I’ve always been a big advocate for hosting your own websites, not relying on Big Tech companies exclusively to keep your stuff safe. It may feel as if your profile on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter is “your home” online, but we’re just tenants, at best. And most of the time, sure, it’s fine. But if something goes wrong, you very quickly realize how little control you actually have.
Yesterday I was reminded of this very fact when one of my LearnOutLive posts on GoodReads (the “Facebook for Books”) spawned an interesting conversation about language learning, difficulty curves of graded readers and writing in general. Today, upon returning to the same post on GoodReads with the intention of continuing the conversation I found all of the thread deleted *poof* gone, vanished. Their whole platform is somewhat buggy, so I’m not even surprised, but it’s still a bit of a bummer.
I wrote to GoodReads trying to restore what was deleted, but it’s a long shot.
In the meantime I found that one of my more elaborate replies from yesterday’s thread was conserved in the clipboard queue. And I’d like to share it with you today.
Someone in the thread asked (and I paraphrase) if my latest book Sturm auf Sylt had an increased difficulty level or if it was just their imagination. Also, did I intentionally use more complex phrases and expressions? Was there a roadmap for these books or was it more “free-form” writing?
Excellent question! There are many ways to answer it, and I’ll try to give you some ideas without spoiling anything for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.
First of all, technically speaking, as outlined on my website the Dino lernt Deutsch series starts out at around A1/A2 and leads up all the way to B1/B2.
According to CEFR A1 is about “familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases”, the A2 level deals with “expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment.”
On the B1 level we then encounter “familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.“. And on B2 the student “can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialisation.”
So as you perhaps can tell from this definition, whoever made it until book 12 is already knee-deep in B2 territory. Hut ab! (Hats off!)
Now, while I try to make this slope of increased difficulty as smooth as possible, it’s only natural that different readers will notice the “bumps” at different points in their journey. For example, over the past few years I’ve received many emails by readers who perceived a strong increase in difficulty in episode 5 or 6, others felt it at book 9, and yet again others only at book 11.
And that’s totally fine. Depending on your own familiarity with certain topics, previous technical knowledge, general proficiency or even interest in specific fields, etc. some books will appear more difficult than others.
As in many other areas, also in language learning we only grow when we push ourselves. But if we push ourselves too hard we may give up. It’s all about finding that sliver of balance. So if someone reports that they’re struggling really hard with a certain book, I generally advise to take it easy, slow down, go back to earlier episodes or perhaps even try something else entirely for a bit.
Having said that, while these technical and didactic considerations inform almost every single aspect of these books my aim has always been–and remains–to write stories that are first and foremost fun to read.
The previous book (Lockdown in Liechtenstein) was written in mid-2020, and the current one (Sturm auf Sylt) was hammered out over a couple of intense months since mid-2022. Both of these books are very much products of their time. I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say that the world we know today is not even remotely the same as two years ago. Many people’s lives have changed drastically and we’re still reeling from the blow. Much of what we had previously considered fixed, for granted, or unalterable has turned out to be surprisingly malleable, perhaps shockingly so.
I firmly believe that the way we use language is a reflection of the way we perceive the world around us. So if book 11 was all about the sudden confusion of finding ourselves plunged into isolation and introspection with an invisible threat all around, book 12 is shaped by the sound of scurrying out of the proverbial cave, trying to catch up with the fallout and ever-spiraling complexities of a world that has superficially “returned to normal” but feels fundamentally different and also strangely exciting.