You’ve already read the must-read German classics.
Next you turned to music, and continued learning German with some great modern songs that still get stuck in your head from time to time.
Or maybe you can easily spend a Saturday binging YouTube, so learning German on YouTube sounds like a fun method to try.
And then you began watching German movies to take your German skills to the next level.
The movies have been great so far! But sometimes you just don’t want to commit to a three-hour-long film, am I right?
The answer: German TV shows.
Yes, forget what your parents told you about watching too much television. Like movies, TV shows are a great way to get your German in tip-top shape.
Not only can you learn tons of new slang from TV, but you can also gain great insight into contemporary German culture.
In addition, unscripted shows—like reality shows—can expose you to off-the-cuff German, which can drastically improve your listening comprehension.
Need a quick break from your German vocabulary flashcards? Go ahead and learn German with TV shows—the best series for language learners are below!
If you discover that you love learning German through authentic video content like these awesome shows, then you’ll have to check out FluentU.
That’s what we’re all about.
Stay tuned until the end of this post, and I’ll let you in on how to learn German vocabulary, slang, listening skills and more with FluentU.
Now, let’s get on with the show!
How to Learn German by Sentence Mining TV Shows
While it would be nice to become fluent in German simply by watching TV shows, it doesn’t seem that we can learn passively through osmosis, does it?
There’s a way to accelerate and make the most out of your German TV show watching, however, that’ll help you see your German fluency skyrocket.
What is this magic, you ask? Well, as you’re watching the German TV show of your choosing, don’t just keep a notebook of unknown German words with English translations. Try a little trick and study technique called “sentence mining.”
No need for a bulldozer or a shovel—sentence mining is completely safe and easy to do from the comfort of your own home. The process is simple!
To sentence mine properly, all you need is a notebook and a pen. Or if you take the digital route, a computer.
Whenever you come across a word you don’t know, pause the TV show.
First, you should copy the whole sentence down in the notebook or on the computer in German. Remember: don’t copy just the word you don’t understand. It’s important to copy down the whole sentence so you can learn in context. I’d recommend highlighting or underlining the unknown word.
Next, try to figure out the meaning of the word from the context of the sentence. For this, it’s useful to think about what’s happening in the show itself. If you’re unsuccessful at figuring out the word’s meaning from the show content, look it up in a physical or online dictionary.
Once you’ve deciphered the word’s meaning, write down the meaning in English. You can choose to write the meaning of the whole sentence or, for an added challenge, just the word.
The next step is crucial: you must review these sentences often. Your revisions can change all the time—try translating from German to English, and when comfortable, from English to German. Try making a word bank of unknown words and doing fill-in-the-blanks exercises. Try making physical or digital flashcards, or doing free-write activities with the unknown words.
The possibilities are endless!
Besides, the beauty of TV shows is that the vocabulary used in them is recursive. For example, vocabulary related to crimes and the legal system will keep coming up in crime TV shows or legal dramas.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to sentence mine every single unknown word. You can limit yourself to just the words that are useful to your current German language goals.
Learn German with TV Shows: 12 Best Series and Where to Watch
1. “Dark” (Dark)
Where to Watch: Netflix
“Dark” is one of the biggest shows on Netflix in recent times. It’s a Netflix original series produced in Germany with an all-German cast. It has won numerous awards in Germany and abroad, and as of May 2020, has been renewed for a third and final season.
Naturally, the language originally spoken in the show is German, but English dubbing and subtitles are available. There are also German closed captions rather than subtitles, so that means the captions completely match the spoken German.
“Dark” follows members of the fictional town of Winden in Germany. Strange things are happening in Winden, beginning with the disappearances of some of the inhabitants’ loved ones. As the mystery develops and the plot thickens, other skeletons fall out of the main characters’ closets: affairs, crimes, suicides.
Pretty soon, Winden finds itself in the middle of a conflict of apocalyptic proportions, complete with wormholes, time travel and an epic battle to save the world.
“Dark” is a mix of science fiction and thriller. I recommend it for fans of the American Netflix original show “Stranger Things” and other similar TV shows such as “The X-Files.”
2. “Dogs of Berlin” (Dogs of Berlin)
Where to Watch: Netflix
“Dogs of Berlin” is the second Netflix original series produced in Germany. As with “Dark,” this show is also completely in German with English subtitles and German closed captions for accurate German transcriptions.
“Dogs of Berlin” follows two police officers investigating the murder of a famous (fictional) German-Turkish soccer player named Orkan Erdem. If you need any foreshadowing, the German word Orkan means “hurricane” in English, and that pretty much sums up this action-packed show!
As the investigation into Orkan’s murder progresses, the police officers uncover more and more unsavory information that puts Orkan Erdem—and even the whole policing institution—in a bad light. At the same time, tension and rumors begin to grip the city of Berlin surrounding the murder, and eventually, the city is thrown into hysteria as tensions rise between pro-Turkish groups, the Berlin mafia and neo-Nazis.
3. “Lindenstraße” (Linden Street)
Where to Watch: Das Erste
Evil twins, poisoning and secret affairs, oh my!
If you’re someone who’ll love “Lindenstraße,” then you’ll know that I didn’t simply name three detriments to modern society: these are the ingredients to any good soap opera!
As such, “Lindenstraße” is a soap opera series set on the street Lindenstraße in Munich, Germany. There actually is a Lindenstraße in Munich, but the events depicted on the TV show are completely fictional.
Based partially on the premise of Britain’s “Coronation Street,” the story revolves around seemingly normal events that happen in the character’s lives. The show also explores tough issues and features a diverse cast. In fact, Lindenstraße was the first program to feature a gay kiss on television in German history!
“Lindenstraße” has been running regularly since 1985 and is one of the most popular shows in Germany. There were 1,758 episodes as of March 2020 when it aired its supposed final season.
But who can know if any of these soap operas are ever really over?
4. “Der Tatortreiniger” (Crime Scene Cleaner)
Where to Watch: YouTube
“Der Tatortreiniger“ is a dark comedy set in Germany. And when I say dark, I mean that the main character and supporting cast make jokes on the set of crime scenes after rather gruesome acts have been committed.
“Der Tatortreiniger” is also a relatively long-running show. In total, there are seven seasons that can be accessed online, with the final season being produced and released in 2018.
As you might’ve guessed, the story follows a man known as Schotty who cleans up crime scenes after murders or other heinous crimes. As part of the show’s premise, Schotty stumbles on a friend or family member of the victim in each episode.
Much of the ensuing humor is situational in nature: in addition to funny retellings of the victim’s life, Schotty often finds himself getting way too involved in the cleaning process by drinking, arguing or making love to victims’ family members.
5. “Neo Magazin Royale” (Neo Magazin Royale)
Where to Watch: ZDFmediathek
Late-night talk shows are all the rage in North America, so it’s only natural that they’ve also taken off in Germany. “Neo Magazin Royale” is one of the most popular, and is a satirical variety show filmed in Cologne, Germany.
There are eight seasons as of 2020, and the show consists of comedy monologues, skits and humorous interviews.
Much like late-night American talk and sketch shows, politics and current news happenings are often at the forefront of comedic content.
For example, host Jan Böhmermann has poked fun at American President Donald Trump and even gotten himself into some hot water surrounding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. That event came to be known as Erdogate in Germany, with officials in both Germany and Turkey involved.
Clips from “Neo Magazin Royale” are available on their YouTube channel.
6. “Verbotene Liebe” (“Forbidden Love”)
Where to watch: YouTube
Drama, drama, drama!
With a name like “Forbidden Love,” what do you expect?
This soap opera is one of the most popular in Germany and has won many accolades for its sobering portrayal of controversial issues like drug abuse, alcoholism, rape, homophobia, incest and adultery. Set for the most part in the city of Düsseldorf, it consists of various interrelated family storylines.
One of the most prominent focuses on the relationship between Jan Brandner and Julia von Anstetten, twins who, after being separated by their parents at birth, ultimately fall in love with each other. If you’re partial to heart-wrenching shows like “Days of Our Lives” or “All My Children,” you’re bound to enjoy “Verbotene Liebe!”
7. “Danni Lowinski”
Where to watch: Clips on SAT.1
Danni is a hairdresser who earns her law degree doing night classes. Upon graduating, she wants to work as a lawyer but is unable to find employment in a firm.
Unwilling to give up, she decides to lease a small space in a mall in Cologne and open up a low-cost legal help desk, charging one euro per minute for her services.
So begins Danni’s bumpy yet often comical career as a lawyer as she helps her unusual clients with her equally unorthodox approaches. This legal dramedy is perfect if you’re looking for a challenging yet lighthearted show to prepare for your upcoming trip to North Rhine-Westphalia!
8. “Im Angesicht des Verbrechens” (“In the Face of the Crime”)
Where to watch: Amazon Prime (some countries), DVDs on Amazon
This 10-part German TV series about the Russian mafia in Berlin is, in my humble opinion, one of the best German productions out there. Though the viewer figures were low when it aired, it received critical acclaim for its unique plot and impressive cast.
It tells the story of police officer Marek Gorsky, the son of Latvian-Jewish immigrants, who, along with his partner, is investigating the dealings of the Russian mafia in Germany’s capital.
Gorsky is a tormented character who, in his job, struggles with the memory that his brother’s murder case was never solved, and the fact that his sister is married to a Russian mobster.
This highly suspenseful action series is perfect for German students with a higher level of German who are looking for something to keep them at the edge of their seats!
9. “Die Sendung mit der Maus” (“The Program with the Mouse”)
Where to watch: Das Erste Mediathek (some videos geo-blocked)
If you’re not feeling confident enough with your German to tackle a show with a complicated plotline but still want to improve your German through TV, maybe “The Program with the Mouse” is right for you.
This highly acclaimed children’s show consists of several segments that are either humorous or educational (or both) and, though targets children between the age of four and eight, has an average viewer age of 39!
This show is a great way to improve your German vocabulary, as the topics covered are highly diverse, yet still at an elementary level.
The show might also give you some insight into the German culture since some of the past educational segments have focused on difficult topics to explain to children, like Germany after WWII and Chernobyl.
In addition, most Germans know this show so it may be a great way to break the ice with your new German friends!
10. “Schwiegertochter gesucht” (“Daughter-in-law Wanted”)
Where to watch: Clips on RTL, full episodes on TVNow (with registration)
Let’s face it: sometimes you just want to watch something trashy on TV and not think too much. If you’re in one of these moods but still want to learn some German, this German reality dating show might be just what you need.
The show has single women spend a couple of days living in the homes of their prospective partners. The catch is that most of these men are living with their mothers, hence the title of the show.
Apart from the obviously humorous situations that this premise entails, this show is great because it may give you insight into small-town life in Germany. Moreover, the format and the language used is generally easy to follow for German learners!
Where to watch: DVDs on Amazon
If you enjoy “The Office,” you should give this very popular German sitcom a chance.
The show takes place in the office of a fictional insurance company called “Capitol Versicherung AG” and focuses on the department headed by Bernd Stromberg. As the TV crew documents the day-to-day occurrences in the office, Stromberg tries, often unsuccessfully, to have his department come off in the best light.
The show, a parody of the modern “reality show” genre, is great for German students since the humor is sophisticated yet very much accessible.
12. “Wetten, dass..?” (“Wanna bet that..?”)
Where to watch: plex.tv (streaming service)
Though there are many different entertainment TV shows in German, the most successful was undoubtedly “Wetten, dass..?”, a show that aired from 1981 until 2014.
The main part of the show focused on betting on whether or not ordinary people can perform an unusual and/or difficult task. Bets have included whether or not a blindfolded man could recognize his cows based on the noise they made while chewing apples, or whether 13 swimmers could pull a 312-tonne ship for 25 meters.
The other major attraction of the show was the celebrity interviews, which often feature high-profile celebrities like Michael Jackson, Karl Lagerfeld, Justin Bieber and Mikhail Gorbachev.
This show is perfect if you don’t feel like committing to a grueling drama, yet still want to improve your German by watching something lighthearted!
How to Learn German with Authentic Video Content
All right, you’ve made it this far. Now I’ll show you how FluentU works.
FluentU is one of the best websites and apps for learning German the way native speakers really use it. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Watch authentic media to simultaneously immerse yourself in the German language and build an understanding of the German culture.
By using real-life videos, the content is kept fresh and current. Topics cover a lot of ground as you can see here:
Vocabulary and phrases are learned with the help of interactive subtitles and full transcripts.
Hovering over or tapping on any word in the subtitles will automatically pause the video and instantly display its meaning. Interesting words you don’t know yet can be added to a to-learn list for later.
For every lesson, a list of vocabulary is provided for easy reference and bolstered with plenty of examples of how each word is used in a sentence.
Your existing knowledge is tested with the help of adaptive quizzes in which words are learned in context.
FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
This way, you have a truly personalized learning experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or practice anytime, anywhere on the mobile app for iOS and Android.
See, TV is more than just entertainment—you can actually learn German with TV shows! Go ahead and put one of these must-watch German series on for your next TV binge.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.