Help my five-year-old learn German
April 14, 2016 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend tv shows, Youtube videos, cartoons, songs and simple books that are spoken/written in the German language that a five-year-old would enjoy. Difficulty: Five-year-old in question only speaks English.

Short Story is turning five and will be entering Kindergarten in the fall. We didn't truly believe it could happen, but he won a spot via lottery at our top choice charter school. It is a German immersion school with a great program and lots of parent participation. We are beyond thrilled.

Of course, now reality is setting in - we only speak English at home, and no one in the house speaks German. Roughly 70% of the incoming students/families do not speak German so I know the school has a good program for getting all of the students up to speed and I'm truly not worried about his long-term success in the program.

But of course it is a total curveball in his life, and additionally none of his preschool friends will be attending this school so it will be a lot of big changes all at once. I'd like to ease his transition a little bit by starting to get him familiar with the language over the next few months.

Please recommend some resources we can make use of so that he can begin to be familiar with the sound of the language, and maybe gain some vocabulary.

There is a small difficulty in that he does not yet read (although he does know some sight words), but I read to him every night and I can manage to read him some simple books by familiarizing myself with the words ahead of time.

Links to traditional or common nursery rhymes and songs would be good (the equivalent of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Row Your Boat, or something a little more age appropriate)

He's a curious boy and likes all kinds of subject matter. Naturally his favorites are Lego, dinosaurs, robots, cars, etc. When we watch tv we tend to favor nature shows, especially about the ocean, but in this case cartoons with songs might be the best bet. Right now he is really into Lego Ninjago and Octonauts (is there a German language version? That would be awesome!).

Bonus points for any other advice/tips you may have about how your kid learned a new language. (Perhaps an extra bonus point or two for tips about how the parents can survive the transition from "he's not my baby anymore!" to Kindergarten.)
posted by vignettist to Education (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If you can find it, the old Muzzy videos were awesome for this. Cursory YouTube search brought up this clip to give you an idea. Super simple vocab, perfectly aimed at kids.
posted by General Malaise at 9:10 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sendung mit der Maus (has some no-word cartoon clips that might make it easier for him).
My daughter (same age, German-speaker) also likes Die Fraggles (dubbed version of Fraggle Rock) and Biene Maja. You should be able to find all of these on youtube. Sorry I don't have more boy-specific suggestions.

To calm your fears a bit, my daughter started (english-language) preschool at 4, only knows German from home, and transition was relatively easy. Language was not a problem. Especially when (like in our preschool), they are used to kids who are new to the language. They pick it up in no time. I would even go so far as telling you to go play some ball with your kid at the park instead of coaching him in TV-German, but that wouldn't be answering your question ;) Seriously though - does he like soccer? You could watch some soccer games together to ease into German culture. I suggest Bayern München.
posted by The Toad at 9:12 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding Muzzy.
posted by griphus at 9:16 AM on April 14, 2016

My kid used to be a fan of Kikaninchen videos on YouTube, but now he's exclusively into Sendung mit der Maus (very little German, alas, unless you watch some of the actual associated shows).
posted by Maarika at 9:30 AM on April 14, 2016

Thirding Muzzy.

When I was in HS, I got into an immersive Italian class with a native Italian speaker. She and her husband spoke English at home, but used Muzzy to teach her kindergarten-aged son, and brought it in for us for the first few weeks to learn the basics. It's really well-done.
posted by okayokayigive at 9:51 AM on April 14, 2016

I've see the old (70s?) Heidi cartoons on YouTube in Spanish and Dutch; a friend's kids of the same age as your son love them. (I imagine they're available in German, too). You can also check YouTube for kid's songs (use the german phrase in your search).
posted by stillmoving at 9:52 AM on April 14, 2016

Yes, Heidi was also dubbed in German (I'd think it's more of a girls thing, though). Does he like anatomy/medicine? There's this cool TV show 'Es war einmal das Leben' that explains how the body works. It's originally in french but dubbed quite well.

Also: Löwenzahn. One of my (adult) favorites. Explains how things work and how they're made. Find a show on tractors, cars or whatever and give it a try.
posted by The Toad at 10:23 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

How about David the Gnome? Google suggests it was dubbed in German and I remember loving it around that age.
posted by miratime at 10:42 AM on April 14, 2016

YouTube has a bunch of Sesamstrasse (Sesame Street dubbed in German) videos.

If you guys are interested in learning some German alongside your kid, I recommend GermanPod101 - the podcasts are short but good and the flashcard system is great.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2016

Does the school have any introductory activities or anything? Lil' Architeuthis is going to a language immersion school in the fall and we are having a lot of the same anxieties, especially since he's not known for his flexibility and ability to roll with change, but I found out that the school has a 2-week camp for incoming K and 1st graders so we enrolled him in that.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:11 AM on April 14, 2016

Bernd das Brot!

Particularly Tolle Sachen bits
posted by chiefthe at 12:27 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

If he's familiar with Peppa Pig (it's British so perhaps he isn't) there are lots of episodes in German on YouTube - search Peppa Wutz. There are plenty of English ones too.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:56 PM on April 14, 2016

Our kids have watched Ninjago (Lego animated tv thing) in German and English - we get them through iTunes, I think they are also available through Also 'Dragons of Berk' (or something - 'How to train your dragon')

Among my favorite books: I read a lot of Susanne Rotraut Braun (before I really knew German well) and was able to get through it.
Along the way we found which has a huge selection of German kid rhymes and poems.
"Sendung Mir der Maus" is gold as is "Willi Wills Wissen" (Willi wants to know). (Later you can show him "Nicht Nachmachen!" Which is really hilarious - but the title is literally 'Don't copy us!' So, careful, lots of explosions.)

Best of luck!
posted by From Bklyn at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2016

If you have Hulu you can find Little Pim in German .. It's a production by Pimsleur aimed for younger people. We bought the 6 DVD set ( in French) from Amazon and then later discovered it was free on Hulu. I've watched it in German there too, but don't know how many episodes there are. My daughter loves it and it's very helpful for adults too.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2016

If you want songs, the best keyword is "Kinderlieder". Germany has a plethora of children's songs and folksongs that every kid knows by heart.
A brief Youtube search yields this playlist, that is not quite as terrible as some of them can be. They also have a separate playlist for lullabies:
posted by Omnomnom at 1:32 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Sendung mit der Maus. My son is 7 1/2 now and is a big fan since about age 4.
The website has many subsites - some, like die Seite mit dem Elefanten are intended form about age 4, and feature many short spots with Andre and Tanja, which my son loved when he was 4 and 5. And also songs (Lieder)

His favourite however, have always been the Sachgeschichten, short stories where Armin, Ralf and Christoph, the hosts explain how things work, some of them he must have watched a hundred times by now and still loves them.

The Sachgeschichten are an excellent source of German (also for adults) as are the films with Andre and Tanja, as it is every day language but in wellformed sentences (not like some shows like Ninjago, which I cannot stand to be honest as the German version is so horrid in both how they talk and what they say. But there are certainly Germn versions of Lego Ninjago and we do watch (and he plays it on the Ipad) them but I would not use them as a basis to learn German as it is a very crude (and often rude) language.

Mausspots have no words but might be useful to get him started just enjoying humour with Maus und Elefant, the main figures of the shows.

There are of course the Sendung mit der Maus weekly shows ( a new one each Sunday), featuring short films from each of the websites categories. They have some Shows in English, which you could wathc to get an idea of the programme

Don't let him watch Käptn Blaubär - the main character Käptn Blaubär has a heavy regional accent and also it is intended for older kids (form about 8) and language is also poor (what Imean is the way they speeak with each other - rude, abrupt, ridiculing each other).
posted by 15L06 at 1:37 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

How wonderful! I'd recommend getting German versions of his favorite movies such as Findet Nemo, König der Löwen, etc. He'll know the storyline and hear the German in the background. Even if he's not into that now, it'll be nice to have for reinforcement as he advances. Of course, sometimes they can be hard to obtain in the US and/or will require buying a regional-free DVD player for viewing. You can also watch YouTube videos in English on German culture, such as a tour of a castle or a feature on barges.

I'm a German teacher with extensive experience teaching all levels. I know of a lot of great resources but they are ones I use in person. Just getting a set of dual language or German picture flashcards (those free online, an app with sound, etc.) would be a great start. I bet the school could give you a list of recommended resources, and you could maybe even meet with one of his future teachers after school this spring for personalized suggestions.

Overall, you can support his learning by being incredibly positive about the experience. Kids generally adjust quickly and love their immersion program but sometimes there are frustrations and complaints. If that happens, I'd just encourage him to keep trying because eventually it will click. You can review work at home (and learn a bit with him, too), workwith parents to host events, and more. Perhaps there's even a summer enrichment activity the school and/or parents offer? Maybe you could pay for an older student in the program to play with your son and teach him some words as a tutor or a junior babysitter of sorts while you supervise.

If possible, I'd also consider planning a family trip to a German-speaking country in a few years. The school may already have an exchange partner in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.

Viel Glück!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:18 PM on April 14, 2016

One more thing: I think the key this summer is helping get your son excited about this wonderful opportunity. As you know, it's less about what he learns this summer and more about his getting psyched to start learning at school!

I'm sure your school will do this but here's a heads up about a wonderful German school tradition: die Schultüte!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:22 PM on April 14, 2016

Try some of the German TV online media centers. Some of the mentioned series are available from there, hopefully even outside of Germany (otherwise you can of course VPN into Germany).

  • Löwenzahn
  • ZDF (public TV)
  • ARD (public TV)
  • Children's Channel (Kinderkanal, Kika)

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