German writing: how to write in German

German Writing Practice-A Must

The most difficult skill to master when learning German is writing texts. There are quite a few problems to overcome before one can produce a readable or even enjoyable text. Let me do a quick analysis of the difficulties that you will come across and then present to you what I think is an excellent tool to get started with your German writing practice: Dictations!

Could you spell it please?

One of the main two problems of written language is the fact that German is spoken differently than it is written. The word ‚Vater‘ e.g. is spoken ‚farter‘. The ‚r‘ is never pronounced at the end of a syllable. Also in everyday’s communication Germans tend to ignore the second last ‚e‘  like in ‚kaufen‘ e.g. which then sounds like ‚cow-fn‘. Or the ‚ig‘ in ‚mutig‘ turns into an ‚ich‘ just because it is at the end of the syllable making it indistinguishable from the ‘ich’ in ‘glücklich’. There are surely many more examples and the good news is that in German the gap between the spoken and the written language is much narrower than in English. But yet the differences certainly will cause you trouble. Please see also the article about how to practice listening comprehension to understand the physiological side of this issue.

Upside down

The other big challenge is the German sentence structure that often differs from the English one (or your native language’s structure). As you have already internalized your mother tongue’s patterns and melodies you will find it hard to switch to something totally different. Let me illustrate:

Maria geht ins Kino. Gestern ging Maria ins Kino.
Maria goes to the cinema. Yesterday, Maria went to the cinema.
>> identical structure           >> different word order

Or the side-clauses:
Ich fahre nicht in Urlaub, weil ich kein Geld habe.
I don’t go on holiday, because I have no money.

and when you put the sideclause in front:
Weil ich kein Geld habe, fahre ich nicht in Urlaub.
Because I have no money, I don’t go on holiday.

Understand that your mind will always be tempted to use the structures that it got used to over the last twenty to forty years. It will take quite some effort from you to overcome this tendency.

how do i write in german
das Heft – the notebook / Image via Pixabay

Dictations will help you to overcome these problems

You might remember dictations from your time at a regular school. I never really liked them that much as I wasn’t really the king of orthography at that time. But later on, while learning French, I realized that writing dictations helped me to improve my writing skills. Nevertheless, it took me many years to realize why it helped me and why I should use it in my classes. A dictation has several benefits:

  • You train several skills at once: vocabulary, reading, listening, writing and structuring
  • They can be done on your own.
  • They reveal your progress almost instantly

I won’t go into detail here as I would like you to simply try it for a few minutes a day for just one week and then see for yourself if what I have experienced also is true for you.

How to do proper dictations

Before you start listening and writing, prepare the text that you are going to work with. That means, read it, mark the new words, write them in a list and look them up in your dictionary. Then read the text again until you get 80% of its content. You may use your vocabulary list in the beginning.

Only when you understand what you are listening to, can you learn from it. That’s why I do not recommend listening to the radio as it provides too little backup for beginners to work with. When you are clear about the text, get ready for the dictation. There are a few steps that you should always follow to establish a working routine:

  1. Note the time when you start with the following routine.
  2. First listen to the whole text. Do not write anything at that stage.
  3. Listen a second time but this time: sentence by sentence or at least part by part. Listen as many times to a sentence (part) as you need to get a grip on what is being said. Later on you will widen your attention span automatically. Pause after what you consider a fair amount of words and write down what you have  just heard.
  4. When you are through with the text, take a deep breath, or take a one minute break and then listen to the text again while going over what you have written. Correct mistakes that become clear to you.
  5. Now take the original text and compare with your work. Mark the mistakes with a highlighter. Do not use a pencil or simple blue pen. Your mistakes have to  be clearly visible. Don’t listen to those who claim that one shouldn’t mark mistakes but the correct words. That’s nonsense. You are a smart human being and can easily differentiate. To learn from your mistakes you must notice your mistakes.
  6. Write the number of mistakes and the time that you needed until step 5 onto the paper.
  7. Write it again after several hours or better one day break.
  8. Repeat this routine until you are only making a few minor mistakes.

This is it. Give it one week with one text. Check this link to get to the links with the dictation material. I wish you success and would love to read about your experience with dictations in the comments.

More to come as often as I find time. Don’t forget to subscribe to be up to date.

Michael Schmitz