Imagine walking through the streets of Munich in August.
Chatter of Oktoberfest is in the air.
You toss a stone in the bubbling River Isar, stop by a local restaurant and maybe even learn about some science at the Deutsches Museum.
Wouldn’t it be nice to speak a little German throughout your adventure?
Asking directions or ordering from a menu in German makes you feel like part of the atmosphere, and it’s always nice to hold a conversation to advance your own German language skills.
The best books to learn German may hold the key to your troubles, since they are easy to carry around during your travels, provide wonderful quizzes and offer educational tools for brushing up on German.
Oh yeah, and it’s always easier to open a book at a restaurant or museum, as opposed to a computer.
Why Read Books to Learn German?
Think about all of the options you have for learning a new language like German. From chatting with native speakers through Skype to flipping through flashcards on your smartphone, the chances to learn are endless, but few of them offer the advantages that good old fashioned reading provides.
To start, reading German books help simulate classroom learning. I remember reading “The Catcher in the Rye” back in school, and it made my English education that much more enjoyable, because the book was fun and we had a chance to discuss it with others.
Not to mention, many of these books come packed with learning materials (worksheets, grammar guides and flashcards) and CDs to improve your listening and pronunciation skills. Along with that, the authors are experienced instructors and German speakers, giving you connections with people who live and breathe German every day.
The final reason for reading German books is my favorite. Books are mobile! It’s not always reasonable (or safe) to drag a laptop with you while traveling, so tossing a book in your backpack provides fun learning that you can pull out on a plane, while at a restaurant or even while chatting with friends.
At the same time, being able to access books on a smaller device like a Kindle or iPad can be super convenient, and resources like VitalSource make it possible to shop for German learning books with exactly that kind of convenience in mind. On VitalSource, you can access your purchases on the Bookshelf app, which allows you to store all your learning books (dictionaries, textbooks, grammar books) together.
How to Choose the Right German Learning Books for You
When was the last time you were at a library? How about browsing through Amazon? It doesn’t matter what type of book you’re looking for, because it’s sometimes almost easier to just close your eyes and grab the first one your fingers touch. My point is, the world is filled with books, and German learning books are no different.
How do you choose from this vast selection of German books? Well, it’s a three-step approach.
- Level: Start with an inner evaluation of your German language knowledge. Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced learner? Some German books cater to all of these groups, but you can cut down the selection for many.
- Age: Next, think about your age. Some German books are only designed for children, with cartoon images and simpler learning procedures. On the other hand, a teenage girl might not learn the exact same way as a 60-year-old man.
- Goals: You should also compile a list of goals you want to achieve by learning German with a book. Are you looking for fluency? Do you just need to get by for your two-week trip to Berlin? Write down these goals to connect them with the proper books.
That said, keep reading to learn about the best books to learn German.
6 Best Books to Learn German: Reading for Ravenous Language Learners
1. “The Everything Learning German Book: Speak, Write and Understand Basic German in No Time” by Ed Swick
“The Everything Learning German Book” is for the basic German learner who wants to fluently ask about the beer selection at Oktoberfest. Learn simple phrases like Wie viel kostet der Käse? (How much does the cheese cost?) or Ich möchte ein Berliner, bitte (I want a Berliner, please).
The standout advantage in this book is the included CD for improving your pronunciation and listening to how native speakers use the German language. It comes with easy to understand exercises and everything from basic introductions to verb conversations.
The guide is not for the more advanced users, but if you just started in your quest for German fluency, it explains similarities between English and German to make your learning easier.
2. “Living German” by Ed Swick
There comes a point when flipping through flashcards just doesn’t cut it. You want to live the German language and immerse yourself in the culture, people and events. That’s where “Living German” comes in.
The comprehensive book puts a focus on brushing up on the current German you already know. It’s for interacting with people and living with your German knowledge and not just struggling through conversations.
Don’t go through the horrible experience of practicing your German and then fighting to find the right words in conversation. The book uses a traditional approach with grammatical foundations, translation skills and practical vocabulary. Its exercise key lets you check your answers, and the CD helps with alternating between talking and listening.
The key advantage is that the book offers real-world examples and dialogues that drop you into authentic German situations.
3. “German Made Simple: Learn to Speak and Understand German Quickly and Easily” by Eugene Jackson and Adolph Geiger
The “German Made Simple” book is the ideal option if you consider yourself a self-learner. It caters to learning the basics, but the goal is to pick up common phrases fast.
The popular book includes various reading exercises so you can flex your own translation muscles, and the pronunciation guide provides guidance on saying words the right way.
Common expressions are nice for the traveler in you, and the review exercises test your knowledge. Don’t forget to check the answers in the back when you’re done!
4. “Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage” (Fifth Edition) by Professor Martin Durrell
Here’s what all of you advanced German learners have been waiting for. “Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage” takes a deep look into German grammar to challenge intermediate and advanced learners. The grammar examples are taken from contemporary German, so your speaking relates to the world we live in today.
If you plan on writing in German, this guide is ready to assist, since it covers spelling reform and current spellings that have evolved over time to mean different things. The book maintains a clear format with lucid descriptions for you to imagine situations and items in your mind. It breaks down common usage forms, so you know exactly when to use certain words in the formal and informal forms.
A key component is the grammar reference area which allows you to check back in to see if you are using words properly.
For an all-in-one German language learning book, go with “Living Language German,” since it presents an easily digestible guide for everyone from beginners to advanced German speakers. It’s one of the more comprehensive options, where you can start with knowing nothing and graduate to a fluent speaker.
“Living Language German” is packaged with three books, nine audio CDs and an online training course, so you have the chance to learn through all mediums.
The reading and education materials are based on linguistic science, proven techniques, and over 65 years of experience. Not to mention, the publisher uses the trademarked Living Language Method, which includes four steps: Building a Foundation, Progress with Confidence, Retaining What You’ve Learned and Achieving Your Goals.
6. “Learn German with Stories: Café in Berlin” by André Klein
Reading a bunch of language guides gets repetitive, so why not dive into a few short stories written in German? The “Learn German with Stories: Cafe in Berlin” book is written for beginners, and it compiles 10 short stories to improve engagement and keep people motivated.
Learn about the German country and its people by following around intriguing characters, like a young man who just moved to Berlin from Sicily. The man encounters romances, strange living situations and more. The book provides intriguing plot lines and controversies, making the reader wonder how he will handle his language and figure out how to live in a new country without his family, friends and familiar surroundings.
You receive a nicely formatted table of contents to skip around to different stories, and the introduction explains how you should use the stories for your own learning, how to use the in-book dictionary and how the author came up with the stories.
Interacting with the heart of the German language takes practice, and your options are endless, from German audiobooks to online courses, but nothing beats a solid book. Not only can you find them for relatively cheap (and sometimes used), but many of the German books outlined above come in e-book format for those with tablets and Kindles.
That said, keep up the learning and integrate these books into your current training regimen. The authors are experts, and the books provide wonderful ways to have fun and learn about the German language.
And One More Thing…
Remember, you don’t have to go in blind.
You don’t have to start from books when you’re first learning to read in German. In fact, you don’t even need to start from short stories.
You can start with a three-minute clip of authentic German.
How does watching videos help you with your reading? Simple! With FluentU, every video is a way to practice reading (and listening and comprehension and…).
That’s because every FluentU video comes with a transcript, subtitles with translations that you can easily turn on or off and so much more.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday German by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles.
Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.
For example, if you tap the word “bereit,” this is what you’d see:
Once you’ve watched a video, you can use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
FluentU will even keep track of all the German words you’ve learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know. Plus, it’ll tell you exactly when it’s time for review. Now that’s a 100% personalized experience!
Joe Warnimont is a blogger and adventure-seeker. When not riding his bike around Chicago, you can find him sprucing up his German skills. He has watched “Run Lola Run” about ten too many times.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.