos with subtitles) to see what’s available. The videos on ZDF are more for advanced learners since the content is mostly TV shows, documentaries and news shows for the German market.
Recommended video: “Koch im Ohr” (“Chef in the Ear”) is a reality TV show where two teams compete; each team consists of a professional chef and a person with little experience in the kitchen. The chef needs to guide the regular person through the recipe just by talking to them through an earpiece. For German learners, it’s an ideal show to pick up vocabulary related to the kitchen and cooking.
Whether you’re watching something on YouTube or viewing content produced for the local German market, just remember to watch it with the subtitles turned on.
There are plenty of options available, and hopefully, with these tips, you’ll add watching German videos with subtitles to your regular learning routine. It’s a great way to have fun and improve your comprehension in no time.
Patricia Lee has been studying and working in Germany for ten years and has lived in Berlin, Cologne and Düsseldorf. She has also worked and lived in Shanghai, learning Chinese in the process.
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