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What to read when you’re a beginner?

by Tomasz P. Szynalski
Not a beginner? Check out recom­mendations for more advanced learners.

Simplified books

Simplified books (also called graded readers, easy readers or learner literature) are books written in simple English especially for English learners. They use only the most basic English words and grammar.

a page out of a simplified book
Example page from a simplified book (Bad Love, Cambridge University Press) • click to zoom

Simplified books are the ideal solution for people who are just starting to read in a new language. When I was studying German for my college exam, I spent a few months reading a series of simplified detec­tive stories about Helmut Müller, a detective from Berlin, and his secre­tary, Bea Braun. For me, these little books were a perfect way to learn: much easier to understand than “real” German texts and so gripping I couldn’t stop reading!

After reading a few simplified books (maybe about 120 pages in total), I noticed I was beginning to get a feel for basic German grammar. For example, I started to “feel” that you should say der Flug, not die Flug, von dir, not von dich, Leute, die uns helfen können, not Leute, die können uns helfen, Ich kenne einen Ort, not Ich kenne ein Ort. The incorrect phrases simply sounded weird to me, while the correct phrases sounded familiar. When writing, useful phrases like das heißt (that means) or eigentlich nicht (not exactly) appeared in my head.

It was a very exciting experience for me. For the first time, I could write something in German in a natural way, instead of trying to recall grammar rules (“Let’s see... the preposition von takes the dative case and the dative form of du is dir”).

Simplified books are available in different levels of difficulty — the simplest ones are written only with a few hundred most common English words (e.g. make, when, hear, look). Which levels should you choose? I do not recommend the lower levels (below 500 basic words) because they sound very artificial and can teach you some very unnatural English, for example water in eyes instead of tear (tear is not one of the 500 most common English words). If you can read this article, you should definitely start with intermediate or advanced books (over 1,000 words).

How to choose a simplified book that you will like:

Simple English Wikipedia

The Simple English Wikipedia is a real treat for every English learner who likes to learn about the world! The Simple English Wikipedia contains over 80,000 encyclopedia articles written in simple English. The language is simple, but not too simple — generally, articles use something like 1,500 most common English words, but they also use other words when it makes sense.

Example articles from the Simple English Wikipedia: