3 things you can do to brush up on your German

November 10, 2023

One of the best ways for you to deepen your knowledge of a language is to engage with films, TV series and books. When I was 12, I moved to England for a year with my mother and, by that point, I only spoke a few words of English. I was constantly frustrated and always tugging at my mother’s shirt for her to explain what something meant.

I had always been a fan of watching TV (well,  like most kids, I guess!) and I wasn’t going to give up on that! The benefit of not having cable TV was that I was stuck watching everything in English. This ended up being a blessing in disguise! As I became obsessed with TV shows like “Friends” and “The Nanny”, I was picking up so much more English than what I was studying in my weekly classes. And now, 14 years later, I get mistaken for a native speaker all the time!

Sometimes we get so bogged down by learning vocabulary and grammar, that we forget that we also need to live a language! If you are unable to travel to the country where the language is spoken, film, TV and books can really help you immerse yourself in the language. So, below I have come up with a suggestion of each for those of you learning German!

Before I start, here are a few tips:

  • Use subtitles! Preferably in the language you are learning. That way you see the words in context.
  • If you are reading a book, keep a dictionary nearby in case you really want to know what an unknown word means.
  • Don’t be mad at yourself if you don’t understand something, you can always watch / read the book or film again.


Watch TV shows

My suggestion: Türkisch für Anfänger (Turkish for Beginners)

I have to be honest here and admit that this is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. It is also a great introduction to how Germans speak. TfA follows the relationship between a newly in-love German woman and a Turkish-German man, who, with their own teenage children, are trying to start a new family together under the same roof.

We see the struggle of the family as they deal with religion, culture and expectations, which shows us a snippet of German culture. As of 2017, there are nearly 3 million people of Turkish origin living in Germany, and their contributions to German culture are huge! This series shows the bridges created between a hyper-liberal family and a more conservative Turkish-German one. The show also features different dialects and ways of speaking; like highly intellectual adults, rebellious teenagers using slang and, of course, some Turkish is mixed in too! Set in a residential neighbourhood in Berlin, it gives us a great insight into the German language and dialects, as well as German culture.

Watch films

My suggestion: Sonnenallee (dir. Leander Haußmann)

Sonnenallee is a comedy set in 1973 that follows a group of teenagers living on a street called Sonnenallee, on the border of East and West Germany. The movie received some mixed reviews when it came out in 1999, as some people denounced it for glorifying the hardships of life in East Germany. Nonetheless, it is a playful approach to show what life was like in East Germany back then. The director specifically wanted it to be a film that you can enjoy without picking up a history book. Through music, romance and tough life decisions, we follow Michael and his best friend Mario as they become adults.

Read books

My suggestion: Emil und die Detektive by Erich Kästner

Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a children’s book! Sometimes we can learn a lot from a simple story. Erich Kästner is an important figure in German literature and “Emil and the Detectives” was one of his first great hits. In the book we follow Emil on a trip to Berlin, where he has to take some money to his grandmother. On the train ride there, he meets a suspicious man who offers him a strange chocolate which puts him straight to sleep. When he wakes up, his money is nowhere to be seen and he finds himself alone in the big city. Luckily, he meets a group of children, who help him in his quest to find the money. The story follows the kids in exciting new situations until they resolve the case. It is one of those books that, even with a simple story, has stayed with me my whole life. You can also watch the two film versions of the book, one from 1931 and the other from 2001!

Other notable books by Erich Kästner are Das fliegende Klassenzimmer, Das doppelte Lottchen, and Die Konferenz der Tiere.


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