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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Six celebrities you didn’t know spoke German

No, it's not just Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are some pretty surprising German-speaking celebrities. Here are six of the most fluent with video evidence.

Six celebrities you didn't know spoke German
Gene Simmons is equally amazed he can speak German. Photo: DPA

1. Sandra Bullock

Photo: DPA

Sandra Bullock survived a crash from space in Gravity, but she’s also got another pretty impressive line on her CV: she speaks German. Bullock has a German mother and spent 12 years growing up near Nuremberg where her father was in the US military. Her German is apparently fluent, though she'll tell you it's a little rusty.

2. Vladimir Putin

Photo: DPA

Okay, he's maybe not the kind of celebrity you were thinking of, just one of the most powerful people on earth. As one of the top KGB men in Dresden during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he is a fluent German speaker. Maybe his time here introduced him to the Freikörperkultur or naturism, which would account for the number of times he's been photographed shirtless.

3. Michael Fassbender

Photo: DPA

How many beers was that again, Herr Fassbender? Anyone who has seen his career-making turn in Inglourious Basterds knows Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender can speak German (although not well enough not to blow his cover as a Brit). The man who garnered further attention for showing his Wurst in Shame has good enough German to ponder roles in German-language films and productions.

4. Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall promoting her book in Cologne in 2005. Photo: DPA

How do you say “Oh yes!?” in German? The British-Canadian star of Sex In The City was actually born in Liverpool (not Germany), but spent much of the 1980s with her second husband in Frankfurt where she learnt to speak the tongue fluently – although now claims she has forgotten most of it.

5. Mark Strong

Mark Strong at the Sherlock Holmes premiere in Berlin. Photo: SpreePiX Berlin / Wikimedia Commons

This very British actor is best known for his serious roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Imitation Game. But he’s not limited to that – he also collaborated with Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G, Borat and Bruno) in his film Grimsby. His mother is Austrian, so he is fluent in German, and studied German law at Munich University for a year.

 
6. Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons performing at the “Rock im Revier” festival in Germany. Photo: DPA

KISS frontman Gene Simmons was born in Israel as Chaim Witz, and moved to the US when he was eight, where he later changed his name to Gene. His mother was from Hungary and, along with her brother, survived a concentration camp during the Second World War. Simmons not only speaks German but also Hungarian and Hebrew. That's rock and roll. 

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LEARNING GERMAN

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

STARTING OUT

Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.

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Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 

DEVELOPING YOUR GERMAN

Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner

PERFECTING YOUR GERMAN

Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.

Sozusagen

Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.

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