While so much importance is placed on speaking German, it’s equally important to get as much German listening practice as possible, so that you can understand what’s being said in order to reply.
Having dedicated countless hours to my own German listening practice time, in this post I’m excited to guide you through some of my favourite German listening resources.
After reading this post you will know:
- Why listening comprehension is so important
- How to get listening practice through watching TV
- The best audio listening resources
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Why You Must Practice Listening in German
I can’t stress the importance of working on your German listening comprehension enough. Learning to speak is, of course, hugely important, but it’s only half the battle.
If you’ve been practicing how you’re going to ask a friend wie geht’s? (how are you) and they reply:
Would you know whether to say, das freut mich (I’m pleased) or es tut mir leid, was ist passiert? (I’m sorry, what’s happened?)
Hint: Eigentlich, habe ich einen schrecklichen Tag means ‘actually, I’m having a terrible day’.
Getting enough German listening practice will not only allow you converse and understand people in German, but will give you chance to enjoy German language TV and other media.
A note on listening speed
The speed of the spoken German you are listening to should also be considered. You’ll probably come across German listening resources which promote slower than normal speed audio. While this may sound appealing, it’s better to avoid this sort of material.
The reason for this is although you are likely to understand more individual words when listening at a slower speed, this speed isn’t realistic in real life. You’re very unlikely to encounter German speakers who will slow right down for you, or if they do, they may then speed back up without realising. TV, radio and podcasts are all spoken at a real-life speed.
Basically, it’s far better to get your German listening practice through audio played at a natural speed right from the start. This can be done by listening to more simple audio (more on that later), that is spoken naturally.
Of course you won’t understand every single word, but you don’t have to. The improvement to your listening comprehension comes in your ability to understand what is being said through context. You’ll become an expert at ‘getting the gist’ of what is being said.
I’ll say it again, you don’t have to understand every word that is spoken.
The Path to Listening Comprehension
So now you understand why it’s so important to work on your listening comprehension, you might be tempted to fire up your computer and watch some German TV shows online. But wait just a sec…
You need to consider your current listening ability level. Putting on a complicated German drama series and hoping for the best isn’t really going to work. It’ll just be too hard.
Your goal is to find ‘comprehensible input’, that is listening resources which allow you to understand the general idea of what is being said, without needing to understand every word. In order to do this you’ll need to try out the different resources listed below and discover which ones you can understand.
All the resources given below are ones I’ve used myself throughout my German learning journey. They’re divided into video and audio only resources as both offer something different and are listed in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest.
Visual Resources for German Listening Practice
Using visual resources (TV, YouTube etc.) for listening practice comes with a tonne of benefits. I would always advise someone starting out to use visual instead of audio only at the beginning.
Watching something at the same time as listening gives you vital information about what is going on. If you don’t understand what is being said, visual clues will help you understand. It’s incredible how much we can pick up from seeing an action, even if we don’t understand what is being said.
Another benefit is having German subtitles switched on. I stress that you should only ever use German subtitles (Untertitel) and never English ones. Your brain will always choose the easiest option, which will lead to you completely ignoring the German audio in favour is reading the English text.
Even worse, this could cause you to spend vital energy translating as you listen to the German audio, something that should always be avoided.
I’ve already written a comprehensive post on watching German TV shows online, which goes into detail about how and which TV shows you can watch. Below are a couple of my favourite resources for improving listening comprehension:
That bottomless bucket of videos that is the YouTube platform has plenty of German language entertainment on offer. My favourite channel for complete beginners is Peppa Wutz (Peppa Pig in German).
Now bear with me on this one. Peppa Wutz is a great way to get some simple listening practice. The stories are actually quite interesting, use basic speech spoken at a normal speed and are very visual.
A lot of what is going on can be worked out from watching the show, and many words and phrases are used through the episodes. Because this is a long running series, there’s an almost endless number of episodes available. I noted that I watched 10 hours of Peppa Wutz when I was trying to improve my listening comprehension.
If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, I highly recommend Nicos Weg. This is a series of 3 films, each aimed at a different German level; A1, A2 and B1. These films are written specifically for German learners, and will gradually increase in difficulty as you go through them.
The films are funny and interesting and follow the lead character, Nico, from the moment he arrives in Germany, being unable to speak any German.
The easiest way to get started with TV shows is to sign up with a streaming service like Lingopie. It’s effectively a language learners version of Netflix, where you can stream German language shows online.
The range of shows Lingopie provide is huge, so there’s something for everyone, but you’ll probably want to have around a B1+ level of listening comprehension to get the most benefit.
Another option for watching TV shows online is to have a look around the ARD Medithek. My favourite show to watch is Tatort, which is a long running crime drama series. Again, you need to be around B1+ to fully understand it, but the stories are interesting.
The other thing I love about Tatort is that not only do you get German subtitles, but you also have the option to switch on audio description for every episode. This is where a narrator describes (in German) what is happening in the scene, and allows space for the actors dialogue.
This is total German immersion. You can either watch the show as well as listening to the audio description to help you understand what is being described, or just listen to it as treat it like a radio play.
Audio Resources for German Listening Practice
Now let’s take a look at some pure audio resources. Again there’s a lot to choose from, so I’ve just cherry picked ones that I’ve used myself and found really helpful.
Audiobooks are a great choice for listening comprehension because they’ve been designed especially for German learners. The most popular way to download audiobooks is to use Audible. You can choose books written especially for German learners, like Café in Berlin. This is the first book in the Dino Lernt Deutsch series.
The first 4 books are narrated at a slower than normal pace, which personally I found distracting, but still worth listening to. After this, the rest of the books are narrated at a natural speed. The stories are interesting and varied, and gradually increase in difficulty as you go through the series. They’re great for learners at around A2 onwards.
A great, free way to immerse yourself in the language is to listen to German radio. Depending of what type of music you like you’ll need to take a look around, but Deutschland.fm is a good place to start.
Not only will you discover all sorts of German music, but you’ll likely hear the news being read every hour or half hour, plus weather and traffic reports. The chit chat between the DJs and anyone calling in is also really interesting.
Another free listening resource are podcasts. Depending on your level, you can opt for podcasts aimed at people learning German, or just general German language podcasts.
I was really pleased to discover Auf Deutsch Gesagt, a podcast for intermediate German learners which usually involves the presenter, Robin, doing interviews on all different topics. He then goes through all he new vocabulary used in the interview and explains the meanings in German.
Easy German is another fab podcast covering all aspects of life in Germany.
Once your German becomes more advanced, there are endless podcasts you can immerse yourself in. A great resource is the ARD Audiothek, where you’ll find podcasts on almost anything, from culture, news and current affairs, to radio plays, history and comedies.
So now you know the importance to sharpening your listening skills and have all my best tips for getting some essential German listening practice. What are your favourite ways to listen to German?