What we learn with the heart is seldom forgotten.
Reading creations from great writers is simply good for the soul, and the German language has thousands to choose from—spanning all genres and styles.
Short stories make fantastic material for listening, speaking and writing practice, plus they can expand your awareness of the world and of German culture.
We’ll show you just how to get started with German short stories, where to find them and five easy ones you can start reading today!
Why to Learn German with Easy Short Stories
Learning German with short stories has a myriad of benefits for you, regardless of your current level.
- They are, well, short. As opposed to novels and longer texts, short stories are ideal because they can often be read in one sitting. Considering the directness and simplicity of language in many easy short stories, they can greatly boost your reading comprehension without straining your concentration.
- They are highly motivating and authentic. Short stories present real-life language in meaningful ways, and their cultural and emotional impact goes well beyond the learning of grammar structures, vocabulary and the like. The cultural element can even be a powerful stimulus for continuing to learn German.
- They teach you vocab and slang. Some of the more lively aspects of German—like usage, slang and popular phrases—can often come alive in powerful short fiction pieces. Stories that focus on certain topics and locations function really well as vocabulary units, as interesting words and phrases are presented in an exciting context.
- They improve your writing skills. There is nothing as good for writing as imitation, and great writers stimulate imitation. You will often want to emulate powerful writing, and reading short stories will lead to your appropriating of new grammar structures/elements, which you can then use in your own text production.
- They also boost oral skills. This one might surprise you, but here’s how they can help your speaking: Stories often feature real-life dialogues, which will introduce you to a variety of colloquial expressions and speaking mannerisms. Many of these stories will also bring up topics that have the potential for controversy. Bring up the story with a language partner and talk about your opinions and feelings on the matter!
How to Use Short Stories to Boost Your Learning
There are so many ways you can use short stories that it is impossible to list them all, but here are a few that I have found extremely useful in my experience as a language learner and teacher.
- Listen to short story podcasts. Literary podcasts are very popular in the German speaking world. It is easy to find great readings of stories by some of the best writers in the language. You can listen to the stories before looking at the text, and then listen while reading along. This can help develop listening skills, boost pronunciation and even improve your reading comprehension since intonation, for example, can often help understanding. You can find short story podcasts on podcast.de and vorleser.net.
- Do creative writing exercises. After reading and analyzing, for example, you can try to imitate the short story’s style or write a follow-up to it using the same characters and locations. Stories can provide an ideal starting point for creative writing. The topics are given, vocabulary is already available, and having these elements at hand can both inspire and improve your written creations.
- Rewrite stories from the point of view of a different character. This seemingly simple exercise can provide great grammar practice, including verb conjugation, pronouns, etc. Shifts in point of view also provide great opportunities to practice vocabulary related to feelings and emotions, as different characters will have different experiences resulting in a different set of emotional responses.
- Make flashcards with new vocabulary and its context. Short stories often offer memorable contexts for interesting new vocabulary. Make flashcards with the words and the encountered contexts to remember them easier.
- Pick up connecting words. One of the hardest things to do in a new language is to successfully connect ideas and events in writing. Short stories are made of these connectors and cause and effect relationships, providing extremely useful examples for you to imitate in your own essays and stories. Identify the words used to introduce characters and conflict, paragraph beginnings and other connectors used to move the plot forward.
- Summarize the story orally and in writing. Summarizing is one of the top oral and written skills in language learning, and short stories are an ideal material for summaries. Trying to tell a 10-page story in five minutes or in one page is a great exercise. I remember we used to do it constantly in my higher German studies classes, and I learned more from it than from any other type of writing exercise.
- Record yourself reading aloud. Listen to the story read by a native reader, and then practice pronunciation by recording your own reading and comparing the two versions. This is a great way to work on your pronunciation. The ability to record yourself on a computer or mobile device provides an invaluable opportunity to tackle problem areas, vowel sounds you have trouble with, intonation problems and much more.
Where to Find Easy German Short Stories Online
There are many sources of great German short stories on the web. These are some of the most useful and comprehensive sites.
- SOS Halberstadt — A great site to find German literature in simple language, even for beginners. Categories include ballads, fables, short stories and parables.
- Project Gutenberg — This is a German language version of the famous Project Gutenberg. It features a comprehensive German library, including works by the most important German authors and German translations of other language classics.
- E-stories — This is a cute, easy-to-use little site featuring some really cool short stories, poems and a variety of short and sweet German texts.
- Logos Library — This site offers a library of over 2,000 titles searchable by both author and title.
5 Easy German Short Stories to Boost Your Learning
It is hard to choose stories in a language with such a rich literary tradition. The choices I made here involved a balance between literary quality, simplicity and straightforwardness of language, as well as potential for grammar and vocabulary learning. Choosing stories that are evocative and have a powerful message doesn’t hurt either, so I tried to add some of that into the mix as well.
1. “Das Märchen” (The Fairy Tale) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The story begins with a ferryman who sees ghosts, but what appears to be a “ghost story” eventually turns into a tale of an impossible love and the magic that succeeds in making it possible. Read by some critics as a fictional representation of some of Schiller’s ideas about human freedom, the story was Goethe’s way of showing how a human soul can manage to become whole and free.
While this may sound almost too deep, the story’s language is simple, and the conflicts it presents are straightforward. Vocabulary and grammar points include landscape descriptions, the Perfekt tense (present perfect) and verbs related to movement and position.
Goethe is one of the greatest writers in the language, so while you may not yet be able to enjoy some of his more complex works, this story is a perfect introduction to his literature. An English version is available to help you with new and unknown vocabulary and this audio version can be a great tool for listening and pronunciation practice.
2. “Die Geschichte von Hyazinth und Rosenblütchen” (The Story of Hyacinth and Roseblossom) by Novalis
This story is part of a larger work entitled “Die Lehrlinge zu Sais” (The Disciples of Sais). It is about Hyacinth and Roseblossom, who live happily and in love during childhood. This harmony is disturbed when an older man starts telling Hyacinth stories about foreign lands and wonderful things he has never seen before.
After this, Hyacinth starts suffering from the romantic illness of melancholy. After a journey of discovery, he realizes that the most wonderful thing he can aspire to has always been in front of his eyes, and he is finally happy. A beautiful parable written in simple yet poetic language, the story is great learning material.
Possible grammar points to learn from this story include passive voice and indirect speech. In terms of vocabulary, it features very interesting visual descriptions and lots of useful words and phrases used to express feelings and emotions.
The simple harmony-trigger-chaos-journey-restoration structure can be a great starting point for writing your own stories and parables in the vein of the German romantics, among which Novalis is one of the most famous.
And, last but not least, it is a beautiful story that will warm your heart. If your curiosity is piqued and you are up for some listening practice, here is an audio version.
3. “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten” (The Bremen Town Musicians) by the Grimm Brothers
While growing up, I had a collection of short stories that featured a Spanish version of “The Bremen Town Musicians.” Somehow, the story stuck in my imagination, and I have always been fascinated to discover new versions, films and audio based on it. Of course, nothing beats the original story by the beloved Grimm brothers.
The story has been translated into 160 languages, and there is a reason for this. It is a poetic fantasy about a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster, who are no longer useful for their masters. After realizing they may face a dreadful fate, they decide, one by one, to head down to the town of Bremen. They then decide to live as musicians in the town, but some setbacks and unexpected events complicate these plans, ultimately leading them to wisdom and revelation.
The story is a great tool for learning simple conversational German, as it features a lot of dialogues, and it is also good to learn how to structure paragraphs based on cause and effect using words like denn (because), als (as) and endlich (finally), among many others. It is perfect for beginners, because the language is simple enough that new vocabulary can be inferred from context even at the earlier stages of language competency.
The link from the title will take you to a side-by-side bilingual version of the story.
4. “Der zufriedene Fischer” (The Happy Fisherman) by Heinrich Böll
Heinrich Böll is one of the greatest German writers, and one of the very few who won the Nobel prize for literature. His story about a fisherman who converses with a tourist about work ethics was a response to a very specific context in German history. In the early 1960s, the German economy was booming, and “The Happy Fisherman” served to question the work ethic associated with that economic bonanza.
Basically, the fisherman is telling the tourist that he has caught so many fish the day before that he can just sit in the sun all day long. The tourist tells him that he should go out every day, so he can amass a fortune, but the fisherman ends up teaching him a lesson.
The story is as simple as it is powerful. It is a great tool to practice the future tense and vocabulary to express expectations and predictions for the future. Its simple structure can be a great prompt for a story writing exercise: someone is quietly enjoying their life, and somebody else comes along and questions their lifestyle and philosophy. Finally, the arguments of the person who appeared to bring wisdom are crushed by the observable reality of the first person’s life and circumstances.
An audio reading in the original German is also available.
5. “Skorpion” (Scorpion) by Christa Reinig
In German, male writers tend to get more press than female ones. Fortunately, the male domination of literature has not prevented the amazing Christa Reinig from reaching her audience.
Scorpion tells the story of a man who feels excluded from society because of the way he looks. Over the course of the narrative, he tries to persuade several people to accept him in spite of his appearance, while walking through a city. It is a lovely parable with a worthy moral, the kind of moral that can touch your heart.
Besides all its other good points, it is a great story to learn how to describe a face and oneself in interesting ways.
I have often thought about why I have learned so much from short stories. The answer was recently given to me by an article on neuroscience: It turns out that we learn more with our emotions than with our logical brain.
Nothing sticks in your memory like feelings and emotions, and I firmly believe that reading stories that move you is one of the most effective ways to learn German. Besides, it is just so much fun!
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