Once you have learned some German you may want to test it in real life. Conversing with German native speakers would be ideal, but if you live in a faraway country that may not be always possible. Practicing your German only with your German teacher is not enough because they usually speak clearly and choose vocabulary and sentence structure that you are supposed to be familiar with. Therefore, listening to German native speakers on TV can be a good substitute for the lack of opportunities to communicate with real Germans. You can choose among different types of programmes and watch daily news, various documentaries, talk shows, games, movies, etc. and thus get used to the language spoken by trained speakers as well as ordinary Germans. Surely, watching German TV can only help you practice listening comprehension and vocabulary, but being able to better understand people in the street will also give you more confidence when talking to them.
There are 365 TV channels licensed in Germany. This number includes both public-service broadcasters financed from licence fees paid by viewers in Germany and private TV channels which are funded through advertising revenues and/or subscription fees. Among the top 10 German TV channels there are two public channels ZDF and Das Erste (ARD network) ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively with about 12% market share each, and the rest are private channels like RTL, SAT 1, ProSieben, VOX, etc. However, irrespective of their funding source, a large number of German TV channels or their particular programmes are not available over the Internet to viewers outside Germany. This is because many of the programmes like popular TV shows or sports coverage or their parts (pictures, videos, etc.) are licensed from third parties and within the terms of the licence they may only be distributed in Germany. Some TV channels apply geo-restrictions on their entire live stream and web archive, while others use it only selectively for programmes produced and/or distributed under licence agreement.
The most practical method of bypassing geo-blocking on German TV channels is to use a VPN service that will give you a German IP address so that you appear to be located in Germany. However, not all VPN services will work well. Also, this may or may not be illegal, depending on your country of residence and its legal system (we are not legal experts to advise you but at least make sure you never download any such videos to your device), but it will certainly cost you some money. Other options are to use websites or apps that do this for you (with varying degrees of success), or to use archives at TV channels’ official websites, which provide free access to some or, sometimes, all of their archived programmes to viewers outside Germany. Some channels also have live streams specifically designed for international viewers. Below is a list of several options for German learners living outside Germany for watching German TV online for free.
Internet TV Portals
- Schoener-Fernsehen.com allows you to watch live streams of more than 50 TV channels (German, French and English) for free. However, you must enable peer assisted networking to make it work (thus allowing access to your upload bandwidth). There is also an application for android phones. The video quality is generally good but you will need a fast internet connection to prevent interruptions. The program works best with the Chrome browser. Schoener Fernsehen enables you to bypass geo-blocking so that you can watch live programmes from TV channels like ZDF that are normally not available outside Germany.
- FreeInternetTV.com is an online TV portal with hundreds of live streams from around the world, including several dozen from Germany. However, not all of the streams are livestreams and not all of them work at any time. The video quality may not be excellent but is sufficient for someone who wants to watch German TV just to practice their German listening comprehension. Transmission speed may sometimes be a problem.
- Filmon.tv has a list of a dozen of German TV stations that you can watch online for free most of the time (unless some broadcasts or materials they use are restricted to viewers in Germany, or cannot be broadcast over the internet). However, if you want to have more channels and high definition video quality with no ads, you will need to choose one of their paid plans.
- SquidTV.net is an Internet TV portal where you can find several dozen German TV stations that can be watched online. Not all channels are available to viewers outside Germany, but many are. There are mostly smaller regional and specialized TV broadcasters on the list (e.g., children’s, educational, cultural, religious and other special interest TV channels).
- wwiTV.com provides a simple list of several dozen German TV channels. If you click on any of them, you will be taken to the channel’s respective website where you can watch livestream online or choose programmes from their web archive. Although this website will not help you bypass geo-blocking, you can still find there a number of popular German TV broadcasts that are also available to viewers in foreign countries.
Individual TV Channels
- Deutsche Welle is probably the best recommendation for anyone learning German. This TV channel is specifically designed for foreign viewers and brings you the latest news and diverse reports from Germany and around the world. The language is very clear and video quality and transmission speed are excellent. In addition, Deutsche Welle also offers a number of German video lessons for all levels of German learners, from absolute beginners (A1) to advanced German speakers (C2).
- ARD Mediathek is, as the name suggests, a media library of all channels operated by the largest German public-service TV network ARD. Although live streams usually do not work abroad, you can watch their archived programmes (Sendungen A-Z), which wok most of the time. There is also a free mobile app for iPads called ARD für iPad.
- Tagesschau.de, a news channel of the public-service broadcaster ARD that is aired on “Das Erste” (Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen), has a livestream for international viewers, but it is not working round the clock. However, there is a web archive where you can watch older news at any time.
- Norddeutscher Rundfunk is a public broadcaster from Northern Germany and a member of the ARD consortium. The livestream works most of the time also outside Germany and besides that you can watch most of their archived programmes online. The sound and video quality are very good.
- ZDF is the second largest public German TV network (second to ARD). Unfortunately, its livestreams are not viewable over the Internet outside Germany. However, you can use the web archive or media library to watch many of their older programmes (though some can still be available only in Germany). This is a huge resource, so you will certainly find there something you like to help you practice listening comprehension and grow vocabulary.
- ORF is an Austrian public-service broadcaster operating TV channels 1,2 and 3, which have livestreams that are most of the time also available to viewers in foreign countries. However, the sports channel broadcasts are usually restricted to Austria.
- SRF1 is the most popular national German-language TV channel in Switzerland operated by the public broadcasting group SRG SSR which also runs two other German-language TV channels SRF zwei and SRF info. Among those three, SRF 1 is largely focusing on the domestic scene. Please note that international sport event broadcasts are usually not available to viewers outside Switzerland. If you want to find out how good your Swiss German is choose some local news or talk shows where people speak local varieties of German. But, do not get discouraged if you do not understand much. Native Germans also need subtitles to fully understand programmes in Swiss-German. If you wish to get used to Swiss-German, start watching weather forecasts or international news roundups that are among the easiest programmes to understand.
Paradoxically, unlike German TV, German radio broadcasts are not restricted to listeners in Germany and online radio programmes can be heard anywhere in the world. Still, given the large choice of German TV stations, it should not be too difficult to find TV programmes that you can watch online from abroad no matter which country you live in.