The following text is part of a chapter from my book The A to Z of Learning German: 26 ideas to make learning German more exciting and fun!
You’ll retain sentences better once you have written them down. If you google phrases like ‘write things down to remember’ you’ll find lots of articles about why writing things down can help you memorise them better. I do this when I attend lectures. I make notes with pen and paper during the lecture and then, when back at home, make proper notes of those bits which I need to keep. I always remember those better than the bits of information I read somewhere but didn’t do anything with that info. How often have you attended a talk where you have been told that you don’t need to write anything down because you will be given handouts? Of course it makes sense because it guarantees that the audience listens to the lecturer rather than making notes. In that case it makes sense to write things down immediately afterwards. Add your own thoughts, comments or ideas. For example, if you are given a German grammar information sheet, don’t just read the info and the sample sentences. Find and add your own sentences. I guarantee that you will understand the topic a lot better after you have written your own things down.
Apart from information, vocabulary and grammar tips that you picked up, what else can you write? “Not a lot!” I hear you say, “I’m a beginner!” Fair enough, in the beginning there isn’t much you can write, but how about starting a report about yourself? One of the first sentences everybody learns is ‘Mein Name ist …’ Start with your name, then add where you come from, where you live, how old you are, what your job is and just as your lessons progress, so, too, should your sentences. They will be short and easy in the beginning but gradually you should be able to write more complex sentences using connectives, adjectives, different tenses etc…
Let me give you an example: In the beginning you may only write ‘Ich heiße John. Ich bin verheiratet.’ Later you will be able to write: ‘Ich heiße John und bin seit 10 Jahren mit Mary verheiratet.’ Even later it could be ‘Ich heiße John und wohne seit 5 Jahren mit Mary, mit der ich seit 10 Jahren verheiratet bin, in London.’ If you are working towards an exam, this may even come in useful when you do your speaking or writing exam. For fun, add the date for when you write things in this article and see for yourself how your writing improves.
You could also start a diary. There are so many nice diaries you can buy or use an electronic version and start with very basic sentences in the present tense. Even if you only write something like ‘Ich sehe fern’ to say that you watched some TV. As your German gets better you can then use the past tense to write basic sentences about your day and finally you can write a mini report about your day – just like you would in your own language! Except – don’t think of your sentences in English and then translate them into German. This is a common mistake intermediate learners do. They think of a nice sentence in their mother tongue, which to them doesn’t sound very difficult. But as they try and translate it, they get in a terrible muddle. They can’t understand why they find it hard to translate an apparently easy sentence into German. But is that sentence really easy? Depending on how old you are, you have learned your mother tongue for at least 18 years (assuming you’re an adult). That’s quite a head start to your German learning! So don’t be so hard on yourself and expect the same quality of German sentences. Start easy and then pad those sentences out. As an example, if you wanted to describe your house, start with the basic ‘Ich wohne in einem Haus’ Then add what house it is ‘Ich wohne in einem Reihenhaus.’ ‘Ich wohne in einem 100 Jahre altem Reihenhaus in einer ruhigen Straße.’ And so on … The time WILL come when you can write beautiful sentences just like you do in your own language!
If you’d rather write something easier, how about writing your shopping list or to-do list in German? What do you need to buy? Brot, Milch, Käse? What do you need to do today? Einkaufen, putzen, kochen, Deutsch lernen? You don’t always have to write sentences, sometimes a list of (useful) words will do.
Final thought: Whether you like to use a pen or an electronic device, try and make your own notes rather than just listening to a talk or reading a text. It doesn’t matter much HOW you do it as long as THAT you do it! So, go and write!
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