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How do you switch from thinking in English to German?

That is the hardest part for me. I understand a lot of German words, and I am also quite familiar with the grammar, but when I want to say something in German, I keep thinking of English words, and it's just impossible to switch to German. What do i do? Has anyone tried watching movies or TV shows in German (and did it help?). Also, please recommend a good German TV show that I could watch for a while (already watched DARK), so something with more than 10 episodes. Thanks!

February 22, 2018



It takes lots of listening and immersion. My native language is Hungarian. I learned German in the schoolyard in Austria. Then my family moved to Montreal and I had to learn English and French. Again, I learned by playing with other children. At first I didn't understand anything but by three months there was a beginning of catching the sounds. Eventually something in my brain switched to the language I was hearing and I started to think in that language to make responses. I think the key was that there were no German / English / Frnech as a second (3rd, 4th) language classes for immigrants. We had to learn the way that babies learn, by listening and then speaking, before reading and writing.

For a few years after college I had a job teaching French I and German II in a high school in the U,S. with and enlightened language program that had NO reading and writing in the first year class. My first year French class was called "Ecouter et Parler" and I didn't speak any English from day 1. The German students came to me already having a good ear for the language and we started to read and write simple sentences.

In Duo I would recommend that you listen to the audio multiple times and repeat what you hear without a thought to meaning. Then add a keyboard in the language you are learning and use the microphone to dictate your impression of the audio over and over until you get a phrase or sentence that you can check for accuracy. If you imitated correctly you will get a green bar and a ding, even if you miss an accent mark. Try it!


I think it's strongly related to actually speaking in that language. Try to construct phrases to express your thoughts (and talk to people), then your brain will get used to them and "replay" them in some occasions. I switch to English often, even if my vocabulary is maybe not the best, but also in Spanish, which I was never able to speak fluently, some phrases are burnt into my mind. One of them is "¿Donde está mi teléfono?" - even if it should be "móvil", but this sentence pops into my mind every time I'm searching for my phone..... But if you listen to native speakers at the same time, you will also pick up correct phrases and patterns.


actually say "teléfono" is right, here in Argentina. It's normal that in latin america there are a lot of words from the english like "computadora" "shampoo" "corner" (in football)...


I really recommend watching Babylon Berlin. Season 1 and season 2 are on netflix. i learned a lot of words and phrases just from watching that show and it is a thrilling series so you'll enjoy it


also it does help to watch shows or videos. It can help "immerse" you into the language especially if you never hear it at home

[deactivated user]

    Excellent question. I am struggling with it as well. A web page mentioned that German is goal oriented in its thinking (www.thegermanz.com/zu-nach-in-most-efficient-preposition-german). That is starting to help me. In German, so much content is packed at the end of the sentence (separable prefixes, verbs in the infinitives, past participles, etc). I'm trying to train myself to think towards the goal of the sentence, to wait for the clause to complete itself (reach its goal) before immediately translating it word-by-word in my head.

    • 1998

    Yes, watching shows/movies works, I have done it with English and German (not a native in either of those obviously). In my experience somewhere around 100 hours of material (TV shows in my case) I started to get in there and after 200 and more hours I could say that I was pretty much fluent in listening. Using the language actively is a different story but of course this helps a lot. Speaking is the hardest part and requires a lot of practice but "thinking" in the language actually comes pretty easy after immersing yourself like this.

    I recommend anything that you like, at first it's great to watch something that you know from your own language. For example I have seen the whole TV show Friends (around 85 hours) in 3 languages now :-)

    [deactivated user]

      200 hours of Netflix binge watching? I think I can handle that. Truthfully, it was helpful to hear that number. I get too impatient. Jetzt! Jetzet! Ich will jetzt verstehen!

      • 1998

      Yah, I should note that I didn't stop at those 200 hours, and it's also just an estimate (although probably pretty accurate one). Now that I can understand I can actually learn advanced grammar by listening (sure I have to willingly concentrate on it) instead of studying grammar books. Happy learning.


      If you like crime shows, try Tatort


      Someone else said Babylon Berlin which is on Netflix, and I want to second it.

      Another one is "You are Wanted", which is on Amazon's streaming service.

      If you want something simpler, try watching Extr@ - it's for learners. You can find the episodes on Youtube. Make sure you search for the German version though, because they made it in a few different languages.


      I haven't seen a good tv show from Germany in ages. Back in the day there was "Hinter Gittern", which I found to be quite entertaining. I was, however, only thirteen years old at that time... It's basically a primetime soap about a women's prison and there are about 400 episodes. Amazon DE carries the entire show for a little bit less than 200 €, but you might wanna check season 1.1 for 9 €, first. It can also be found on the premium section of TVnow.de (2,99€/month), but it's not listed as one of the globally available titles.

      As far as thinking goes: Try thinking in German all the time. Try speaking to yourself inside your own mind.


      As for how to do this; I have, I think, a different approach than most people. When I learn any language, and I do this now for German in Duo Lingo, I focus on the concepts rather than the words.

      What I mean is when I speak or think the sentence in German, I do like I do in my native language only I'm reading or hearing the words in German. I think of the concepts represented by each word and the entire sentence.

      Example: Nachdem ich Deutschland verlassen hatte, war ich traurig.

      As I say this I picture in my mind being sad after I had left Germany. So, an image of me after I get home, thinking back on being in Germany, and feeling sad about it.

      I think of this as conceptual learning. What I find happens is that when I'm thinking of things in everyday life, German words will pop into my head during normal activity. In other words, the concepts become a part of me, a part of everyday life. So, yes, as one might think; around my family, I spontaneously say in German what I'm thinking, and then immediately provide the translation. That way I'm practicing my German while doing everyday things.

      As far as switching from one language to another; doing as I say above; I find it I do it without thinking when I'm not even thinking about practice. Then when I do practice, I will do the 'practice" exercises before starting a lesson. While I do them, I'm also practicing thinking in German, meaning when I speak, I form the images and concepts at the same time. I find that I often even forget to look to see if I'm right; because I know what it means without looking. It's the concept that counts, not the verbatim words in English that matter so much.

      Before I begin a new lession, I will do practice exercises, and after I get 5 or more in a row at 100% Perfect, I'm ready for a new lesson. After a while, I find that doing this conceptually gets easier and easier. Yes, more complex exercises, like my example above, will require me to switch to conceputalizing the word order, which feels natural after a while.

      I do this, as well, for grammar points such as what case it is Nominative, Dative, etc. I unfortunately cannot read about grammar in German, so the information has to go into my head in English; but, I can have the concepts about what it means to be Nominative (is words), Dative (information and thing words), Accusative (actions and direct type stuff), Genitive (prepositions and posessive stuff) Das Auge des Strums, and actually picture the eye of the storm. And, so though I read about it in English, when I observe it in German, I think about the concepts, not the words.

      I think there comes a time, especially after the beginning parts of learning German, toward the middle and afterward especially where thinking conceptually comes in really handy. I observe that each lesson in Duo offers specific grammar points, and specific cases, and words that can be substituted for other words.
      Das Auge des Sturms vs Der Apfel ihres Auges. - The apple of her eye. Make up your own sentences using different words; but note the same grammar points conceptually and the same Genitive case points being made. But, above all, create the images and concepts of what the words are saying.

      We will find in the later lessons that Duo will rely on your undertanding and grasping these concepts in your translations. As eventually with Duo the English will not always match verbatim the words in German; but it will match the concepts. Just like there are many ways to say things in one's native language, so too in German. And Duolingo is generally great at accepting various translations into German when they give a native language sentence to translate into German from , at least in English. This concept learning will especially come in handy when learning idioms. With idioms, you must grasp the concept of the idiom, or you will find that your only option is rote memorization of the idiom.

      I prefer to understand what concepts are contained in the idiom; what the native speaker is actually picturing conceptually when they say the sentence. So, learning the German concepts in the Idiom, when I see it in English, I remember how the Germans think of this concept, the same or similar but a bit different in words. (Schnee von Gestern) Literally Snow from yesterday; or 'old news' in English. Or, Die Feder ist mächtiger als das Schwert. where one has to know that in the old days, we used 'feathers' for a pen; but otherwise the concept is the same.

      I love "Er ist bekannt wie ein bunter Hund." which is pretty colorful; and the concept is there, we too in English can call a colorful person a dog. And it makes sense. "He is known like a colorful dog." the imagry is fantastic. I'll bet if you had a blue or oddly colored dog running around town, everyone would know it. But, in English, Duo just says, and so does Google Translate. "He is known around town." but, yeah, you know that's not the image. lol I picture a hint about him being a ladies man in the German; but, perhaps I'm a little off in that! :-)

      I will say that I have often made the case for what I have coined as transliteration. Which means something different that what I mean when I use it. I mean it in both ways; but here when learning a language, I define Transliteration as writing in one's native language conceptually the literal translation in the other language. But an example speaks a 1000 words. So, transliterating German to English. Nachdem ich Deutschland verlassen hatte, war ich traurig. After I had left Germany I was sad. Transliterated for concepts = "After this I Germany left had, was I sad." (This is the spoken and image thinking order)

      Broken down in English, which is simply in English conceptually: "After this" (concept of thing that follows afterward) / "I Germany" (picture self in Germany) / "left had" (leaving Germany and picturing self now home) / "was I" (thinking back in time imagining the past) / "sad" (myself feeling the sadness)."

      That's the process in English; now in German with concepts.

      Broken down in German, which is simply in German conceptually: Nachdem (concept of something that follows aftersomething) / Ich Deutschland (picture self in Germany) / verlassen hatte (leaving Germany and picturing self now home) / war Ich (thinking back in time imagining the past) / Traurig. (feelings of sadness)."

      or Nachdem Ich Deutschland verlassen hatte, war ich traurig.

      Having done this a lot: When I think in German, I add new concepts in my analyzing:

      Again German conceptually: Nachdem (concept of something that follows aftersomething) / Ich Deutschland (picture self in Germany) / verlassen hatte (leaving Germany and picturing self now home [observing that the concept of verlassen (leaving) comes before had (hatte)] ) / war Ich (thinking back in time imagining the past) / Traurig. (feelings of sadness) [observing the verb war coming before the me sad] ." Feels natural. Nachdem Ich Deutschland verlassen hatte, war ich traurig. Got it!

      Then I spend time thinking about verlassen hmm, Lass mich so verlassen has "Lass" as in Leve me, or the concept of leaving. Google "German prefix 'ver-'" and find about how 'ver' modifies the verb in various way (conceptually) of course, and find it gets applied to change the concept differently depending upon the word, sometime a very strongly, sometimes not. Verrückt uses 'ver' as a prefix, here it is changed more strongly. Rücken or Rückt where Rücken or Rückten means to move, and Der Rücken is related as "the back" as in the old days we moved everything using our backs... But, verrückt means crazy. But, zurückt relates to back, or to go back. But, I digress... so, ver- as a prefix changes things a lot sometimes, coming from "Rückt" to move, it become a crazy move, but with zu-rück it's a move to the back, or go back. Sometimes the conceptualizing gets hard.

      Hope you enjoyed the little trip inside my head while I truely by having written this feel very sad about having left Germany, even though I have never been there.... yet! ;-) So, I'm wondering: Jetzt bin ich traurig, nachdem Ich Deutschland verlassen hatte." oder "Ich bin jetzt wirklich traurig nachdem ich Deutschland verlassen hatte.

      Ich hoffe dir gefällt die Reise durch meinen Kopf.

      Die Form des Gedankens. Das Konzept. Der vergangene und gegenwärtige Zeitgeist. :-)


      I forgot to mention one of my favorite TV shows in German, which I found after doing DuoLingo for almost two years gave me little difficulty in following the story line (especially with English subtitles, which I avoided using unless needed, and yes, I would rewind sometimes trying to grasp the concepts rather than just read the subtitles.

      Deutschland 83, Deutschland 86 and soon, Deutschland 89. Three season, two available (Netflix at one time) TV, and soon we hope 89 on TV or Netflix. Join me watching 89! ;-) when it comes out. But, watch the other two.

      I also watched Chernobyl! which came out in 2019, it too was excellent. At least I think it was in German... I can't remember.

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