English spelling is notoriously difficult.
Helpfully, we have various rules to help us out—remember “I before E except after C”?
German has plenty of spelling rules as well, but as it’s not your native language, it can still be quite hard to further your writing skills if you aren’t continually practicing.
With that in mind, we’ve assembled some great tools to help you aim high with your level of German writing. Everyone from beginners to experts will benefit from dipping into this list every now and then.
Even if you think of yourself as a bit of a pro with the quill, it never hurts to give yourself a quick refresher every now and then!
How to Perfect Your German Spelling
You may already know the key to learning anything well.
Practice, practice, practice!
But, uh, you have to make sure your practice is actually useful. You don’t want to end up reinforcing something incorrect, or practicing in a totally inefficient way that wastes time and frustrates you.
First of all though, it’s important to know how to type using German letters (umlauts and the Eszett). If you have an American keyboard on your laptop, you’ll have to use these keyboard shortcuts. You can also enable a full-on German keyboard, and switch over to that layout every time you’re getting ready to practice your German writing.
It’s slightly easier to find these letters on a smartphone keyboard. Just hold down the key for the English equivalent and a separate menu of foreign letters will pop up (e.g. if you need ä hold down “a,” and for ß hold down “s”). No special keyboards required!
One excellent tip is to continually go over all of the various spelling rules.
One of the main rules is that you can’t skip on your umlauts (those two little dots that appear above ä, ö and ü). The reason you need them is because they tell the reader what sound the vowel should be making. This catchy song takes you through each of the different sounds.
Another really basic spelling rule helps you differentiate between ie and ei. If you see these in a word, you always pronounce the last letter of the two. So, for example, bier always makes the e sound, whereas the i is the vowel that’s pronounced in klein (little).
One way to really reinforce these rules is by reading a lot of German. The more you read, the more German spelling will subconsciously sink in. If you vary your reading and look at different styles and tones of texts then you’ll be exposed to a wider range of vocabulary. Be sure to turn your reading into an active activity by jotting down any words you need to look up. Keep revisiting these words until you’re able to spell and fully understand them.
Sticking to your favorite books and authors can be really tempting but, as I mentioned previously, you need to regularly mix up what you’re reading. An easy way to do this is by alternating fiction with non-fiction. For a rich repertoire of German texts, try and collect everything from long prose and poetry to famous speeches and non-fiction essays.
As well as reading all these forms of texts, try and write your own. You’ll probably find inspiration in what you’re reading but, if you don’t, one example could be to write a speech about a political issue you feel strongly about.
There’s more help on hand thanks to various tools to help ease the struggle with German writing! Here’s my pick of the 5 best online tools to make writing in German a little bit easier.
Learn How to Write Flawlessly in German with 5 Online Tools
1. Online Dictionaries
Thanks to the Internet, you no longer need to go out and buy a huge tome full of German words (although you may need your own personal dictionary if you decide to take up German at college of university), as there are now a lot of free, online dictionaries.
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 in.
2. Online Thesauruses
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 nice, pop it in the thesaurus search engine and you’ll be amazed with 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 gut, attraktiv and hübsch!
3. Online Templates
Spelling is one thing to ace while writing, but you can’t let that get in the way of your form and style.
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 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, Bewerbungsbrief.
Samples such as this one will show how to lay out the letter and what kind of information needs to go in each paragraph.
4. Language Learning Apps
Duolingo is a snazzy app that allows you to practice your German writing on your smartphone. It’s a great option 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—this just like in the Leo message boards, all the Duolingo users chip in to help each other out with any queries or particularly difficult aspects of the language!
FluentU is another great language learning app that offers you the chance to read and write in German.
FluentU is one of the best websites and apps for learning German the way native speakers really use it. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Watch authentic media to simultaneously immerse yourself in the German language and build an understanding of the German culture.
By using real-life videos, the content is kept fresh and current. Topics cover a lot of ground as you can see here:
Vocabulary and phrases are learned with the help of interactive subtitles and full transcripts.
Hovering over or tapping on any word in the subtitles will automatically pause the video and instantly display its meaning. Interesting words you don’t know yet can be added to a to-learn list for later.
For every lesson, a list of vocabulary is provided for easy reference and bolstered with plenty of examples of how each word is used in a sentence.
Your existing knowledge is tested with the help of adaptive quizzes in which words are learned in context.
FluentU keeps track of the words you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
This way, you have a truly personalized learning experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or practice anytime, anywhere on the mobile app for iOS and Android.
5. Social Media
If you want to put your German out there and practice with some native speakers, log into Twitter and follow all the excellent accounts who regularly tweet in German. Tweeting with Germans will show you the German they use in everyday life, and you may even pick up some quirky idioms and slang! If you want to see informal German in action, and you fancy trying to impress the Germans with yours, Twitter is possibly the best online tool at the minute.
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.
If you incorporate these fantastic tools into your everyday German practice, you’ll be entering spelling bees before you know it!
After studying German and Philosophy at The University of Nottingham, Laura Harker relocated to Berlin in 2012. She now works as a freelance writer and is also assistant editor at Slow Travel Berlin.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.