German Writing: 5 Tips and 12 Resources To Help You Express Yourself in German
How much time do you actively spend writing in German?
It’s all too common—you might have reading, listening and speaking in German covered, but writing slips through the cracks.
German is the language of some of the most prolific authors and well-known literary works in the world, and it remains an important academic language even in today’s world.
Here are some strategies and tools for incorporating writing practice into your German study routine.
- Strategies for How to Write in German
- Online Tools for German Writing Practice
- Why You Need to Invest Time in German Writing
- And One More Thing...
Strategies for How to Write in German
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.
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. 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 the hedgehog—in German). Slow and steady wins the race and all that.
Therefore, when trying to learn to write German, make sure you practice every day. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 mache einen Salat. Du kaufst Bier. Er trinkt Kaffee. (I make a salad. You buy beer. He drinks coffee.)
2. Then include additional elements such as location, manner and time designation:
Heute mache ich einen Salat. Du kaufst Bier im Supermarkt. Er trinkt gerne Kaffee. (Today, I’m making a salad. You buy beer at the supermarket. He likes to drink coffee.)
3. Maybe switch to the past tense:
Ich habe einen Salat gemacht. Du hast Bier gekauft. Er hat Kaffee getrunken. (I made a salad. You bought bier. He drank coffee.)
4. And do the same in that tense:
Gestern habe ich einen Salat gemacht. Du hast Bier im Supermarkt gekauft. Er hat gerne Kaffee getrunken. (Yesterday, I made a salad. You bought beer at the supermarket. He liked to drink coffee.)
Or instead of learning syntax, you could concentrate on practicing German cases, adjective endings or compound nouns.
By progressing slowly like that, soon you’ll arrive at writing gems like this:
Letztes Wochenende wäre ich mit meinem Mann zu unseren Freunden in Süddeutschland gefahren, wenn es keinen Streik bei der Bahn gegeben hätte.
“Last weekend I would have travelled with my husband to our friends in Southern Germany if there hadn’t been a train strike.”
5. 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 a tutor or language partner 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.
Online Tools for German Writing Practice
Check out these handy resources:
There are a lot of free, online German dictionaries, but two of my favorites are Leo and Linguee.
Leo is perfect for looking up words and common phrases, but it also has the added benefit of discussion forums. If you’ve looked up a word but are still slightly confused by its exact translation then you can post a new discussion and other members will happily help you out.
Linguee is useful for intermediate to advanced German learners. When you search for a word, the websites will show you a number of paragraphs in which the word is used. This shows you the various contexts in which the word or phrase may be used.
Beginners may find that they repeat the same words over and over again. This is usually due to a limited vocabulary. Once you learn more words, you’ll have more to use.
It takes time to build up your German vocabulary but while you’re trying to, you’ll probably find online thesauruses really helpful.
One of the best online German thesauruses is Open Thesaurus. If you’re ever sick of repeatedly using schön to describe something or someone as beautiful, pop it in the thesaurus search engine and you’ll be amazed at what comes up. You’ll see in-context usage examples, so you’ll learn the different nuances and meanings of each alternative word.
After a quick search using the word schön, you’ll know exactly how to use the likes of hübsch (cute), umwerfend (gorgeous) and prächtig (magnificent)!
Many important German documents and letters differ stylistically from those in America. Rather than rushing into it and writing an important letter exactly how you would here, you need to think carefully to ensure that bad form doesn’t give the reader the wrong impression. To ensure you don’t mess up, it’s a good idea to use an online template.
There are loads of letter and email templates online. Depending on what you need one for, you’ll find a lot by simply googling. So if you need a cover letter for a job, just google “German cover letter” or the German equivalent, ein Anschreiben or Bewerbungsschreiben.
Language learning apps
You’ve probably heard of Duolingo by now—it’s a snazzy app that also includes German writing practice. It works great for beginners as you build up your knowledge of grammar, spelling and sentence structure through quick-fire writing test questions.
You can connect your Duolingo account to other social media accounts and compete against friends—there’s nothing like some friendly competition to motivate your German learning!
If you don’t fully understand a question or translation, you can check in with other Duolingo members. After each question, you’ll be invited to comment on the answer.
FluentU is another great language learning app that offers you the chance to read and write in German.
With hundreds of German videos in its library, you can practice reading with the app’s transcripts and interactive subtitles. When you hover over any word, you’ll see its definition right away and can even save it as a flashcard.
There are also post-video quizzes for honing your grammar and vocabulary.
Language exchange apps
As mentioned earlier, finding a native speaker to correct your writing is an excellent idea. I therefore recommend that you get a tutor or language partner. 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.
You can also try the Reddit forum r/WriteStreakGerman, where you can post your German writing and native speakers will give corrections.
If you want to put your German out there and practice with some native speakers, log into Twitter and follow all the excellent German-language accounts. Tweeting with Germans will show you the German they use in everyday life, and you may even pick up some quirky idioms and slang!
You can always flood your existing friends’ Facebook feeds with German language posts as well, or hop over to some German Facebook pages and groups to make new friends and join in some lively discussions.
Why You Need to Invest Time in German Writing
Even if 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.
Here are the benefits:
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.
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.
You can practice by yourself
Speaking inherently requires more than one person. Since you cannot always have a language partner at hand and not everyone gets to live with a German host family, having some form of solo practice is important.
Writing is a solo form. While it’s quite a good idea to have someone available who can look over your literary outpourings and correct them, the act of writing in itself is a one-person job. All you German-studying introverts out there, take advantage of this fact!
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, but 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...
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