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How to Improve Your German Listening Skills Smartly with Videos

Want to improve German listening skills fast and smartly? Here are the tricks for you!
improve german listening skills

Improving your German listening skills can be a daunting task, but it is a crucial step towards mastering the language.

Whether you are a beginner or an intermediate learner, there are various smart and efficient techniques you can use to improve German listening skills quickly.

In this article, we will explore these techniques for improving our German listening skills.

Starting with watching videos with subtitles at the beginner level, we will progress towards eliminating subtitles at the intermediate level, ultimately helping you communicate more fluently with native German speakers in real-life situations.

So, read on and discover how you smartly improve your German listening skills smartly and efficiently.


How to Improve German Listening Skills Smartly

An Awkward Scenario

For Beginner Level

For Intermediate Learners

  1. Native Language First, German Next
  2. The 50/50 Method
  3. Cross-Using Subtitles
  4. Start with A Topic You Know Well

Additional Notes

  1. It’s Normal to Be “Uncomfortable”
  2. Interests Comes First
  3. Watch Videos Actively


An Awkward Scenario

Have you ever experienced the following scenario?

You have been learning German for months, and finally, you gather the confidence to converse with a native speaker.

However, to your surprise, you find that the other person speaks in a way that is different from what you have learned in textbooks. The speech is faster, the vocabulary is richer, and the pronunciation is more ambiguous.

After a few sentences, you only understand a few key words, and you struggle to communicate further.

If this sounds familiar, then you are in the same “listening dilemma” as many language learners.

In reality, listening is more crucial than speaking and grammar, especially in real-life scenarios. Why?

When you can convey 80% of your meaning, even if there are some grammatical errors or imprecise vocabulary, the native speaker can still understand your general meaning.

In contrast, if you don’t comprehend what the other person is saying, even after repeated attempts, the conversation will fail.

Therefore, it is essential to improve our listening skills efficiently and smartly.

Here are the most effective methods that I have tried and tested to enhance German listening skills with the help of videos. 

Beginner Level: German Videos with Subtitles

German Listening with Subtitles

When we’re just starting to learn a language like German, it is almost a mission impossible to watch videos without subtitles.

That’s why, in the beginner stage, watching German videos with subtitles can be helpful. It allows us to get familiar with the pronunciation and rhythm of the language.

At this point, our focus should be on building our sense of German as a language rather than worrying about getting rid of the subtitles, as mentioned in this article.

At the beginning stage of learning German, it’s best to establish a solid foundation by working with German textbooks (Textbook recommendations here).

Therefore, watching German videos with subtitles should be considered more of an extracurricular activity rather than a primary focus in our language learning journey.

Intermediate Level: Getting off the “Crutch” to Improve Listening

German Listening Skills with Videos

As we progress to the intermediate level, which typically corresponds to the b1-b2 level, it’s essential to challenge ourselves to listen to German without relying on subtitles as a crutch.

However, because of our limited language skills, we still need some additional support to help us improve our German listening skills effectively.

1.Native Language First, German Next

That is, watch the video first in our native language, understand the main content, and then switch to German (without subtitles) for the a second viewing. This way, even if we watch it a second time without subtitles, we will not be completely lost and lose confidence.

If, at this point, you are not confident enough, then you can also turn on German subtitles for the second viewing to assist.

This method is especially suitable for platforms like Disney, or Netflix, which offer dubbing in different languages.

The downside is that for most YouTube videos, this method does not work.

2. The 50/50 Method

The 50/50 method involves using subtitles during the first half of the video and then turning them off halfway through.

This technique helps us grasp the background information in the first half and immerse ourselves in the video’s setting. Consequently, we can make better inferences about the content in the second half based on the preceding information.

However, if using subtitles for the second half feels too challenging, there is another variation of this method that you can try (explained below).

Watch videos

3. Cross-Using Subtitles

This is a variation of the 50/50 method. Here, you watch 3-5 minutes of the video with subtitles, then turn off or ignore the subtitles for the next 3-5 minutes and focus solely on the German language content.

This pattern is repeated throughout the video, with intervals of 3-5 minutes with and without subtitles.

Unlike the 50/50 method, cross-using subtitles allows for a better understanding of the entire video without the fear of getting lost in the second half.

Additionally, the 3-5 minutes without subtitles is relatively short, making it a safer option for intermediate learners.

It is important to note that the 3-5 minutes interval is only a rough guideline. You can adjust the intervals according to your personal preference, and even extend them to 10 or 15-minute increments if you feel comfortable doing so.

4. Start with A Topic You Know Well

If you want to challenge yourself with unsubtitled videos, it’s a good idea to start with a topic you’re familiar with. For instance, if you’re interested in fitness, makeup, or cooking, you probably have a lot of background knowledge in those areas. This knowledge can help you understand the content of German videos without subtitles, even if you’re not yet comfortable with the language.

Before I learned German, I was fascinated by the topic of language learning and polyglots. I already had a good understanding of concepts such as comprehensible input, n+1, and the forgetting curve. When I started watching German videos on this topic, I could understand about 70-80% of what was being said, even without subtitles.

So, if you’re struggling to understand German videos without subtitles, start with a topic you’re already familiar with. You’ll be surprised how much you can understand based on your existing knowledge, and it will give you the confidence to keep practicing your listening skills.

Additional Notes


1. It’s Normal to Be “Uncomfortable”

At the beginning of our listening practice, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable and anxious when we try to listen without subtitles.

We might doubt ourselves and our language abilities, and even feel stupid for not being able to understand everything.

These thoughts can be overwhelming and discouraging, but we need to remember that they are a normal part of the language learning process.

It’s important to accept that we may not understand everything we hear, especially as intermediate learners of German.

Even those who have been living in Germany for years still struggle with understanding every conversation.

Accepting our imperfections and limitations is key to making progress in our listening skills.

Instead of being hard on ourselves, we should embrace the discomfort and continue to practice every day. As we persist, we’ll gradually become more comfortable with listening without subtitles and build confidence in our abilities.

So let’s not be discouraged by the initial discomfort and keep moving forward towards our language goals.

2. Interests Comes First

Having interest in what you’re learning is crucial when it comes to language acquisition, especially in listening comprehension.

Starting with a topic that’s too challenging or advanced may lead to frustration and ultimately discourage us from continuing our learning journey.

Therefore, it’s important to choose a topic that genuinely interests us at the beginning of our listening practice.

This interest will help us push through the initial difficult period and gradually adjust to the pattern of listening to German.

As we become more comfortable, we can start exploring more challenging topics and content. Ultimately, by prioritizing our interests, we can develop a passion for the language and a desire to learn more.

3. Watch Videos Actively

To make the most out of our listening practice, we need to actively engage with the content and expand our vocabulary.

One effective method is to note down a new word or phrase every 5-10 minutes while watching a video. This way, we can gradually build our vocabulary and improve our comprehension and speaking skills as we work on our listening.

However, we should avoid becoming too focused on collecting new words and phrases (like writing down 6 words per minute), as it can distract us from the overall meaning of the video.

Instead, we should aim to accumulate new vocabulary at a moderate pace and integrate it into our language learning routine. By doing so, we can deepen our understanding and retention of new words and phrases.

The Bottom Line

To conclude, improving our German listening skills requires us to practice intelligently and efficiently.

We can use various techniques at different stages of our learning, such as using subtitles to aid our comprehension in the beginning, gradually weaning them off, and employing different methods to enhance our listening abilities.

Through consistent practice, we can steadily improve our listening skills and gain confidence in communicating with native German speakers in our daily lives.

How do you feel about your German listening skills? Are you still struggling with it? Or have you successfully reach the point where you can understand German contents easily? Leave a comment to share your opinions and experiences with us!

Recommended Reading:

  • Other than videos, you can also improve you listening via German audiobooks! Here is why and how!
  • Wanna learn German with textbooks? Then you don’t wanna miss this!
  • Maybe you want to know which German learning magazines you can use? Check here!

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