Have you cleaned your ears recently?
If you haven’t, you should.
After all, while you’re working on your German listening skills, you wouldn’t want to miss out on any of the language’s unique, beautiful sounds.
Listening to them is a treat unto itself, but truly understanding them is a huge marker of success in your German studies.
Listening comprehension is often a point of consternation for language learners, but there’s no need to fret!
With the right approach and resources, you can train your ears to easily pick apart any German sounds that enter them.
So lend us an ear (after you’ve cleaned it)—here’s how you can boost your German listening!
5 Foolproof Ways to Improve German Listening
Being able to parse through the unique sounds of German is a crucial skill that can open or widen the doors for other aspects of the language. But how can you efficiently build your listening skills to make them applicable?
As it turns out, it’s not just a matter of mindlessly drowning yourself in German speech.
Listen actively, not passively
Foreign languages already have the issue of sounding, well, foreign to any non-native speaker. If you weren’t a learner, your perception of a language is warped heavily by your inability to understand the individual sounds, rendering them into gibberish to your ears.
This is a problem that’s facilitated when you’re listening passively: you can hear what’s being said, but you don’t process the meaning behind it. Think of it as having your ears, but not your brain, working—since there’s little rigorous comprehension work being done, you may ultimately lose out on a deep learning experience. The most you may get is increased familiarity with German sounds and pronunciation, perhaps along with some new words or phrases.
That’s why it’s critical that you practice active listening. This means that you need to make a conscious effort to both hear and comprehend what’s being said. With active listening, you’re working the learning cogs to transform the sounds into something understandable—this in turn will markedly improve your German listening skills.
If passive listening is chewing on food, then active listening is both chewing and digesting. It’s inevitable that you won’t always understand everything you hear, but making the effort to concentrate can result in a more fruitful learning experience that can lessen the stress of subsequent listening attempts.
Watch German media with subtitles
Entertainment doesn’t have to be just a fun distraction. In fact, German media can provide some of the most authentic resources for German listening practice while being incredibly fun to utilize for study purposes.
Having the subtitles on when watching a German show or movie is a very simple, direct way to get some German learning done. With English-translation subtitles, the words you hear are linked immediately to their translations, and the media itself will provide the context for which the language is used, so you can keep up easily.
However, to really squeeze out the most use of subtitles for your listening practice, you should switch to using German subtitles instead. Though this may make it more difficult for you to follow along, what you get is the opportunity to connect spoken to written German words. You’ll basically be practicing both your German listening and reading skills!
You can also opt to turn off subtitles so that your ears can really tune into the sounds of the language. Don’t be shy to pause, rewind or even slow down the video as often as needed. This kind of activity may admittedly lessen the entertainment value of whatever you’re watching, but the educational reward will make up for it.
Record yourself speaking German
You may be thinking that this tip is more apt for German speaking practice, but it can be very useful in building your listening skills as well. The reason is simple: by hearing yourself speak the German language, you can see how you sound compared to native speakers.
This can thus point out any discrepancies in voice inflections and pronunciations, which you should then note and be aware of. You’ll thus better understand what makes something sound authentically German and be keener to the aural intricacies and details that may have made you initially less receptive to natural German speech.
Repetition is one of a learner’s best friends. Constantly doing something again and again helps to make it instinctive, and over time, it’ll require less work to bring to mind the repeated task and all its associated intricacies. This is exactly the case with German listening.
By constantly listening to a given German speech, you’ll come to memorize and internalize the whole package: the sounds, the individual words, the sentence structure and even the context. The payoff is when you can pick out pieces of a previously-studied “audio package” in completely different packages—in other words, you can apply what you learned from listening to one thing to other German audio.
Here’s one challenge you can do to utilize the power of repetition:
1. First, listen to a piece of audio once and try to understand what was said without any translated aid. If needed, you can adjust the speed of the audio so that you can hear everything clearly. Be sure to scrutinize context clues and keep an ear out for familiar vocabulary.
2. After forming your thoughts, listen to the audio again. See if you can glean any more information or need to make any adjustments to your translation.
3. Keep repeating until you’re either confident in your translation or unable to decode further.
4. Find a reliable translation for the given audio and compare it to your own.
With every repeated listening session, you’re bound to pick up new bits and pieces of the audio. Your ears will become sharper and more attentive to nuances.
If you want to give this challenge a try, then FluentU can give you a hand with the best kind of learning material around.
FluentU’s language lessons are based on authentic German-language videos. Each one comes with full transcripts and subtitles that translate words with supporting audio and video clips—if any word piques your interest, you can save it as a multimedia flashcard that you can view anytime!
FluentU is perfectly formatted for repetitive listening practice, but it can also offer a lot more. You’ll hear more about it later on in the post!
Immerse yourself in German audio
This is closely related to the above tip. In language learning, immersion refers to constant exposure to a given language to the point it becomes commonplace in your daily life.
For example, while you may watch the occasional German show or movie to get some learning done on the spot, you can also just swap all your typical sources of entertainment for German alternatives. You can even switch up your smart device’s language settings and get some speaking and listening practice with the virtual assistants, whether it’s Siri, Cortana or Alexa!
Essentially, you’ll be making the effort to entrench the German language into your everyday regime. Listen to as much German as possible wherever you may be, whether you’re lazing around at home, driving around in your car or strolling through the neighborhood. Each moment can be a potential opportunity to review or learn German.
By the way, if you have moments in your immersion experience in which you don’t understand the German you hear, then take a break from immersion when needed. Pause and do what you must, whether it’s further studying or just a quick mental refresh, in order to get your bearings; immersion won’t do if you’re just soaking in all the sounds and not comprehending the majority of them.
6 Rad Resources to Practice German Listening
It’s pretty easy to find German-language audio, but some types may specifically work better for your learning purposes. We’ll go over some of the excellent resources that you should be checking out if you’re aiming to learn with German audio.
Podcasts are a popular go-to for folks who just want to have their ears occupied while doing other work, but they can do so much more for learners.
There are many advantages to podcasts: their generally long length, their wide variety of discussed topics and their engaging, casual nature. Your choice can come down to any one of these factors, but ultimately the best German-language podcasts would accommodate your current skill level. For example, somewhat advanced German speakers should start first with intermediate-level German podcasts instead of going straight to podcasts that are meant to be consumed by native speakers.
You should also take advantage of the podcasts specifically made to teach German to non-native speakers. The German spoken in these kinds of podcasts are carefully enunciated and slowed down so that learners can process what they hear. Some may even offer supplemental resources, such as vocabulary lists, to aid the learner while they’re listening.
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of German music, then now’s the time to start getting acquainted—there’s much to see (and hear, of course)!
Learning German with songs is as fun as it sounds. Because of their catchy and repetitive nature, songs can easily teach you German words and phrases without it seeming like a learning chore. There’s already an appeal in listening to German used in music since it’s sung, not intoned like in normal speech, making things much more approachable and engaging.
Additionally, when you learn with German song lyrics, you’re bound to get a pretty colorful package of the language. There’s a higher chance that songs may teach you German slang and idioms. If you do encounter these while you’re deconstructing lyrics, put a bit of “Caution” tape around them so you’re aware not to take their translations too literally.
There’s also the advantage of portability with German songs. You can download German songs onto your devices so you can listen to your favorite tunes anytime and anywhere. And don’t be ashamed to sing out loud—consider it great vocal German practice, one that can give both your tongue and lungs a workout!
There are plenty of cool German songs that you’ll want to treat your ears to, but it’s recommended you start studying with easy German songs, such as those fit for a younger audience. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and challenge yourself with more difficult music, such as some beat-tastic German rap songs, though you’ll almost certainly need the lyrics in front of you!
Audiobooks are popular for providing hands-free entertainment, but their very nature and format also contribute to their growing use as language learning tools.
German audiobooks would let you distinctly hear and focus on the sounds of the language, and this alone can be a pretty impactful exposure if you remove any other sensory input. Since all you’re getting is aural input, you’ll remove the complication of having to interpret written words with their sounds, leading to a more comfortable and focused listening experience.
Audiobooks also provide a number of useful functions for listeners. You can pause, rewind or fast forward the audio as needed. If you do end up wanting to practice your German writing or reading skills, some audiobooks may be provided with a text transcript.
We do encourage you to practice active listening with audiobooks. However, if you’re busy with other activities but still want your dose of German while working, you can engage in more passive listening and have an audiobook droning in the background. You may still pick up some new interesting words while you’re multi-tasking!
There are many kinds of audiobooks you can choose from. You can find novels of various genres and even narrated textbooks. For listening practice, it’s suggested that you choose audiobooks that aren’t too advanced in their German, such as children’s books, to ensure that you can follow along easily and lessen the chance of you tuning out.
Apps to practice German listening
Apps are great for fun and games, but their capabilities reach far beyond just those purposes. There are many apps available that teach you the German language and within that pool, you can find options that provide German audio training. Even better, these apps are often available at little to no cost, taking up space only within your smart device and enabling instant, portable language learning and practice.
More general German learning apps would almost always include interactive audio functions within their program. Be sure to use them whenever available so that you can get a fuller picture of the German you’re learning. You may also find apps that specifically focus on German listening skills, which you should certainly check out.
Another fantastic option would be a German audio dictionary app—basically, this works to provide you not only translations of words and phrases, but also how to pronounce them. This kind of app is incredibly helpful for travelers who want to navigate through Germany, but they’re also just great for whenever you want clarification on how certain German words sound.
There are also apps that provide other audio resources listed here, including those that offer German music, podcasts or radio broadcasts. Really, the possibilities can be endless when it comes to the world of apps, so take your time and gather a whole collection of them (as much as you can fit in your device)!
Because of their audiovisual nature, videos can work as engaging resources for listening practice. You may think that the pictorial nature of videos can make them distracting, but that isn’t always true.
If you use German videos that actually show the speakers, then you now have a visual presentation of the sounds you’re listening to—watching mouth movements can often be a great supplemental study aid to bolster your ability to pick up and comprehend the words you hear. For this purpose, you may want to focus on videos that have a steady or close-up view of the German speakers. Examples can include news reports, documentaries, interviews and speeches.
Of course, you do have the choice of just ignoring the visuals entirely and concentrating fully on the audio!
Videos also have the advantage of being incredibly accessible. Online platforms such as YouTube will make searching for videos an effortless task, so there’s no need to worry about scarcity.
We’ve just mentioned how great German apps and videos can be for practicing your listening skills. Now how about a resource that meshes the two together to create a special learning experience?
The diverse video catalog means that you’ll be listening to German as it’s used in a variety of different contexts, giving you a much bigger picture and understanding of the language as a whole.
Each clip comes with interactive subtitles that teach you German vocabulary on the spot. With a single tap or click, you can access a word’s definition, uses in example sentences, supporting illustrations and audio pronunciations. If there’s any word that tickles your fancy, you can instantly save it to your own list that you can revisit at a later point.
Of course, you may also pause, rewind or replay a clip anytime in order to make sure you catch everything that’s being said.
FluentU’s review system pays close attention to the practical needs of a language learner. You can utilize multimedia flashcards to get interactive practice with the words you learn, or you may access the provided vocabulary lists to aid you before or during a video viewing. Furthermore, you can take FluentU’s special adaptive quizzes that specifically focus on the material you’re struggling with.
So if you’re itching for some intensive but fun German listening practice, then check out FluentU! You can also download the app version for iOS and Android devices to make your studies even more convenient!
Among all the available streaming media today, radio still stands strong and is far from being outdated or irrelevant. This is particularly true for learners such as yourself, as you can efficiently learn with German-language radio.
German radio has a few advantages over the other resources listed so far. Radio stations are spread out everywhere in the country of Germany, which means that you can hear a multitude of different dialects with a single listening experience. Furthermore, German radio tends to focus heavily on current events, which can keep you up to date on German society and culture.
Like podcasts, the radio will also be very diverse in content. There are German talk radio shows that will discuss in length topical issues, German music radio that you can sing along to, German news radio that formally reports goings-on around the country and so much more. You’ll be listening through the broad spectrum of the German language, and you’re bound to stumble upon something that will catch your interest; if not, simply switch to a different station!
Sometimes you won’t always be able to catch radio shows live—however, German radio has another home besides the airwaves. Many German radio stations are available online for free so you can easily catch broadcasts from your personal devices.
So, did you catch all that?
By utilizing all the mentioned tips and resources, you can boost your German listening skills and be well on your way to fluency!
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