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One of the surest ways to become disillusioned with learning a language is to focus on one resource alone. That’s why I advise language learners not rely too heavily on textbooks and look elsewhere for ways to improve their knowledge.
Anyone wanting to become fluent in German should be continually looking for methods to build three key skills – listening, speaking and reading. There are endless ways and opportunities to enhance these skills, with many resources available online.
As far as reading goes, there are many methods available for use, to build upon your vocabulary and learn German fast. From novels, to plays, non-fiction texts and children’s stories, there is something for anyone, no matter what their learning level or interests.
German Newspapers and Magazines
Newspapers can be easily accessed online, often without a subscription. They offer an insight into the political climate, current affairs, sport and culture. They’re also written in Standard German, making them accessible even for those at the early stages of learning German.
German News in Simple Language
Nachrichtenleicht, or “News Easily” is a website that aims to make news uncomplicated. Every week they publish articles about world politics, sport and human-interest stories, in simple language. They omit long, difficult words, embrace shorter sentence structure and are largely concerned with presenting information as plainly as possible.
This service is designed for people with language difficulties, making it ideal for anyone wanting to learn German online. You can build upon your knowledge of current affairs within Germany and expand on your knowledge of the language, at a level that’s suitable for beginners.
Germany’s Most Widely Circulated Magazine
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine, with a circulation of more than one million. Likened to Time, it is known across German-speaking countries for its investigative journalism and is cited as being one of Central Europe’s most influential magazines. It’s for intermediate to advanced learners, and will give you exposure to high level German language. If you are unable to gain access to a hard copy print of the magazine, check out the articles featured on Spiegel.de.
News for Younger Readers
Neon targets a younger audience, using an aesthetically pleasing spread and covering topics ranging from cultural issues, to band write ups.
You’ll even find a section entitled Useless Knowledge, which contains random gems of information. For example, German language learners who also own bars will be delighted to discover that “Guests in a premises where the music is 88 decibels loud drink more than guests at a bar with 72 decibels.” Get that music pumping!
Online German Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias
It never hurts to have a dictionary on hand when learning a language, whether in hard copy, or online. The following resources may help in adding to your vocab list or deciphering the meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases.
In case you didn’t know, the world’s most famous online encyclopaedia is available in German. Navigate to the German version to read articles on just about anything you fancy! Although most information found on Wikipedia should be taken with a grain of salt, it still makes for good German reading practice. Also make sure to click “Deutsch” on the left navigation if you find yourself reading an article in English!
Hurraki is an German online dictionary that works in a similar vein to Wikipedia, with an emphasis on plain language. It is an online community where people are able to add and edit articles in simple German. The website is designed to be easy to reference and read.
A brilliant way to get German reading practice is to re-read books you have already read in your native language. By picking books that are already familiar to you, you may find it easier to translate the stories and keep in the loop with what is going on.
If you grew up devoted to the Harry Potter series and devoured the books in your youth, why not try reading them in German? You can pick up the German versions by searching for Harry Potter German Edition on Amazon.com. As the story will be familiar to you, you will find it easier to translate what it is you are reading. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Harry Potter – any English book whose story you have committed to memory will make for perfect German reading practice.
If you wish to delve deeper into the world of German culture, take up the challenge of reading novels written by German speaking authors. Franz Kafka was a famous novelist of the 20th century, publishing both books and short stories . Die Verwandlung or The Metamorphosis is one of his most celebrated novels, that can be purchased in a dual-language format.
Siddhartha is a story by Hermann Hesse, similar to the book The Alchemist with its theme of self-discovery and written in a style that is simple and lyrical. It too can be bought online as a dual-language book, making it ideal for intermediate learners.
Cornelia Funke has been referred to as Germany’s version of J.K. Rowling, penning fantasy tales for young adults. Tintenherz or Inkheart is the first book of a trilogy about a young girl and her father, who have the ability to bring characters to life by reading a story aloud. Chaos ensues!
German Short Stories
If the idea of reading an entire novel in a foreign language is a bit too overwhelming for you at this point in your language education, consider reading short stories instead.
Germany Through the Eyes of a Newcomer
Café in Berlin is a collection of ten short stories, which follow the life of a young man from Sicily who has just moved to Berlin. It explores the daily life in the German capital, offering insights about the country and people from a foreign perspective.
The text is targeted at beginners and aims to help language learners build upon their knowledge of isolated words and phrases, to understanding how these can be worked into sentences.
Essays Covering Life in Berlin
Wladimir Kaminer is a Russian-born German short story writer. After emigrating to Berlin in 1990, Kaminer immersed himself in the city’s art and literature scenes.
Although Russian is his first language, his entire literary output is in German. In describing what it is he writes about, Kaminer claims to make notes about the world, the past, present and future, social reality and life observed through the eyes of a migrant.
His first book Russian Disco, is a series of short, autobiographical essays about life in Berlin just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Use this book as a resource for German reading practice, as well as a direct account of what life was like during one of the most exciting and rapidly changing times in modern German history.
German Children’s Stories
If reading a novel or a short story for adults seems too advanced at this stage in your learning, consider using children’s books instead. They’re more likely to use simple words and sentences, making them easy to understand. And illustrations can help you get to grips with what’s going on even if you don’t understand every word.
The Brothers Grimm
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics who collected and published folktales during the 19th century. Their stories, which include the likes of Aschenputtel (Cinderella), Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty) and Hänsel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel), have been turned into films by Walt Disney and, more darkly, were used as propaganda by the Third Reich. The Grimm Brothers' original stories are still popular at bedtime – the words of watered down versions of the tales, told to children by parents world over with the hopes of carrying them off to sleep!
The Grimm Brothers' folk stories are tales many of you would have grown up both reading and having read to you. This makes them an excellent resource for building upon your reading skills in German.
As the original stories are no longer copyrighted, there are resources available online which feature dual language versions of stories such as Little Red Riding Hood. Take this opportunity to give yourself a German language lesson! Read the text in German, while referring to the English translation. One you are across the German text, try taking a short quiz to test your knowledge.
Max and Moritz
Lesser known in the English-speaking world is the children’s book, Max and Moritz (A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks), originally titled Max und Moritz – Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen. Written and illustrated by Wilhelm Busch and published in 1865, it is a humorous tale told in rhyming couplets. The book is well known and adored across German-speaking countries and remains a popular choice for bedtime stories for not yet literate children.
The book covers seven pranks that Max and Moritz – tormentors and troublemakers – play on their unsuspecting family members, teachers and acquaintances. As this text is also available within the public domain, the original German version and English translated text can be found online. You have the option of reading each trick in German, English or you can refer to the dual language option. Continue to test your German language knowledge with a series of quizzes on the text.
German-English Poems and Plays
Once you’ve reached a more advanced level of learning, you can look to German poems and plays to build your German skills.
Dual language books are a helpful resource in this regard. You can read them as a standalone text, while having the English version readily available for when you come across words or phrases you don’t fully understand.
If you have an interest in poetry, start with a dual-language book that features the poems of many renowned German poets, alongside the English translations.
For those looking to get more specific try reading the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His poems have been translated and appear in dual language books. Fun fact – the Goethe Institut, an operation that promotes the study of the German language abroad, is named after him!
Der Besuch der Alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady) is a tragicomedy written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The play is about a wealthy woman who returns to her former hometown seeking vengeance. She wants the townspeople to rally together to kill the man who abandoned her, in exchange for money.
The printed version of this play features the full German text on one page, accompanied by the English translation and notes on the next page. The book also has an extended vocabulary at the back and a detailed introduction in English, explaining the social and historical context of the piece.