Writing poses its own unique set of benefits and issues for German language learners. Since you have time to think and review what you want to say, there are better odds that you can learn the grammar and other aspects of German. Once you hit send though, all of those mistakes are etched in stone. It can feel like a lot of pressure, and makes it less likely that you’ll send whatever you have written.
Like written English, written German is more structured and formal. This means that the rules that you learned always apply, so it’s a great way of practicing what you learn in a class or after a lesson.
Finding a level of comfort can help you to improve your German writing.
Just like with speaking, the more confident you are, the more you will learn and improve.
Here are 6 tips and tricks to help you master writing in German.
1. Don’t Start by Translating from English
When you start to learn German, you are probably asked to translate from English to German. Workbooks and practices will give you a sentence, then ask you to translate it into the few German words you know. This creates a bad habit of relying on your knowledge of English to write in German.
You may think the words in English, but that doesn’t mean you should write them in English, and then translate them. Instead, think of what you want to say, then try to write it in German.
When you start by writing your thoughts in German, you don’t have to worry about getting it right. Get your thoughts down in as close to the right sentence structure and vocabulary as you can. Once you have it written down, then you can break out the assistance sites, books, and dictionary to correct it.
For most of us, this is how we write anyway. What you put down in English isn’t going to be what you send anyway (unless you are texting). Do the same thing with German. Sure, there will be more cleanup than with English, but that will change over time.
2. Capitalization Is Important
One of the hardest things to do when writing in German is remembering that all nouns are capitalized, not just the ones that are proper names. This is one of the easiest stumbling blocks to clear though – you already have to worry about the conjugation of the article. Compared to getting the article right, capitalizing the noun is incredibly easy.
Der Hund rennt um der Tisch. The dog runs around the table.
Das neue Haus hat einen roten Postfach. The new house has a red mailbox.
Apart from nouns, the only other words that are capitalized are the first words to a sentence and actual names. You don’t capitalize words when they are adjectives, even if the words indicate a proper noun.
Der französische Kuchen ist einen Tag alt. The French cake is a day old.
It may take some time to get accustomed to this, but once you do, you may wish that English followed rules with such reliability.
3. Practice Daily, Especially for New Lessons
Just as it is important to practice speaking German when you learn a new lesson, you should practice writing it. Since this is an activity you can do on your own with no one else around, writing in German can help you reinforce what you’ve learned.
When you learn something new, the best way to practice it is to repeat it. This is why writing is perfect – you get a chance to both think about what you want to say and to see it. By using several different methods of practicing the language, you help yourself to absorb what you learned.
The warning for this suggestion is to be careful and make sure that you have verification that your writing is correct. You don’t want to reinforce the wrong method or learn something incorrectly because it can be difficult to unlearn it.
4. Read Your Writing Aloud
You can do this as you write, after you write, or go back over what you wrote a few months to years ago. This not only helps you to listen to German when you don’t have someone to talk to, but it lets you see how far you’ve come.
If you want, you can think of new ways to say the thoughts that you had previously. Perhaps you started writing German over a year ago and you had an idea that you wanted to put down in writing, but didn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to write complex thoughts. Maybe you’ll be able to do that now.
Reading over your writings, regardless of how old they are, can help you to hear the way the language flows and gives you more confidence in the grammar so that you can focus on aspects like pronunciation and speed.
5. Set up a Germanic Keyboard on Your Computer
Most apps and software programs allow you to change the language of a particular file or user. For example, you can change a language that you use with an app on your phone (usually in Settings), so you can practice writing in German and get some real time checks on your grammar and spelling.
If you want to start your own journal, you can save a file in Word and change the language to German. This will give you the same kinds of checks in German that you are have in English. Just keep in mind that it isn’t perfect, so you can’t rely on it – especially in the beginning. It’s really more to help you catch mistakes when you write, such as the spelling of a certain word.
6. Finding Tools to Help
Most tools and apps focus on helping you learn to speak German. This is partly because most people learn another language so they can speak it. However, by learning to write, you can improve your knowledge of German, practice in your own time, and reinforce what you know. It’s also a great way to see how far you’ve come in learning the language.
There are a number of tools out there (like iA Writer) that can help, some that can help you improve your English just as much as your German. For example, Worliga actively works to find and change the use of a feature like passive voice. This isn’t help that you are going to get from traditional tools, so it provides a way of writing in an active voice, regardless of the language you are using.
Get Started Writing and See How Far You Can Go
It’s easy to neglect the writing aspect of learning German because we tend to want to jump into speaking it right away. However, writing in another language is one of the best ways to learn how to organize your thoughts and then express them in a way that is grammatically correct – especially in a language as complicated as German. As you speed up your writing, you’ll find that your mind is better able to start putting together thoughts in German. It may not translate to easier speaking, at least not initially, but it will mean that you are more likely to come up with what you want to say with greater accuracy.
Writing should be fun, and it doesn’t always have to make sense. You can write silly thoughts and nonsense in an effort to practice what you’ve learned. The focus in on enjoying what you’ve learned, and writing is just one tool that can be done in your own time.