Wednesday, March 18, 2009

German and American Handwriting


This blog post is handwritten. If you have trouble reading it (it would be better if I had a scanner, eh?) click on the pictures to see a large size.

This is the French recipe I mentioned. I think the problem is that the small p and l look the same! (See apricot & blancs.)

This is my grandma's handwriting. Looks like she learned something Zaner-Bloser-esque long ago! Look at the dramatic small p!

Some links:
Suetterlin at - This is the version I used (scroll down a bit).
There's a slightly different version at Wikipedia.
You can type in your name in Suetterlin here.
German Kurrentschrift - Suetterlin was a late, nicely stylized form of this.
Here's the Zaner-Bloser alphabet that I learned in second grade.
I think they later switched to D'Nealian which is ever-so-slightly simpler.
My German friend learned this one while I was learning ball-and-stick writing. She learned something like ball-and-stick while I was learning Zaner-Bloser, I guess.
She says they developed this more modern one in the 70s, but it apparently hadn't spread to her school!


  1. I'm sorry- I always read your posts, but I won't even read my mother's handwriting anymore. Can you append a translation? Or know that I am thinking good thoughts your way anyway.

  2. I also learned Latin Ausgangsschrift in the mid 80s still. Baden-Württemberg state still allows the teacher to decide whether the Latin or the Simplified variant is taught today.

    The Simplified version is simply ugly in my opinion.

  3. What an interesting post! I don't know if I could do a handwritten post - mainly because I don't handwrite much anymore and therefore it's barely legible for others. I will keep it in mind though.
    I have sometimes a hard time reading American cursive - capitalized I and G- are not recognizable for me.

  4. people's handwriting was like a part of their personality to me

    Oh my. I can relate to that — probably mostly with regard to my immediate family or best friends from around the middle-school era. Looking at their notes, letters, or even shopping lists, I can hear their voices in my head (maybe that sounds creepy, but it's not). It's probably not as powerful an association as that which you get from olfactory ("smells like grandma's house!") or auditory input, but perhaps more pronounced in "visual" people like me.

  5. What an inspiring post! You don't mind if I steal your idea, do you? Linkage guaranteed. :-)

    Have you ever heard of the Maclean Method of writing? That was drilled into me at home after teachers told my parents my scratch was illegible.

    The difference between the German 1 and the 7 was the hardest thing to get used to, but at least their handwriting is decipherable. I do have one colleague whose handwriting I have to hand to another colleague to read back to me, though that's just her way.

    If you want scrawl, head to France! An n and an m are written like a u and a w.

  6. That is brilliant! The handwriting on German restaurant signs is so hard for me to decipher sometimes. My handwriting is almost identical to the Ausgangsschrift. I have no idea where I learned it, but I hate the standard script.
    Funny about the recipes. My German neighbor (who is married to an American) wrote down a recipe for me that my grandmother (who was Pennsylvania Dutch) used to make when I was a little girl and it took me FOREVER to figure out half of what she had written. It was so weird!
    I don't know if I'll do a handwritten post, but I'll think about it. If I do, I'll give you a linky credit.

  7. I learned the ugly Zaner-Bloser style but after seeing the Ausgangsschrift, I'm hoping I can learn some new letters (especially the capital S...I always thought it was gross looking in Zaner-Bloser).

  8. Love it. And you have very pretty handwriting. I learned the same way you did, first ball and stick and then Zaner-Bloser (although I had NO idea it was called that!).

    I find that I'm on the computer so much now that when I do write anything by hand, it's quite messy because I've sort of lost some motor control. But a fine liner *does* help a lot. I hate writing with a crappy pen. Now I tend to use a mixture of ball and stick and cursive writing and just kind of make it up as I go along. All those curliques on the Zaner-Bloser got to be a bit too much for me after a while. Who writes a capital Q like that these days?

    My kids learned the Vereinfachte Ausgangzschrift here and I had a heck of a time helping them with it although I do like it better than the Lateinische. It's also difficult for me to decipher German handwriting at times.

  9. Fantastic Idea! I've always encountered this problem with deciphering German manuscript, but because I see it so infrequently, I quickly forget the frustration. Thanks for spending the time to point out the differences.

  10. Nice idea!
    For reading handwriting I prefer the Latin Writing (the latter German one you've shown), but that is what I was taught after all, so this is easiest for me to read (if you go into 'standardized' handwriting).
    For writing... I just prefer not to ;) I use some kind of own variation of the ball-and-stick kind, leaning twoards some kind of handwriting (depending on how fast I write). It's not pretty, but I lean towards readability. My handwriting is so bad, that I'm way beyond trying to make it look pretty. I'm happy if I can read what I scribble down.
    So - yay for email & co!
    I notice that the difference between Zaner-Bloser and Ausgangsschrift lies mainly in the capital letters, while the lowercase letters are mostly identical. Only r and z are really different (and curiously, the Zaner-Bloser ones lean closer to the Sütterlin alphabet)

  11. Wow!! This is so cool! (I'm a regular lurker-reader, btw.) I had no iidea about all the different styles/forms of cursive... I think I learned Zaner-Bloser, but it's been well warped by time, the lousiness of my handwriting in general, and something I started a few years ago. In an effort to improve my writing, I tried learning calligraphy... so my writing is an utter mishmash of styles. :o)

    But I wanted to thank you-- see, my whole family is German (Both Grandparents & Dad were natives). And with the exception of Dad, who had perfect draftsman's copperplate, apparently they all wrote using Suetterlein, which to me just looks like mostly incomprehensible gobbeldygook. But now that I know the style, I can go back and read some of their stuff-- including my (maternal) Grandmother's handwrittten cookbook!!! I've been trying to do that for *years*... so once again, thank you!!! :o)

  12. G: Hmm, I need to figure out how to do one of those "after the jump" things. I don't know how but don't want to make the original post any longer than it already is!

    Kato: I agree that the Simplified one is ugly. I think we are making a movement toward uglier alphabets in the US, too (not that Zaner-Bloser was that pretty). They seem to be trying to devise cursive alphabets that look very similar to print alphabets, and print alphabets that look more similar to cursive alphabets. At this point I don't see why they bother with two types of alphabets any more at all.

    Bek: The I and G are definitely very different in the American alphabets! In fact it wasn't until I was writing down all the letters for this post that I figured out what relationship the Zaner-Bloser capital G has to the actual letter G. I could never figure it out before, probably because when it's written quickly that capital G comes out just looking like a big warped square.

    Cliff: We are of the same mind on this one. Typed words aren't the same at all. When I see the handwriting, everything written is all the more funny and endearing and special to that person. I miss all those passed notes, sometimes it was just the warped handwriting of your friend that made it as interesting as it was.

    Ian: I had to look up the Maclean method because I hadn't heard of it. It looks similar to the US alphabets! I've seen those letters m and n that look like u in Germany sometimes too. The first time was on a sign at a fair for Schupfnudeln. The person wrote little cups over the letter u to distinguish it from the n (a la Suetterlin). I asked a friend about this and she said in school this was discouraged and the letters are supposed to be clear by their shape!

    MIHH: You must have really nice handwriting! :)

    Sarah: I agree, I like the German letter S. I said that to my friend when she showed it to me and she hates it (it's in her name) and prefers the bloated-looking Zaner-Bloser S! I guess it's all what you're used her the German S looks like a schoolchild's handwriting and we don't have that association.

    Christina: I worry a lot that all these years of using a mouse is damaging my (and everybody's) fine motor skills more quickly. :/

    Heza: You are right, it's actually not that often that a person runs into handwriting in day-to-day life. It's weird to think that I probably wouldn't even be able to recognize the handwriting of many of my post-college friends!

    Mo: Ball-and-stick writing can look quite nice, I think! I like printing as well as writing cursive but it takes longer. Maybe I'll use print for a future handwritten post.

    Msnovtue: Welcome. :) Glad to have provided some useful information! Suetterlin really does look like gobbledygook unless you make a point to learn the letters, because key things like the small e are unrecognizably different. And so many letters are just combinations of the simple little pointy bump! Good luck with your reading, I'm sure it will be challenging.

    Sara: :D

    Thanks for the nice comments, everybody. :)

  13. Neat post!

    In the schools I've taught, Zaner-Bloser is being replaced by D'Nealian cursive, or sometimes called "Modern Cursive". It seems that this font has less of those extra strokes and focuses more on flowing from one letter to the next.

    I am intrigued by that capital H in the Ausgang... font! How pretty! I'm seriously considering changing my H to that German style! Signing my name seems so flowy & fun now.
    : )

  14. Michelle: dooo iiiiit. I've been using that H since...well, since I started having to write Hs a lot. I never liked the H we learned, too many strokes. This way is much faster.

  15. The difference in handwriting styles has always interested me, and one of the first things I did when I moved to Germany was to try to write in Sutterlin (everyone thought it looked like their grandmother's writing).
    Those old styles are much more appropriate if you are using a metal quillpoint pen (try it!)-- because the point HATES going sideways, especially on rough paper, it much prefers the vertical downstrokes

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  17. Gee, I can read your handwriting ... wish I could say the same about my own. It has gotten so bad I have taken to printing post-its and other notes on my computer.

  18. This is one of the most clever posts EVER!

  19. Just one question, what kind of pens were you using? Sounds unusual but pens can make or break the handwriting.

  20. Vailian: Like the pens for Copperplate? I need some of those!! :)

    Mike: It's not always that neat, depends how much of a hurry I'm in!

    Diane: Thanks! :)

    CW: The first pages were with a rollerball pen. It was a little too scratchy and not well-suited to the size of the letters, in my opinion, so I switched to a very-fine-tip Sharpie, which makes my handwriting look much better!! If you can share some tips on pens that make your writing look great, please do. :)

    1. Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball -- looooove them. Also Sanford Uniball. Back in the Stone Age when I did editorial markup by hand, I wouldn't use anything else.

  21. I'd like to see that writing from Iceland that you had trouble reading. Runes, I wonder?


  22. Perhaps this comment is being made too far after the original post, but I just stumbled upon this blog.

    Your grandma probably learned the Palmer method, which dominated in American Schools from roughly 1900 until the 1960s and 70s, when Zaner-Bloser and D'Nealian were invented. Zaner-Bloser is basically a slightly more simplified version of Palmer, while D'Nealian was a more radical simplification. I must disagree with you about Zaner-Bloser being ugly - I always thought it was actually quite pretty.

    I learned D'Nealian when I was in third grade back in the early 90's. Zaner-Bloser in recent years has actually modified their cursive alphabet to be more like D'Nealian (particularly the capital "W").

    D'Nealian's print alphabet uses slanted letters because they thought it made for a better lead-in to learning cursive. Zaner-Bloser uses the stick and ball method for print.

  23. Kate: Wish I had a picture! ;)

    JW: Thanks for the top re: Palmer! I looked it up and it does look like Grandma's letters came from that. I think it looks nicer than Zaner-Bloser. The T and F in Zaner-Bloser really bother me; they look too unbalanced. Still, I think it's nicer than D'Nealian.

  24. That should say thanks for the TIP, not TOP! :D

  25. Oh, I agree about the T and F in Zaner-Bloser (which are rather similar to D'Nealian, but with curlicues), and I abandoned making them that way long ago.

    Older forms of the Palmer method are my favorite, and Palmer is itself a simplification of the Spencerian system (which most people would be familiar with via the Coca-Cola logo). Palmer seemingly evolved a bit over the years with some variations - mostly in the capital P, T, and F. Some of the later variations on these letters are virtually identical to Zaner-Bloser.

    Because I really like cursive, I have, over the years, changed my way of writing to be more Palmeresque and less D'Nealian.

  26. This is a really interesting blog; I really enjoyed it. I learned the typical American cursive, but I rarely use it. I use it when I want my writing to look fancier, but some letters I have simplified.

    If you want to learn something interesting, study Russian. You learn the 33 letter alphabet, and then have to learn it again when you learn to hand-write. Most of the letters don't look similar at all! =]

  27. re the recipe - apricot in French is ABRICOT, so it is a loopy,open b that looks like the l.

  28. I adore your blog because I never know about Handwriting expert what I am getting into when I open a new post. You do a great Job, regarding Handwriting analyst Quality content always have a dash of personal life and my next task I collect some more info about Handwriting analysis .Any how Keep up the great blogging and! Good luck with your new project--I hope everything works out for you! Happy 2011 :).

  29. The German 'Ausgangsschrift' looks very much like the handwriting I learned in primary school (Zeeland, south-west of the Netherlands). Lately, I've been intrigued by the 'American-style' numbers, whereas letters sometimes become whirly mazes to my eyes, the numbers look much more stylish than our Dutch ones :).
    Oh, and I really enjoyed reading this blog! Well done and very clear. I love handwriting, and yours is another pretty example.

  30. Great post! I'm currently living in Germany and learned Cursive writing in America. Today, my German teacher told me I needed to change my F's, I's and T's because on a written language exam the text reviewer might penalize me! I came home and had to find out what the difference was so I'm grateful I stumbled onto your blog.

    1. That's interesting! To me the Ts & Fs don't look that different, one is just a little more elaborate. Otherwise, it's the same basic shape.

  31. Interesting concept the handwritten blog! As for the writing sets presented, I am teaching myself a cursive version of the old-school Sutterlin method for use in my private journals and such, and sharpening up my everyday writing with going back to the basic Z-B method as I was taught in school (or at least that's what I THINK I was taught based on the letter shaped I just naturally do now). I'm coming in late this blog commentary, but bravo for your efforts!

    1. Thanks! Suetterlin is a good choice for your private journal since so few people can read it now. :)

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  33. Thanks for the side-by-side samples. I was looking for examples of handwritten German sharp s; maybe you could add some of those??

    I encountered a person under 30 in the US who could not read a note I left for him in cursive. Take note, old fogeys: we have a secret language!

    In my day (early 70s in the US) we learned the "Palmer Method"; the end result looks a lot like your Z-B method.

    Re. numbers, after my first sojourn abroad, I started writing my 7's European style, but a bank clerk in the US told me that drives them crazy because the 7's can look like 4's. (I still do it anyway!)

  34. Fascinating, both the medium and the message. Although I've mostly been in the US, I was in a Volksschule in Kiel (northern Germany) for third grade in the 1960s, and I learned what I saw at the time as being a "different" way of handwriting. Looking at the letters now, it appears to have been Zaner-Bloser or something close to it. In particular there was the letter Z written in a curly way that struck me at the time as being more like a number 2 than a printed Z.

    I've recently tried to get back into the habit of writing letters to people, and as part of that I've tried my hand at using fountain pens, which I also learned to use in the Volksschule. It's a totally different thing, and you have to get out of the ball-point-pen habit of pressing down. This probably affects the style and legibility of the outcome.

    Belated thanks for a cool blog post!

  35. Hey I am from Austria and learned a very simplified version which can be seen on the first slide of the slideshow in the link below. I later on learned Kurrent for fun and my writing changed over it. As the font I learned in school has many stops, I used my knowledge of Kurrent to introduce a more fluent movement to it.

    I hope you are able to read this ;)

  37. I am late to this party, but was looking up German cursive, as my 7 year old American granddaughter is starting school in Germany (at a German-as-a-second-language school) and when they signed her up, they were surprised to find that she is required to learn cursive as the first order of business. I was curious how German cursive might differ from ours (or, I should say our FORMER cursive style, which is barely given a nod in schools in the US today). Thanks for this fascinating post! I am interested in penmanship, calligraphy, and writing styles. I will have to practice my own German cursive (I like your Ausgangsschrift style).

  38. Based on your examples, it looks like I learned to write with a French method that was mostly like the German Ausgangsschrift with some changes from the Z-B method -- notably the capital Q, the lower-case r and both the Z and z. The capital T was very different. The cursive style for the capitals was more elaborate overall.

    And all that with a dipped, steel quill, the very pointy kind.

    Learning block printing during drafting class led me to simplify the capitals in my cursive hand.

    I am thankful that I learned how to write cursively because I would have been unable to get 12 pages of notes during a 1.5 hour lecture otherwise! Plus diagrams!

    And no, those were not as neat as your beautiful examples here, but I could still read and decipher most of them 30 years later. :)

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