Writing is one of the most important exercises related to language learning and a very effective way of converting passive vocabulary to active. Other benefits include its ability to polish the learner’s grammar, particularly when you have the opportunity to have your writing corrected. And, as a creative activity, the process can be rather enjoyable.
School, again, often gets in the way when it comes to writing. And the methods taught, are perhaps not the best way to interest students or motivate them to use this technique beyond the classroom walls. And this loss of motivation is the language learner’s worst enemy; it’s led to the falling off of many aspiring polyglots at the very early stages of their journey.
The Right Way to Approach Writing as a Language Learner
To be really effective, writing should be a daily element of your language learning routine. Here are a few suggestions to get you started along the right path:
* Choose your own topics // Write about things that interest you. You yourself know what will keep you going so that you form a writing habit.
* Listen to your inner voice // Write when the mood strikes you or when you need to work something out, not when it’s the next step in your course book.
* Ask someone you trust to check it out for you // If you choose to have your work corrected in a public forum (like iTalki or Lang-8), see if you can make a few connections first. That way, you can request that those connections correct your work rather than an anonymous or unfriendly user who may leave you (usually unmerited) negative comments. You don’t want some online trolling to put you off taking part in a beneficial learning exercise.
* If you can afford to hire a professional to proofread your work, do so, but ask them to highlight all the changes in some way // They can color-code the changes or use some other forms of markup. Then analyze their suggestions thoroughly.
* At first, write as you speak // As you get more proficient, you can take on a more formal or academic tone. You don’t have to share your writing, but don’t forget – your language learning friends may appreciate your work!
When You Should Start Writing
In general, writing should follow the extensive reading stage. You can expect overlap (for a bookworm the extensive reading stage never ends). It offers you the chance to actively use new words so that they acquire even more meaning. When words are written by someone else, they don’t have the same power to stick as when you yourself have crafted them into a text.
In the early stages, it’s critically important to have your work double-checked. Why? Because it’s at the beginning that we make the most mistakes. The sooner you use them as a learning opportunity, the sooner you’ll keep from forming bad habits (that take a lot of work to correct later on).
Other Forms of Writing are Useful for Language Learners, Too
Writing comes in all different shapes and forms. Apart from doing your own articles – whether fiction or non-fiction – you can participate in forums and social networks. This gives you the opportunity to try out less formal styles of writing and pick up language directly from the native speakers.
Unfortunately, there is a drawback – when your own command of the language is still fragile, it is very easy to pick up all sorts of errors (and there are loads of these in online forums). Be wary when imitating the writing of others. Again, it’s always a good idea to have your work checked.
In addition to participating in online forums, you can try out your writing skills by text messaging with friends, using Skype, or other similar instant messengers. When you’re ready to take things to the next level, these platforms are also great for working on your speaking skills. Developing the ability to come up with the necessary words quickly is important for effective communication. That said, text messaging may be a more comfortable solution for some language learners.
Another way to practice your writing is through blogging. This can be a very powerful tool for language learners at the more advanced levels because you are not only able to document your progress, but you’ll also connect with people who speak the language you’re writing in and even get feedback on your writing. It’s a lot of fun to run a blog, especially when the comments start coming in. But even when the comments remain empty, the joy of creation is a reward in itself.
Finally, there is the subtle art of email writing – something people rarely escape in the modern world. If you have the occasion to communicate with customers or acquaintances who live in a country where your target language is spoken by everyone, consider yourself lucky. It does, however, require responsibility – you don’t want to miscommunicate with customers!
In order to write good emails, knowledge of the language as such is not enough – you will need some awareness of the etiquette, as well. At first, it might be a good idea to ask someone to look through your email before clicking the ‘send’ button. But if you are a motivated language learner, it won’t be long before you gain the confidence to initiate conversations on your own. With this practice, you can improve quickly, mastering this multifaceted and useful skill in no time.
Why You Should Write in Your Target Language More
Why write at all? Is not speaking in one’s target language enough for activating passive vocabulary? That depends, of course, on your reason for learning the language.
If writing is just to chat with native speakers and get some practice in, then speaking is certainly enough. But for many of language learners, basic conversation isn’t enough. If you’re anything like me, you long to use the language you are learning in many different ways. That requires a lot more vocabulary than basic speaking skills require.
To maintain a conversation, you’ll need to know around 3,000 words (but it can be done with even less). To read a novel or partake in more complex conversations, this number can start at around 9,000 and reach up to 20,000 words.
And there’s no better way to really immerse yourself in the power, richness, and unique beauty of a language than by having such vast vocabulary will give you. Plus, it’s a great sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment.
Romanticism aside, there is always another – and much more practical – side to why writing is important.
Earlier, I mentioned blogging. And for those interested in making a serious effort at it, blogging isn’t just a way to practice writing in your language. It’s also a viable source of income for those prepared to put a certain amount of effort into promotion. The time spent polishing one’s writing skills – as described above – is certainly not wasted.
What about you?
Do you include writing as a part of your language learning routine? If so, what tactics do you employ?
We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
About the Author // Irina Ponomareva is a language enthusiast from Russia who is now collaborating with the online linguistic school named Lingostan as a bilingual web copywriter and translator. Irina is currently learning Italian, German and Mandarin Chinese and is actively sharing her own language learning experience with others through her articles.