How to Start Learning German with German Dubbed Movies Online
What if I told you you could watch your favorite Hollywood blockbuster and improve your German all at the same time?
How, you ask?
With German dubbed movies and films.
- Movie Dubbing in Germany
- The Benefits of Dubbed Movies for German Students
- Where to Find German Dubbed Movies Online and Offline
- Enjoy German Dubbed Movies While Learning German
Movie Dubbing in Germany
It might come as a surprise, but the majority of Germans could probably not recognize many Hollywood stars and celebrities by their voice. The reason is not some congenital defect that afflicts most of the German population and renders them unable to connect the sound of a voice with a face.
Instead it is because all major films released in Germany get dubbed. Thanks to voice actors, Brad Pitt, Robert DeNiro and Sandra Bullock all speak German fluently and accent free (to be fair, Sandra Bullock actually speaks German).
In fact, the Germanophone dubbing industry is the largest of its kind in Europe. Germany itself has the most dubbing studios for foreign movies per capita worldwide.
Practically all foreign films, shows and TV series in Germany, Austria and the German-speaking part of Switzerland appear in dubbed versions on television and in the cinema.
Though subtitles exist, they are not as accepted in Germany as they are in other countries in Europe. Even computer and video games are often localized with German dialogues and videos. It appears we are a picky bunch. Or maybe it’s just because the German dubbing industry does such a good job.
Voice-over Actor as a Career
An interesting side effect of this phenomenon is that there are a few German voice-over actors who have accumulated quite some fame for themselves for lending their voices to famous people. While many Germans could not tell Hollywood stars apart from their original voices, many would, on the other hand, recognize their German alter egos.
This is especially confusing because some voice-over actors actually fill in for several Hollywood stars as you will see below. Plus, because people started recognizing their distinct voices, these actors also frequently get hired for TV advertisement and video games. Especially the German “Bruce Willis” seems to be everywhere.
Famous German Voice-over Actors
- Christian Brückner (Robert DeNiro)
- Manfred Lehmann (Bruce Willis)
- Simon Jäger (Matt Damon, Josh Hartnett, Heath Ledger)
- Sabine Arnhold (Sandra Bullock, Lisa Edelstein (Cuddy from “House M.D.”), Daisy Duck)
- Gerrit Schmidt-Voß (Leonardo DiCaprio)
- Thomas Danneberg (Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others)
Horrible Title Translations
Another special characteristic (and huge pet peeve of mine) is the tendency of the German movie industry to provide horrible translations or adaptations of English movie titles. Most notable among those is the practice to change the original title to another English title but then add a subheading in German.
Why? Your guess is as good as mine. But the result is often worthy of ridicule.
To give you a small taste, here is a short list of movie titles, their German titles and a re-translation of that title back to English (when necessary). The original movie titles are in bold, the German title in italics, the English translations in parenthesis, and any of my own side commentary will be found italicized in brackets:
- Taken – 96 Hours [if you’re gonna go with an English title after all, why not keep the original?!]
- Black Eagle – Red Eagle [ah ok, it makes much more sense now]
- Airplane! – Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug (The Amazing Journey in a Crazy Airplane)
- Cruel Intentions – Eiskalte Engel (Icecold Angels)
- Cellular – Final Call – Wenn er auflegt muss sie sterben (Final Call – If He Hangs Up She Has to Die)
- Crash – L.A. Crash [opened up a whole new perspective on the movie for me]
- Escape from New York – Die Klapperschlange (The Rattlesnake)
- Face/Off – Im Körper des Feindes (In the Body of the Enemy)
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Nie wieder Sex mit der Ex (Never Again Sex with the Ex) [subtle]
- Hot Tub Time Machine – Hot Tub – Der Whirlpool… ist ‘ne verdammte Zeitmaschine! (Hot Tub – The Whirlpool…Is a Damn Time Machine!) [That one’s gotta be my favorite]
You get the picture…
The Benefits of Dubbed Movies for German Students
However, besides my grumbling about it, the German dubbing industry is actually doing a really good job. The production value is high, translations stay as close to the original as possible and only veer completely off script when something just does not carry over from one language to the other, such as puns or other jokes.
However, even in those cases the translation will be a grammatically correct sentence that makes sense and is of value to you as a German student. Therefore, dubbed movies can provide a fun and immersive way to learn German. And there are other advantages.
Dubbed movies are set in a familiar context
Movies made in your home country or native language are set in a familiar environment. You will understand its setting, the cultural background of the protagonists and don’t have to puzzle out whether what is happening on screen refers to things that non-Germans have a hard time understanding.
Dubbed movies provide a lot of valuable content
Ninety minutes of screen time give characters a lot to talk about. Depending on how dialogue-heavy the movie is, this means you are exposed to a great amount of new words, phrases and whole sentences. All while munching popcorn!
Dubbed movies are fun
An important aspect of using dubbed movies to learn German is this: it’s enjoyable. Fun is a factor that should not be underestimated. When we are enjoying something and are exposed to things that really interest us (unlike the content of many textbooks), it becomes much easier to put in the time to study. Many projects and undertakings have died because people simply lost interest.
Dubbed movies come with background knowledge
An especially good learning opportunity is watching the dubbed version of a movie you already know. Why? Because in this case you can anticipate what is going on. You know what will happen next in the plot, you have an idea of what people are talking about or even know the exact lines they are going to use.
That way you don’t have to pay attention to how the plot is moving forward, but can instead concentrate on the language aspect. Because you already have a blueprint of the movie in your head, you can focus on filling in the blanks of your German knowledge.
Side fun fact: In the German version of “Die Hard 2” (“Stirb langsam 2″), Bruce Willis’s iconic line is “Yippiyayeah Schweinebacke.”
A tip on learning German with dubbed movies
To learn German effectively, don’t just watch the movies and expect to soak up the vocabulary. Watch them actively, and keep track of new vocabulary. If you hear an unfamiliar word, write it down and look it up in a dictionary. Review them on a regular basis and use them with your German friends.
You can reinforce your learning with apps by saving new vocabulary in your favorite flashcard or learning app. For example, a tool like Anki will let you build your own flashcards, so you could make one for each movie you watch.
You can also use the FluentU program to watch movie clips and trailers as well as other authentic German videos like commercials, vlogs and news segments. Watching movie clips instead of entire movies is an easier entry point for most learners, especially if you’re just starting out.
FluentU adds learning tools on top of these videos, so you’ll always have the support of transcripts, key word lists, post-video quizzes and interactive subtitles. This last one is especially useful for learners, since it allows you to check the contextual meaning of any word in the subtitles as the video plays.
It also lets see example sentences and videos, hear audio pronunciations and add the words as flashcards. You can review these flashcards when you’re ready with personalized quizzes. FluentU can be used directly in your browser or you can download the iOS or Android app for a more mobile experience.
Where to Find German Dubbed Movies Online and Offline
That only leaves the question of where you can find movies dubbed into German. Unfortunately this is not always as easy as it should be, given the fact that in our modern world everything is connected. However, there are ways.
DVDs and Blu-rays with German soundtrack
Amazon offers a wide collection of DVDs and Blu-ray discs of which some have German voice tracks. You can find them via the Amazon advanced search. Here you can choose German under “Language audio tracks” and hit search. For me it yielded over 32,000 results, however, not all movies that show up actually offer German as a language. Always make sure to read the product description before ordering.
eBay Germany also sells many movies in the native language. Lots of sellers will also ship worldwide. Make sure you pick the destination country in the upper right corner of the search results. Of course the website itself is in German, so you need some language proficiency (or a browser that automatically translates webpages) to order movies from here.
Buy movies locally
If you have the opportunity to go to a German-speaking country, you can then merely walk into a store and get a supply of your favorite movies with German dubbing and take them back home. Or, if you have German friends, ask them to get some for you and send them via mail.
Beware of the region code! DVDs and Blu-ray discs come with a region code which only allows them to be played on certain players. There are ways to get around this code and there are also region code-free discs as well as players. However, make sure that you will actually be able to play the movies you are about to buy in order to avoid frustration.
The second option are online services that allow you to buy or rent movies in digital form for download – or even let you stream them directly. These are becoming more and more common, and several offers exist in Germany. However, not many of them are available outside of the country due to licensing reasons.
There are ways to get around it with the help of VPN services. Essentially, a VPN makes it appear as if you’re using the internet elsewhere 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. HideMyAss! happens to be a particularly nice VPN service because you can use it on any of your devices—it works on your computer, smartphone and internet-enabled TVs and game systems.
This is great for everything that’s available to stream online for free. However, in pretty much all cases with paid video services you will still have to provide a German billing address, credit card or other way of proving you are inside the country. If you can do that, these services let you watch any dubbed movie you want.
Unfortunately this is the biggest obstacle for most people who are not German citizens. If you can not fulfill these requirements, then purchasing DVDs and Blu-rays with a German language track is your best bet. For those who can, below is a list with the biggest video-on-demand services in Germany.
- Selection: Very large – allegedly 45,000+ movies
- Price: Subscription 7.99€/month, from 4.99€/movie without subscription
Amazon Germany Instant Video
- Selection: Large
- Price: Included in the price of Amazon Prime (check Amazon’s website for current pricing).
iTunes Germany video
- Selection: Very large
- Price: From 0.99€/movie, ca. 10€ for new releases (ca. 4€ to rent)
- Selection: Number of movies unknown, but probably in the thousands
- Price: From 7.99€/month
- Selection: Small – 2,000+
- Price: From 0.99/movie (rent), from 2.99€/movie (buy)
- Selection: Small
- Price: ca. 4€/movie (rent, new releases), ca. 14€/movie (buy, new releases)
Enjoy German Dubbed Movies While Learning German
As you can see, dubbed movies are a great way to enhance your German knowledge and also have some fun doing it. While it might take a while to get over the fact that the words you hear and the lip movements don’t fit together, watching these movies will provide you with a plethora of new phrases and material.
What’s also important to keep in mind is that not only is this a good language exercise, but it also provides a glimpse into an interesting part of the German culture—including and some of its peculiarities (see the title translations). While getting access to some dubbed cinematic material is not the easiest thing in the world, it is far from impossible. With technology steadily advancing, it gets easier every day.
Oh, and to have the real German experience, make sure you eat sweet popcorn during your movie marathon and not the salty kind that everyone else on Earth appears to favor.
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