Books to Read to Improve Your Understanding of the German Language

Books to Read to Improve Your Understanding of the German Language

Books have offered people a way of escaping from their daily lives for centuries. As someone who is learning or working to retain German, you have a lot of options. Even if you are still in the early days of learning the language, there are books for you that are a lot more interesting than your textbook.

Reading books in the language helps you to better learn German because it is a lot more comfortable. There isn’t the same kind of stress or fear of judgement that people feel when they are trying to speak a language. You have the luxury of time and the use of a dictionary to help you get the idea of what is happening.

Books also provide a great way of relaxing at the end of the day. If you choose a book that is appropriate for your current reading level, reading won’t feel like work. Unlike watching shows and listening to books, reading a book provides an opportunity to better understand what’s happening because you set the pace.


Take a Staged Approach

Your reading level in English is not reflective of your German abilities. As obvious as this sounds, people tend to over-estimate their abilities to read in other languages they are learning simply because they feel they should be able to read at a higher level.

Learning to read a book should be treated the same regardless of your age. In the beginning, you start with beginner books – there’s no shame in reading children’s stories. And when it comes to German children’s stories, you are in for something considerably different from English speaking children’s books. Going through the easy books can bolster your confidence because you are finishing the full book. Another benefit with starting with basic books is that you can grow your vocabulary in a way that allows you to remember what the new words mean. You won’t be bombarded with a new word every few sentences – or every sentence.

Once you can comfortably read basic books, you can move on to older children’s stories. For example, you can start the Harry Potter series or other stories that you loved as an older child. You will already be familiar with the story, which will make it easier to read the book without needing to reference a dictionary nearly as often.

When you are able to get through these stories, you can move on to the books written originally in German. Considering how many native German speakers have written some of the most famous stories in the world, you have a lot of choices. Perhaps the most famous are the Grimm Brothers and their tales. Reading those in their original language will be a real eye opener into what the original stories were like. They are quite different from the stories that people know in North America and other English-speaking countries.

It’s Ok to Focus on Your Favorite Genres

Once you are comfortable reading basic books, you can start to read books in genres that you really enjoy. It will be more challenging if you don’t take a staged approach because there will be a lot more vocabulary that is unfamiliar. Consider the words that are specific to the Fantasy genre – you are learning it when you are reading, even in your native tongue.

Even if you start with a genre based in reality, there are going to be terms that are rooted in the genre that you aren’t likely to have encountered outside of it. Think about watching shows in another language, you don’t know the colloquialisms in the beginning, but you do come to know them pretty quickly because they are repeated. This is what you will encounter when you start reading books in a particular genre. It may take a few books before the words stick, but once they do, it will be much easier to read the books. Just make sure you work your way up to them so that you don’t spend more time looking up words than you do enjoying the story.

If you aren’t interested in the classics like Faust or The Grimm Fairytales, that’s perfectly fine. If you are an avid horror fan or you love romances, there is nothing wrong with focusing on those genres. Reading is about enjoying the story, so you should find stories that you can enjoy. If you find that the vocabulary is still a bit too much, you can read stories for younger people in the genre to build up your vocabulary and confidence.


Books by Reading Level

Since there are so many different genres, we are going to make recommendations based on reading level. The following are books that we feel are good for people based on your current level in understanding German.


If you are still in the early days of learning German, in addition to reading children’s book, here are a couple of books that will help you expand your vocabulary.

  1. Emil und die Detektive is considered a classic story that was written back in the 1920s. Just like many German stories, it is not the average children’s story that English speakers are accustomed to reading. This one is about a young boy who decides to go to Berlin and ends up dealing with the world of crime and art. It’s a story that will challenge you while being incredibly entertaining.

  2. German Short Stories for Beginners provides several dozen stories over 280 pages. The focus of the book is to help build your vocabulary without overwhelming you. Most of the terms are basic, but there are some terms that will challenge you as you read.

  3. Homo Faber is a classic story that works well for beginners. It has more complicated ideas as it follows an engineer who prefers to use rational thought. Unfortunately, life doesn’t really work that way, and he’s forced to rethink his approach to life.

Periodically read through some books for younger readers. Once you feel comfortable with the flow and vocabulary, you can move on to more difficult books without it being too imposing.



If you are already comfortable with basic stories, you can start moving into the more intricate and challenging books. At this point, you will want to start moving into the genres that interest you. However, these recommendations will be challenging without being impossible for intermediate German learners.

  1. Die Verwandlung, better known to English speakers as Metamorphosis, is the most well-known book by Franz Kafka. The story is surprisingly more basic in its vocabulary, but it does require a lot more focus to read than a children’s story because the ideas are not for children. It is considered a classic, but it is nothing like other classics, because the story is more in the realm of the surreal.

  2. Die unendliche Geschichte is a familiar story because it was the story that was adapted into The Never-ending Story movie in the 1980s. It is a very different story than the movie, but you will have some familiarity with some of the events. It is in the fantasy genre though, so if you aren’t interested in those types of stories, it may not be the best read for you.

  3. Der Richter and Sein Henker is another German classic, this time from the 1950s. It is actually a book that is read in schools, making it more familiar for people who are learning the language. It is geared toward a reading level that is more advanced than a beginning reader, but not for people who read on an adult level. With the book translating to The Judge and His Hangman, the story is clearly for an older audience than young children, but isn’t nearly as rough as more adult classic literature.

  4. Das Doppelte Lottchen is another familiar story because it has twice been adapted into movies in the US, both call Parent Trap. Since it is familiar, this is a book that is easier to read, despite there being more unfamiliar words.

When reading through intermediate stories, start to use context clues instead of your dictionary. By the time you shift into more advanced books, you should be largely weaned off of the dictionary most of the time. There will be words you don’t know, but you should be able to figure out what they are saying based on the context. You may need to pull out a dictionary occasionally, but not much more often than you would when reading a book in English.


At this point, you can focus on the genres that you really enjoy. Spend a half hour or so on looking on Amazon or Google looking for the latest releases in German in your preferred genres. At this point, the latest recommended reads and Best Sellers are going to be your best options for stories that are going to engage you while pushing your knowledge of the language.


Enjoy the Different Experiences

Ultimately, you should be reading books that you enjoy. You can read through a chapter, then listen to it as an audiobook if you want to get a better idea of the cadence, but already know what is being said. There are few better ways of studying a language and culture than by reading the books written in that language.