Let’s face it. Learning a language on your own is tough.
How do you know where to begin?
Where can you find learning material?
How can you test yourself?
Where do you get explanations for concepts you don’t understand?
Clearly, there’s a lot that can go wrong when learning German.
This is where a good textbook can save you.
Why Use German Textbooks
Textbooks aren’t written by any old dummy. They’re written by the pros: highly educated native speakers and experienced teachers. The entire job of the authors is to help you become fluent, and they know the best methods and exercises to help you learn. This is one area where classroom learning has the advantage. Students are guided by a (hopefully) skilled teacher, using (hopefully) high-quality materials. But even if you’re self-studying, you can get many of the same benefits out of a good textbook. Even if you’re already touring through Germany with a “learn by osmosis” attitude towards the language, you’ll benefit from the guidance of an expert-designed curriculum.
How to Choose Which German Textbook is Right for You
There are hundreds of German language textbooks out there. A single publishing company may have dozens and dozens of titles. It can be overwhelming. Which one is right for you?
First, think of your level. Are you a beginner (A1-A2), intermediate (B1-B2) or more advanced (C1-C2)? It does you no good to have an advanced textbook if you’re still learning the difference between nominative and accusative. It doesn’t help to have a beginner’s book if you’re nearly fluent, either.
Next, think of your goal. Why are you learning German? Do you want to be able to hold a general conversation? Are you studying German for a specific purpose, perhaps for university studies or travel? Are you just working on your grammar? Each textbook has a slightly different focus.
Lastly, think of your age. There are books for kids and there are books for older learners. You can learn equally well from each one, but you might feel a little silly while doing so.
You may also want to consider checking out VitalSource, a site where you can rent or buy e-books. They have German textbooks, workbooks, phrasebooks, readers and more, and you can access all your purchases on a single platform, making using multiple books in your German studies easy and convenient.
6 Classic German Textbooks Everyone Knows
These are the classics, some of the best-known titles in Germany and the United States. These books, and others from the same publishers, are a sampling of the tried and true standards of German as a foreign language. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
“Deutsch Aktuell” (literally “Current German”) is one of the most popular German textbooks in American high schools.
Each chapter focuses on a theme, such as sports or ordering food, while tying each theme to an overall story with a regular cast of characters. Students using “Deutsch Aktuell” hold onto memories of these characters for years thanks to the book’s accompanying video series, Treffpunkt Berlin, available free at the publisher’s website. With three levels to choose from, “Deutsch Aktuell” will give you a solid basis of beginner German.
2. Komm mit!
“Komm mit!” (“Come Along”) is another U.S. high school favorite, often used in place of “Deutsch Aktuell” or alongside it, depending on school districts’ contracts and teachers’ preferences.
As with “Deutsch Aktuell,” each chapter centers on a specific theme, with grammar reinforced along the way. A used hardback copy in good condition will only run about $10 on Amazon, but you should look into the supplemental materials as well, especially the CDs. You can’t learn pronunciation from a book alone.
As its title implies, this book is best for students who already have a basic understanding of German and are heading into their second or third year of study. Unlike “Deutsch Aktuell” and “Komm mit!,” however, this book is for straight-up grammar review.
It is made up of many short modules with exercises to help you review a variety of grammatical forms, but these modules are not linked by any flashy themes or compelling stories. “German Second and Third Years” is kind of ancient, but the grammar rules haven’t changed much in the meantime. Since the book has remained relatively unaltered in the last twenty years, you can easily find a $2 used copy online if you don’t want to order a new copy. The old ones are just as good!
“Mittelpunkt” (“Middle Point”) comes from the German publisher Klett, and as such might be easier to order online than to find in a bookstore.
Klett’s materials are largely designed for the German as a second language market within Germany, helping foreigners from a variety of language backgrounds learn German. As a result, “Mittelpunkt” and most other Klett books use no English at all; concepts are explained in simple German and by way of examples. This makes “Mittelpunkt” an excellent choice for intermediate and advanced learners who want to fully immerse themselves in the German language, without using English as a crutch. Chapters include intriguing discussion topics with a variety of exercises, many of which mirror exercises seen on major German exams such as the TestDaF and DSH.
“Lehr- und Übungsbuch der deutschen Grammatik” (“Teaching and Practice Book of German Grammar”) is not a very sexy name. It’s quicker and easier to refer to this book by its bright yellow cover, and indeed, its publishers use “Die neue Gelbe” (the new yellow) and “Gelbe aktuell” (current yellow) as subtitles to distinguish between its two main editions.
Each one is a standard exercise book for intermediate and advanced German grammar, similar to “German Second and Third Years.” The yellow books are also similar to “Mittelpunkt” in that they are from a German publisher, Hueber Verlag, for the German market – meaning that readers should be comfortable with a full-immersion text.
6. Fit für…
Hueber Verlag has an entire catalog of German language materials, but their test preparation books truly stand out.
If you’re looking for a textbook to help you prepare for a major German certification exam such as the Goethe-Institut tests, look no further. The “Fit für…” (“Fit for…”) series contains practice tests and study strategies for most major exams, similar to SAT and ACT prep books in the United States. Again, the text is entirely in German, but isn’t fluency your goal anyway?
Combining German-learning Resources
Chances are, your teachers never made you work from just one book all year long. You had extra worksheets and readings (often pulled from other books), videos, audio recordings, or maybe even some online resources. Your self-study attempts should take the same approach.
Sample widely and never rely on just one book to teach you everything. Pair “Deutsch Aktuell” with “Second and Third Years,” or mix “Mittelpunkt” with “Die neue Gelbe,” or combine all of the above.
And don’t forget to add FluentU to the mix—there’s no replacement for seeing the words you’re learning being spoken by real Germans in music videos and TV shows!
The huge diversity of content guarantees that you’ll find content you love to learn with. We’ve got everything from grammar lessons and YouTube language instructors’ videos to vintage Volkswagen advertisements, yoga videos and the trailer for “Maleficent.”
Love the idea of watching fun German videos, but need some help understanding them? FluentU’s interactive transcripts bring native videos within reach.
Just tap on any subtitled word to see an in-context definition, usage examples and a helpful illustration.
You can probably already tell that FluentU isn’t just for watching videos.
It’s a complete language learning program which provides plenty of tools to actively practice your German vocabulary and grammar, like interactive subtitles, flashcards, vocabulary lists and more.
Even the flashcards are unique, allowing you to get context from video clips and play games like “fill in the blank.”
Integrate FluentU into your German language learning routine to bring textbook information to life and to push yourself farther, faster.
Whether you’re learning German in the classroom, on your own or on-the-go, textbooks provide you with expert-designed structure and a curriculum that’s fun and easy to follow. For just a couple bucks, you can find any of these books used. That’s the extra perk of picking the classics that millions of students have used before you! Mix and match the materials you like, and you’ll be well on your way towards a solid program of study.
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