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6 Strategies (plus 5 tips) for reading in German

Reading in a new language can be very difficult and frustrating - even for book lovers who are avid readers in their own language.

After all, you know: reading in a new language would really help you to make good progress and improve your language learning easily.

Reading strategies

  • You expand your vocabulary.

  • You pick up the spelling as well as the structure of sentences.

  • You would even get a feeling what the grammar should be like when you are writing or speaking yourself.

If language learners do get stuck, it might be, that the difficulty of the text doesn’t match their level of German. For example, in case you've just started learning German, you will have difficulties with a scientific essay.

If the text is not that difficult, you might want to try these easy strategies for reading. You will be surprised how much quicker you will get through new texts and understand even more – with less effort!

In this article you will find out what reading strategies are and how you can apply them when studying German.

Reading Strategies

The good news: you probably know AND already use all of these strategies – in your own language.

If you are still struggling to read German texts, all you might need is to become aware of them and consciously apply them to German texts.

Reading Strategies German

1. You don’t need to understand every word.

Just imagine being in a noisy bar or in a busy street and talking to some friends. You won’t understand every single word - but just enough to get the meaning and make sense of what the other person is saying. You will only ask your friends to repeat or rephrase the sentence when you don’t understand the meaning at all and get confused.

This is a strategy that you can also apply to reading texts in a foreign language. You assume the meaning of unfamiliar words because you understand the overall meaning. Only if that is unclear, you should look them up.

2. First impressions do count!

Before we even start reading a text in our own language, we will have a very clear impression about it. Is it in

  • a newspaper?

  • A gardening magazine?

  • A leaflet?

  • A novel?

Whatever it is, we expect a certain style of language: Formal, informal, technical, … . We are also ready for the type of content and certain words that might get used. If we open a gardening magazine, the word “Daisy” will have a totally different meaning than in a Comic.

If you look into your German course book however, a lot of those clues are missing.

Even if the headline says that ‘this is a blogpost’ or an ‘article from a magazine’, it doesn’t ‘feel’ like it.

Therefore, we must make ourselves aware of that background and try to think what it means for the style of the text. That way we will also activate our previous knowledge.

3. “Fly over the text” – global reading

If we open a newspaper or start a search on google, we quickly glance over the page.

In German we call it ‘einen Text überfliegen’ (lit.: to fly over a text) – your eyes quickly travel over the text.

This will only give us an idea about the topic or the most important information of the text.

We will not yet be looking for any details.

So: ask yourself. What is the general idea? Again, this will activate the previous knowledge – this time on the subject and content.

4. Cherry-picking -selective reading

Let’s pretend we want to go to a museum this weekend. Only … will it be opened? When you pick up the beautiful leaflet about the museum, you will not look for the history or the exhibition at this moment: you will go directly to the opening hours.

How to read efficiently

This is called selective reading: You only try to understand what’s important for you at this very moment and ignore the rest.

You will also need this strategy if you want to take a German exam: you need to show that you are able to extract the important information.

If the question is: 'Can you go and see the museum this Saturday at 11.00 am?' then it is not necessary to understand every single word about it’s history.

5. Get it all – detailed reading

Of course: sometimes we want to know exactly what is written in a text. Every single word might be important. Then we will fight our way through all of the words and sentences and try to understand every detail – this is why this is called detailed reading.

There are five more tips that might help you here:

(1) Looking at the context and/or the word itself

Are there any words that you don’t know? Look at the context: are there any clues? Or: Do you know similar words in your own language?

For example: English and German share 60% of their vocabulary, which means that at least the pronunciation will sound familiar.

(2) Try to find the keywords:

You will find keywords in every text. If you know these, you will already get a rough idea about the content.

(3) Don’t overlook the subheadings.

They are supposed to give you an overview of the content of the following paragraph.

If there aren’t any headings or if you don’t find them useful: create your own subheadings.

(4) Try to filter out and underline what really matters

Always ask yourself: Which is the most important information?

(5) Look at the structure.

If you want to understand a sentence: Don’t forget to look out for separable prefixes or verbs in the infinitive at the end of each phrase!

Learning German by reading

6. The right “why”

Ideally, you are not just reading to prepare for an exam but for fun or because the subject is important for you.

Your previous knowledge and international words will be really helpful for you to understand the texts!

When I was doing an Erasmus-Semester in Spain, I found it much easier to read texts for university than the local newspaper – it was simply the style of writing I knew in German and I was always able to assume what it was about before I even started reading.

If you want to start reading novels or crime fiction, you could start choosing something that you know in your own language.

There are also lots of books that come with vocabulary, matching every level of German.

Or … why not simply reading this blog every week? You will learn something about Germany or how to learn German every week and it comes with useful vocabulary. If you do get stuck after all, you can always read the English version … and maybe try to understand the German one afterwards.

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These 6 strategies (plus 5 tips!) will help you to read more successfully … and hopefully to become an avid reader of German literature!



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