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German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 4:40 pm
by Speakeasy
I have copied Melkor’s question from the “German Grammar Books” discussion thread and have opened a new topic seeking suggestions on how to increase one’s reading skills in German.
Melkor wrote:
Skynet wrote: Recommendations: Übungsgrammatik für Anfänger A, B & C (Hueber), Klipp und Klar (Klett), PMP: German Problem Solver, Schaum's German Grammar, German for Reading (K. Sandberg), German Quickly (A. Wilson) and Reading German History (Hueber). Amazon has glowing reviews for K. Sandberg's and A. Wilson's books, and since they both state that their respective courses can be completed within 100 hours...
I capitulate! German is just not working out for me as I had hoped :( . Speaking is not difficult, what is difficult is reading. Which would be the best course that takes the user to the highest level of German reading ability? 100 hours sounds like two Assimil books to me, and I wonder if Sandberg and Wilson would leave you barely above A2 in reading.
Melkor seems to be approaching the subject from the perspective of someone who has already completed a Beginner’s programme of study. As his question may have been addressed either in the German Study Group, which is now difficult to sift through, or within a number of discussion threads covering German Readers, most of which cover beginners’ materials, I thought that it might be useful to discuss the needs of the intermediate and advancing students. I’ll begin with a few comments of my own.

The Problem
I think that most independent-learners of German would agree that the focus of vast majority of self-instructional materials for the study of this language is on the spoken language at the beginner to low-intermediate level and that, while these do provide an elementary basis for reading, the study of more advanced materials is required should one wish to progress to reading native-language magazines, newspapers, novels, or specialist publications. In my opinion, despite publishers’ claims to the contrary, there are NO “genuine” intermediate, and certainly no advanced, materials for self-instruction which address the needs of someone wishing to increasing their reading skills.

A Common Approach
Many of us approach this second phase of study in an unstructured manner: (a) reading graded readers which usually terminate at the B1 level and for which few volumes at this level actually exist, (b) reading collections of pulp fiction novels written for, or translated for, native speakers and for which, given the nature of this type of literature, the level typically does not rise above the B1-B2 range but which do provide an increasingly sound base, (c) desperate struggles with bilingual readers containing some of the finer examples of German literature but which operate at the C1-C2 range, (d) self-defeating attempts at using C1 level classroom-oriented materials, in German only, as a source of self-instruction and improving in reading skills, (e) frustrating attempts at reading magazines, newspapers, and the like destined for native-speaker with the aid of a dictionary, and (f) premature attempts at reading through advanced textbooks which are designed almost exclusively for classroom use. I have done all of this and a lot more. Although this approach does, eventually, yield pretty good results, I would suggest a couple of preparatory steps:

An Alternative (1): Structural Aspects of Reading German
I found that reading through a couple of intermediate-level textbooks designed for classroom instruction greatly improved my reading skills. Typically, they include texts drawn from a wide variety of contemporary sources, annotations, notes on grammar, and glossaries. Some even include audio recordings of extracts from the readings.

German for Reading (2nd ed., 2015) by Karl Sandberg, John Wendel – Focus: Hackett Publishing
Although the authors of this 473-page course presuppose no previous knowledge of German on the part of the student, in my opinion, use of this book for self-instruction should be preceded by the attainment of the A1-A2 level. Despite the book’s popularity, I found it to be more of a grammar than a course in reading, I did not warm up the columnar manner in which the elements of the language were presented, and I was not impressed by the reading selections which, in my view, were rather sparse and insufficient to bringing the user, in terms of vocabulary, to the B2 level. It is nowhere near as strong as “Reading German” by by Waltraud Coles, Bill Todd (see below).

German for Reading Knowledge (1961, 1980) by Hubert Jannach – American Book Company / Heinle & Heinle
This 273-page book, which exists in reprint, has been used as a standard textbook for students in the sciences and the humanities in American universities for several decades. Using extracts from a wide variety of native speaker sources, the book presents and examines the structural elements of the language. Although it presupposes no previous knowledge of German, I would recommend this book for independent learners who have attained at least A1 before attempting this textbook on their own. I estimate that, upon completion, the average user would be able to read upper-intermediate texts if not a little higher.

German Quickly: A Grammar for Reading German (rev. 2007) by April Wilson – Peter Lang Publishing
I make mention of this 432-page course in reading German owing to its popularity amongst what-appear-to-be beginning students. Somewhat surprisingly, the author relies heavily on extracts from the Bible to illustrate the grammar of German. While students might find some of this vocabulary interesting, I have doubts as to its wider application in a reading programme. In my opinion, this book operates more at the A1-A2 level than it does at the Intermediate Level and, while it does provide a summary of German grammar, I would not recommend it as a vehicle for enhancing one’s reading skills.

Journ’Allemand: Vocabulaire & Exercises (2016) by C. Deussen, M. Ferret – Éditions Bréal
This 191-page manual, written in French, offers the user a selection of vocabulary items, accompanied by short explanations and examples, which commonly appear in German language newspapers. Not a course, but a useful addition to one’s library at the A2 level.

Reading German: A Course Book and Reference Grammar (1997) by Waltraud Coles, Bill Todd – Oxford University Press
This 377-page reading course, which is suitable for self-study, presents a series of graded extracts from a wide variety of sources along with exercise sets both of which are keyed by reference number to grammar in the annexe. My impression is that an A2 level would be required before attempting this course and that, upon completion, the student should be able to read at the B2 – C1 level.

An Alternative (2): Collections with Annotations, Glossaries
Generally speaking, I prefer materials from a previous era owing to the quantity and quality of the reading. While I appreciate that most of the books listed below are now out-of-print, copies can still be found on the internet. Presented in alphabetical order, below is a but “small sample” from own collection. It is clear that I have a preference for vintage manuals which, in my opinion, contain vastly more text than do their modern counterparts. None of books below are bilingual; however, most of them are annotated.

A Reader in German Literature (1969) by Robert Spaethling, Eugene Weber – Oxford University Press
This 291-page anthology of German literature contains extracts from the works of major authors from the 18th through to the 20th centuries. Only lightly-annotated, but having an ample glossary, I would place this reader within the B2-C2 range.

Der Spiegel: Aktuel Themen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1993) by Helene Zimmer-Loew et al -- National Textbook Company
This 160-page book, published entirely in German, contains annotated extracts from the well-known German magazine, Der Spiegel. Sold as a book or as book plus three audio cassettes. Although not really a course of instruction, it does serve as an excellent supplementary source of reading material at the upper-intermediate and lower-advanced levels.

Der Weg zum Lesen (1967, 1985) by Van Horn Vail, Kimberly Sparks – Harcourt Brace
This 362-page collection of unedited original texts is destined for use in the classroom. The heavily-annotated texts include vocabulary lists and ample exercises. Not really amongst my favorite books of this type, I would place it within the B1-B2+ range.

Deutsche Denker und Forsher (1954) by Meno Spann, G.D. Goedsche – Appleton-Century-Crofts
This 188-page textbook is a collection of eight original essays on major figures in German culture and science. The essays, in German only, are accompanied by annotations vocabulary lists and short exercises. A bilingual glossary is provided in the annexe. I would place this collection within the B1-B2 range.

Deutsche Literatur von Heute: An Intermediate German Course (1975) by Agnes Körner Domandi, Doris Stärr Guilloton – Holt, Reinhart, Wilson
As stated in the title, this 378-page textbook is intended for intermediate students of German. The texts and extracts, of increasingly length, are heavily annotated and are keyed to an extensive grammar in the annexe. A full glossary completes this work which, in my opinion, operates at the B1-B2+ level.

Dichter, Denker un Erzähler: A German Reader (1982) by Peter Heller, Edith Ehrlich – Waveland Press
This 429-page course book spans the needs of intermediate and advanced students of German. The short stories, essays, and the like, are heavily-annotated and contain suitable vocabulary lists. A complete glossary is in the annexe. I estimate the level of this collection to be within the B2-C2 range.

Es Geht Weiter (1977) by Eric Wilson – Harper & Row Publishers
This 267-page book was designed for both classroom and self-instruction. The readings, which the author suggests are suitable for intermediate students, are accompanied by ample annotations and explanatory notes. Exercises are included as well as a bilingual glossary. I would place this collection within the B1-B2 range.

Modernes Deutschland im Brennpunkt: A Cultural Reader (1978) by Allen E. Hye – W.W. Norton & Company
This 387-page collection of readings in the life and history of modern Germany was edited and annotated for use by intermediate-level level students. Exercises are included as well as a bilingual glossary. Beginning in the A2-B1 range, the readings progress to the B2-C1 level.

Was Deutsche Lesen (1973) by Karl Van D’Elden, Evelyn Firchow – McGraw-Hill
This 209-page collection of heavily-annotated short stories, which also includes a solid glossary, is intended for intermediate-level students.

My Suggestions
(1) Reading German: A Course Book and Reference Grammar (1997) by Waltraud Coles, Bill Todd
(2) A selection of three (3) readers from the list above.

Other Approaches, Comments, Suggestions?
I invite members create an archive of suggestions for others who will be faced with this problem. Please comment on how you approached the problem of improving your skills in reading German. Which materials did you use? What specific techniques did you employ? All comments are welcome!

Typos, tinkering.

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 7:02 pm
by aokoye
I will try to add more to this now, but having skimmed this and being familiar with some of the texts you've listed, it is worth noting that all (or at least almost all) of the books that you have under "textbooks" are designed for students who need to learn how to read a language for a masters or doctoral level study. I would argue that all of the books that you listed are textbooks and it would make sense to change the headings because I agree that what you've listed fall under are two different genres of books (just two different genres of textbooks).

I will quickly add that Graded German Reader: Erste Stufe by Crossgrove is a very good reader for people who are in the A1/A2 level. I think my first year German class started using it within the first few weeks of class and I really enjoyed it in terms of reading that was accessible given how little German I had learned at that point. That said, I wouldn't pay more than $10 or $15 dollars for it used. I have a water damaged copy that I'm more than willing to send to someone for the cost of postage and a second slightly worn one that I'm also willing to give to a good home for the price of postage (neither sellable to Powells and I don't have a use for them but both are perfectly readable). I have some other additions as well in terms of books and/or websites but I need to wait until I'm at home to post the book suggestions.

I will say, that while I do appreciate some of the older titles you have listed, having a list of books that are in print also makes sense in terms of ease of access. That and having readers that aren't literature based. I'll work on thinking about some suggestions later today (and I might check the Spaethling out from the library today ;) )

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 8:16 pm
by zenmonkey
Don't forget all the excellent reading material on

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 8:18 pm
by aokoye
zenmonkey wrote:Don't forget all the excellent eating material on

Seconded, that was going to be one of my suggestions actually.

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 8:49 pm
by StringerBell
My suggestion isn't specifically for German, so hopefully it's not out of place here.

I have been doing this combination of two main reading activities (a little bit of one, a little bit of the other on the same day or alternating days/weeks):

A: Reading intensively children's chapter books and Young Adult books, taking notes on unfamiliar words/phrases.

B: Reading extensively adult-level novels translated into my target language by first reading the English version, then reading and listening to the audiobook in the target language. Reading the English version first allows me to understand what is happening, so it greatly reduces my comprehension struggle, and listening to the audiobook as I read along helps me to internalize pronunciation and cadence.

I often relisten/reread chapters a few times, and I often later listen to those same chapters of the audiobook without the text to strengthen my listening comprehension. When I'm doing extensive reading/listening, I don't look up more than 1 word per page (sometimes I don't look up anything).

And now that I've listened/read to 1/2 of my current novel extensively, I decided to reread it from the beginning intensively. I find it's good to change things up. Using a version of a book in your native language is a great way to make virtually any text into a bilingual reader, and combining reading with listening to the audiobook is a great way to reduce the burden of struggling with decoding/pronunciation.

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 9:24 pm
by Speakeasy
Thank you, aokoye and zenmonkey, for your contributions. Perhaps this thread will serve as a repertoire of reading guides and related materials for students of German at the intermediate to advance levels. My initial post was meant as a response to Melkor’s expression of his difficulties in reading German, a matter which would come as no surprise to me should he have studied only materials such as Assimil, FSI Basic, Linguaphone, Living Language Ultimate, and the like, which do not prepare the student for the rigours of reading native texts at the intermediate level or higher.

My own efforts at “breaking out” of the beginner’s level was a haphazard mixture of the approaches that I described above. That is, I began lurching about, grabbing indiscriminately onto anything that seemed to be of some possible use which included the acquisition of some 150-plus graded readers (bad investement, Speakeasy!). While I did make slow progress, my approach lacked structure and focus. Thereafter, I purchased several complete classroom-oriented series (A1 – C1) by the major German publishers but was disappointed with their course manuals which, in my opinion, contained far too much blank space, far too many coloured photographs of doubtful contribution to the learning process (given that my goal was to increase my reading ability), and far too little in the way of texts.

It was after bouncing around in this non-productive (low-productive) cycle that I began searching the websites of the major online booksellers with “German, Intermediate” and “German, Advanced” as my search criteria. After sorting through an awful lot junk, I came upon a fairly impressive number of older textbooks which seemed to offer some hope. The list that I provided above represents but a small portion of my collection. I understand that not everyone shares my preference for older language-learning materials. Nevertheless, I appreciated these items because the authors chose to offer the reader large amounts of native-language texts drawn from a wide variety sources replete with annotations and lists of vocabulary which, as an independent learner, I found quite useful. I have yet to find any contemporary works of similar scope and depth of coverage. Hopefully, someone will propose such items should they exist.

As to the classifications that I used, I agree that both groups are textbooks; however, I seem them as being different from one another. Those in the first group seem to focus more on the structural aspects of the German language but provide only cursory examples of actual texts for practice in reading. Those in the second group provide large quantities of original texts but, with few exceptions, do not go very heavily into the structural aspects. As an independent learner, I believe that both aspects are important, hence my suggestion that anyone wishing to put a little more structure into their learning choose one from the first category (I suggested my own favourite) and three from the second category. Finally, I have assigned what I hope are more descriptive names to the two categories and am open to suggestions for improving these.

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 9:36 pm
by Speakeasy
Stringerbell, thank you very much for your comments (which I did not notice while I was composing my second post off-line). Quite frankly, as evidenced by my own submission, I did not anticipate the aspects that you raised with respect to increasing one’s reading skills. Rather, I was more focused on specific materials designed to guide the advancing student in matters of structure and vocabulary. Bravo for mentioning the other aspects!

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Sun Apr 28, 2019 9:35 pm
by Stefan
Speakeasy wrote:My Suggestions
(1) Reading German: A Course Book and Reference Grammar (1997) by Waltraud Coles, Bill Todd
(2) A selection of three (3) readers from the list above.

Ended up ordering four of them:

A Reader in German Literature
Der Spiegel: Aktuelle Themen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Deutsche Denker und Forscher
Deutsche Literatur von Heute

Where should I send you my invoice? :)

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Mon Apr 29, 2019 12:51 am
by Speakeasy
Stefan wrote: … Ended up ordering four of them …
It is easy to advise the wise. – Serbian Proverb
Stefan wrote: … Where should I send you my invoice?
North Pole (90 degrees latitude, 360 degrees longitude). All requests must be signed, submitted on applicable forms in triplicate, must be endorsed by someone in good standing with the addressee, must be accompanied by a certified cheque covering all fees to be drawn on an international bank, payable to the addressee, and must arrive no later than the first week of December of the year prior to the date of the request. You are advised to not send cash by mail. In special cases, a “drop” can be arranged … DO NOT even THINK about wearing a wire!

Re: German: Improving Reading Skills (Intermediate and Advanced)

Posted: Thu Jun 06, 2019 7:22 pm
by David1917
When this thread originally surfaced, I put a few of these items on my Amazon wishlist for the "some day..." contingency. The problem being, German has not been a huge priority for me and I've been more than content with slowly reviewing German Without Toil and engaging in the occasional Deutsche-Welle exercise. Well, "some day" might be here. I always knew that I would need to ramp up my reading ability for my impending Master's in history, though I was unsure as to what specifically would be the focus of my thesis, and whether I would just need to be able to read newspapers to compare reporting of major events or political speeches, or read whole histories themselves. While I have not officially decided on a thesis, I have slowly begun to realize that approaching a certain modern European political philosophy from almost any angle requires at least a basic understanding of thinkers like Hegel. It seems that all roads lead to Hegel, and thus, I must embark on this journey myself.

Speakeasy, and others who have attained high levels in German reading, and possibly even read in the original these titanic works - does one or other of these readers more specifically take you in the direction of reading this type of writing? While none might have extracts from Hegel himself, I have to assume that items like the modern short story collections are less of what I need.

Second, might I get some comments on my study plan:
- Complete German Without Toil. I'm at around Lesson 110 right now, and there is a LOT in this book that I do not want to miss out on, though I know I need to break out of course mode.
- Complete Perfectionnement Allemand. I figure this will be the first in a set of graded readings, and since I enjoy Assimil so much, it will be a soft entry into reading longer and more advanced items.
- Complete Reading German by Coles, Todd.
- Complete Readers XYZ as recommended.
- Engage in grueling sessions of reading German Philosophy in the original, with English translations and commentaries.

I have more or less one year exactly until I would like to be reading German at this level. DW appraised me at a B2 with their online test which may be a bit generous, but not horribly far off. This might be manageable.