Just because you’re ready to unwind with a movie from a long day doesn’t mean that your German skill development has to be put on hold.
What follows includes not only tips to get the most out of films and bolster your German, but also five great sites to watch German films with must-see cinematic selections to be found on each one.
Get the popcorn popping, put your feet up and get ready to improve your German.
- 7 Tips for Learning German with German Movies
- 5 Seriously Useful Sites to Watch German Movies Online
7 Tips for Learning German with German Movies
Learning a new language takes time. Although reaching fluency doesn’t happen overnight, we still want to get there as quickly as possible. This means making the most of the effort we put into our German studies.
With this in mind, here are seven key tips to ensure that you’re picking up the most German possible while still being entertained.
- Don’t Stop the Movie Too Often
Unlike televisions with their clumsy remotes, it’s very easy—and tempting—to hit the pause button on your media player or rewind the film back a few seconds. It’s alright to do this once in a while to satisfy your curiosity about a word or to really understand a dialogue that may be crucial for the plot. However, you should limit your pausing and rewinding. Avoid interrupting the flow of a movie too much. Not only do interruptions take away from your enjoyment, but they prevent your brain from meeting the challenge of hearing German conversations in real time.
- Use the Context of the Scene to Guess Words
Much like speaking or listening to German in real life, you can use the context of the situation and the words that you already recognize to figure out what’s going on. Even better, in movies this context is often acted out, giving a more complete, audiovisual picture of what the dialogue is about.
- Have a Notepad/Word Processor Handy to Write Down New Words
The words you hear over and over again in a film are already more likely to stick in your brain. So, what better way to increase your vocabulary than by recording the new words that you find in the movie? Jot them down with your best guesses at their meanings, along with how they contributed to the dialogue in the film. By the time the credits roll, you’ll probably have heard quite a few new words. You might even have a pretty good idea of what they mean from the context alone. Even so, it’s always a good idea to write these words down and confirm their definitions and usages with online German dictionaries.
- Rewatch the Movie for Clarity
It’s tempting to always move right on to a new adventure with a different film, but there’s a lot to be gained by taking the time to watch the same movie again. Knowing the plot and having already heard the dialogue once, you’ll be able to pick up some of the words and sentence structures that you missed the first time.
- Watch Online Videos on FluentU
Take advantage of online video material and use it to improve your movie-watching skills.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
- Try Both Dubbed and Original Language Movies
As you delve into the world of German-language movies, you’ll notice that they come in two varieties: (1) films originally made in German and (2) movies which have been dubbed. Germans love their dubbing. The benefit of seeking out your movies online is that films of both varieties are commonly available with German and/or English subtitles.
Films originally in German are arguably easier to follow, and perhaps even more enjoyable to view. The language has a more natural rhythm, with real German actors delivering those lines. You also can feel proud that you experienced something you couldn’t have without knowing German.
Dubbed films often feature faster speech, to fit in all the German syllables in the same amount of time. Don’t be afraid to challenge your ear with them. Braving the dialogue of dubbed films will make original German movies seem much easier to understand.
- Alternative: Take Advantage of Your DVD Collection
You can always peruse your shelf for DVDs that include a German option. Many films come with either the possibility of putting on German subtitles or watching the entire film dubbed in German. It usually says so on the back of the box. Enjoy old favorites in a new way!
5 Seriously Useful Sites to Watch German Movies Online
What type of people would we be if we told you about all the advantages of watching German films online and then didn’t help you find them? To make sure you have access to thousands of German-language films, here are five great sites and some fun movies you can find on them.
1. This Big YouTube List of German Movies with English Subtitles
Where would the online video revolution be without YouTube?
The most popular video sharing site now also includes many German movies complete with English subtitles. Browse this list of free movies uploaded by fellow German enthusiasts.
Must-See Movie: “The Tin Drum” (Volker Schlöndorff, 1979). This German classic about a boy who decides to never grow up won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1980, exploring themes of Nazi Germany and personal responsibility. This movie is intended for mature audiences, and uses a lot of black humor, so only click if that sounds appropriate for your age and personal tastes.
A German television channel, ZDF includes a wellspring of free German movies, both dubbed and in the original language, all free for the streaming. The site provides a list of movies that are new to the site, as well as those that have appeared on the channel in the past.
Must-See Movie: “Tod Einer Polizistin” (Matti Geschonneck, 2012). In the mood for a high-action thriller? Frank Keller escapes from prison after being sentenced 15 years ago. Inspector Bruno Theweleit must leave retirement to put Keller back in jail once again before he can do any more harm.
Both a television and radio channel, MDR also includes a free library of both films and television shows. The site is constantly updated as these films and programs are shown on German television, so you can keep up on the same films that are being shown to the native German audience.
Note: Films on MDR don’t stay archived, so check back frequently for new releases!
4. Das Erste
Not only can you enjoy live streams of German television shows as they’re being played, but you’ll also be pleased to find that Das Erste offers a huge variety of German films.
Must-See Film: “Wie Tag und Nacht” (Sibylle Tafel, 2013).
This comedy follows Oliver Maibach, who spends all hours of the night in his family’s bakery, dedicated to making bread and rolls…until the lovely Gretta walks in one day and causes him to doubt his future.
The good news is that Fandor has a large collection of German films. The bad news is that one has to pay for access to the site. Still, one has the opportunity to see German films with a free trial before making any commitments.
Must-See Movie: “A Coffee in Berlin” (Jan Ole Gerster, 2012). Shot in black and white, this movie garnered a lot of critical attention within Germany after it was released. Niko, a college drop-out in his twenties, must suddenly redirect his life in order to find personal meaning.
Who thought learning German could be so relaxing?
Why let a weekend stay-home night go by idle without using it to improve your language skills?
With access to thousands of movies in German—and some great insight into how to make the most of watching them—you’ll be able to speed up your progress without adding any additional stress to your life.
Movie night, anyone?
Ryan Dennis was a Fulbright Scholar and previously taught at Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch Gmünd. In addition to hating ketchup, British spelling and violence, he writes The Milk House—the only literary column about dairy farming.