Kids in Germany grow up with some pretty terrifying bedtime stories.
Sure, they’re familiar with “Cinderella” (Aschenputtel) and “Snow White” (Schneewittchen) but the Grimm Brothers’ original stories are hardly the watered-down, happily-ever-after fairy tales that Disney created for American kids.
Although darker themes are more common in German children’s stories (Kindergeschichten) than the stories you probably grew up with, you can learn German quickly by picking up a few children’s stories auf Deutsch.
Reading German as a newbie isn’t always easy, but if you start with children’s stories or abridged German books instead of jumping into newspapers or full-length novels right away, then you’ll be less likely to get frustrated or experience Deutschlernen fatigue later on.
Warum? You ask.
Think of it this way: Children’s stories are written for young readers who are just starting to learn their own native language.
So whether you’re 6 or 60 when you begin your Deutsch als Fremdsprache (German as a foreign language) learning, you can easily practice reading German with these stories because you’re on the same reading level as a native German-speaking child.
Whether your goal is to become fluent in German by learning German by yourself or you simply want to improve your German vocabulary and learn more about German culture, Kindergeschichten are a great way to quickly improve your reading comprehension.
Why Learn German with Children’s Stories?
If you’re learning German as an adult then at first it may seem silly to read German Märchen (fairy tales) or children’s stories, especially if you’re more interested in business German or reading German newspapers.
But learning a skill takes time, and you can’t go into it expecting to be fluent enough to read an entire issue of Der Spiegel within a month or two of learning German.
Germany’s national Fußball team didn’t win the World Cup in 2014 because of pure talent. It took years and years of training—even simple drills like passing a ball back and forth for hours a day—in order to win.
Similarly, reading Kindergeschichten gives you a solid foundation that will make it easier for you to read more complicated material later on. If you’re not fully convinced, here are a few more reasons why you should learn German through children’s stories:
Learn German grammar in a fun, easy-to-comprehend way
No matter how enthusiastic you are about learning German, chances are you’ll hit a few obstacles when trying to master the grammar (Grammatik).
Mark Twain himself wrote an essay on “The Awful German Language,” in which he bemoans the complexity of long German words and seemingly endless list of grammatical rules that make English grammar look like a breeze by comparison.
Although learning German grammar seems like a daunting task, there are many effective ways to learn Grammatik rules without having to slog through a dull grammar book.
Reading Kindergeschichten can help you organically pick up things such as German word order, punctuation (Zeichensetzung), noun genders (masculine, feminine and neutral), noun cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive), Präpositionen, and so much more!
Through this immersive technique, you’ll be able to learn how German grammar works in practice—rather than reading about a rule and seeing just one example in a textbook—and you’ll have fun while following the story arc.
See verbs in their Präteritum (simple past) forms
In English, the verb forms you use for writing are the same you use for speaking. In German, however, the verb forms you use for writing are in “simple past” tense (das Präteritum) and the verb forms you use for speaking are in “present perfect” tense (das Perfekt).
Here are some examples of both.
Simple past (for written German):
Ich sagte, “Hallo.” (I said “hello.”)
Wir brachten die Keks. (We brought the cookies.)
Present perfect (for spoken German):
Ich habe, “Hallo” gesagt. (I said “hello.”)
Wir haben die Keks gebracht. (We brought the cookies.)
See the difference? Since many language-learning programs focus on conversational German, reading Kindergeschichten can help you learn the Präteritum verb forms as well.
Build your German vocabulary
Even if you’re reading stories meant for German kids between the ages of 3-13, you’ll probably come across a few words you don’t understand.
Although it’s best to read straight through the first time and try to figure out what words mean based on the context of the story, you can go through the text afterwards and look up what each word means (it helps if you’re reading online and can simply copy and paste the word into Google Translate).
Open the door to reading longer novels and newspapers
Although reading Kindergeschichten might seem too simple at first, they really do build a great foundation for reading longer stories in German later on.
There are many German classics that no avid reader should miss, but it helps to fully understand what verbs in the simple past tense look like (as well as German word order) before jumping into more complex material.
4 Steps to Use Children’s Stories to Improve Your Comprehension
If you’re ready to dive into the world of German children’s literature, then here are four steps to maximize your language learning potential while reading.
1. Read straight through
As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s usually best to do the initial read-through without a dictionary by your side.
Why? Because it’ll encourage your brain to try and understand the meanings of unknown words based on the context of the story, rather than stopping every couple minutes to look up a word.
You don’t want to become reliant on a dictionary for everything, and it’s perfectly okay to keep reading even if you can’t figure out what a few words mean.
2. Read through again with a highlighter or notepad
Once you’ve read through a story and you understand the overall plot and characters, your next step is going through it again with a highlighter. Kindergeschichten are relatively short, so you don’t have to worry about wasting too much time on a single story.
At the end of the story, go back and look up (or copy and paste into Google Translate) the words you didn’t understand and write them down in a notepad. Studies show that writing notes by hand improves memory, so you’ll be unlikely to forget these words in the future.
3. Try audible Kindergeschichten
Reading stories aloud can improve your pronunciation, especially when you have access to German audiobooks. Not only will you be able to pick up on the same grammatical rules as you do when reading texts of stories, but you’ll also be able to hear how native German speakers pronounce each word.
4. Move up the ladder with more difficult books
Many children’s books have appropriate age ranges, which can help you determine what level you’re reading comprehension is at and how well you’re progressing.
For example, some stories may say “ab 6 Jahren,” which means the story is appropriate for ages 6 and older. The more stories you read, the faster you’ll be able to progress to more difficult stories until you graduate from Kindergeschichten and can start reading regular novels and newspapers with relative ease.
Where to Find German Children’s Stories
Unless you live in Germany, finding children’s stories published in German at your local bookstore might be a challenge. Luckily, there are dozens of websites available where you can find original texts of the stories that you can print out or simply read from your laptop or tablet.
Here’s a few of those websites to help get you started:
- GrimmStories.com: This site includes many of the Grimm Brothers’ Märchen in their original German texts. You can choose familiar stories such as Rapunzel or Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) or lesser-known stories such as Der süße Brei and Hans im Glück.
- Familie.de: This is a fantastic resource for all sorts of German stories including Weihnachtsgeschichten (Christmas stories) and Fabeln (fables). These stories also conveniently offer an age range next to the links to the stories, which you can use to determine which one is best for your current reading level.
- Gute Nacht Geschichten: This one consists of more than 400 German bedtime stories. You can search for specific stories or choose from the sidebars, which include “Beliebteste Gutenachtgeschichten” (most popular bedtime stories) and “Neuste Gutenachtgeschichten” (newest bedtime stories).
- Max und Moritz: Max und Moritz is a series of stories about two tricksters. In Germany these serve as stories to teach children about morality and obedience, but for you, they can teach you more about lesser-known German grammar and words. This website is particularly helpful because it has “dual language” format, which means you can read the story in English right next to the story in German. They also include quizzes for each story to test your comprehension at the end.
- 15 German Children’s Books for Beginners: This FluentU article has 15 children’s stories auf Deutsch, many of which are classic American stories translated into German.
- Märchen-Podcasts: Are you more interested in hearing German stories than reading them? Then check out these fairytale podcasts, which you can download to your computer or smartphone or even listen to online. This website includes a few classics, including Schneewittchen and Aschenputtel. Once you move beyond Kindergeschichten, you’ll also be able to find many more podcasts in German, including history lessons.
- Children’s Books Forever: This website has a fantastic assortment of children’s books in many different languages, including German. They come in PDF form and include pictures, which can greatly boost your foreign language reading comprehension!
Now get out there and take your first step!
And One More Thing…
If you want to continue your reading practice while improving all your German skill sets, you’ve got to check out FluentU.
FluentU takes great videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences so that you can learn real German as people really speak it.
A quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content you can find on FluentU:
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.