Do you ever wish you could learn German by reading your favourite books? Believe it or not, reading is one of the most valuable (and often overlooked) activities in language learning.
It’s easy to get enticed by the opportunity to practice speaking German or to spend hours struggling through German TV shows or films; but neither of these activities is likely to have as big an impact on your German fluency as reading is.
“More speaking or writing does not result in more language or literacy development, but more reading does” – Stephen Krashen
If you’re learning German and forget to invest valuable reading time, you’re making a huge mistake. But, I’m not talking about reading textbooks here, rather real language material that exposes you to everyday written language.
You may be resistant at first since you know you won’t understand certain grammar and vocabulary. However, you shouldn’t let this scare you away.
Reading short, captivating stories or interesting articles about topics you enjoy will strengthen your language skills immensely and help you to develop well-rounded knowledge of German vocabulary and grammar.
In this article, I’ll share some tips with you on to start reading in German without getting hung up on unknown words and confusing grammar.
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Most of us know that reading helps us learn a foreign language, but how?
When we learn from textbooks, we usually scrutinize information carefully, reading and re-reading sentences with an emphasis on understanding.
This is called intensive reading. Here, the focus is on studying each detail and comprehending material thoroughly.
However, we use a very different technique when reading in our native languages.
We may skim through material or skip words to get a gist of the story. We usually don’t spend very much time concentrating on each word or sentence, instead we’re focused on meaning: the plot of the story or the argument a writer is making.
This is called extensive reading. We’re able to quickly read through large amounts of text and extract the most important information and ideas.
When we start to learn German, especially as a first foreign language, we grow accustomed to reading intensively. We don’t trust ourselves to apply the same shortcuts we would use when reading in English.
This method makes reading unenjoyable for a prolonged period of time.
If we concentrate on looking up every single word we don’t know and understanding the grammar of each sentence, we lose track of the story.
Pretty soon, the enjoyment starts to disappear.
“What’s a German language learner to do?”, you might ask…
Intense reading works well for some aspects of language learning. It helps us:
However, if you fail to integrate extensive reading into your learning practice, you’ll find your progress slows down.
This is because intensive reading doesn’t offer a lot of exposure to the language in the way extensive reading does.
And yet, we know that exposure to a language on a regular basis is key to acquiring the language faster and improving your overall level of understanding.
Interesting and level-appropriate reading material can help keep you get engaged and motivated while gaining exposure to spoken and written German.
Best of all, there are lots of different options for what to read. These can be short stories, novels, or books on topics that interest you.
You’ll have to accept the fact that you won’t understand every word in the beginning. But, although it can be frustrating and awkward at first, reading in German gets easier with practice.
Remember, the goal is to read as much as possible, each time improving your comprehension a little bit more.
It may be intimidating to start reading in German, as you'll inevitably encounter words you don't know. Imagine, for example, you start reading a book and come across the word Schneeeule.
You’d probably think the writer had a good sneeze and failed to notice his typo, or perhaps you’re seeing double. German is known for long words that seem hard to pronounce.
However, it’s usually not too difficult to understand words by breaking them down.
In German, it’s helpful to learn the meanings of prefixes and suffixes, which will enable you to decode any word.
Take the word Schneeeule, for example. This is an interesting word you could easily come across in any work of fiction. If we break the word down, we can see that this word is a logical combination of two shorter words:
All of a sudden, a seemingly unknown word is actually quite simple.
However, we don’t need to do this for every word of a story. We just need to understand the meaning of the most important words.
As long as you can get the core meaning and follow the gist of what you’re reading, you don’t need to be worried about every tiny detail.
Here are a few more suggestions for practices to adopt when reading in German:
Finally, if you absolutely need to know the meaning of a word, try to deduce the meaning by breaking the word down. This allows you to be more engaged with the material and have a better chance of remembering the word in the future.
Follow these tips whenever you start reading a German text and you’ll improve your reading comprehension and language skills substantially.
The most difficult part will probably be resisting the urge to look up words in the dictionary. Try to learn new vocabulary through context, when possible, to gain confidence. The more you practice, the easier it will get.
Of course, at a beginner or intermediate level, you probably don’t want to start reading books by German philosophers.
Instead, try short stories and other easy books. They should still offer challenges, but shouldn’t be so difficult that you don’t understand anything.
Stories should also be compelling to read and involve interesting plots. The more you lose yourself in the story, the more you focus on the meaning rather than on the grammar or the unknown words.
That’s why I’ve put together a list of some of the best German storybooks for those looking for engaging reading material. The following books will leave you with a feeling of achievement as you progress through stories suitable for beginner and intermediate level students.
I’m such a believer in the power of story and reading as a learning tool that I decided to write a series of short story books myself! This book contains 280 pages of unconventional German short stories that are perfect for A1-B1 levels.
Each of the stories in the book is designed to be fun and engaging with just the right amount of new vocabulary. I’ve also included regular comprehension questions and summaries to help you along the way.
The language is conversational and natural, and manageable chapters, combined with a gentle introduction of new grammar will have you enjoying reading in German from the very beginning.
I took this story concept even further with the creation of my German Uncovered course. Instead of learning through textbooks and grammar rules, you go from beginner to intermediate in German by immersing yourself in an intriguing story.
I've developed this more natural approach to language learning through years of language study and experimentation. And now I've put all my knowledge together in German Uncovered so you can learn though story too. Check it out here.
This is a classic book for beginner and intermediate German language learners.
Published in 1929, it’s a well-known German children’s book about a young boy who leaves his small town to travel to Berlin.
The story contains realistic characters and descriptions of the world of crime, art, and cabaret during the Weimar Republic. This is a must-read for German language beginners.
Known in English as “The Never Ending Story”, this book by Michael Ende tells a fantasy tale that many of us are already familiar with.
Reading books with stories you recognize can present a great opportunity to improve your German skills.
If you’re interested in fantasy literature, this book offers a perfect chance to become familiar with commonly used vocabulary of the genre.
This is another fascinating story written by the author Michael Ende. He was one of the most popular German writers of the 20th century and well-known for his juvenile fiction.
Although originally written for teenagers, this novel is just as exciting for adults.
This strange story of time-thieves and the child who brought stolen time back to the people is an excellent (and very entertaining!) read for German language students.
Also known as “Metamorphosis” this book is a literary classic from Franz Kafka.
He uses simple grammar and short sentences, which makes this book perfect for German beginners.
The plot is somewhat unusual too – telling the story of a salesman who wakes up one day to find he has been transformed into an insect.
The vocabulary is relatively simple, and the story is easy to follow making this a great work of fiction that all German language students need to read.
This modern German classic was written by the Swiss author, Max Frisch.
Its interesting story and relatively basic grammar and vocabulary make this novel great for beginner learners.
The story follows the life of an engineer who values rational and practical thinking. However, an exciting chain of events forces him to reconsider his view on life.
Beginniner and intermediate language students will find this story compelling and without too many grammatical challenges along the way.
This classic detective story can be translated as “The Judge and his Hangman”.
It was written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt in 1950 and is classic reading material for intermediate German students.
The story is easy to understand and uses straightforward grammar. This novel is perfect for those who want to practice learning vocabulary through context.
These are just a few of many excellent books to help you start reading in German. So what are you waiting for?
Take your pick and find yourself a comfy place where you can sit down and relax as you practice your German reading skills.
By following the tips I’ve given you in this article and dedicating time to reading, you’ll improve your German skills in no time. And you’ll get to enjoy a good story or two along the way as well!
Viel Spaß beim Lesen!
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