I was recently asked to write something in German for a 10-year jubilee publication, luckily only half a page or I probably would have refused. My spoken German is good – a few problems with der/die/das, but otherwise normally right. As I don’t write much in German, I’m not so good at the writing side of things – except for WhatAp messages and the occasional e-mail. Writing for a jubilee publication is, however, something totally different, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I think are some of the major barriers for English native speakers when they need to write (fairly) formal German. Here are my – totally unscientific – thoughts on the matter.
- I wrote the text much the same way as I would have said it and then had to go back and spend an hour revising into what I thought was expected – from my reader of course.
- I found that many of my sentences started with the subject and moved on straight away to the verb, so that was the first thing I changed. In many sentences, I placed clauses up front and could thus have different sentence structures within the short text.
- I had one major theme in the text, based around the word exchange. In true English style, I had written the German word (Austausch) at least 4 times in the text – to get my point/major theme across. Of course, that had to come out. The trouble was, I couldn’t find any synonyms I really found appropriate, so I then had to completely re-write some of the sentences.
- There were two things I know are very Anglo-Saxon and that I also considered changing: the little story I had at the beginning of the text (did I really want to waste the little space I had on a story?) and my use of the word “I” (probably way too much for a semi-formal German text). I decided that I wasn’t prepared to do either of those. I had been asked for my opinion, so I decided my (over-)use of the word “I” was permissible, and the story at the beginning makes up part of what I am as a writer – I didn’t want to change my written personality just for sake of keeping to the rules.
So I guess I learnt some interesting things from the exercise, the most useful of which were it’s the re-writing that really improves the text and keep true to yourself – in your writing too.
I sent the text to a friend for her to look at before I sent it off towards the publication process. I’ll let you know later what comments she had on it!