Saturday, August 15, 2009

How reading German childrens books can help improve your German.

Have you ever noticed how kids can pick up lines from their favorite TV shows and recite them verbatim at exactly the perfect time in a conversation? Sometimes I may not even realize my kids are quoting from a show until later. They are able to do it with such finesse. They absorb the words, phrases, timing and rhythm of these little bits and pieces and store them away for future use.

You may not want to go around quoting TV shows, but did you know that you can use this same strategy to improve your own German?

Learning more German is high on the list for many parents who are teaching German to their kids, even though they aren't fluent themselves.
They are often frustrated when they want to say something that they don't have the knowledge for. Or they can't get the words to come quickly enough. They may not always be able to spend time in personal study. What I tell them is that they can take advantage of a regular German lesson every day, all for the price of reading a book to their child.

Simply reading German books every day with your kids can bring you a surprising effect on your own German fluency.
When you read a German children's book, you get to enter the mind of the author. You have access to her favorite words and phrases, her sense of timing, her style with grammar and sentence structure. As her words are spoken by you, you internalize her style, little by little. You start to take ownership of the words used in the story. It’s almost like you have a tape recorder in your brain which will offer up these “taped” words later when you need them.

Of course all this happens auf Deutsch. So you’re reading, hearing, pronouncing, and absorbing high quality German language (assuming you’ve chosen quality stories). You may find yourself using a phrase later on in the day. Or you'll learn a new word just by hearing it in the context of the story.

Reading is easier than having a conversation.
When you read, you don't have to formulate the sentences yourself. As you read, your brain receives practice speaking German more quickly and with less effort than when you speak spontaneously. If you’re not fluent, you may find it difficult to express yourself or keep up with a more accomplished speaker. When reading you don’t have to retrieve the right words, worry about gender and case, etc. With a book, you can just focus on the story. Your mind gets a bit of a break from the hard work and gets to enjoy some excellent German.

You’re not the only one who benefits from a daily reading session.
Of course your child is getting the same benefits you are. Your child is absorbing German sentence structure, style, rules about gender and case, all wrapped up in the pretty package of a good story. What a fantastic and fun way to learn!

Why is it important for parents to read books to their kids daily?
Daily reading is important for so many reasons, but in the context of this article, the regular practice is key for you (and your child) to maintain the progress you’ve made and keep moving forward. You’ll need to see a new word several times before your brain can easily remember the word, know how to use it, what gender it is, etc. If you don’t read every day, you lose momentum and your progress will suffer.

What should I read?
What you read is not as important as how regularly you read and picking something enjoyable for your child to hear. Pick books on your child’s favorite topics or look for popular stories for your child’s age. Make sure to tailor your pace [liNK] so that your child gets the maximum benefit from the reading session.

What if I don't understand everything we're reading?
Keep going anyway. Just as your child doesn’t have to understand every word of a conversation to know what’s going on, so too, you don’t have to understand every word in a sentence to follow the story. If you must, keep a piece of paper handy to jot down any unfamiliar words so you can look them up later. But don’t stop to look anything up at this point. Stopping during a story will interfere with your momentum and get you out of the groove.

What if my child wants books that are too easy for me? Will I still benefit from them?
Your child may want to hear Augen zu, kleiner Tiger for the 17th time – that’s OK. You’ll probably still find something in the story you hadn’t noticed before. As your child grows, he’ll want longer and more complicated books and your skills will be more challenged by his needs.

Take advantage of your mind’s ability to “record” the books you read aloud. Your read-aloud times with your kids will do double-duty as quality time and German lessons. Then you, too, can quote from the books you read and become a more accomplished German speaker.


Thea said...

This is soooo true. I read "baustelle" and 'Ritter" books to my son all the time. Now with my daughter its "Prinzessin und Fee" - a completely new vocabulary :-)

Emily C said...

So, any recommendations on how to find quality books in any language?

We're a trilingual family, and I'm struggling to find (on my grad student budget) a good source for French books.

Sarah Mueller said...


Great question - here are a couple quick thoughts and I think I will write an article with more details for you: Ebay, host a book swap with friends, find printable books online (here's a link, scroll down for some in French:, try Enchanted Learning for printable books as well.

Thea said...

I have good luck with Craigslist and Half Price Books. Also see if there is a French school (Saturday or full time) near you - they might host rummage sales.