How to Learn German Through Film (and What Movies to Watch!)

Learning a new language is never easy and can take a considerable amount of discipline, motivation, and the right learning environment if you truly want to succeed. German, with its many grammatical peculiarities, may seem like a truly tough language to tackle, perhaps causing you to question your motives for ever having taken it on the first place.

Of course, one of your key motivations is undoubtedly related to the necessity in our modern age to know more than one language. Sure, you may hope that one day this need to be multilingual will become extinct, but for the moment it seems as if languages are here, and here to stay, meaning your language learning journey is just getting started.

It’s a fortunate thing that technology allows language learners to find various ways of enhancing the learning process through online language exchange, music, or films. Learning via pop culture exposes you to German idioms, slang and regional dialects that can help you speak like a native. So, as we near the end of 2014, cut yourself a much deserved holiday break and delve into these fun tips for learning German through films (and check out which ones to start out with):


1. Start with English subtitles.

Although this may seem like a language learning deterrent (after all, how much will you pick up if you’re busily reading the lines in your native tongue), it is actually ideal if you’re a beginner with only a limited knowledge of German. By watching the film first with English subtitles, your brain will make connections between the words you hear and their translation, helping you to solidify basic vocabulary a bit more.

Recommended viewing: Lola rennt (Run Lola Run)

Why: This is a great movie to start off with simply because a lot of vocabulary is used repetitively throughout the film. An added bonus is that numbers are a big part of this movie so you should come away with a strong grasp on this part of the German language.



2. Switch to German subtitles.

One of the biggest challenges German learners face is the penchant native speakers have for stringing words together without pause. This can make it extremely difficult to pick out words and meanings because you may not know where they begin and end. Which is why your next step in the learning through films process is to switch on the good ‘ol German subtitles. Not only will your reading abilities improve, but you’ll find it easier to pick out what the characters are saying if you can also read it on your screen.

Recommended viewing: Good Bye Lenin!

Why: Not only does this great movie offer quite a bit in terms of comic relief, it is excellent for language learners because a lot of it takes place using the protagonist’s inner dialogue, minimizing back-and-forth conversations and making it easier for German learners to follow along with the subtitles. It also gives viewers a small glimpse of German culture and history in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall.



3. Go full-out German.

Oh boy, it’s the moment you’ve been dreading and waiting for at the same time. Although it may not happen immediately (according to official polls becoming fluent in German takes around 750 hours of study), it will happen at some point if you stick with it. Remember, the language learning journey doesn’t stop once you’re fluent. It’s all too easy to lose your language skills so keeping them fresh with a good German film (without subtitles, of course) is a great way to stay sharp!

Recommended watching: Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa)

Why: If you’re looking for a film with a strong historical background (this one takes place during WWII) and rife with the plight of immigrants abroad, then look no further. Although this movie does come interspersed with Swahili and English, the main characters speak primarily in German. The clear and concise manner of speaking makes this a great film to help you ease into watching German movies without subtitles!


Although using German films as a means to improve your language skills is fun and easy, don’t forget that the key to becoming proficient is to make sure you have access to great German instructors and classes. Look at movies as the dessert to your main course; you can’t subsist on cookies and ice-cream, so have a hearty main meal by signing up to take some excellent language lessons. You can also keep your skills extra sharp by taking free online placement tests, then feel free to succumb to your sweet tooth and check out these great German films after a long day of language study!