Whether studying German, French or Mandarin Chinese, most language learners place more value on being able to speak the language and understand when a native speaker of that language talks to them. Reading comes in third in the language-skill rankings.
There's nothing wrong with that; in fact, there's a bit of logic behind it. Usually, people learn a language so they can talk with people who speak that language. Reading is a valuable skill, too. If you're on holiday in Berlin or celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich, it would help if you could read menus and road signs.
Invariably, writing in the language you're studying gets the least focus and practice. There's a logical reason for that, too: how much do you write by hand in your native language?
Regardless of which language you're studying, the wealth of electronic devices we use for today's instant communication has caused hand-writing to fall out of favour. That's really a shame because handwriting brings so many benefits, improved cognitive ability and better memory among them.
It's time to step away from the keyboard. Let Superprof tell you how writing in German can help you grow your language skills faster. And then, we'll give you a few ways you could become a German writing machine!
Improve Your German Writing to Become a Better German Speaker
Unlike Russian - which uses a Cyrillic alphabet, the German language uses the alphabet we're already familiar with. German only has one letter - that odd-looking 'β' that doesn't exist in English. You wouldn't need to practise much to master writing it.
Besides that 'sz' ligature - as 'β' is called, three German vowels are sometimes modified by umlauts (ä, ö, ü) but even they're hardly radical changes from the alphabet we're so familiar with.
Compared to Hebrew, Mandarin and Arabic, German writing looks easy to master.
It only looks easy? Indeed, writing in German only looks easy because the word order is completely backwards to what English speakers are familiar with.
The standard English sentence structure - subject-verb-object translates to subject-object-verb in German. For instance, the English sentence 'I went shopping.' would be 'Ich bin einkaufen gegangen.' - literally 'I am shopping gone.'.
Students find mastering German syntax most difficult to grasp.
Putting pen to paper is an excellent way to nail complicated sentence structures in German. Writing in German allows you to master word order far more effectively than speaking German because we remember what we write better than what we hear.
Another good reason to write in German as often as possible is that, often, the words do not sound the same as they're written.
You may easily distinguish the German words for mother, garden, and adult when you hear them; recognising them in print is another matter altogether. If written as they sound, they would look like mootah, gahten, and eh-ahvax'nah. That's because, in German, any R at the end of a syllable is not pronounced.
Another disparity between written and spoken German: words that end in -ig. like mutig (brave) and traurig (sad). Regional dialects aside, all German words that end with that letter combination sound like they end with -ich.
Writing in German is instrumental to learning vocabulary and maximising word retention but, more importantly, writing can help you master the German language's unique syntax.
Take Notes by Hand
Whether you take German classes online with a tutor or in school, taking notes by hand is the best and fastest way to get a feel for the language and make sense of its particularities. Besides writing your notes by hand in class, there are other notes you could make.
Do you make a shopping list? How about writing those items in German? And, instead of simply listing the things you plan to buy, write complete sentences: 'A head of lettuce for the salad tonight' or 'I want to try a new type or brand of tea'.
Do you maintain a 'to-do' list? How about tracking appointments, classes and important dates in a planner or on a calendar? Those are all chances for you to build your writing skills.
Are you a student preparing to sit your German GCSE? Oh, the notes you could take! Don't just limit your German note-taking to your language class; take notes in German in Maths, English and Science classes, too.
Make Writing in German a Daily Habit
Now that we've established that writing in German will help you master the language faster, what can you write? After all, if you're at beginner or intermediate level, you won't have a lot of vocabulary at your disposal, nor will you know a lot of grammar...
Meet Anna, a student whose German studies started a bit later than students who had long decided they would sit the German GCSE. Her dad had been reassigned to his company's Stuttgart office; Anna would finish school in that city and, presumably, enrol in the university there.
Anna didn't have a lot of time to get good at German but she put those few months to good use by copying any German text she could find - in library books, in newspapers and on the internet.
For months, Anna copied newspaper articles and podcast transcripts word for word. She would then read them into her recorder and compare how she sounded against the podcaster's narration style.
By first writing and then reading what she wrote out loud, Anna's progress in German was astounding. By the time she moved to Germany, she was used to the rhythm of the language and was able to keep up with her studies even though her vocabulary was still limited.
Of course, it took much more work for her to become fluent in German but she credits her method of copying texts and then reading them for advancing her level of German.
And, if you copy texts that are of a higher level than you are in your German studies, think of what that will do for your reading comprehension!
Keeping a Journal
If you have no pressing need, like Anna did, to learn German, you might prefer a more relaxed pace while still getting in daily writing practice. How better to do that than keeping a journal?
Journaling, as it's called, is a centuries-old fad that waxes and wanes with startling regularity. In our current, pandemic-induced conditions, making a daily record of one's life is now back in fashion... and nothing's stopping you from journaling in German.
If you have a neglected Tagebuch (journal, in German) lying around, it's time to put it to good use and, if you don't, you can use any type of notebook. In German, write down at least three good things for every bad thing you experience each day.
Doing so will not only help you improve your German writing skills, it will also do wonders for your mental health.
Try Your Hand at Dictation
After you've gotten good at copying German texts and you've amassed enough vocabulary to make your independent writing efforts a success, it's time to try dictation.
Admittedly, the students who enjoy taking dictation are few and far between. Certainly, nobody in my classes enjoyed them. Besides, if dictation is that beneficial, why don't university professors routinely task their students with dictation?
Dictation is an excellent tool for mastering language fundamentals.
This exercise calls on students to use all of their language skills; not just listening and writing. Your knowledge of grammar and syntax will help you determine if you're getting the true meaning of the dictation and, as you read over your text, you'll spot and correct mistakes before handing it in.
You don't have to wait until German class for anyone to dictate German texts to you; you can find dictation recordings online. Before you get started, though, here are a few tips for success:
- Time yourself: your exams will be timed so it's best to get used to working under a time limit
- listen to the entire text before writing anything
- listen again but, this time, pause the recording after each sentence to write
- read what you wrote, correcting any mistakes
- when finished, listen to the entire recording again while reading along
- if the original text is available, compare your writing to that text; mark your mistakes
- the next day, before starting a new dictation, re-write yesterday's text, correcting the mistakes
Besides improving your German writing, dictation will help sharpen your German listening skills.
Change Your Computer Keyboard Layout
As described, writing by hand offers substantial benefits but if you're learning German for your future career, you'll want to know how to type in German. It's best to get started as soon as possible, right?
To add the German language pack, you only need to find your computer's language settings and add German. From there, it's a simple matter of toggling between languages, depending on what you're typing.
When you change your keyboard's layout, you'll find a few letters are out of place, most notably that the Z and Y are switched. The Z is placed more prominently because Z is used more often in German than Y.
You'll also discover the umlauts. The semicolon key is now ö, the apostrophe key becomes ä and the bracket key is ü. And that funny ß? Try the dash key, next to the zero.
Naturally, as those letters take the place of punctuation marks on the keyboard, you'll have to find those... have fun!
By the way, you can add the German language pack to your phone, too. Once you do, holding down the letter you need to modify will pop a menu up, from which you can select the version of the letter you want to type.
Find a Pen-Pal
With all of the instant communication available today, who would write a stodgy letter? You'd be surprised...
If you type 'Find a German pen-pal' into your favourite search engine, you'll find plenty of websites that connect German learners with native speakers interested in correspondence. Would you pass up such a valuable resource?
Besides making new friends, exchanging letters and/or emails with people living in Germany allows you a first-hand glimpse into German culture as experienced by someone actually living there.
Far better than the snapshots of German life delivered by English-speaking Youtubers, your German-native pen pal can give you the rhyme and reason of German holidays, festivals and happenings with authority.
And, who knows? In time, besides writing letters and emails back and forth, you may occasionally video-chat - which would go a long way to help you improve your speaking fluency.