“Bugs Bunny…auf Deutsch (in German)? Really?”
That was the response I had to a fellow expat and friend who sought to share some tips with me.
She had long ago mastered the German language and was explaining what helped her take her language learning to the next level.
“Yes! Cartoons!” she exclaimed.
I was fairly convinced that as an intermediate language learner I had surpassed the window of time where watching cartoons might be helpful (I was a master at singing my ABC’s and counting in German).
However, I was still open to any and all recommendations that might help nudge me beyond the language plateau I seemed to be resting on at the time.
I decided to try it for a while. Settling back with a nice glass of wine and opening my mind up to the idea of cartoons as a viable language learning medium, I was immediately struck by how quickly new vocabulary and grammar seemed to stick with regular viewing practice.
Now before you rush off to YouTube in search of an episode of everyone’s favorite rabbit, you need to understand that not all cartoons are designed alike. While cartoons may seem like more of an obvious suggestion for beginners, in this post, we’ll explore cartoons that are especially good for more advanced learners who are willing to go subtitle-free.
Before getting into some of the better choices for learners through the advanced level, let’s tackle some of the “whys” and “hows” of adding cartoons to your German language learning process.
Why Cartoons Support Language Learning
- You learn core vocabulary in context. Beyond pure entertainment, cartoons are typically constructed to teach children something to support their on-going development. Core vocabulary used in everyday situations (i.e., doing homework, going to the doctor, helping Dad to bake a cake) allow children, and in turn German language learners, to put “everyday” words in context.
- Slow and repetitive speech makes for easy viewing. Cartoon developers know that their primary viewers are children, so they tailor the speech to suit the audience. Consequently, cartoon characters tend to enunciate their words clearly and slowly and repeat key vocabulary throughout an episode, allowing for easy absorption of new words.
- Images support learning. A picture tells a thousand words and cartoons are certainly no exception. Even if you don’t understand all the vocabulary being used, the highly visual nature of cartoons makes for an easy association between the imagery on screen and the vocabulary being used by its characters.
- It only requires a short time commitment. It’s no secret that kids have a short attention span. Therefore, most cartoons are short, and German language learners can view a storyline from start to finish in usually no more than 20 minutes. For those with time crunch issues, this is a great opportunity to fit in some language learning in a pinch.
- Problems and solutions often dictate storylines. Navigating through life’s challenges and solutions are often a key theme in cartoons. Learning words and grammar associated with base-level problem solving is a good start towards more advanced conversations in tricky situations.
How to Effectively Watch German Cartoons
- Take copious notes. At this stage in your German language learning process, your vocabulary should be fairly extensive. This is the time to further extend it by jotting down new words and phrases throughout your cartoon viewing time.
- Consistently revisit new vocabulary and grammar. Word lists are worthless unless you use them. That means revisiting those new words and phrases on a consistent basis: study them, say them out loud, write an essay for fun and dazzle your language learning partner by integrating them into your conversations. It’s simple—use it or lose it.
- View episodes multiple times. Practice make perfect, ergo viewing episodes multiple times will serve to commit new vocabulary/grammar to memory.
- Make use of FluentU. For great viewing material and/or support if you’re not quite up to subtitle-free viewing yet, check out FluentU, the site that has your back throughout the whole German learning process. FluentU takes real-world videos from the internet—including cartoons—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
YouTube’s 10 Best Cartoons for Advanced German Language Learners
YouTube stands as a great medium for those language learners out there looking to take their German skills to the next level—without the aid of subtitles. With a focus on the more advanced learners among us, below you’ll find a host of some of the better cartoons to keep you learning and entertained at the same time!
While you might not find an official German YouTube channel for some of the titles below, I’ve linked them to a page where you can access various episodes. Enjoy!
“Albert sagt… Natur – aber nur!” (“Albert Says Nature Knows Best”)
“Albert Says Nature Knows Best” is a German science cartoon featuring Albert, a mythical creature known to be a bit of an adventure-seeker. Albert, along with his pal Zora, are committed to sharing insight into a host of topics associated with nature and the environment as a whole.
Some of the topics these two pals have covered include climate change, the effects of fossil fuel and nuclear energy consumption and how birds contribute to the natural cycle of life. Note that a spin-off series called “Albert auf Entdeckungstour” (“Albert Asks What Is Life?”) finds Albert and Zora continuing their adventures, but this time with the help of a time machine.
One particular episode advanced language learners can immediately take advantage of is entitled “Mit der Medizin Unterwegs” (“On the Go with Medicine”). This episode finds Albert helping his friend Zora through an illness by showing her how medicine works to fight sickness in the body.
Higher level medical vocabulary coupled with compelling illustrations are used to help viewers better understand and make associations. This kind of terminology is a smart (and practical) addition to a language learner’s vocabulary list.
This Canadian cartoon series follows the adventures of a young boy named Calliou as he navigates the world, along with his family and friends. Caillou is typically found on YouTube in a series of short compilations and includes such topics as Caillou learning to tie his shoes, discovering nature with his Opa and learning about foreign customs and traditions.
One great episode includes Caillou and his trip to the dentist. Storylines like this one include basic situational vocabulary and are tied up in a series of minutes. Slow voice-over narration of the videos supports ease of understanding.
“Die Fantastische Welt von Gumball” (“The Amazing World of Gumball”)
“The Amazing World of Gumball” is a British/American collaboration featuring a 12-year old cat named Gumball and his goldfish brother Darwin—characters who can’t help but find themselves involved in a series of zany antics.
While the premise is often silly and later a bit dark with the introduction of “the Void” (a place where the universe’s mistakes reside), the vocabulary is one that advanced language learners can use on a day-to-day basis.
And since the dialogue is spoken relatively fast with an array of comic accents, this series makes for good practice for higher level listening training.
“Der Kleine Nick” (“Little Nick”)
This series, developed from a children’s French book series, tells the story of a young boy named Nick. The cast includes a host of cartoon characters from Nick’s parents, to his best friend Otto and his various schoolmates.
The series often takes place during the school day, where Nick navigates his way through one situational event after another. This particular episode finds Nick struggling to solve a math problem and trying to secure a written excuse from his parents to avoid doing the work. This storyline is a key example (albeit comic) of vocabulary associated with problem solving.
“Feuerwehrmann Sam” (“Fireman Sam”)
This series tells the story of Fireman Sam and his firefighter colleagues in the Welsh city of Pontypandy. In each episode, Sam and his colleagues are called upon to help local citizens in a series of life-threatening situations.
Because the series is heavy on dialogue, it helps viewers with conversational skills training. In addition, learners can absorb new vocabulary associated with emergency situations. And because of the clear imagery connected to the dialogue, this cartoon allows for easy pick-up of new words.
“Kleine Prinzessin” (“Little Princess”)
Originally British, this cartoon series tells the story of a little girl who lives in a castle with her parents. She—a tad bratty in nature—learns that she doesn’t always get what she wants. This series is a good starting point for those going it alone without subtitles for the first time.
The dialogue is relatively simplistic in nature, spoken at a slow pace. Also, the episodes typically last around 10 minutes, making for a quick watch for those in a time crunch.
“Lauras Stern” (“Laura’s Star”)
A German original, this series is based on a book by author Klaus Baumgart. The background of the series tells the story of Laura, a seven-year-old girl who finds an injured star, brings it home to nurse it back to health and then embarks on many an adventure with her new friend.
In most episodes, Laura is confronted with a problem and searches out a solution. Dialogue is also clean and accent free, making for easy listening comprehension.
“Meine Freundin Conni” (“My Friend Conni”)
Conni is the seven-year-old protagonist of this cartoon series that was also developed out of a successful book series. It follows Conni in daily life as she navigates the world, learning and discovering new things around her.
This particular episode is a great one to start with and involves her taking a plane ride with her family. Key vocabulary and sentence structure related to travel can be garnered from this episode—a very practical addition to your on-going word list.
Peppa Pig is an animated British series adopted by the German market. Peppa is young female pig who lives with her parents and younger brother, George. The series revolves around Peppa’s everyday activities and her interaction with her family and friends.
Along with simple dialogue from the show’s characters, this series also features voice-over narration, which provides further clarification and helps with comprehension.
Start with this particular episode, where Peppa learns the alphabet along with some useful, basic German words for each letter.
Trotro is a donkey and the title character of a series of French children’s books adapted to television. This cartoon follows the day-to-day life of Trotro and stands as another good starting point for cartoon viewers looking to ween themselves off subtitles.
Episodes cover very elementary topics like Trotro cleaning up his room, making soup and learning to read. The clips are short in nature and slow paced, with easily digestible dialogue.
So there you have it—ten examples of great animation to get you started on your subtitle free language learning journey. It’ll be hard at first, but don’t give up.
The key to learning and retaining is active listening—so open your ears, let your mind absorb the content, let your hand take note of any word you don’t understand, then reset and…repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.