This page is intended for English speakers who are beginning to learn German. Below are references to books that I have found helpful, some simple poems that I like, and links to other useful sites.
Das Erste Jahr
Das Erste Jahr (The First Year) may be old, but it is one of the best language learning books I have ever used. I’m a sucker for language learning tools, so I have plenty of them. I came across it by chance during a book sale in college and ended up ordering the rest of the series online soon afterwards. I primarily like this series because of the reading selections. Both of the classic poems below are taken from Das Erste Jahr although the reading selections are primarily prose. German poetry is beautiful and it doesn’t have to be difficult. You won’t find such selections in your typical modern German textbook and it’s hard to find any beginner level book at all this many readings, especially when considering the quality of the selections.
The other great thing about Das Erste Jahr is that it gets straight to the point, teaching vocabulary and grammar together from the very beginning. Modern textbooks seem to be afraid of teaching grammar too soon, and when they finally do, it is in the form of rules and charts. Das Erste Jahr introduces grammar early and it doesn’t baby you. It isn’t forceful about it, but it presents grammar in a way that respects you for the intelligent human being you are, realizing that with a little guidance up front you are capable of learning a lot about the structure of the grammar by example and from context. When casually flipping through the book, you won’t see pages of grammatical rules and charts or even lots of pretty pictures. You will find plenty of readings, vocabulary, and exercises all presented in a strategic sequence. After seeing this series, I can’t help but wonder if language instruction hasn’t actually regressed in the last 40 years.
- Margaret Bluske and Elizabeth Walther. Das Erste Jahr. Schribner’s. New York, 1965.
- Margaret Bluske and Elizabeth Walther. Das Zweite Jahr: Buch I. Schribner’s. New York, 1967.
- Margaret Bluske and Elizabeth Walther. Das Zweite Jahr: Buch II. Schribner’s. New York, 1968.
Pimsleur Audio Lessons
Pimsleur German is an excellent supplement to your typical textbook learning experience. Each of the three levels of Pimsleur German consists of a series of audio only lessons, each around 30 minutes long, in which you will interact with native German speakers to improve your conversational ability and hone your German accent. What is more subtle is that Pimsleur also tries to teach you grammar along the way by occasionally tricking you into using the sentence patterns that you’ve learned subconsciously in new ways with new vocabulary.
I found that my accent improved more from using Pimsleur than even from taking German classes from native speakers. The difference is that Pimsleur does not mind making you repeat the German “ch” sound until you get it right. That’s difficult to achieve in a classroom. Better yet, no one has to be around to hear you say it wrong the first few hundred times. You always hear the correct pronunciations, right in your ear, and you have a chance to repeat them to try to match the speaker. After a little practice you will be able to pronounce things the right way naturally.
There is no reading or writing involved so you are free to listen to the lessons while you are on the run–in your car or on your iPod. For a while, I would listen to them while doing household chores like washing dishes or sweeping. Why not be productive while doing stuff you don’t like?
- Pimsleur German I Comprehensive CDs
- Pimsleur German II Comprehensive CDs
- Pimsleur German III Comprehensive CDs
- Pimsleur German I, II and III Comprehensive with Audiofy USB Reader
German in Review is a good modern book for reviewing grammar if you have previously studied German. It also makes for a good intermediate level textbook. Mitlesen Mitteilen is a nice choice if you are looking for a modern book for reading exercises. The reading selections are from modern literature and range from intermediate to advanced levels. How to Learn Any Language provides excellent advice and motivation from a true polyglot (Farber speaks at least 25 languages).
Sparks, Kimberly and Van Horn Vail (2003): German in Review, fourth edition, Heinle.
Wells, Larry D. and Rosmarie T. Morewedge (2007): Mitlesen Mitteilen, fourth edition, Heinle.
Farber, Barry (1991): How to Learn Any Language. Citadel.
Ja, ich weiß, woher ich stamme!
Ungesättigt gleich der Flamme
Glühe und verzehr ich mich.
Licht wird alles, was ich fasse,
Kohle alles, was ich lasse:
Flamme bin ich sicherlich!
Vocabulary: stammen - to come from; ungesättigt - unsatisfied; der Flamme - flame; glühen - to glow; versehren - to consume; licht - light; fassen - to touch; die Kohle - coal
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Vocabulary: die Gipfeln - hilltops; die Ruhe - quiet; die Wipfeln - treetops; spüren - to feel; der Hauch - breath of air; die Vögelein - little birds; schweigen - to be silent; ruhen - to rest
- German Learning Sites
- Dictionaries and Translators
- German News