I learnt English mostly by reading all sorts of books once I'd a very rudimentary grasp of the basics. This was not intentional, but reading a lot is what in retrospect was the most helpful for me to learn English. Now I would like to use a similar strategy for German, as I simply lack the time to take proper language courses.

This also fits in with my experience (I speak four foreign languages) of rule based language learning only being useful in the early stages . I feel after this one needs to switch to a more intuitive, pattern-based learning, more like developing a feel for the language. Reading is very useful also in uncovering beliefs and thought processes of the target language speakers, which are not so easily available otherwise.

So my question is: what kind of literature do you think is useful to build on a basic understanding of German (say up to the B1 or B2 level) in order to improve upon ones language skills? The answers could include discussion of more useful genres, authors or any tips that may be helpful in developing a reading strategy for adult learners who want to improve upon their intermediate proficiency in German.

Just to kick-start the discussion, some of my own observations:

  • Translations are not so useful, as they do no give a good feel of the language, the thought patterns, narrative structures, etc might be different. For instance, Dostoyevsky translations are not a good place to learn English.
  • Children's literature sounds like a good idea, but isn't. Apart from being potentially boring for adult learners, it has fantastic elements, and informal language which are not useful for picking up meanings from the context.
  • It's ok if the reader lacks the entire vocabulary of a particular work. I think even with just 75% of the words understood the context can be intuited.
  • Humour is not funny. As a foreign speaker one lacks both the advanced language skills, and thought structures necessary to find something funny, so humour I have usually found confusing. The Titanic covers are funny, but I seldom get the jokes inside.
  • The most useful kind of reading I have discovered so far seem to be short stories, where the incomprehensible stuff doesn't build up enough to overwhelm the reader. It also gives a nice feel to have understood something in its entirety. Also some Krimis, and Bernhard Schlink, Walter Popp were especially readable.
  • Another thing which surprised me a bit was how enjoyable some poems were, and one could instantly sense the mood: Goethe's Erlkönig being a superb example
  • Hello and welcome to GL&U. You may not have found it yet, but we already have a quite long list of book recommendations you might find helpful: german.stackexchange.com/q/620. Unfortunately people stopped voting at some point therefore we have not a good reflection of a single book's quality. As far as I can see however there is not a single bad book on that list ;)
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 16:02
  • thanks for the link Takkat. It's quite a good list, I already have a couple of new tips from there. I edited the question a bit, to distinguish it from a list of books, to make this one a more meta question on possible strategies on using reading as a learning device for intermediate German speakers Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 16:23
  • OP here, I edited the title, so that it more accurately refers to the question, which is more focused on the strategic aspect: How to best go about using reading as a language improvement tool. So of course, specific resources would improve the answer, but this question was intended more to discuss alternative modes of learning compared to the usual language courses, which I feel do not help all kinds of learners. I would welcome suggestions to make the question or the title more accurate, as I suspect the idea is not getting across. Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 15:54

5 Answers 5


I found that newspapers were very useful for building up vocabulary. They come in a wide range of levels and styles, you normally have an idea of what the stories are about, and you get some current information while you're at it, so it's a win all round.

  • Die Zeit is quite highbrow and the articles are long but I enjoy the content and there is a lot for free online.
  • Der Spiegel is easier to read.
  • Most local dailies are easier still (although the Frankfurter Allgemeine is pretty dry even when you aren't struggling with the language)

How about a newssite?

The Euronews site has stories in 12 languages simultaneously, including German


I like Reinhard Mey's songs. He's one of the few artists who can write texts that can be read apart from the music. Like short stories in a very distinguished language. And all his texts can be found on his website.


There is a website for learning German with texts and related excercizes published by the Goethe-Institut:


  1. Books and literature are full of German language which is correct but sounds annoying to a native speaker
  2. Watch movies! Then you experience a "natural" speech, learning and having fun. Search for terms and words you missed or watch that part of the movie again
  3. Meet people from germany and talk with them (but tell them to talk about your language regarded mistakes)

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