Wish there were some sort of “training wheels” to help you learn to read in German?
Look no further!
Bilingual books will forever change the way you learn German.
More than anything in the world, reading great bilingual books can offer you an unbelievable fluency boost.
When you read these books, entertainment and intellectual enrichment help you learn German in ways that only exposure to real-life language can.
And the beauty of it all is that you don’t really need to “study” to learn German this way. Simply find a book you love, read and look at the English text whenever you feel lost or don’t know an important word.
Below we’ll show you exactly how to maximize your learning with German-English bilingual books, plus seven awesome sites for finding these types of books online.
Advantages of Reading German-English Bilingual Books
- A more dynamic and pleasurable experience. Be honest, if you had to look in the dictionary while trying to wade through Kafka or Goethe, how long would you last? Bilingual books offer target language reading without the stress of the unknown.
- A deeper understanding of German sentence structure. A great translation can sometimes carry much more meaning and understanding than the best grammar and vocabulary lessons. Bilingual reading ultimately rewires your brain to think like a native speaker, helping you understand the differences between sentence and text structure in each language.
- A wider cultural view. Whenever great books are involved, there’s a welcome element of cultural enrichment that can make your experience more meaningful.
- A richer vocabulary. Bilingual reading is one of the most efficient tools for vocabulary acquisition. Thanks to context and repetition, new words can be both learned and remembered with greater ease. Recent research has even shown that reading bilingual books activates areas of your brain that make the acquisition of new language easier and more efficient.
How to Use German-English Bilingual Books to Raise Your Level
There are many techniques you can use to maximize your reading of bilingual books. From making detailed notes to using audiobooks, there are countless ways to use great bilingual texts to take your German to the next level.
Here are a couple to try out:
- Read the English version first. This way that you can naturally acquire new language when you read the German version. This is a great technique for beginners reading intermediate texts, for intermediate learners tackling advanced texts and for advanced learners tackling difficult original texts.
- Make notes of useful phrases, connectors and vocabulary. Specifically, look for words to later use in your own written texts. Classify them in categories and keep a separate file for each one of them. Keeping a collection of connectors, for example, with sample sentences from these books is especially useful to make your speech and writing more articulate.
You can create personal lists and glossaries that you can then easily refer to when writing or preparing oral presentations. Some useful categories you can track are words/phrases to express opinions and feelings, to agree or disagree, to describe people and places, useful connectors for telling stories and for organizing essays. Mainly, classify what you find in categories that make sense to you, and not the way you would find them in a grammar book.
- Choose e-books to use text-to-speech features. This will help you to learn the pronunciation of new words. You can also use audiobooks for this, which can offer a more life-like rendering than single-word pronunciations and intonation. If you choose classic texts, free audiobooks are generally available from sources like Librivox and Openculture.
- Use new vocabulary and grammar soon after reading. Using such words and grammatical constructs in your own language production while it’s fresh in your memory will greatly help it stick for good. No matter how many times you’ve encountered an expression, it only becomes unforgettable when you’ve made it your own.A great way to achieve this is by writing several words and phrases from different categories (verbs, adjectives, adverbs, connectors, nouns, etc.) on a piece of paper. Then, pick one word from each category and try to write a sentence/string of sentences using them all. Repeat this until you feel like you’re familiar with all the new expressions.
Another great way to get this kind of practice is with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
With adaptive exercises based on each video you watch, and immediate feedback, FluentU lets you practice your new grammar and vocab right away. Why not give it a try with a free trial?
- Compare and analyze long complex sentence structures. This may require a bit of work, but simply paying attention to the placement of different elements within a sentence can be super helpful. As an exercise, you can name each element of a sentence you find (subject, verb, objects, complements, adverbs, etc.) and make diagrams for both the German original and the English translation.
Then, observe what has moved and what’s in the same position for both languages. Often, once you’ve encountered the same pattern several times, you may have learned it, even if you haven’t made notes about it. On the other hand, when something doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s a great idea to resort to formal grammar. It’s the combination of natural language acquisition and understanding of the rules that govern the language which can pave the road to proficiency.
- Read a sentence in German and guess the meaning of any unknowns. Using context to figure out the meaning of new words is actually much more memorable than turning straight to the English, because it’s like solving a puzzle. You can do the same with full sentences, trying to translate them yourself first and then checking it against the English translation.
Make a note of common mistakes you made in your assumptions, so that you can rewire your brain to go in the right direction. This can be great for any level of learner, as long as the level of the German text presents some degree of challenge for you.
7 Fabulous Sources of German-English Bilingual Books to Boost Your Fluency
1. Edition Bilibri
Edition Bilibri offers several bilingual children’s books that can be great for beginners looking to learn some basic vocabulary. The collection includes a book on a trip to the supermarket, “Im Supermarkt” (At the supermarket), another one on a trip to the zoo, animal stories and various short stories with inspiring messages.
Many of the books in the collection come complete with audio versions in either CD or MP3 format.
2. European Bookshop
European Bookshop’s bilingual titles for beginners go from a book to learn the colors to some world-famous fables, such as “Der Fuchs und die Trauben” (The Fox and the Grapes), and a retelling of the story of the Loch Ness Monster entitled “Der kleine MacNessie” (Little MacNessie).
3. Linda’s Page
Linda’s Page offers a selection of bilingual classics by both international and German authors. Audio files for all the books are available from Librivox. The full collection, which includes Hesse’s “Siddhartha” and Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” can be downloaded here.
Simply scroll to the bottom of Linda’s Page to find the “Download links” heading. Click on the geman.rar file and download it. Unzip it to discover bilingual versions of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Kafka’s “The Trial” and “The Metamorphosis,” alongside the works mentioned above.
4. Language Lizard
Language Lizard is a great source of bilingual audiobooks and picture books for children. Titles include the popular “My Daddy Is a Giant” and the charming “Farmer Duck,” among many others.
When selecting titles on Language Lizard, you’ll have the option of choosing your language pair. So make sure to choose German-English from the drop-down menu or you might end up with an Arabic-French version you would have very little use for!
Doppeltext is a prime source for bilingual electronic texts of classic German authors. One of the stars of the collection is Kafka’s “Die Verwandlung” (The Metamorphosis).
Works by Goethe, Nietzsche and other German masters are also available. If you love the philosophical depth of classic German literature, Doppeltext is the place for you.
Bilinguis offers bilingual versions of some of the greatest English classics by authors like Sawyer, Carroll and Doyle, as well as some international classics by Kafka and Verne.
The collection includes one of my personal favorites, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which does sound amazing in German, in case you were wondering.
Amazon has a “bilingual books” category on their online store with numerous titles to choose from.
If you want to start with one of the most popular books, choose “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes adventure by Conan Doyle. The bilingual text is impeccable, and there’s nothing like a good mystery to keep you interested in understanding the language.
Bilingual books for German language learners are available in all shapes and colors. Choose children’s books or picture books if you’re a beginner, and move on to more complex texts starting at the intermediate level. Don’t be afraid to delve into a complex text if you haven’t yet attained proficiency—you’ll simply have more available to learn!
Sometimes the positive effects of immersing yourself in a German text can have more to do with understanding the logic of the language than with learning individual words or phrases. If you pick a great book, this can be one of the most fun ways to boost your fluency.