Do you remember the first time you heard someone speak in a foreign language and, if so, were they talking to you? If that was the case, you will more than likely have felt completely overwhelmed by the feelings of pure helplessness and utter confusion!
This type of situation can be quite humiliating, as the inability to communicate simple pieces of information feels so totally unfamiliar to us. In fact, watching two nationalities trying to communicate with one another can be seen as quite comical; hands are normally flying around everywhere, while facial features are often going crazy, all as a result of trying to make the other person take meaning from the peculiar actions.
If you recognise this situation all too well, you will probably remember that moment when you paused and hesitated (for what probably felt like a lifetime!) while you considered what to do next and which action might best help to express yourself to his stranger.
This is a prime example of how we use that immediate reaction time to process situations in our heads and assess our next move.
Experts suggest that this silent period is the first step in learning German as a language, so there’s really no need to feel embarrassed by your momentary lapse in being a polite human being.
In fact, they relate learning a second language to the acquisition of your first ever language and thus urge people to remember that babies and toddlers spend the best part of 2 years listening to and interpreting language all around them before they even attempt to say their first proper words or phrases.
As with the acquisition of any new language, you have to hear it to be able to process it and understand how the words and sounds work together to produce fluency. As such, watching television is a great way to get to grips with the German language while also being entertained.
Not only will you be able to hear the various parts of speech being spoken by native speakers on German television, you will be able to watch how the native speakers use their mouths to create sounds unfamiliar to the English language. In addition, facial expressions, hand gestures and the setting around the characters will allow you to gain a better understanding of what is being said.
There is a saying that goes ‘teaching old ears new tricks’. This term couldn’t be more apt when it comes to language learning as it often requires us to master completely new sounds, some of which we didn’t know our mouths could make!
Practicing pronuncuation can be quite amusing, especially for onlookers, and some challenging words may need to be repeated several times before you get the sound right.
Although some websites offer written guidance on how to pronounce sounds specific to the German language (like for the sound ‘ö’ in German, to try saying ‘ee’ but with your lips rounded), copying the way the experts do it is the best way to learn. In this case, practicing imitation makes perfect. Plus, you can keep rewinding the television to make sure you have truly perfected it!
Observing a native speaker talking in German can help you to imitate sounds. Photo via Visualhunt.com
If you are concerned about your inability to pronounce a certain word in German, don’t worry. There are various words in English that German people struggle with too. For instance, Germans commonly have a very tough time saying the word ‘squirrel’, as is clear when you watch some natives trying to pronounce the word on videos found on YouTube!
While German children are surrounded by spoken German during every waking hour, they learn many lessons about life whilst watching television programmes adapted to their age group, just like English kids do when watching episodes in their own mother-tongue.
A lot of children’s pogrammes are British/American and then translated into different languages, but there are of course a number of shows that are native to Germany and can provide a great insight into German culture.
Some popular kids’ shows in Germany include Die Sendung mit der Maus, Löwenzahn, and Sandmännchen. Other shows that Brits might be familiar with from their own childhood are Sesame Street, or Sesamstraße and the more recent Peppa Pig, known affectionately by German toddlers as Peppa Wutz.
Die Sendung mit der Maus is a highly-acclaimed show on German television that many have dubbed the ‘school of the nation’ thanks to its relevant themes.
If you want to start off with something easy, watching a simple episode of children’s television in German can help you to familiarise yourself with basic words and phrases illustrated in a simplistic way.
Once you are confident that you are ready to try something more challenging, why not watch a movie that you have seen before so that you can follow the storyline easily and focus primarily on taking in the language.
Discover how to learn German through audiobooks and podcasts.
Before moving on to series or box sets in German, I’d like to suggest watching films in the language first.
While series are great for drawing you in and encouraging you to watch more than one episode, as a result of the length of time that the series runs for in total, the language, themes and other story-telling elements will naturally be that bit more complicated than a two hour-long movie.
With a movie, you can happily commit a couple of hours to watching a story unravel and conclude before you, with a limited and concise amount of vocabulary consequently being presented. While you may be exposed to less volume of German words while watching a film in comparison to a television series, the experience is often more intense and therefore could have more lasting effects.
Furthermore, as there is often just one story being told (as opposed to multiple sub-stories in longer running television episodes), the chances are that there will be more repetition which could help you to gain confidence in your understanding of the overall plot.
It is a good idea to watch a movie that you have already seen to begin with, so that you can very easily follow the storyline and have a good idea of what is being said by characters before their lines are even said (if it’s your favourite ever film, for instance, that you decide to watch, you could turn it into a little game and attempt to guess what the next line might be in German!).
Alternatively, pick a movie with a theme that interests you, as you need to be engaged with the plot in order to understand the language in its intended context. For instance, if you hate country and western movies, then don’t choose to watch a film about cowboys as you will no doubt lose all interest.
Watching television programmes or films in German can help you to pick up new words. Photo via Visual Hunt
If you don’t want to be stuck watching a two-hour film, then why not turn your attention to television for a quick burst of language learning.
While it goes against all of the lessons your parents taught you as a child, watching television does really help you to learn, especially when it comes to acquiring a language.
If you feel like by watching television you are wasting time or in some way procrastinating while you should be reading a German textbook, then remind yourself that you will learn things from television that you won’t learn in books – i.e. slang, current affairs, culture and much, much more.
Tune in to some classic daytime game shows for a touch of lighthearted language, like Wetten, Dass?, an entertainment show that bets on whether or not ordinary people can perform extraordinary tasks. Not only will you hear some basic parts of speech, you will also be exposed to some words you thought you may never need to know in German!
However, if you are more of a thrillseeker and want to replace your usual crime investigation show with a German alternative, then why not consider downloading Tatort, which is a modern crime show (not dissimilar to CSI or Law and Order, in fact, but still offers the same excitement as shows like Miss Marple) that has been around since the 70s and is watched by numerous German speakers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Verbotene Liebe, a drama about forbidden love, is a great choice meanwhile for those wanting to learn German while watching an engrossing love story unfold. The soap-style opera can be likened to Eastenders as it is one of the most popular programmes in Germany and has received numerous awards for its production and characters.
With broad themes covering sex, drugs, alcoholism, homophobia, incest, adultery and much more, there truly is something for everyone. Plus, in true soap style, there is a cliffhanger at the end of every episode and shocking revelations around every turn!
It would seem that the city of Düsseldorf is as controversial as the make-belief borough of Walford in the east end of London… who’d have thought!
Finally, if you are not content with watching Germany’s own television, then you can always download your favourite box sets dubbed into German. For example, if you’ve been taken in by the recent Game of Thrones craze, you can watch the phenomenon with Sky Deutschland.
Learn German online or German courses London with German tutors at Superprof. And if your learning German, be sure to validate your German level with a certification in the German language.