You’ve had a long day and want to zone out on the couch.
Catching up on your German lessons is probably the last thing on your mind.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of turning on the latest episode of whatever series you’re currently binge-watching, put on a German movie.
Let’s take a closer look at how German movie night can be your best new language learning tool.
- How Can Watching Movies Help You Learn German?
- Where to Find German Movies
- 6 German Movies for Beginners
How Can Watching Movies Help You Learn German?
Watching media in a foreign language can help you learn that language, as suggested by TV-watching habits in Europe.
Take Germany and the Netherlands. In Germany, English-language movies and TV shows are dubbed in German, whereas in the Netherlands there is no dubbing. And guess what: the Dutch are known for speaking English better than their neighbors to the east. One theory goes that the Dutch are more familiar with English because they’re listening to it all the time in TV shows and movies.
A 2016 study also indicated that turning on subtitles can help you learn a language, meaning you can watch a German film with German subtitles to improve your listening comprehension.
Plus, by watching German-language films, you’ll get exposed to native speakers’ different regional dialects, pronunciations and slang. And while you’re at it, you’ll also learn about the culture itself, whether it’s humor if you’re watching a comedy, history if you’re watching a historical drama or just how people communicate with one another. All of this is crucial knowledge to prepare you for conversation with native speakers.
Where to Find German Movies
With so many resources available online, not being able to find movies in German is no excuse. Here are a few tips on how and where to find German movies:
- Check out what’s on Netflix. Because Netflix has expanded quickly throughout the world, the number of foreign movies available has also increased, including those from Germany.
There are also lots of tips and tricks about maximizing your Netflix account when trying to watch German movies, whether it’s turning on the subtitles or selecting the German audio options.
- Check out Cinema.de, a major European film magazine. With this resource, not only will you find out about all the latest German movies, you’ll also get to practice reading in German. This resource covers many English language movies, but there’s also a lot about local movies and stars so you can stay up-to-date with the German market.
- No Netflix account, but got Amazon Prime? This means you can access Amazon Prime Video, which also has a really comprehensive list of German movies. Some of the movies might be available to stream for free with Amazon Video, but others you might have to pay for.
- Find a local German culture night that features movies. For example, the Goethe Institute in New York regularly hosts a movie night. You may even stumble on some of the German classics that have shaped Hollywood.
- Look up the filmographies of German actors and actresses you’re already familiar with. Chances are they were famous in Germany before they got their break in Hollywood. Examples include Daniel Brühl and Til Schweiger, who were both in “Inglorious Basterds,” or Franka Potente, who you’d know from the Jason Bourne movies.
And if you’re really struggling with what you should watch, you can always just watch English language movies dubbed in German. This is a particularly easy way to go if you’re familiar with the film already; you know the story and maybe even the dialogue. It might take some getting used to watching a dubbed movie, but you’ll still be able to pick up new phrases quickly.
6 German Movies for Beginners
Let’s get the ball rolling with some specific German movies for beginners that you might not have heard of before.
To get a sneak preview of some German films, through trailers complete with interactive captions, give FluentU a try.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU is a fantastic way to combine entertaining videos like movie clips with serious German learning. And the real-life, native-speaker German you learn will get you better prepared to watch authentic German-language films, like the ones on this list.
Lots of lists for learning German with movies include ones like “Lola rennt” (“Run Lola Run”), “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”) or “Good Bye, Lenin!,” which are all fantastic. If you haven’t seen them, you should. However, the following six movies are loved by Germans and maybe aren’t as well known outside Germany.
Right after World War II, a genre of movies called Heimatfilm (homeland film) became popular in Germany. The genre romanticized life in the countryside and had simple stories, often entailing clearly “good” and “bad” characters that fight for the love of a woman with the “good” guy always winning. The plot is easy enough to follow and once you’ve seen one Heimatfilm, you’ve almost seen them all.
“Sissi” is a classic Heimatfilm that Germans all know. The simple plot follows the main characters Princess Elisabeth, nicknamed Sissi, her sister Néné and the young Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, and how the three of them get caught between betrothals, familial obligation and love.
For a beginner, “Sissi” has a simple enough plot to follow that you won’t get lost concentrating on what the characters are saying. Since the movie is actually Austrian and the characters are Austrian and Bavarian, the accents might be a slight challenge with the slightly rolled “r.” The good thing is that the accents are still very clear compared to what you might actually encounter in Bavaria or in Austria.
2. “Keinohrhasen” (“Rabbit Without Ears”)
The romantic comedy “Keinohrhasen” is written by, directed by and stars Til Schweiger, one of Germany’s A-list celebrities that English-speaking audiences will recognize from “Inglorious Basterds.” It’s also number 13 on the list of most successful German films by audience size, which means: don’t miss this one!
Its plot is easy to follow: a man gets into trouble and is sentenced to 300 hours of community service at a daycare. He grew up in the same neighborhood as the woman running the daycare and he always used to tease her, so she despises him.
There’s a challenge they overcome together in the daycare, they start to get to know each other better, all is forgiven and they fall for each other.
The dialogue is written the way people speak in everyday life, so you’ll pick up useful slang and phrases. Additionally, kids feature prominently in the movie since the daycare is a main location, so when the adults are talking to them, again, it’s easy to follow.
Finally, the jokes are fairly universal, so you won’t need deep knowledge into German humor to laugh and be entertained.
3. “Die Feuerzangenbowle” (“The Punch Bowl”)
Similar to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Die Feuerzangenbowle” requires audience interaction in some circles. It’s become a tradition at some universities throughout Germany to have massive “Die Feuerzangenbowle” viewings around Christmas, where audience members will be raising their glasses, turning on flashlights, ringing alarm clocks and quoting famous lines.
“Die Feuerzangenbowle” is a great way for beginning German learners to get some specific cultural insights, especially since it’s a movie people get really enthusiastic about. The movie itself, being filmed and released at the end of World War II, is funny and light, serving as a short distraction from the reality at the time.
The story follows a man who, due to being homeschooled, goes back to school disguised as a youth to experience what he’s missed out on. He pulls pranks on teachers and the school director and in the meantime, falls in love with the director’s daughter.
The movie is actually based on a 1933 novel by Heinrich Spoerl, which you might enjoy reading first before watching the screen adaptation.
4. “Soul Kitchen”
This 2009 comedy revolves around a local Hamburg restaurant and its Greek-German proprietor, Zinos. The run-down joint is having financial problems, Zinos lacks medical insurance and ends up with a slipped disc, his brother is out of prison and his girlfriend is a journalist going to Shanghai.
All of these threads are brought together into a funny, coherent movie with a great cast.
Out of the movies on this list, “Soul Kitchen” is probably one of the more difficult ones to follow as a beginner, due in part to the talk about financial and physical problems. However, it also provides useful vocabulary in an entertaining context and there are other, easier topics to follow, such as relationships and food.
5. “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” (“Germany. A Summer’s Fairytale.”)
Germany is a soccer-crazed nation and in 2006, the country played host to the FIFA World Cup. The national team was a favorite to win the title on its home turf, and “Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen” is a documentary following the team on its way to trying to win its fourth World Cup.
More broadly, the movie documents how for the first time in a long while, Germans began to show a sense of national pride publicly. Given the country’s history, this was a big change.
If you’re not into soccer, this probably isn’t the movie for you. But if you want to learn sports vocabulary, especially when it comes to Germany’s favorite, then this documentary is a good place to pick it up.
You’ll also get familiar with names of stars and coaches that have played a role on the national team—Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim “Jogi” Löw.
6. “Absolute Giganten” (“Gigantic”)
This movie follows three young friends, one of whom has decided to leave Hamburg since his probation for a juvenile offense is up. He doesn’t tell his friends about his plans until the day before, leaving them confused about why he would abandon them. As a result, their last night together involves partying, foosball, music and cars.
The main themes in the movie—friendship and leaving home—are universal ones that make this an easy movie to follow. There’s no specialized vocabulary to make it any more complicated than listening to a group of friends talking, and they don’t speak in a dialect that’s difficult to understand.
Whether you go with an older movie or a newer one, watching in German is a great way for beginners to pick up some new vocabulary, practice listening comprehension or just get insights into the culture. So take a break when you’re on your next Netflix binge and put on a German movie!
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.