Once upon a time people actually paid for books—you know, back when our favorite boy bands sported poofy, spiky hair and wearing flared jeans with white sneakers was a thing.
They drove to the bookstore or ordered them from catalogs. They waited days, if not weeks, for them to arrive. Sometimes they walked to the library, only to have to walk to it again and give back what they borrowed.
Those times are gone. Thank goodness.
Not only can we buy the awesome language learning books we need instantly at the click of a mouse with e-readers such as the Kindle, but here’s a secret that hasn’t reached the masses yet: You can get a lot of German books for free, too.
This is good news for language learners, with hundreds of German e-books in out there, free for the taking. The tricky part, however, is finding the best ones that are actually worth the time to download and read.
That’s where I come in.
Amazin’ Amazon: How to Discover the Best Free German E-books on Amazon
Having a particular penchant for the smell of books, I resisted getting a Kindle for a long time. The paperless truth, however, is that they’re quite handy, especially for language learning.
Although there are new models constantly coming out that have various types of bells and whistles, most versions that are somewhat recent have a built-in dictionary feature that allows you to look up words by simply holding your finger on them. Not only will you get a definition of the word, but the Wikipedia entry as well, if one exists. Behold the power at your fingertip.
You’ll probably have to upload a German-to-English dictionary, which is usually simple to do as it comes already. Go to the cloud on your Kindle, found on the homepage. Towards the end of the list you’ll find “Dictionaries.” After opening it up there will be several German, German-to-English and English-to-German options that can be synced without cost by simply tapping on them. Choose whichever one best suits your learning level and needs!
Many newer Kindles also create a list of every word that you look up. After tapping the navigating button in the top-left corner you’ll find the “Vocabulary Builder” option. There you can see both the word’s definition and how it was used in the text, and then remove it from the list once you’ve mastered it.
Score one for technology.
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Guiding Your Way to the Gratis
Now that I’ve told tall tales of free German e-book booty, it’s time to help you navigate to the treasure. Let’s do this:
- It should be no surprise that getting to the German Amazon page only takes substituting the “.com” for a “.de”. But you can make it even simpler by clicking here.
- The search bar has the word alle, the German word for “all,” on the left side (see, you’re learning the language already). Click it and choose “Kindle-Shop.” Note: To actually go into the Kindle Shop, you’ll have to click inside the search bar and hit enter. So, do that now.
- Just below the search bar is a variety of options on which you can spend your hard-earned money (which you won’t be doing right now—sorry, Amazon). Instead, avoid the temptation of nifty gadgets, go to the far left column and under “Kindle-Shop” click on “Kindle eBooks.”
- At this point you can translate every word on the page and not find any indication of existing any free e-books. The treasure you seek is quite literally buried. That’s where insider knowledge comes in: Click on “Bestseller” under “Beliebt Bei Kindle,” translating as “Popular with Kindle.”
- You’ll notice that above the rows of book covers will be the choices “Top 100” and “Top 100 Gratis.” Click on the latter and (figurative) balloons will fall from the ceiling. You’ve made it! Welcome to free German e-book heaven!
For those who aren’t good at following directions and would rather I just post a direct link, fine. Click here. Keep in mind that the Internet is an ever-shifting landscape and links can change. The steps to getting there, however, will always be a true companion.
Organizing Your German E-book Options
You now have before you one hundred books that can be transported to your Kindle in a matter of seconds without costing even a handshake.
You’ll notice the list is quite varied. It’s always changing with the times, too. At the moment you can find a lighthearted crime comedy about three teenagers climbing the Swiss Alps (“Drei Hamburger im Schnee,” translating as “Three Hamburgers in the Snow”) next to the erotic novel “Von Zwei Göttern verführt” (“Seduced by Two Gods”). If you’re a female past her twenties looking to pick up a man, it costs nothing to get “Die 15 besten Flirt-Tipps für Frauen ab 30,” if you can trust romance advice from a woman named Madame Missou.
For those of you who have come this far and had your mind explode at the delight of having one hundred free books in German to read, wait until I tell you this:
There’s actually much more.
If you look to the left on the screen, you’ll notice a long list of genres that range from Belletristik (literature) to Sport & Fitness. If you were to click on any of these categories before arriving at this page you would not see any free e-books. However, after taking this route, each genre now displays the “Top 100 Gratis” gems. Want to work on your finances? Try the stocks and money section (Börse & Geld). Looking to turn your life around with free advice? Click on Ratgeber (advice giver).
Many of titles listed can be overwhelming for beginning and intermediate German learners, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find any books that you can handle. Check out the youth titles (Jugendbücher) for anything from romance to fantasy, or the children’s books section (Kinderbücher) for selections with less text and simpler sentences. Here, among others, you may find Wilhelm Busch’s 1865 classic “Max und Moritz,” still popular in Germany today.
The German Classics at No Cost
You’ll notice you’re not running across a lot of award-winning books in this selection. You might have sensed that there’s a reason these books are free. However, the good things is that they don’t have to be great: They’re already more entertaining language learning tools than those dusty grammar books. Because it’s in the name of education, you have complete permission to indulge in the guilty pleasures you’ve been scoffing at.
However, if you’re a man or woman of steadfast literary purity, you’re more than covered at Amazon. After clicking on Belletristik you’ll notice an array of subcategories, one of which is Klassiker. Here you’ll find over 400 titles from all over the world translated into German, from “Stolz und Vorurteil” (“Pride and Prejudice”) to the children’s story “Der Kleine Prinz” (“The Small Prince”). While reading Kafka in his own language isn’t for the faint of heart (or beginning learner), it doesn’t cost anything to try.
From Selection to Sync: An Extra Step
You’ve found a free title and can’t wait to get reading in German. You go to the right part of the screen where you’re used to clicking a yellow button that sends the book straight to your device, but you notice something peculiar.
It’s not there.
In its place is a green box with a lot of words that pretty much say that you can’t get the goods from this site. You can only obtain e-books from the country page of Amazon where you registered your Kindle.
The good news is that it’s an easy hurdle to get around. Simply copy the title of the book you have your eye on, go to your country’s Amazon page and paste your German selection’s title into the search bar. Most free German e-books are available at Amazon.com. The bad news is that not all of them are, and you might not be able to get every book that caught your eye.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, however, simply click “Buy Now” and the free German e-book will be automatically delivered to your device.
For the Kindle-less Kind
So you didn’t buy a Kindle like the rest of the cool kids. That’s alright, we still like you.
And…you can still get free e-books from Amazon.
While you’re in the Kindle-Shop on the German Amazon simply click on “Kostenlose Kindle Lese-Apps,” or if on the Amazon from an English-speaking country, “Free Reading Apps.” There, you can download the app directly onto your computer or tablet, or have the link emailed to you so you can open it in another device. If Marie Antoinette had said “Let them have free e-books,” she would have kept her head.
Now the secret is out. No more having to fork over your allowance just to read books in German, no more getting lost looking for the free e-books, no more having to carry around an old heavy dictionary just to find the meaning of a word. A new day has dawned and the weather looks particularly promising for language learning.
Ryan Dennis was a Fulbright Scholar and previously taught at Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch Gmünd. In addition to hating ketchup, British spelling and violence, he writes The Milk House—the only literary column about dairy farming.
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