I know someone who is teaching himself German from the original copy of Assimil printed in 1957. He thought to himself, "wouldn't it be hilarious if I spent years learning out-dated German?".

Is this book or any other older book good for learning or is it far beyond of how Germans speak today?

  • 5
    I've used a book from the 50s to restart my French and it was perfect because it was just text and not the usual annoying clutter of pictures, "mind you"-boxes, drawings, tilted grammar boxes and fill in the blank exercises.
    – Emanuel
    Jan 14 '14 at 9:37
  • 2
    In the mid '90s there was a reform on spelling for some words (perhaps a lot, I'm not sure). The 1957 book would have the out-dated spelling for those. Jan 14 '14 at 10:31
  • That is such a splendid idea, I wonder if I can get a book to learn Swedish which is from a time when they still had three grammatical genders ;)
    – Carsten S
    Jan 14 '14 at 13:25
  • Ha! Is this about me? Listen: would you rather be thought of as a fluent speaker and fit in very well, or as a charming time traveller from the 50s? I made my choice.
    – user4723
    Jan 14 '14 at 22:36
  • ... and I agree very much with what Emanuel said. The old books are very clear and cleanly presented (and free!) There are obvious drawbacks of course: the language is sometimes outdated (which I think is pretty hilarious), the spelling is from the pre-reform days. However, so long as you are aware of this, it's not a problem.
    – user4723
    Jan 14 '14 at 22:39

There have been multiple changes in spelling rules between 1990 and about 2005. This included raw spelling (i.e. Schifffahrt instead of Schiffahrt) but also changes in capitalization and setting commas. I would strongly suggest to use a book later than 2005 for learning current german, although for colloquially talking, the differences are not that big.

  • 1
    It should be noted that with exception of the ß rules (the difference between which is rather easy to learn), all the differences will only start to matter for really advanced learners. Looking at the aspects of English spelling that are comparable in detail and difficulty (e.g., rules for hyphenation and multiple compounds), I never learnt them in school and I see native speakers making mistakes in these aspects regularly.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jan 17 '14 at 14:39

Most aspects of the language haven't changed since 1957, but some details have. If these details are crucial to you, you should use a newer textbook, if not, feel free to use the one from 1957:

  • Spelling: Reformed Orthography from 1996 changed in 2004
  • Pronunciation: Some endings have changed their standard pronunciation, e.g. -er
  • Grammar: Former grammatical errors or simplifications like "dativication" of genitive, coordinating weil, … have been accepted in casual language.
  • Vocabulary: is of course partially out-dated.
  • Punctuation: Some standards besides the Reformed Orthography have been established since 1957.

It depends on the context you are preparing for. If you need it for professional business, and there will be a lot of written communication, go with the newest books. Same goes for academic, because of the recent changes to spelling, etc. However, if you are going on vacation and need to know how to order food or arrange transportation, you will manage just fine with any book you can get your hands on; in these cases, it doesn't matter if you use the ß or ss in a word (as it will likely not be written anyway).

  • Hi and welcome to GLU. I'm not sure to understand how your answer addresses the question.
    – c.p.
    Jan 15 '14 at 6:57
  • @c.p.: they clearly say that we should not use an old textbook for learning contemporary business German.
    – Takkat
    Jan 15 '14 at 7:43

Of course they are still useful. Languages generally change slowly. The more formal the register, the slower the change. The latest slang may have changed, but such books generally don't attempt to cover slang anyway. Even 19th century texts are not that different, just as in English.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.