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Kids absorb new languages like a sponge. But how easy is it to teach your child German? And what are some good German resources to help?
Here’s something good to know: An early start with languages can bring with it many benefits and opportunities.
Bilingual children tend to be better learners with more advanced reading skills, greater confidence and a bigger sense of the world we live in, with its varying countries and cultures.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are 228 million German speakers worldwide, making German the 10th most spoken language in the world. Plus Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy, so speaking German brings with it many opportunities.
There are plenty of resources available online that you can use to introduce the German language to your child.
Before we get started, if you’re looking for an online German course, here’s the course I recommend: German Uncovered – Learn German Through the Power of Story, a course with a fascinating new method by my friend Olly.
Let’s get started!
German for Kids: Infants
It’s never too early to start learning a language. If your desire is to raise a bilingual child, then there’s no harm in immersing them in the world of German from day one.
Begin by exposing your child to German songs from an early age.
Babies can distinguish between languages from the age of just seven months, through qualities such as pitch and duration of sound.
What’s more, singing nursery rhymes and lullabies to children from an early age prevents them from developing language problems later on in life.
There are plenty of good German songs for kids. The YouTube channel Sing mit mir (Sing With Me) has a range of children’s songs and lullabies, all in German. The channel boasts three different playlists – Nursery Rhymes, Lullabies and Christmas carols. Songs such as the well-known Johannes Brahms lullaby Guten Abend, gute Nacht (Good evening, good night) have been animated and subtitled with the German lyrics, which play back in a karaoke-style sing-along fashion.
Spotify is also a good place to find German music for kids. There are playlists for just about every mood or occasion, just a mouse click away.
Search for language learning playlists, such as Sing and Learn German, which features 19 well-known nursery rhymes such as Mary Hatte Ein Kleines Lamm (“Mary Had a Little Lamb”) and Bist Du Glücklich Und Du We (“If You’re Happy and You Know It”). In this playlist, songs are initially sung in English, followed by the German translation.
German for Kids: Toddlers (Age 2-5)
Three years is said to be the optimal age to start learning a second language. This is because younger kids are better at mimicking new sounds and learning new pronunciations. Language lessons can be completely informal, and can even be part of your child’s playtime.
While continuing to expose your child to German songs and music, now is a good time to allow them to start watching German cartoons and television shows. They may not understand every word that’s being said, but they will certainly enjoy laughing along with the main characters.
Die Sendung mit der Maus (“The Program with the Mouse”) is one of the most popular German children's TV shows of all time. It’s been screening since 1971, with each show comprising several segments that present information in a straightforward and simple manner. The Lachgeschichten (entertaining) segments of the show are meant to be humorous, while the Sachgeschichten (informative) are short, non-fiction stories about a variety of topics, mostly with a “how stuff works” slant to them. The cartoon mouse pops up here and there between these segments, shown hanging with his friends.
The show is loved by adults and children alike. Online episodes can be found on the Das Erste Mediathek website. There is also an interactive website where kids can watch short German video clips and play games, such as colouring online with The Mouse.
German for Kids: Kindergarten (Age 5 & Up)
German Books for Kids
Almost every child will grow up knowing the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Originally written in 1812, in German, these world-famous tales have since been translated to English and in many cases, watered down to make them slightly more “child-friendly” than the original texts.
It’s always enjoyable to hear or read a text in its original language. Amazon features several volumes of the Brüder Grimm’s fairy tales, in a dual-language format that can be purchased either in hard copy form or Kindle e-book. Reading or listening to the fairy tales, you can enjoy classics such as Aschenputtel (“Cinderella”), Der Froschkönig (“The Frog King”) and Rotkäppchen (“Little Red Riding Hood”).
A popular German children’s book that is less well known in the English-speaking world is Max und Moritz – Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen (“Max and Moritz – A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks”). Published in 1865, it’s a funny tale told in rhyming couplets that has retained popularity as a children’s bedtime story in all German-speaking countries.
The book covers seven pranks that Max and Moritz – tormentors and troublemakers – play on their unsuspecting family members, teachers and acquaintances. The original German version and the English translation can be found online. Children can read the texts in either standalone German or with the dual language option. This website also features a series of quizzes on the books, which kids (and adults!) may use to test their German knowledge.
Parents may delight in reading their children (and in turn, seeing them read for themselves) timeless classics that they too have grown up with. Although Tintin was created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, the comics were read and adored across Europe, with the stories being translated into more than seventy languages…including German.
German Games and Apps for Kids
Duolingo is one of the most regularly cited resources on Fluent in 3 Months (Fi3M) and for good reason. The app has an easy and inviting interface and works on a rewards-based system – you’ll level up as you learn and earn lingots, which can be spent within a virtual store. Designed for both kids and adults, Duolingo aims to help build basic vocabulary and grammar skills.
German Sing-along Songs
The German YouTube channel YleeKids German hosts a wide range of videos targeted to young children – animated and designed to be sung along to.
Your child can learn the German pronunciation of the alphabet, or sing along to old favourites Zehn in einem Bett (known in the anglophone world as “Ten in a bed”) and Baa Baa Schaf (“Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”).
German for Older Kids (Age 10+)
You may have a child whose love of languages has followed them into the double digits. Here are some German resources that older kids, tween and even teenagers will enjoy.
The Story that Never Ends
Die unendliche Geschichte is a German fantasy novel by Michael Ende, that was published in 1979. The novel’s protagonist is a young boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux, who steals a book called The Neverending Story from an antique bookstore, through which he enters the magical world of Fantastica. Sound familiar?
The book was translated into English and later made into the film, but if your child is an advanced reader, they will undoubtedly find joy in reading the original German version.
Austria’s Favourite Detective
Dog-lovers unite! Kommissar Rex is a beloved police drama in which a newly divorced cop teams up with a police dog to solve crimes in Vienna. Rex is the star of the show, a super-intelligent German Shepherd who can sniff out drugs, unlock doors and always seems to be several steps ahead of the human members of the criminal police force team.
The show, which was shot in Austria for its first ten seasons, has been set in Rome since 2009. Luckily, the first season, in German with English subtitles, is available online.
Have you helped your children learn German? If so, please share the resources you’ve used in the comments.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.