I was very pleased to find this book, German Quickly. As a seminarian, I appreciated the fact that the author April Wilson had also been through a divinity programme. She specialised in teaching German to graduate students who needed to quickly capture the language so that fairly high-level academic articles and texts for their studies. This particular book is very good at helping students in the humanities -- German is also important for those in the sciences, but this book does not cover the particular scientific terminology; that being said, this would be a good primer for German generally, and students could then go on to master the nuances of scientific language.
One of the best features of this text are the stories and text samples at the ends of the sections. Wilson takes these from all manner of sources -- the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac from the Bible, pieces from works by Martin Buber and Friedrich Nietzsche, and other writings make for interesting, realistic learning. These are not artificial constructs, but rather perfect examples of the kinds of actual reading that needs to be done.
There is also humour and style in the 'ordinary' exercises. How does one translate 'Ich bin ein Berliner'? Who can forget the language when one translates phrases such as 'Kinder und Narren sagen die Wahrheit'? (Children and fools speak the truth.) These are actual exercises. The one drawback for personal study is that not all the exercise solutions are given in the back of the book.
There is a very good section on German dictionaries, giving the strengths and weaknesses of many of the major German dictionaries available. She actually has the brilliant suggestion of having two dictionaries -- a smaller paperback version that gives quick-and-dirty definitions, and then a larger hard-back dictionary that fills in the nuances of the words. Using only the larger one will slow down the beginning reader. This suggestion is one of but many that makes this text a real gem.
This book is for reading comprehension; writing can be learned from it, but it really doesn't focus upon that. Nor does it concentrate on German as a spoken language -- there is a pronunciation key at the beginning, and German is much more standard than English in pronunciation according to spelling, but this book is not intended to train speakers or listeners in German. It is as its title suggests -- a grammar for reading German, quickly. In that, it succeeds admirably.
Here are some of the salient features that make the book so helpful for beginners (this is the first foreign language that I have started learning, other than English which I learned as a kid):
1. Well chosen exercises after each chapter. To get the full benefit from the book, one must do all the exercises. I personally found that I could easily manage a chapter a day for the firsr few chapters, and then a chapter per two or three days for the later ones.
2. Sense of humor. Yes, in this regard it is doubtlessly one of the best textbooks that I have ever read in my life. And this is in sharp contrast with some of the other texts that are available in the market (for instance the texts that are used for the beginning German courses at Stanford. Oh, why are those books SO devoid of humor?)
3. Using proverbs to teach German. This is a great idea that should be used in teaching any language. Proverbs are those little simple sentences that somehow stick in our minds more than other things do. That's why they survive so long. Now Ms Wilson smuggles the German vocabulary into the reader's mind in packets of these proverbs.After reading the German for "When there is fire in the heart, there's smoke in the head", it is hard to forget that Rauch means smoke.
4. No language book for beginners can be expected to be full of real examples of great literary value, since those will be above the level of the average reader. But still the author creates the wonderful feeling of "real German" by quoting sentences and passages of famous German authors. This is in sharp contrast with the (popular?) German textbooks ... with examples churned out by machines to show the use of some grammar rule.
5. The book is well worth the money. I don't know why, but some German teachers at US univs prescribe textbooks that are written only to extract money out of student's pockets. The books ... force you to use manuals and workbooks that are sold separately, and are often full of silly pictures that do not help you to learn anything, but only serve to increase the price of the book. Ms Wilson's book, on the contrary, is full of serious information, and acts as a good reference book even after you through with it.
6. Finally, the book does NOT teach you how to speak German or how to comprehend spoken German. For that a good resource would be the book+CDs set from the "Living Language" series.
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