1. Watch a movie you have seen in your language.
If you are already familiar with the plot, you will not worry about missing anything. I suggest watching the movie a few times with the subtitles in English first. Even though subtitles are usually a summary of what actors are really saying, it helps you get the gist of it. At the same time, you are exposing yourself to the German audio, even if it’s not your priority at this point.
Once you are ready, deactivate the subtitles. I suggest doing this by segments, particularly the first time you see it. Watching a whole movie in German might be overwhelming.
2. Focus on short segments where there is only one voice (or two at the most).
Not only are there many of variations of pronunciation and intonation in the different German speaking countries, but each person also has his or her own way of speaking. This said, jumping into a conversation with many speakers may turn out to be a little frustrating (particularly if you are expecting to understand every single word that everyone is saying).
3. Don’t feel like you “have to” watch a movie you dislike.
You should definitely find something of interest to you in the movie, whether it’s the plot, the actors, the atmosphere…even the music. Otherwise, you’ll just suffer through it as you probably did when you took traditional classes.
4. Stick to one country.
At some point you must have wondered whether the German you are hearing is “real” German or a dialect. Well, remember that German is spoken in many different countries. Just as it happens with German, there are local variants—though the differences are not so great that they become dialects. If you are American, you can understand an Australian, but you don’t speak like him. The same happens with German.
Therefore, one suggestion that could help is this: stick to movies from one particular country first. After you feel comfortable with that local variety of German, “move” to another country.
The latter has a more differences in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. And when it comes to vocabulary, the main differences are in words for foods, clothes…and curses! Other than that, there are more similarities than differences.
5. Pair up.
Although these are tips to work through a movie on your own, it wouldn’t hurt to get together with a friend who is in your same situation. He or she can supply those words/phrases/key points you missed, and you can help each other when either of you gets lost! Moreover, this person can be your partner to role play the dialogues you already learned by heart when using tip number 3.
6. Watch “Terminator”…in Spanish.
Watching a German movie will also help you learn about the culture. However, at first it might be helpful to watch your favorite movie in English by choosing the German audio option.
That way, you’d be enjoying a movie you feel totally comfortable with, and at the same time you’d be learning how to say in German those lines you already knew by heart in English.
7. Listen to a line, pause, repeat, and go back a few times.
Sometimes you may feel like you are making fun of the actors. But mocking them might be just the secret to get closer to the original pronunciation and intonation of German. Once you’ve done this a few times, you can try “talking” to the movie.
For example, choose a role in the dialogue. After you learn that role, pause and say each line before it’s said in the movie. Then, listen to the original line and check how close you got. Change roles. You can also try recording your part and then compare it to the movie’s.
8. Look up new words and review them.
If you’re up for it, the most effective way to learn from movies is to actually take the time to look words up, write them down, and review them on a regular basis. It’s not a simple hack, but it works.
9. A way that’s effective and efficient: FluentU.
Tips 7 and 8 are effective, but you’ll spend a lot of time and energy. If you’d like to be more efficient with this, and are open to watching other kinds of videos, you might want to check out our video-based German learning site FluentU, which was designed to address exactly this problem.
FluentU helps you learn German through movie trailers, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It does this through interactive transcripts and by turning videos into language learning lessons.