Are you attacking German on all its major fronts?
Be honest. How much time do you actively spend writing in German?
The truth doesn’t have to hurt.
Got reading, listening and speaking covered while writing slips through the cracks?
It’s a fairly common problem amongst German learners. All the tools that we use nowadays for German language learning, technological or otherwise, don’t always have a big writing component to them. Textbooks encourage you to write, but nobody’s there forcing you to really spend time writing. Putting a pen to paper may seem like a stretch of the imagination.
But where does the writing fit in? Is it possible you’re neglecting this important area of learning the language?
I mean after all, German has produced some of the most prolific and well-known literary works in the world and remains an important academic language even in today’s world. And those are just two of many reasons to learn German.
Yet many learners are lagging behind in the writing department. If that’s you, don’t worry — learn how to make up for it.
Why You Need to Invest Time in German Writing Practice
While you may argue that your primary objective is to speak German fluently, writing is an important step toward that goal. The act of putting words down on paper (or onto a screen) is a whole different deal than talking. Writing is a more deliberate way of processing language and therefore offers you some unique help in acquiring new language.
1. You can learn at your own tempo
Talking in a foreign language requires to you interact in real time. That can be stressful and you might miss out on a lot of nuances. Paper, on the other hand, is patient. You can think about your sentences while writing, go back to revise, correct your errors, get a better feel for grammatical structures and become familiar with overall linguistic rules.
2. It’s excellent practice ground for more complex grammar
Since we’re talking about grammar: when speaking, it’s easy to go the path of least resistance by using the few phrases you already know over and over. Unless you’re deliberately pushing yourself, you’re probably sticking with your guns and using short and simple sentences.
That’s not a crime, mind you (not even in Germany). However, it might keep you confined in your language skills. Writing, with its slower tempo, allows you to dip your feet into more complex rules and give them a whirl before integrating new grammar structures into your everyday speech.
3. You can practice by yourself
Speaking inherently requires more than one person (unless the voices in your head are able to answer in fluent German). Since you can not always have a language partner at hand and not everyone gets to live with German host family, having some form of solo practice is important.
Writing is one form. While it’s quite a good idea to have someone available who can look over your literary outpourings and correct it (more on that later), the act of writing in itself is a one-person job. All you German-studying introverts out there, take advantage of this fact!
How to Stop Letting German Writing Practice Slip Through the Cracks
Okay, now that you’re thoroughly convinced of the tremendous improvements that writing will bring to your German studies, it’s time to have a look at how to go about integrating this new practice method into your existing language learning routine.
1. Read first, write second
Before you can be a producer of prize-winning German prose, you first need to become a consumer. Pretty much all prolific writers out there are also voracious readers. What works for authors can’t be wrong for aspiring German scribblers. So, go out and read, read, read. Material for beginners includes:
- Children’s books
- Comic books/Cartoons
- Tabloid papers
- Young fiction novels
- Fairy tales
2. Find a pen pal or tutor
As mentioned earlier, finding a native speaker to correct your writing is an excellent idea. Being self-correcting at something you’re not good at is intrinsically hard because you have to rely on guesswork and trial-and-error. One the other hand, for someone who’s already an expert on the topic at hand, polishing up prose comes naturally.
I therefore recommend that you find a tutor in one form or another. That can be a real-life language partner or a pen pal. Places to find the latter are:
To make your relationship a success, find someone who’s just as eager to improve as you are. When correcting their writing, provide detailed feedback and annotations and have them return the favor. That way you can both grow in your proficiency and ramp up your knowledge in the shortest amount of time.
3. Set a schedule
When attempting to learn a new skill, consistency beats effort every time. You’ve probably heard about the hare and the turtle (which, by the way, are Der Hase und Der Igel — the hare and a hedgehog — in German). Slow and steady wins the race and all that.
Therefore, when trying to learn to write German, make sure you practice on a daily basis. Aim for process instead of achievement. It’s better to do less regularly than more occasionally. Five sentences are enough for starters. The topic is up to you. Just make sure you get it done.
4. Start simple
In the same vein, don’t be overly ambitious with your material. While ambition is generally a good thing, too much of it can lead to frustration. Develop a tolerance and an acuity for the level you’re at.
If you’ve just learned to string together subject, verb and object, don’t try to jump right into subjunctive II and the pluperfect. Moderation young Padawan! Get comfortable at your current level first before moving on.
5. Slowly move up to advanced topics
Consistently take it up a notch. Once you’re confident that you’ve mastered a certain grammatical topic, move on to more complex areas.
1. Learn simple sentence structure:
Ich esse Brot. Du kaufst Bier. Er trinkt Wasser.
2. Then include additional elements such as location, manner and time designation:
Ich esse heute Brot. Du kaufst Bier im Supermarkt. Er trinkt gerne Wasser.
3. Maybe switch to simple past:
Ich aß Brot. Du kauftest Bier. Er trank Wasser.
4. And do the same in that tense:
Ich aß gestern Brot. Du kauftest Bier im Supermarkt. Er trank gerne Wasser.
By progressing slowly like that, soon you’ll arrive at writing gems like this:
Ich wäre gestern abend mit meinem kleinen Bruder in der Kneipe an der Straße etwas essen gegangen, wenn nicht im letzten Moment der Schlauch an meinem Fahrrad gerissen wäre.
“I would have eaten something with my little brother in the pub on the street last night, if the inner tube of my bicycle hadn’t ruptured in the last moment.”
6. Work on weak spots
Take copious notes on what you’d like to say but can’t. Note down where you’re still blocked. Share what you write with your tutor and go over their corrections to figure out where your strengths and weaknesses lie. You’ll screw up some stuff over and over while other things will roll from your fingertips like you’re a native.
Make note of the former and compile a “worst of” list detailing the German phrase structures, tenses and other grammatical phenomena that you’re struggling with. This will enable you to address these weak spots in a targeted manner. Put aside some time only to work on what you find most difficult. You’ll see that it’s possible to turn weakness into strength.
Writing in German is a skill like everything else. All it takes is consistent practice, qualified feedback and continuously cranking up the challenge level.
Don’t be afraid to start small. Going through a “caveman phase,” where everything in your new language sounds like coming from a Neanderthal is normal (and fun). You might not become the next Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, however, practicing German writing might get you to the point where you can read him in the original. And that’s worth a lot.
And One More Thing…
To ensure you’re not letting any of your precious German skill sets slip through the cracks, check out FluentU.
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.