A Foundation Course in Reading German
Alan Ng, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Copyright Year: 2017
Publisher: University of Wisconsin - Madison
Conditions of Use
This open access text is comprehensive. It commences with a brief preface followed by a useful introduction that includes "Objectives," a brief summary of the "Relationship between German and English" and "Learning Vocabulary". "Tips For Using... read more
This open access text is comprehensive. It commences with a brief preface followed by a useful introduction that includes "Objectives," a brief summary of the "Relationship between German and English" and "Learning Vocabulary". "Tips For Using This Textbook" guide the reader into the first of sixteen units, again, each starting with clear objectives for each respective chapter. After working through these sixteen units of grammatical concepts, the reader has finally an opportunity to practice in the "Review" section. All practice activities can be found at the very end of the book. As this is not a language text, there are no practice activities within the respective chapters.
I love the fact that readers have the option to work with either the easy to print PDF format or to use an online live textbook version, which however has not been revised since August 2020 (1: Basics, 3. Noun Gender and the Nominative Case; other sections since 2014) . Also, there is no glossary in the PDF version.The author states that he targets readers, who aspire to read and translate German texts, yet who have no previous experience studying the German language. It is made clear that a thorough understanding of the English grammar and syntax is eminent. Based on many years of experience, graduate, post-graduate students and grammatically very well versed readers will benefit most from this text. However, it can also serve as a clear and more or less concise grammatical review of major concepts for intermediate and advanced language learners in a foreign language classroom.
The content of this book is for the most part accurate. I have stumbled upon one typo in 1. Introduction, Learning Vocabulary, point 4: "beeinflüssen" which should be without the Umlaut (beeinflussen).
During the "Rechtschreibreform" (a spelling reform of the German language that became effective) in August 1998, the "ß" underwent certain revisions. Among others, it was decided that a short -s sound at the end of a word should be spelled as -ss, whereas a long -s sound should remain -ß. For example: der Fuß (the foot) = long -u; but: der Fluss (the river) = short vowel -u sound. In my opinion, the book would benefit from an addition that references major changes, which were implemented during the Rechtschreibreform.
All content is up-to-date. As there are no cultural references or time-referenced jargon, the book feels up-to-date. My only concern, as previously stated, relates to the -ß versus -ss issue in the use of German example and practice sentences, and the lack of mention of the Rechtschreibreform. This tells me that the text is somewhat older. But contextually, I don't see why this book should become obsolete any time soon.
The structure and all grammar explanations including examples are very clear. However, I do agree with Alexis Smith, Assistant Professor of German, Hanover College on 3/25/20, who "noticed [...] one confusing passage in Unit 8 section "4 [relating to] Werden in Probability Statements:" "Work out your own translations of the seven examples on this page to experience this decision-making process." Please refer to his review for more clarification on this behalf.
The text is consistent in its whole including terminology and framework throughout each unit.
The text is easily divisible into smaller reading sections, which continuously progress from simpler to more complex and more advanced structures and examples. Each unit builds on the skills learned in previous units. Therefore, readers should proceed chronologically throughout the text versus jumping back and forth between sections.
All topics are presented in a logical and clear fashion, which makes the text easy to follow and the material not difficult to acquire.
Besides the previously mentioned lack of glossary within the PDF version of the text, I found no significant interface issues. The PDF book prints well. I did not experience any formatting problems. Based on its format, the online text book version is more interactive. The display features are well organized, functional and do not distract the reader, taking the reading experience to a more trendy level.
Besides the spelling error mentioned above, I found no significant grammatical errors.
Unit 11--3. Infinitive Phrases: "Your will notice" instead of "You will notice" issue in both PDF and online versions.
While the text includes sections that discuss similarities and differences between German and English grammar, and reference German, Austrian and Swiss relations, I found no culturally insensitive or offensive passages. Examples and practice activities focus on remaining subjective while maintaining a neutral stance that can be applied on a global scale.
As previously said, this book is a wonderful resource that benefits both, the intended target audience with its intended purpose, as well as intermediate and more advanced students of the German language for review and skill-completing purposes. I do intend to add this book as an optional reading item to my syllabus.
This website/PDF textbook provides are very useful introduction on how to read and translate German into English for beginners. read more
This website/PDF textbook provides are very useful introduction on how to read and translate German into English for beginners.
In order to validate the claim on the PDF that this course is "revised continually," I checked the current website version. Indeed, changes have been made to the course regularly in the last two years--the latest changes having been made on August 6, 2019. The current website version I reviewed is a snapshot from March 25, 2020 and the PDF that is available both here on the Open Textbook Library website and the course website (https://courses.dcs.wisc.edu/wp/readinggerman/print-entire-textbook/) is from December 8, 2017. I reviewed the changes that have been made using this page: https://courses.dcs.wisc.edu/wp/readinggerman/revisions/. The majority of the changes were to add clarification on certain grammar points, further examples, and changes to examples provided. For example, in Unit 1: 9. Word Order a correction was made in the explanation for the first example, "Der Hund hat den Ball. // Den Ball hat der Hund." Instead of der Hund, the explanation in the PDF uses der Mann, which is clearly not a part of the example. This change added to the accuracy of the description. No errors were added in any of changes that were made to the website in the last two years.
The content is relevant, and updates have been regularly made on the website that improve the quality of the course.
The grammar explanations are very clear and the terms clearly defined. Further resources are suggested to students with little or no understanding of English grammar in order to better understand the content of the course. I noticed only one confusing passage in Unit 8 section "4. Werden in Probability Statements:" "Work out your own translations of the seven examples on this page to experience this decision-making process." Only five examples are listed below this statement. I assume this means that the reader should include the first two examples at the top of the page as well, but this is not clear. Other exercises on the website have the examples to work out followed by sample translations (as the answer key) in a separate list. The translations on this page immediately follow the German examples.
The terminology is consistent throughout, and links are provided to previously mentioned sections for further clarity. However, these links do not work on the PDF, including for the Untangler activities which must be completed online. One of the Untangler activities is also not mentioned in the PDF (in the Reference section 8. Syntax Terminology), so the reader would not know to go to the website to practice. If it is not possible to link these in the PDF version, it would be helpful to have them still consistently indicated in the PDF so that the reader knows to go online to complete them.
The text is well-organized as mentioned in previous reviews.
The topics are clearly organized (especially as is clear in the table of contents on the website).
The website prints well as a PDF, and few errors are created in the formatting (with the exception of unfortunate page breaks in content). In Unit 8--"4. Werden in Probability Statements" there is an extra return between "doch/schon/wohl" and "indicates." In section 5 of the same unit there is an extra return between the example "1. Der Computer..." and the English translation. As already mentioned in one previous review, there is only a table of contents available on the website version, not the PDF. It would be nice if the PDF could also contain links to the different sections, as well as links to the Untangler activities that are only available online.
I only found one minor error that remains in both the PDF and the website: in Unit 11--3. Infinitive Phrases both the PDF and website state, "Your will notice" instead of "You will notice."
There is no culturally insensitive content on the website. While there are examples from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there is little discussion on cultural differences of terminology. This would be helpful for a researcher/translator attempting to identify where the author is from, for example the difference between January = Januar and Jänner and Saturday = Samstag and Sonnabend [as listed in Reference: 7. Dates] and which regions use what. In the review for Units 1-4, an example using the swiss franc was changed to euro. While the euro is more common in Europe, the swiss franc is still used--it is not clear why this change was made. A section on how to recognize archaic forms of German in older texts would also be helpful, perhaps as a more advanced topic at the end or in a Reference section. I noticed that one of the changes from the PDF to the updated website was to change "Im starken Winde" to "Bei starkem Wind" in one of the examples in Unit 11 section "11. Infinitive Phrases". Perhaps including both options would be useful to the reader to recognize the difference and also the relative age of the text.
Overall this course provides an effective introduction to reading German for beginners. I enjoyed going through it and hope to use it in the future if I have the opportunity to teach German for reading knowledge. I think it would also be useful to incorporate this book into regular language or translation classes as a helpful and free resource.
This book consists of 16 units of increasing difficulty and complexity, moving from units on basic topics like nouns and verbs to extended adjective constructions and the subjunctive. A great number of grammatical topics are covered, including... read more
This book consists of 16 units of increasing difficulty and complexity, moving from units on basic topics like nouns and verbs to extended adjective constructions and the subjunctive. A great number of grammatical topics are covered, including passive voice, da-compounds, modals, demonstrative pronouns, the uses of "lassen" and modal verbs, word order, verb conjugation, abbreviations, peculiarities of grammar and syntax, and cases. In later units, topics such as "false friends" and idioms are explored, which is very helpful to the more advanced reader.
I found no errors in terms of accuracy, neither in German nor English. The language is very clear, efficient, and concise, and the text is flawless. It has obviously been very carefully edited and checked over. All terms are clearly explained.
All uses of language and terms are up-to-date and current -- I see no reason why any part of this text would become obsolete. It isn't a text with cultural content, so there is no risk that it could seem old-fashioned to students in a few years. Moreover, the text avoids any jargon that might change with intellectual trends.
The text is very clear in terms of its objectives. Each unit begins with a list of objectives for the student, and proceeds methodically. Particularly useful is the author's use of English grammar to first explain each concept before moving on to the German. This assures that the student understands the concept in general before attempting to master it in a foreign language. For example, before explaining the accusative case in German, the author explains it in English, using English examples. I found this very helpful, since American students often do not understand the basics of English grammar. The text offers careful, simple explanations of complex grammar structures, breaking them down into comprehensible elements. I also liked the "helpful hints" sections and the "points to remember" lists.
The text is thoroughly consistent. Terminology is introduced early, carefully defined, and used consistently throughout each unit.
This book is arranged into 16 units, each of which may be assigned separately or in conjunction with other units. The units transition flawlessly into each other, and build on the skills learned in previous units, so it is best that the student proceed as the author intended. The size of each unit is manageable and never overwhelming -- enough material is covered in each unit that the student masters a new skill with each, but should not feel overtaxed by new information.
Topics are presented logically and with increasing complexity. The student thus acquires the necessary building blocks and never confronts a new topic without having already learned the vital principles underlying it. Nouns and verbs, with basic sentence structure and word order, are thoroughly and carefully covered early on, and only later does the student encounter more complex topics like subjunctive, relative clauses, and imperative and passive voice.
I found no interface issues. I was working from a PDF, and there appears to be no table of contents, but otherwise I found the text eminently manageable and easy to understand.
I found no errors of any kind, neither in German nor English.
The book contains nothing that could be construed as culturally insensitive or offensive.
The text includes sections pointing out differences between German and English grammar, which will be very helpful for English-language students. I also found the "review of units" section at the end of the book an excellent resource. Here, the student finds translation exercises covering the grammar of each unit, and answers are also provided. In general, this book does an excellent job of isolating the skills essential for reading and guiding the student toward the most crucial aspects of grammar and syntax. The text advises the student, for example, when to memorize and when not, and provides lucid reasoning behind the grammar (for example, in the case of adjective endings). In discussion of verb tenses, comparisons with English help the student to identify potential problems and difficulties of translation. I also liked the "exceptions" sections throughout the book, and the excellent and numerous sample sentences provided, of varying complexity. Finally, the reference section at the end of the book offers much helpful information on numbers, fractions, weights and measures, times, dates, and calculations.
A note beforehand: I’m not teaching German, but as a Dutch language instructor teaching a similar course for the Dutch language, I enjoyed reading and reviewing A Foundation Course in Reading German. A Foundation Course in Reading German is... read more
A note beforehand: I’m not teaching German, but as a Dutch language instructor teaching a similar course for the Dutch language, I enjoyed reading and reviewing A Foundation Course in Reading German.
A Foundation Course in Reading German is intended for those who do not know any German, and as such covers all the grammar from the very beginning to the most complex (advanced) features, in a mere 16 units. The textbook comes in a PDF version that can be used as an offline textbook, as well as an online version with links to exercises. The tips on how to navigate both the PDF textbook and the online open textbook at the beginning are very useful.
Each unit starts off with an “Objectives” section which tells the user what s/he will learn. I like the way the text addresses me as a user, the way it guides me through the reading and translation process. The first units present some very helpful reading cues. I particularly liked the section “Points to remember”. For instance, I found the reading cues to understanding and recognizing definite and indefinite articles and their cases very helpful and these present a “new” way of looking at learning charts.
Grammar is explained thoroughly and clearly, with plenty of examples to illustrate the point. I like the fact that most grammar is explained first with English example sentences (to ensure the user understands what grammar is being discussed), then with German examples sentences, which are then translated into English. This contrastive approach allows for the user to clearly see the similarities and differences between German and English.
One thing I noticed with regard to the example sentences is that they are often conversational, rather than sentences you would encounter when reading German. They serve as good illustrations for the grammar explanations, but I was missing more complicated and authentic sentences from actual texts.
The online textbook offers plenty of practice opportunity. Some units have a link to (very fun!) “Syntax Untangler” activities (with sentences from actual texts), and after each four units, there are review exercises. The book ends with a series of texts (which are in fact sentences) to translate, and accompanying “Suggested translations” in English, which is a nice feature. Translation exercises were limited to isolated sentences, rather than paragraphs (or even complete texts). I would have liked to see longer translation exercises, in the form of a paragraph or text, as this would provide the reader/translator with a context for the content and grammar presented in these sentences.
As far as I can see, the book is very accurate in discussing the grammar and how German sentence constructions translate into English.
Overall, I’ve found the example sentences for reading and translating pretty neutral and not referring to specific events or persons, which allows for long term use. The book is also continually revised.
Everything is presented in a very clear manner. I like the way the text addresses me as a user, and the way it guides me through the reading and translation process.
The book is very consistent on terminology and framework.
Although the grammar is introduced in a specific order (and I would encourage the user to stick to this structure), the clearly marked division in units and sections within units allow for dividing the book into smaller sections, if necessary.
The book is very well structured. Each unit is consistent and each section is clearly marked. I did miss a table of content in the offline version, but perhaps that is because this is a snapshot of the entire textbook (?). I liked the font that was chosen for the offline version. As far as the lay-out, I found it was not always ideal. On multiple occasions, the page breaks in the middle of a chart, or a new section starts on the bottom of the page. As a reader, I would not have mind some blank spaces to accommodate for a better lay-out.
The online textbook has no interface issues whatsoever. The PDF version has some room for improvements (see my remarks under #7).
I did not find any grammatical errors.
I don't have specific comments on the book's cultural relevance.
This book is a great source for those who want to be able to read German texts. I can imagine an instructor teaching a reading course in German, using this book as required reading, and then selecting texts that are culturally relevant and up to date as reading and translating exercises in class. I think the book can be used not only in the context of an actual course (in-class, online, hybrid), but it is also an excellent source for self-study.
Table of Contents
- 1: Basics
- 2: Cases, present tense
- 3: Articles, simple past
- 4: Verbs with prefixes; adjective endings
- 5: Prepositions, reflexives
- 6: Conjunctions, comparatives
- 7: Perfect tenses and participles
- 8: Werden, relative clauses
- 9: Passive voice
- 10: Modal verbs
- 11: Infinitive usages
- 12: Da- compounds
- 13: Extended adjective constructions
- 14: Subjunctive I
- 15: Subjunctive II
- 16: Finishing touches
About the Book
This textbook guides a learner who has no previous German experience to gain the ability to accurately understand formal written German prose, aided only by a comprehensive dictionary.
About the Contributors
Alan Ng wears 3 hats for the Division of Continuing Studies, one bearing the title "Director of Outreach Technology," another one as a German instructor, and – rarely – a third as an ad-hoc instructor of Irish traditional music. Alan is chiefly responsible for overseeing the Division's use of technology and providing strategic IT leadership for the continuing-education units across campus. That work includes project management and technical consulting across the areas of instruction, marketing, financials, and business process improvement. His responsibilities within the German program are to teach the Independent-Learning German course 391 (A Foundation Course in Reading German), and to grade the German for Reading Knowledge Exam.
Alan's main academic background is in German literature, for which he completed a PhD at UW-Madison in 2002 on the topic of a politically explosive 1962 East-Berlin poetry reading with far-reaching consequences. His professional notoriety in this field, however, rested mainly on his volunteer work publishing and editing germanistik.net, arguably the world's leading professional Web portal for Germanists, which he founded in 1996. His interests in Germanistik have always incorporated technology, including inventing online teaching tools in German and Dutch during the birth years of the Web, writing academic hypertext (such as on poet Paul Celan) and building the North American directory database for German studies. More recently, Alan invented and built Syntax Untangler, an online, open-source tool for teaching reading skills in any language.