Could following current events in German strengthen your language skills?
Tune in tonight at 6 to learn the shocking truth.
Nah, we won’t make you wait.
The answer is obvious: the news is a fantastic tool for any language learner, from beginning to advanced.
Sure, German films, television comedies, music and blogs might sound like more of a fun time, but a touch of seriousness in your language learning regimen might be just the ticket to advance your language skills further, faster.
How to Learn German through Television News and Newspapers
If you’re trying to improve your overall German comprehension, reading is a million times easier than listening!
I remember sitting in my second year of Germanics class and being so frustrated with myself for not being able to understand why people in class were laughing at the movie we were watching. If you are reading something, you don’t have to sit around and puzzle over something you don’t understand. You can get the definition of an unknown word in 10 seconds flat from an online dictionary. Remember, even if looking at an article you can understand only 60-70%, that’s still really good! The only way to move up from 70% reading comprehension is by reading a lot.
Living in Berlin these days, I find that learning German from the news is one of the most interesting and rewarding ways to work with the language. Learning German in high school, our teacher had left Germany in 1980 and our textbooks were from the 80’s as well. As a result, I thought of Europe as a kind of quaint, storybook Heidi in den Alpen sort of place that was still stuck in time, and I didn’t know anything about the modern history of the nation.
Ultimately, I got caught up by getting interested in German current events.
Tips and Tricks for Successfully Learning German with the News
The best way to teach yourself about the real Germany of today is by getting interested in the German news! Still wondering how to go about this? Here are some great tricks I learned while self-studying German through newspapers and television programs.
Choose topics you love.
Only read things that interest you, otherwise it’s not going to be enjoyable. Don’t force yourself to read articles about retirement policy or die Energiewende (the name for Germany’s move away from nuclear towards renewable sources of energy) if you’re not a retired electrical engineer. Ideally, reading the news should be something that you enjoy and the language learning should almost become secondary to learning more about subjects that interest you. You are getting a cultural education as much as a linguistic one from this method of learning.
Pay close attention.
Try to pay attention to different grammatical elements when you’re reading – ask yourself things like “hmm, why is the verb there?” or “hmm, so I guess this another always-dative verb,” and allow yourself to be impressed by elegant constructions like gemacht werden könnten. It’s only once you leave the classroom and get used to dealing with real-world foreign language materials that you can actually say that you are using the language in a real situation outside of the classroom.
Practice guessing the meanings of unknown words.
Honestly, once you understand the basics of the German language as a native English speaker, newspaper articles aren’t that hard to read. Reading newspapers is one of the best ways for you to practice one of the most important skills you should be able to develop as a German learner: being able to guess what a word means, even if you’ve never seen it before. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when you see an unknown word:
(1) Is it similar to an English word?
Hauptquartier – Headquarters
Mysteriös – Mysterious
(2) Does it contain German words I already know?
Here are two examples I took from the front page of FAZ just now:
I had never seen this word before, but I was able to figure out what it meant by thinking about it for a bit. I know that Verkehr means traffic, and adern means artery. So this must refer to the most important transportation routes in a country. A quick look in LEO, and it turns out that I didn’t know the English phrase for this either: “arterial highway.” But, I came up with a good enough working definition of the word to be able to continue reading the article, so it didn’t even matter if I knew the obscure English phrase or not.
Everyone in German 101 gets shown some cute cartoons to teach them the opposite words – stark – schwach. So if I know that schwach means weak, then schwächung must have to do with a related concept. Maybe you’re familiar with the –ung ending too – when you put it at the end of a verb, it means the abstract concept associated with that verb. So… Weak… To weaken… Weakening! That must be it! I did it!
The Big Scoop: Top Resources for Learning German Through the News
Keeping the above tips and tricks in your mind, here’s an overview of some of the most important sources that will get you learning German from the news today. I’ve provided a variety of resources, so that you can pick and choose which seem most reliable and most interesting to you.
The Best German News Broadcasts
Germany, like many countries, has publicly-funded news agencies. The first, television channel ARD, was supplemented shortly after its founding by ZDF (Zweite Deutsche Fernseher). Because these TV channels are a public good, and because people pay taxes for them, all of their programming has been made available for streaming on the website’s media viewer. My recommendation for someone just beginning German would be to take advantage of the setting which allows you to turn on German subtitles meant for the hearing impaired. That way, if you hear a word you don’t know, you’ll be able to immediately note it and look it up on Leo.
The most famous German news program is theTagesschau on ARD, which is considered to be the definitive journalistic high-point of Germany. I personally have never been able to get into it, understand why it starts with this weird chime or why their style of speaking seems so robotic. However, if you’re into history, one interesting note is that the Tagesschau from 25 years ago is also shown weekly on the internet, so you’ll be able to follow things like the war in Yugoslavia as they unfolded not so long ago.
The most successful show on ZDF, die Heute Show, is clearly a German imitation of the Daily Show. Though not exactly the same as the Daily Show (many times an attempted joke is received by the audience with polite applause rather than actual laughter), it is nonetheless genuinely funny and will offer anyone an entertaining introduction to German politics.
If you liked die Heute Show, then you’d probably also like the Jung und Naiv series on Youtube. Somehow, this young German guy manages to track down and have interviews with lots of interesting politicians in and around Berlin, including “Oberpiratin” Marina Weisband, a former captain of the sinking ship that was the Pirate Party, or last year’s unsuccessful opponent to Angela Merkel, Peer Steinbrück. Jung und Naiv is a great introduction to German politics – keep an eye out for it in our FluentU library soon.
Another great way to get in touch with the issues of the day is through the ARD’s talk show Günter Jauch and ZDF’s Maybrit Illner, where esteemed guests (most recently Hillary Clinton on Günther Jauch) are invited to discuss the topics of the day.
Track down these well-written, well-researched German newspapers.
You read a lot of end-of-days rants about how the digital age has led to the end of the journalism, print media and public debate (unsurprisingly, often in print newspapers.) I personally find that the quality of writing in print newspapers tends to be somewhat higher than what you can find online, where you often find your earnest attempt at self-education thwarted by banner ads, scrolling and those “articles” where in order to see the entire 200 word piece you have to click the “ 1, 2, 3” at the bottom of the page.
My only frame of reference are American newspapers, but it has been truly enlightening and interesting for me to read German newspapers. Instead of frothing op-eds about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision or whatever else is dominating the U.S. media cycle, German-U.S. correspondents tend to write about American issues from a bemused, detached point of view.
I can also say that, as a lifelong language learner, I find it far, far more interesting to read an average, low-key newspaper which informs you about a wide variety of local, regional and national current events. This kind of paper keeps me clued into the goings-on of my community and peers while delivering the relevant German vocabulary lessons I need for my daily life abroad.
The FAZ is one of the best newspapers I’ve ever read. Though many people might decry its conservative bias, the writing is eloquent and considered with lots of literary references, and the website design is my personal favorite of any online newspaper with nothing but great photos and great writing. Sometimes when I read it I get the feeling that they’re writing for an audience 20 years older than me who is very concerned about retirement, gas mileage and taxes. However, I do generally aspire to someday be earning money and paying taxes, so I try to read it to get ready.
taz (never capitalize it!) is a left-of-center alternative newspaper founded in West Berlin in 1978. Far more than any of the newspapers I will mention here, they are concerned with societal injustice – whether it’s environmental, feminist, hetero-normative, or economic. Their Ausland section usually has less to do with instability in the Nikkei Index and more with the kind of inhumane conditions that prevail in many parts of the world today. T
Previously considered to be one of the most influential periodicals in Germany, Der Spiegel has lost some of its reputation over time. It comes out every Sunday in a red, color magazine format. Der Spiegel has earned a reputation for sticking its neck into political controversy. The Spiegel-Affäre, where an in-depth and highly critical appraisal of the state of Germany’s defensive capabilities resulted in a Spiegel Journalist being illegally arrested for over three months. It was also a Spiegel journalist, Greenwald, who was personally contacted by Edward Snowden and invited to Hong Kong so that Snowden could leak his documents about the NSA.
Not a daily like the other newspapers mentioned, Die Zeit is a Sunday-only, left-wing newspaper with great journalism and exceptional design.
A daily, not-so-left newspaper based in Munich which handles national issues with thorough and objective coverage. I find their intimate coverage of Bavarian subjects to be particularly interesting, though sometimes it seems to me like not much happens there aside from tax evasion and soccer.
When the Bild Zeitung is mentioned in conversation, the appropriate emotional reaction is anywhere between amused derision and a death glare. Though Bild is of course by no means the same, this kind of polarizing reaction can be compared to Fox News’s place in our own media culture.
From their evil lair in Hamburg, Bild Zeitung’s army of Machiavellian psychopaths seeks out promising young talent from all over the German-speaking world in order to seduce them into the dark side and incubate them in their “Axel Springer Akademie” until they hatch into a reactionary strike force only responsible to the military-industrial complex and the financial services industry.
Okay, okay, I was kidding. It really is just a newspaper. But a lot of people really don’t like the Bild Zeitung. Bild took tabloid journalism and elevated it to an art form not achieved by any other newspaper in the world. They recently made headlines by daring to publish a shocking photo of Kate Middleton.
Available at the counter of your nearest German McDonald’s (really!), the Bild Zeitung offers you full color news explosion on every page, focusing on the shocking and entertaining. In the Bild, you can expect to find full-length photos of naked women as well as invasive personal information about German celebrities. Most “news” is super-compacted into “articles” with a strangely large typeface that are usually no more than two paragraphs.
As a result of their fanatical attention to quality (according to their own definition), Bild Zeitung has maintained one of the highest daily sales per capita of any newspaper in any country in the world. The company’s CEO, Kai Diekmann, frequently travels to Silicon Valley to find new ventures for the company in a digital economy and has even gone so far as to transform himself into a hipster in order to better fit in there.
Good luck with these newspapers! And remember, FluentU offers great annotated real-world videos for German learners of any level.
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