074 - Hansel and Gretel

In this episode, you'll hear a translation of the original Grimm Fairy Tale, Hansel and Gretel. You'll also hear many phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases in context.

American English Podcast

American English Podcast

By Shana Thompson

Hi Everyone!

In this week’s episode, I retell the very famous Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel.

I’ve made a few changes to the original text. First of all, I’ve intentionally added phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases throughout the text so that you can learn them in a context.

Secondly, I’ve modernized some of the language a bit, since the original texts were written in German in the 1800s. I want you to be able to use the language that you hear in conversation.

Vocab Sample
  • to come up with
  • to turn out
  • to run out
  • to write off
  • to follow through
  • to carry on
  • to work something out
  • to plump up
  • to pick up on
  • to dig in
  • to chow down
  • to be fed up
  • AT the crack of dawn / AT daybreak 
  • be rid OF / to get rid OF 
  • to rely ON 
  • to place trust IN someone
  • to put ON 
  • to sneak OUT 
  • to fall BEHIND 
  • to check ON 
  • to look AT 
  • to light something ON fire
  • to be responsible FOR
  • to plunge IN
  • to lure in
In this lesson
  • PDF Transcript + Podcast Player
  • Vocabulary and Definitions
  • Vocabulary Builder 
  • Pronunciation Exercise
  • Phrasal Verb + Prepositional Phrase Quizzes
  • Listening Comprehension Quiz
  • Supplementary Lesson on the Past Perfect

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Podcast Player

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074 – Hansel and Gretel.mp3 was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best audio automated transcription service in 2020. Our automated transcription algorithms works with many of the popular audio file formats.

Hi, everybody! My name is Shana and this is the American English Podcast. My goal here is to teach you the English spoken in the United States. Through common expressions, pronunciation tips and interesting cultural snippets or stories, I hope to keep this fun, useful and interesting. Let’s do it.

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to episode number 74. For today’s episode, I’ve decided to do something different. I’ll be telling a fairy tale and this one is going to be: Hansel and Gretel. As I mentioned back in episode number 22 about Project Gutenberg, there are plenty of books and stories that have entered the public domain, and this is one of them. Some of my favorite fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are available on Project Gutenberg for all of us to read.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of these names before, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, I mean. Or at least you’ve heard of their publications. The Brothers Grimm, were two brothers from Germany, who wrote The Frog Prince, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel and the Little Red Riding Hood, among many other remarkable stories.

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author – so he was a Dane, he was from Denmark – and he gave us famous works such as The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid.

As you can probably tell from some of these titles, these stories have stood the test of times. They’ve lasted for centuries and have been retold again and again. You might remember hearing them as a child even, or maybe you’ve seen Disney’s modern renditions of them.

For this episode, I’ve decided to translate the original Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel from German into English for you. But I’ve made a few changes. First of all, I’ve intentionally added phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases throughout the text so that you can learn them in a context. Secondly, I’ve modernized some of the language a bit, since the original texts were written in German in the 1800s. I want you to be able to use the language that you hear in conversation.

On a side note, I am by no means a translator by profession. I like German, I know it pretty well, and so I used my own knowledge, plus Leo dictionary, plus Google Translate, plus a German teacher to pull this off.

So, hope you enjoy!

As bonus content for this fairy tale, you’ll have access to the transcript, the podcast player – to practice pronunciation – and a list of key phrasal verbs and prepositional phrases with definitions. You’ll also get exercises and quizzes to use them. If you would like access to this material, be sure to sign up to premium content in the Classroom at americanenglishpodcast.com.

Without further ado, here’s Hansel and Gretel.

On the edge of a vast forest, lived a poor woodsman with his wife and his two children, a little boy named Hansel and a little girl named Gretel.

He had but little bread to share with his family, and when inflation hit the country, he could no longer manage to put any food on the table. At night, while in bed, he let his thoughts get the best of him. He whispered to his wife, "what’s going to become of us? How are we supposed to feed our poor children when we have nothing to feed ourselves?"

"You know what?" she responded, "Tomorrow morning, at the crack of dawn, we’ll lead the children into the deepest and thickest part of the forest. There, we’ll make them a fire and give each one a little piece of bread. Then we’ll go about our work and leave them on their own. They won’t be able to find their way back home and we’ll be rid of them."

"No, dear," said her husband, "there’s no way I’d ever have the heart to leave my own children alone in the forest. The wild animals would come and tear them to pieces.

"Oh, you dimwit," she said. "Then we’ll all die of hunger. You might as well start cutting the boards for our coffins," she said.

"The poor children rely on me. They placed their trust in me," said the man. But his wife pestered him about the matter until he agreed.

The two children were so hungry they hadn’t been able to fall asleep and heard everything that their mother had said to their father. Gretel cried bitterly and told Hansel, "Now we’re really done for."

"Quiet, Gretel. Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a way to help us."

When the old man and woman had fallen asleep, Hansel stood up, put on his shorts, opened the door and snuck out.

Outside the moon shined brightly, and the white pebbles that lay in front of the house glistened like new coins. Hansel bent down and shoved as many as he could into his pockets. Then he went back in and told Gretel to stay positive and sleep soundly. "God won’t leave our sides," he said, as he laid back down in bed.

The following day came and before the sun had fully risen, the woman came in and woke the two children. "Get up, you lazy bums. We’re going to the forest to gather wood." Then she gave each one a little piece of bread and said, "Here you go, this is for lunch. You better not finish it too soon, there won’t be any more where this came from."

Gretel put her bread under her apron since Hansel’s pockets were filled with stones. Then the family of four made their way to the forest. A short while later, Hansel stopped and looked back at the house, and then again…and then again.

His father said, "Hansel, what are you looking at? You’re falling behind. Be careful, and watch your step."

"Oh father," said Hansel, "I’m just checking on my kitten. It’s sitting on the roof and it wants to say goodbye to me.

"Fool, that’s not your cat. That’s the morning sun shining on the chimney," the woman retorted.

Hansel, however, was not looking at his cat. He had actually been throwing little white pebbles, one by one, from his pocket onto the walking path.

As they made it to the heart of the forest, their father said, "It’s time to gather wood, kids. I’ll make a fire so that you won’t freeze."

Hansel and Gretel gathered sticks and kindle and piled them into a small mound. The mound was lit on fire, and as the flame burned high, the woman said, "Now lie down next to the fire and relax a bit, kids. We’re going into the forest to cut wood. When we’re done, we’ll come back for you."

Hansel and Gretel sat by the fire and as midday came, they each ate their little pieces of bread. Hearing the blows of the wooden axe, they thought their father was nearby. The sound wasn’t coming from the wooden axe, though. It was a branch he had tied to a withered tree and it was swinging back and forth in the wind.

After sitting and waiting for a while, their eyelids got heavy and they fell fast asleep. When they awoke, it was pitch black. Gretel started to cry and said, "How are we going to get out of the forest?" Hansel put her at ease.

"Wait just a little bit until the moon is out and we’ll find our path back."

As the full moon rose, Hansel took his sister by the hand and they followed the small, shimmering stones on the ground. They glistened like new coins and showed them the way. They walked through the night and at daybreak they made it back home.

When they knocked on the door, the woman opened it up and seeing it was Hansel and Gretel, she said, "Oh, you horrible, impertinent things. Why did you sleep so long in the forest? We thought that you didn’t want to come back at all."

She didn’t seem very happy. Their father, on the other hand, was thrilled. It had broken his heart, leaving them alone like that.

It wasn’t long before the family was in a state of despair once again. At night, the children eavesdropped as their mother spoke to their father in bed.

"We’ve almost run out of food, there’s only half a loaf left. After that, it’ll all be gone. The kids have to go. We’ll take them deeper into the forest so that they can’t find their way back out. Otherwise, there’s no way we’ll save ourselves."

The father listened with a heavy heart and suggested that it would be best to share the last bites of food with the kids. But his wife wouldn’t listen to anything he had to say. She wrote him off, and scolded him as though he were entirely responsible for their dismal situation.

If he said one thing, she’d say the opposite. But now, more than ever, they needed to come to an agreement. Since he had followed through with her plans the first time, he was bound to give in again.

The children were still awake and had heard the entire conversation. When the old man and woman fell asleep, Hansel got up to gather some pebbles, as he had done the first time. But there was no point, the woman had locked the door and Hansel couldn’t get out. So he went back to bed. And in the bed next to him, he could hear his sister sniffling under the covers.

"Don’t cry, Gretel," he said. "Try and get some rest. God will work something out in our favor."

Early the next morning, the woman came in and got the kids out of bed. She held out a piece of bread for them to split, that was even smaller than the previous time. On the way to the forest, Hansel crumbled it in his pocket and stopped frequently to throw breadcrumbs onto the ground.

"Hansel – why are you stopping and looking around?" said his father. "Get a move on."

"I’m checking on my pigeon. It’s on the rooftop and wants to say goodbye," Hansel answered.

"Fool," said the woman, "that isn’t your little pigeon, it’s the morning sun shining on the chimney."

Little by little, though, Hansel, threw all of the breadcrumbs along the path.

The woman led the children even deeper into the forest this time, to an area she had never stepped foot in before. There, another big fire was built and their mother said, "Stay put, children. When you’re tired, you can sleep a little. We’re going into the forest to cut wood, and at night when we’re finished, we’ll come and get you."

When it was midday, Gretel shared her bread with Hansel since he had spread his piece along the trail. Then they slept and the evening passed, but nobody came for them.

The poor children woke up again when it was pitch black, and Hansel comforted his little sister. "Gretel, just wait until the moon is high in the sky and we’ll see exactly where I spread the breadcrumbs. They’ll show us the way back home."

As the moon appeared, they got up to search, but they could no longer find the crumbs. The thousands of birds that fly about the forests and fields had picked them up. Hansel reassured Gretel, "Well, we’ll find the path soon enough."

But they didn’t find it. They walked throughout the night and the following day, from dawn until dusk, they couldn’t find their way out of the forest. Neither Hansel nor Gretel had eaten anything other than a few berries lying on the ground, and they felt famished. They were so tired that their legs didn’t want to carry on.

So they laid down under a tree and fell asleep.

It had been three days since they’d left their father’s house. After a short nap, they set off again, but only went deeper and deeper into the forest. If they didn’t find help soon, they’d most definitely starve or be eaten by a wild animal.

As midday came, they saw a beautiful little bird, white as snow, sitting on a branch. It sang so melodically that they stopped to listen. And when it finished, it flapped its wings and flew in front of them.

Odd, they thought. The children followed it, and eventually the bird led them to a cottage and sat upon its roof. As they got closer, they saw that the cottage was built out of gingerbread and covered in cake. Its windows were made of icing sugar.

"Let’s dig in," said Hansel. "This is where we can have a hearty meal to start our day. I want a piece of the roof. Gretel, you can eat that window. It’ll be sweet."

Hansel reached up and broke off a little piece of the roof to see how it tasted. Gretel stood next to the window pane and nibbled away at it.

That’s when a voice called out from the room within:

Nibble, Nibble, Gnaw.

Who’s nibbling on my house?

The children answered.

Never mind, it’s just the wind.

They continued eating, unphased. Hansel, who found the roof very tasty, ripped down a big chunk for himself. Gretel pulled out an entire round window pane, took a seat and chowed down.

Suddenly, the doors opened and a woman emerged leaning on a crutch. She was very old and Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they dropped what was in their hands.

The old woman shook her head and said, "Ai, darling children, what brought you here? Come on in and stay with me. There’s nothing to be afraid of. No harm will come to you."

She grabbed them both by the hand and pulled them into her house. Once inside, a good meal was served; milk and pancakes with sugar, apples and nuts. Afterwards, their host covered two little beds in crisp white sheets, and Hansel and Gretel laid down on them, feeling as though they were in heaven.

It turned out the old woman was just putting on a friendly act. In fact, she was an evil witch who lay in wait for children. She had built the house simply to lure them in, and when a child came into her grasp, she would kill them, cook them and eat them. That was her day of feasting.

The witch had red eyes and couldn’t see far, but she had an instinct, just like an animal, and could sense when people were approaching. When Hansel and Gretel came near, she laughed cruelly and whispered under her breath, "I’ve got them now. They’ll never get away from me."

Early the next morning, before the children woke, she got up to get a good look at them. Both children were sleeping peacefully and at the sight of their plump red cheeks, she mumbled to herself, "Mmm, that’ll be a good bite."

She grabbed Hansel with her knobby thin hands and carried him into a small stable where she locked him behind a cell door. He could scream all he wanted, but there was no point. Nobody or nothing could help him.

The witch then went to Gretel, shook her awake and yelled, "Get up, you lazy bum, bring us water and cook up something substantial for your brother. He’s outside in the stall and needs to plump up. When he’s fat. I’ll eat him up."

Gretel started to cry bitterly, but it was in vain, she had to follow the mean witch’s demands. Only the best food was cooked for Hansel, Gretel got nothing more than crab shells.

Each morning the woman slipped out to the little stall and shouted, "Hansel, stick out your finger so I can see how well you’re fattening up."

Instead of his finger, however, he would hold out a little bone and the old woman, who had bad eyesight, thought it was in fact his finger. She was so surprised too; he wasn’t getting fat at all. As four weeks passed and as Hansel got thinner and thinner, the witch got fed up and was not willing to wait any longer.

"Gretel," she called out to the girl, "bring water and be quick about it. Your brother may be fat or thin, it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow I want to slaughter him and cook him up."

Oh, how his poor little sister moaned. Tears ran down her cheeks as she carried the water back to the house. "Dear God, please help us," she called out. "If only the wild animals in the forest had eaten us, at least we would have died together."

"Save your whining," said the old woman, "it won’t do you any good."

Early the next morning, Gretel was asked to go out, hang the water kettle and light the fire.

"First we’ll want to bake," said the old woman. "I’ve already heated the oven and kneaded the dough. She then pushed poor Gretel towards the oven where flames were shooting out. "Crawl in" said the witch, "and see if it’s properly heated so that we can put the dough in."

The witch wanted to shut Gretel inside the oven to roast her and eat her. But Gretel picked up on her plan and said, "I don’t know how to do it. How do I get inside?

"Oh, you brainless child," said the old woman, "the opening is big enough. Can’t you see? I could even fit in there."

She crawled over and stuck her head in the oven. Right then, Gretel gave her a big shove that forced her deep within. Then she closed the iron door and slid the latch shut. The wicked witch started to shriek as she burned quickly to her miserable death.

Gretel ran out of the house and went straight to Hansel, opened the little stall and exclaimed, "Hansel, we’re free. The old witch is dead."

Hansel flew out, like a bird when its cage door is opened. The two were so ecstatic that they wrapped their arms around each other, jumped for joy and kissed each other on the cheeks. With nothing to fear, they went back into the witch’s house and in every corner, like magic, stood chests full of pearls and precious stones.

"These are much better than pebbles," said Hansel, "putting whatever he could fit into his pockets."

Gretel added, "I also want to bring something home," and she filled her apron up until it was full.

"We should leave now," said Hansel, "so that we can finally get out of this enchanted forest."

After they walked for a few hours, they came to a large body of water.

"There’s no way to get over it. I don’t see a path or a bridge," said Hansel.

"There isn’t a boat either," said Gretel, "but here comes a white duck. I’ll ask and see if she’ll help us over." So she called out to it:

"Duckling, duckling.

Here we are, Hansel and Gretel.

A path and a bridge is what we lack.

Please take us over on your nice white back."

The little duckling swam over and Hansel climbed on, beckoning to his little sister to sit next to him. "No," answered Gretel, "we’ll be too heavy for the duck. It can bring us over one after the other." That’s just what the little animal did.

When they were happily on the other side and had walked for a while, the forest got ever more familiar. At last, they saw their father’s house from afar and started to run towards it. When they got to the front door, they plunged in and wrapped their arms around their father’s neck. The man hadn’t felt an ounce of happiness since the day he had left his children in the forest. His wife, however, had died.

Gretel shook out her apron and pearls and gemstones scattered all across the room. Hansel added to them, reaching into his pockets, pulling out one handful after the next.

From that point forward, all worries came to an end, and the family of three lived happily ever after.

My fairy tale is done, over there runs a mouse, whoever catches it can make a big fur cap out of it.

That’s it for this episode. Hope you liked that last line there. That was actually from the original story and I decided, why not keep it?

It’s a very interesting, but odd way to end the story.

I changed some aspects of the story from the German original. For example, I decided that Hansel was going to wear shorts and not a skirt, just to modernize it a little bit.

Another thing that I reflected on a little bit when translating was the fact that the witch’s house description in the original, it was made out of bread and cake. And in my mind, in the story I’ve heard throughout my entire life, the house was made of gingerbread, it was covered in frosting. There were gumdrops and candies on it. It made it very enticing as a kid to want to enter this house.

In any case, I changed the bread to gingerbread just to make it sound a little bit more, a little bit more cool, a little bit more tasty.

Once again, the key to this story is hearing the prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs in context. They can be a challenge to learn, I know. I’ve seen the struggle with my students, I’ve heard a lot of the mistakes. I can actually see when my husband is thinking and he just kind of throws a preposition out there and hopes it will be right. So, if you also struggle with this, which I’m guessing you, you might if you’re at an intermediate level, then be sure to sign up to the Classroom for all of the bonus content dealing with these prepositions.

Phrasal verbs, remember, should be learned as vocabulary and the best thing you can do is to learn them in a fun way. So if after hearing them in context, you want to use them and don’t want to sign up to the Classroom, you can always write stories with them, write sentences, see if someone will correct them for you and do whatever you can to put them into practice. Repetition is key.

Well, that’s it for today’s episode. Hope you enjoyed and until next time. Bye!

Thank you for listening to this episode of the American English Podcast. Remember, it’s my goal here to not only help you improve your listening comprehension, but to show you how to speak like someone from the States.

If you want to receive the full transcript for this episode or you just want to support this podcast, make sure to sign up to Premium Content on americanenglishpodcast.com. Thanks, and hope to see you soon!

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