Practical tips on writing in German to better learn the language

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

This advice is for people doing the storytelling module with Language Gym in Berlin. The stories you write are the basis of the oral stories you will tell.

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 a story about a trip that you have made where something went wrong. Write whatever you want to say. Do it in English first. You are writing a first person narrative. Just say what happened. Avoid analysis, summary and feeling/emotional words. These are unnecessary. Where possible use the present tense. Break up long sentences. You don’t want long sentences. Two clauses (three maximum). Write in paragraphs. Aim to write a story that is no more than 1 page long.

Send the story to us and we’ll simplify it and send it back to you.

When you get the story back from being simplified, you will begin to translate it. Under every paragraph write the translation. i.e. English paragraph/German translation, English/German and so forth.

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. Make sure that before you try the translator, all spelling mistakes that show up have been resolved.

Translate each paragraph to the best of your ability. Do not dump your English 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. We recommend using Reverso as a dictionary. Once you’ve finished one paragraph — check it. Put your German translation into deepL and see how the English translation looks. If it is not perfect, look at the word alternatives that deepL gives you and if the one you need is there, then select it.

If the text does not read correctly in the translation, there are probably grammatical errors and you should attempt to correct them or reformulate your text according to the grammar patterns that you know.

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.

As a final check you can use this grammar checker: This is useful for finding errors of CASE that deepL will not find.

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

When you’ve completed your text then send it to us along with the English original formatted and translated paragraph by paragraph.

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:


Verb conjugation:


Grammar checker:

You can read the results of this method in the FictionaufDeutsch Medium collection here: