30 May Language Learning During Lockdown: Visual Media – Tips & Resources
When people ask me how I spent lockdown the answer will be children’s TV, YouTube ‘Let’s Play’s‘, and knitting. Those are my three defining pastimes right now.
Life is pretty weird.
As I mentioned in the first post in this lockdown language learning series, I’ve been using the extra time during lockdown for language immersion. German TV has played a big part in this.
My first foray into German-speaking TV was through one of my favourite Netflix shows, Dark (read my review from back in 2017). However, rather than re-watch Dark for the third time (possibly fourth?) I thought I’d see what else is out there.
The answer is a lot.
Visual-Media Tips and Resources
I did a deep-dive into German-speaking YouTube, German children’s TV, tried out a pretty cool app and have become unduly obsessed with language settings on streaming platforms and games.
I thought that I would only watch German TV occasionally as a way to test myself and learn some new vocab but it has somehow become a pastime as opposed to a task.
Subtitles or No Subtitles?
I started off watching German TV with German subtitles. It was useful to be able to read the sentences as well as hear them. It helped me pinpoint when I’d misheard something and it allowed me to do a quick Google Translate for any words I wasn’t sure about.
However after a while I felt like the subtitles were starting to hold me back a little. I don’t know about you but I can’t fully focus on the action on TV when there’s subtitles. I need to read the subtitles every time. I can’t ignore them.
So, it was exhausting to read the sentences, try to translate them and also try to keep up with the action. I’d also gotten to a point where I could get the jist without needing to see every word spelt out for me. And if I had a burning need to translate a word, I’d gotten a pretty good sense of how words are spelt in German and could usually find it on Google Translate without needing the subtitles.
If you’re going to use subtitles I urge you to use them in the language you’re learning as opposed to an English translation. You may not understand everything but if you have English subtitles you’re more likely to just tap out of the actual language you’re trying to learn.
1. Children’s TV Shows
Did you know that there’s a version of Sesame Street in most languages? I headed to Sesamstrasse. However, if you’re learning French for instance you’ll head to 1, Rue Sésame. Or perhaps you’re learning Swedish. In that case you’ll head to Svenska Sesam.
Who knew the Muppets were so international? I love it. I find it fascinating that children worldwide have grown up with the same characters teaching them the very basics of numbers, spelling and more. Check out the full list of Sesame Streets here.
Children’s TV shows have proven extremely effective for me in learning German. They use simplistic language, have easy to follow, predictable plots and repeat words often. Plus they’re also goofy and have adorable characters. The only drawback I have noticed occasionally is that sometimes characters with funny voices can be a lil difficult to understand in another language.
It’s likely that many of the shows you watched as a child are available in whatever language you’re learning. I found many classics I enjoyed back in the day auf Deutsch – Die Schlümpfe (The Smurfs), Scooby Doo and Spongebob Squarepants for instance. I’ve also watched a couple of German gems including a deeply unsettling show called Bernt Das Brot.
Get curious and see what shows are popular for children in whatever language you’re learning. Also check if your favourite show as a child is available in the language you’re learning. It might feel a little weird at first to be watching children’s TV especially in another language but when you start to understand what’s happening it will be pretty rewarding.
2. YouTube Channels
I’ve never been more into YouTube than I am at this very moment. Once upon a time I used it only for funny/cute animal videos and music. Nowadays though, my newsfeed is about 80% German and filled with an absolute mess of children’s TV, documentaries, and Let’s Plays.
It’s somehow easy to lose sight of the vastness of the internet and forget that there’s so much more content in so many forms outside of my small English-speaking bubble. All the stuff you’re interested in exists in whatever language you’re learning and there’s probably YouTube channels dedicated to it. You just need to look for it. And honestly, the more niche the better.
You’re learning Italian and love make-up tutorials? There’s definitely an Italian beauty vlogger out there waiting for you.
Or maybe you love cars and are learning Japanese. I’m sure there’s a Japanese vlogger talking all things cars out there.
For me it’s video game play-throughs. In particular, horror games. Oh, JA.
I have spent endless hours watching Let’s Plays of horror games. I just get so engrossed in them. I found a German vlogger (Gronkh) who plays a lot of horror games and I take great joy in hearing him scream SCHEIßE or words to that effect every time a ghost pops up.
Let’s Plays are fantastic because they’re not filled with an endless stream of dialogue, there’s a lot of moments where it’s just game play which breaks it up nicely. You have the visual queues of the game and its storyline to connect the dots and figure out what they’re talking about. It’s also a good way to pick up some more colloquial turns of phrase that you might not be exposed to in more formalised content like the radio or podcasts.
3. Video Games
“Früher war ich auch ein Abenteurer. Und dann habe ich einen Pfeil ins Knie bekommen.”
“I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow in the knee.”
Let’s Plays lead me nicely into my next resource: video games.
I’m not a huge gamer but I used to be and watching so many Let’s Plays was really giving me an itch to start playing again. Having noticed that Gronkh is currently playing his way through Skyrim I too decided to return to one of my favourite games a few years on BUT this time with an extra challenge: play it in German.
Alright look, I’m not gonna pretend that it’s been easy to understand what the F%^& has been going on the whole time in the game. Or even most of the time.
However, having played the game quite extensively already helps. I give myself a little pat on the back whenever I understand a little bit of dialogue. And hey, I know lot’s of useful words auf Deutsch now like LOCKPICK and WEAPON.
The level of detail in Skyrim lends itself well to language immersion. You can stop and read a book in the middle of a quest. Or spend some time chatting to the locals. Or go exploring and marvel at how interesting the name for… MOUNTAIN FLOWER is in whatever language you’re learning. In German it’s Bergblume. I don’t care, I’m counting that as practice.
Why not challenge yourself by changing the language settings on a video game?
Learning through visual media is obviously a great way to pick up new vocab however it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the dialogue, even with subtitles.
This was where I found the FluentU app to be very useful. Bringing together video content with subtitles and live translations, it removes the clunkiness of flicking between Google Translate and the video itself.
With a library of video content around 30 secs to 3 minutes long, you can set your level to beginner, intermediate or advanced. Comprised of short snippets from documentaries, music videos and short explainer videos, the content is interesting and you’ll probably learn something new from it alongside vocabulary. I really liked being able to add new words into a flashcard list that I can refer back to. It was a bit more sophisticated than the notebook that I scribble new words in.
I considered a paid subscription for this app because I think that the functionality of being able to see both English and German subtitles at once and build a vocab list alongside it is extremely useful.
However, the subscription is a little pricey and the video content does feel a little random. I know that the purpose is to learn new vocab but the subject matter, at least for myself, needs to be something I’m interested in or I won’t get much out of it.
I didn’t realise while I was using it that it had the functionality categorising the videos by subject matter and/or by linguistic topic which I think would come in super useful in making sure it’s content that I’m actually engaged in watching.
FluentU offer a 14 day trial and is available in Chinese, Spanish, French, English, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean and Russian.
5. Streaming Platforms
It will come as no surpise that streaming has featured heavily in my life during lockdown. This has mainly been in English of course but I’ve also tested myself with German a little bit through Netflix and more recently with Disney+
When using streaming platforms I’ve tried to stick to shows that I’m already familiar with. For instance, I’ve watched Dark a few times over and know the plot pretty well by this point. It also helps that that show is originally filmed in German.
If you fancy challenging yourself with something new Netflix has really expanded its international TV and films in recent years. There’s seems to be more choice than ever for non-English Netflix originals. And in fact there’s a whole section dedicated to International films on Netflix.
Out of the two plaforms I’ve found Disney+ to be better both for swapping languages and for having content I’m familiar with. Disney+ is available in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Cantonese, Dansk, Portuguese, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, and Polish. Additionally it has Latin American and Brazilian versions of Spanish and Portuguese.
However, not all films have the audio for each language. Some titles might just be available in English with subtitles. I was quite disappointed when I tried to watch Tangled in German but it only had English audio with German subtitles. Plenty of Disney films have been translated into multiple languages so it’s definitely worth having a look to see if one of your favourites is available in whatever language you’re learning. I think my next watch will be The Lion King. Here’s hoping it’s available in German.
Did you catch my first post in this series filled with audio learning tips and resources?