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Best books to help you learn a European language

A good book is the perfect way to relax and unwind. But did you know that reading can actually help you to learn another language? When you read in a foreign language, you reinforce vocabulary memorization and delve into another history and culture.


The experts at online language learning app, Babbel, share the best books to supplement your learning, whether you’re just starting out or already a pro.




For beginners, “Das Wunder von Bern” (The Miracle of Bern) by is available in an easy language version. Based on the movie script by “The Miracle of Bern” is set during the 1954 World Cup Final - one of most important sporting events for Germany since WWII. More advanced German speakers “Max und Moritz” (Max and Moritz) by Portuguese The comic novel “Bear” (Bear) by Christ of Siemes Sonke Wortmann, will enjoy the funny and heartwarming Wilhelm Busch. Known as Germany’s father of comedy, Busch uses sketches to bring to life his lyrical texts as he transports readers back to 19th century Germany. Its short story format gives you natural breaks and the variety to keep you intrigued.



The comic novel “Bear” (Bear) by Bianca Pinheiro is recommended for Portuguese beginners. Comic novels are excellent for those starting to learn a language, since they combine learning with humour. The novel tells the adventures of a little girl and a grumpy bear who team up to search for the girl’s missing parents. If you are looking for a more challenging read, try “Comedias para se ler na escola” (Comedies to Read at School) by Luis Fernando Verissimo. Don’t let the title deter you! Luis Fernando Verissimo is one of Brazil's most popular authors and his series of short stories cover many different topics, from romance to adventure, so there is something for lovers of every genre.



'A Foreign Woman' by Sergei Dovlatov, tells the captivating journey of Soviet immigrants moving to New York during the 1980’s. It has short sentences and vivid dialogue, making it a great book for new learners. If you are looking to dive in Russian everyday life and its social complexities, 'The Stylist' by Alexandra Marinina is the book for you. By one of Russia’s best-selling detective authors, this book unveils the life of a Criminal Investigation Department officer, who unintentionally finds himself at the helm of a serial murder investigation.



Looking for a laugh? Be sure to read “Sin noticias de Gurb” (No News from Gurb) by Eduardo Mendoza. A book for beginners, this satirical novel is about an alien who gets lost in Barcelona as the city prepares for the 1992 Olympics, and questions the subtle complexities of being human. For more advanced readers and those who prefer a more dramatic genre, “Historia de una maestra” (Story of a Teacher) by Josefina Aldecoa follows the turbulent journey of a young teacher during the Second Spanish Republic and the uncertainty of life in 1920 Spain.



If you’re planning to travel through Sweden, “Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige” (Nils Holgerssons' wonderful journey through Sweden) by Selma Lagerlof offers a treasure-trove of travel advice in language perfect for those starting to learn Swedish. Originally written to help children learn geography, it traces the adventures of a mischievous boy on his journey through the country’s various landscapes and villages. For an insight into Swedish hip-hop and slang, “Rocky” (Rocky) by Martin Kellerman is the book for you. Kellerman tells the story of his own life and experiences in Stockholm through the eyes of an anthropomorphic dog named Rocky. Adult-humour and questionable scenes give this book a contemporary twist on the everyday cartoonist novel.




A must for all Turkish learners is Orhan Veli’s folk tales and adventures of Nasreddin Hodja, a Seljuq satirical Sufi from the 13th century, who has some very unconventional methods for solving problems. Based on popular Turkish folktales and funny anecdotes, the short and simple sentences are great for learners, and the punch lines will inevitably make any reader laugh. For a more challenging read and insights into Turkey’s historical culture, society and politics, the “Ince Memed” (Ince Memed) tetralogy by Yasar Kemal is a must. Kemal draws readers into a world woven with social injustices, gender issues, rebellion and poignant legends of Southern Anatolia, using simple language that is perfect for a learner of Turkish.



The everyday vocabulary, useful expressions, illustrations and schoolyard slang make “Le petit Nicolas” (The Little Nicolas) by Rene Goscinny a must-read for anyone learning French. Goscinny paints 1950’s France in an idealised and entertaining light, with much humour around how the protagonist misinterprets adults and their behaviour. Marjane Satrapi’s autobiography “Persepolis” (Persepolis) offers a more challenging and emotional read. A mix of serious and funny, Satrapi tells the story of her childhood in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, and her immigration to Austria and France. She gives readers an insight in colloquial French and the challenges of adjusting to life abroad.



Danish fairytale master, Hans Christian Andersen’s “Den lille havfrue” (The Little Mermaid) is a great story to help beginners get to grips with the language. Possibly his most famous fairy tale, readers can follow the heart-warming story they know from childhood. For advanced learners looking for a deep dive into cultural thought and philosophy, look no further than “Enten - Eller” (Either - Or) by Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s work speculates on the theory of human nature from two different perspectives, hedonistic and ethical. Certainly not a light read, but essential for anyone interested in exploring life’s fundamental questions.



“Pogingen iets van het leven te maken - het geheime dagboek van Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 jaar” (Attempts to make something of life - the secret diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 years) by Hendrik Groen is a book for Dutch learners of all levels. Guaranteed to make you laugh, Groen’s autobiography reveals the mischief and mayhem he causes in his retirement home in Amsterdam. It uses simple language with humorous and tender twists. If you are looking for a entertaining way to learn about the intricacies of the Dutch language, pick up “Taal is zeg maar echt mijn ding” (Language is really my thing) by Paulien Cornelisse. A Dutch bestseller, this humorous series of short stories reveals not how people should talk to each other, but rather how they accidently do. Cornelisse reveals some strange curiosities in the Dutch language.


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Images Ben White / Unsplash


Published: 25 April 2018

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