Learning a new language is boring.
That is, it can be boring — but only if you approach it the wrong way.
But here’s the thing — it never has to be!
Many German learners get stuck trying to tackle classic literature in their new language.
Remember when you were learning your native language as a child?
You devoured new books and stories voraciously.
You were learning a language but it didn’t feel like work. You were so excited about the new characters, places, stories and information you were getting from books, you didn’t even realize that your brain was doing heavy lifting!
The trick to learning a new language is to replicate that childhood excitement that helped you learn your mother tongue. Meaty characters and juicy plots can do a lot to spice up the language learning process.
If you immerse yourself in an enthralling story written in German, suddenly studying will seem a lot less like work and a lot more like fun. You won’t be tempted to quit German before you can say more than “auf Wiedersehen.”
Are There Fun German Books for Lower Level Learners?
The short answer is: yes. One option is to read a German children’s book, either written originally in German or translated from another language into Deutsch.
But perhaps you don’t find yourself totally enthralled by hungry caterpillars. In that case, there are other options besides books for children.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Many classics of German literature are available as abridged books. These shortened versions are revised to keep the original plot and characters intact, but with simpler grammar and vocabulary to make them easier for beginner readers.
The Benefits of Abridged German Classic Books
There are several reasons why reading an abridged version of a classic German book will set you on the road to becoming the next Goethe.
1. Abridged books have simple grammar and vocabulary.
Abridged classics are almost always rewritten specifically for language learners. They contain specific grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure tailored for your level, intended to play to your knowledge while simultaneously challenging you to take the next steps.
2. Abridged books are based on traditional German stories.
Reading an abridged classic book will allow you to practice your language skills while simultaneously learning a story that’s part of German culture, which will help you relate to Germans you meet and interact with.
Plus, reading a book about Germans and Germany will help you pick up information about the country’s history and cultural norms.
3. You might end up reading the full book, too.
If you like the book you’ve chosen, great. Use your love of the story as further motivation to learn German, so you can learn the full tale by reading the complete text a few months down the line.
Best Methods for Reading and Studying Abridged Classic Books
The process is pretty much the same for abridged books as it is for reading and studying any book in a foreign language.
When consuming media in a foreign language, it’s important to do so strategically. Make a study plan for reading so that you ensure you get the most out of the experience as possible. The following steps should help you read with a purpose and emerge with a greater knowledge of German.
1. Keep your dictionary handy.
If you come across a word you don’t know, don’t just skim past it or assume you figured out its meaning based on context clues. Honestly, you probably didn’t. Look it up in the dictionary, get its exact meaning, and avoid those embarrassing false cognate misuse mistakes when you’re talking to your German friends later (you don’t want to assume that bald describes someone with no hair).
2. Make a list and check it twice (or three times).
When you encounter unknown vocabulary, write the word down along with its definition. Check this list every chapter or so. Rewrite each word five or ten times to make it stick in your memory. This will both make your reading experience easier going forward (as you’ll likely run into the same vocabulary over and over again) and will ensure that you’re learning these new words for keeps.
3. Find the book in audio format.
Learning to read is important, but learning to understand is even more important in many circumstances. Find your chosen book in audio format as well. After you finish each chapter, listen to it a few times. Since you know all of the vocabulary, you’ll be able to focus on picking out words and growing accustomed to the German cadence.
4. Lose yourself in the story.
Although you should treat your reading experience as an opportunity to study and learn, you should also remember to enjoy it. Allow yourself to get swept up in the story’s twists and turns, and to become invested in characters. That way, your studying won’t feel like studying at all.
4 Abridged Classic German Books That Hold Concentrated Learning Power
Now that you know the most effective ways to learn German through reading, it’s time to pick your book. The following four books are classic German, Swiss and Austrian tales, simplified for the German language learner.
1. “Bergkristall” by Adalbert Stifter
This is a classic Austrian novella about two village children lost on a glacier on Christmas Eve. It’s available simplified to an A2 level.
The book recounts a suspenseful story in which two children, Sanna and Konrad, attempt to travel home from their grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve, become lost in a snowstorm and spend the night in the wilderness wondering if they’ll ever see their family again.
This book will give you a taste of what life was like in the Austrian Alps in the 19th century—plus, it’ll teach you all the vocabulary you’ll need for traveling in Germany’s beautiful mountain regions.
2. “Münchhausens Abenteuer” by G. A. Bürger
Ever heard of Münchhausen syndrome, the disorder where a person makes up fabulous lies about themselves for attention?
That syndrome was named after Baron Münchhausen, a fictional character based on a real baron and his exploits in the 17th century. In “Münchhausens Abenteuer,” which is available in level A1/A2, Münchhausen kills a lion by forcing a crocodile to eat it, hires a man who pulls down an entire forest with a rope and then travels the whole world. There’s never a dull moment in his tall tale style adventures.
3. “Das doppelte Lottchen” by Erich Kästner
This book, about twins who are separated at birth, meet as young adults at summer camp, and scheme to get their parents back together, has inspired dozens of movie adaptations. In the original story, the twin girls, named Lottie and Lisa, come from Munich and Vienna, and switch places at the end of the summer so they can experience each others’ lives. Hijinks ensue. Even if you never saw the 1998 movie “Parent Trap,” this story is sure to captivate your attention and your heart.
4. “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri
Remember the Shirley Temple film version of “Heidi”?
Whether you do or don’t, this classic story of a young girl named Heidi growing up in the Swiss mountains will certainly either remind you of childhood memories or introduce you to an integral classic German tale. Like “Bergkristall,” this story introduces plenty of vocabulary that’s sure to be helpful if you travel in one of the mountainous Germanic regions.
Tackle these abridged classics, learn the vocabulary and pay attention to the grammar. If you do, you’ll be well on your way to the next level of German. Once you make it there, take a gander at this list of full-length German classics you can’t miss.
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