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.Melkor wrote: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.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 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.
(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!