Practical tips on writing in German to better learn the language

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

We write to get better at German because it gives our brain enough time to become comfortable with the new patterns of language we need to speak properly. Reading is also good, but writing is more active and therefore more useful. Doing grammar exercises is pointless without doing something with the information — like writing. Unstructured speaking is likely to be short and episodic and therefore if you are at a particular level, you will stay there. That’s why we write — in preparation for telling our stories i.e. speaking well.

Here are some tips:

Write whatever you want to say in your mother tongue. This works best when what you write is a first person narrative. Just say what happened. Avoid analysis, summary and feeling words. These are unnecessary.

Simplify your writing. Your normal style of writing in your native language is probably too complex for this exercise. You have had a lifetime to develop your native language writing style and it will need to be simplified before it is in its best form for translation.

Where possible use the present tense. Break up long sentences. You don’t want long sentences. Two clauses (three maximum). Send the original to a friend to simplify it for you

Now divide the writing up into paragraphs with space for the translation. Make sure you know how to get umlauts on your word processor (Mac option u then the letter you want). Set the word processing dictionary settings for your DE text so it highlights spelling mistakes as you type.

Translate the first paragraph to the best of your ability. Do not dump your text into the translator and copy and paste (you learn nothing and may be surprised with the quality of the result). Do look up individual words/phrases as you translate.

When you are finished to the best of your ability copy/paste the first paragraph into a German grammar checker (see link below). Resolve the errors. Update your text.

After you have checked the grammar, copy and paste the text into the translator. Fix any errors the translator shows in the original text with squiggly lines. (see link below) Read the translation carefully. Where the text is not what you expect (exactly) go back to the original text and revise it. Note that the translator will give you alternatives. If a translation does not fit with what you expect check the alternatives before making modifications.

Be aware that the translator will make up for some of your errors. It is built to be forgiving of mis-translation. A perfect translation does not mean a perfect text.

Repeat this process for each of your paragraphs until you are done.

When you’ve completed your text then send it to a native speaking friend (who will do it for you) and ask them to revise your DE text. (or join our program, link below)

When you get the text back, go through the corrections very carefully and make learning points regarding the mistakes you made. Try to generalize these errors and commit to memory these errors you are prone to make. This is the most important part. It’s not smart to put in so much effort and not learn from your mistakes.

I recommend the following:

Dictionary: reverso.com

Verb conjugation: reverso.com

Grammar checker: https://rechtschreibpruefung24.de/

Translator: https://www.deepl.com/translator

You can read the results of this method in the FictionaufDeutsch Medium collection here: https://medium.com/fictionaufdeutsch

You can study German following the German for Pattern Hunters program. More information here: languagegym.net