I am one of what I believe are a large group of people who could be classified having "Arrested Development for Language Learners". I took German lessons for several months and reached the level of A2, but with a proficiency that is in the middle of that language level and definitely not someone who has mastered it.

I had a truly fantastic instructor so the onus is on me for this deficiency. Unfortunately the realities of a brutal work schedule and other life obligations led to me fall further and further behind my studies and homework, until I realized I was only annoying my instructor and not making further progress. So like many people, despite truly missing the lessons, I simply stopped.

Therefore I find myself in that strange purgatory of still being very interested in improving my German, but not having the time for formal study. So I had a thought. For me, reading/hearing German is far easier that speaking/writing it, because I only have to generally recognize the meaning behind the words, instead of being faced with the blizzard of correct choices you have to make when speaking or writing it (i.e. - correct article choice, verb form choice especially regarding the correct "voice", pronoun selection, word positioning, etc.)

However, I believe that I could reach a concrete goal of improvement through the sole practice of extending of my vocabulary in a very specific way. Unfortunately finding the right vocabulary list, especially one that doesn't overwhelm me with words that are irrelevant to my goal, has been hard.

As a potential solution, I have come up with a very specific goal that would solve one of the my most vexing problems currently. That is, watching German TV shows or movies that I like while still needing to watch them with English sub-titles showing. This creates a painful cognitive state where my eyes want to read the titles, but my ears get pulled away by the words and phrases that fall in (and out) of the narrow range of the language comprehension I have at my arrested A2 skill level.


Here's the goal I've selected. I would like to find the minimal set of vocabulary lists that would allow me to watch my favorite (by far) TV series called "Dark", one of the most popular shows on Netflix right now. When I say favorite I mean regardless of what language is used. Can anyone link me to a set of vocabulary lists that if memorized, would get me at least 90% along the way to that goal?

NOTE: If you have a favorite vocabulary practice site or service that has these lists, please let me know.

  • Niklas E. did a nice research. I would not deny to revive language learning while achieving a loved goal. Might make things more interesting. Yet it does not stop on vocabulary - to understand a sentence, grammar is needed. That can get tough. And the "most popular words" will be very easy for context - the content is in the rare ones. Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


I don't think there's a basic vocabulary or a special vocabulary specifically for Dark to achieve 90% understanding. To understand around 90% of each word you need to know also a "high" percentage of all words used, which will be thousands for the entire series.

I grabbed the subtitles of the first episode of Dark and did some math with it. What I have done may not be perfect, but it is close enough to illustrate my point convincing.

The subtitles and full code can be seen here on jsFiddle. The results are:

Alone in the subtitles of Dark S01E01 2733 "words" appeared.
988 individual words were used and ranked. (distinction between declinations; no backtracking to basic dictionary form, e.g. Äpfel und Apfel are counted as two words)
You need to understand word #1-#715 which is 72.30% of this ranking to understand 90.00% of the subtitles.

#1: ist appeared 63 times (2.31%)
#2: das appeared 59 times (2.16%)
#3: ich appeared 55 times (2.01%)
#4: du appeared 50 times (1.83%)
#5: nicht appeared 50 times (1.83%)
#6: die appeared 42 times (1.54%)
#7: was appeared 42 times (1.54%)
#8: und appeared 39 times (1.43%)
#9: der appeared 35 times (1.28%)
#10: es appeared 31 times (1.13%)

I didn't want to go through the trouble of pulling all the subtitle scripts of Dark from Netflix. But I can tell you, with more subtitles the numbers of individual words would go up (and the percentage you need to learn would go down, but not so fast as to make up for the absolute number). You'll definitely end up with learning more words with every episode, much more than 715 for the first episode. Thousands and thousands to "get [you] at least 90% along". At this point you can also learn the language completely. Sorry.

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