One of the nicest perks of my job is being able to listen to talks given by language learning experts, authors and enthusiasts. The inspiration is always there – and frequently turns into a blog post. This one is about different ways in which writing can help your foreign language study – if done right.
0. Why writing matters
Guys, I wish this question was trivial. In fact, quite often the speedy-and-urgent language learner is heard saying “I don’t really want to read or write, I’m just going to speak the language, that’s enough for me.” This makes me really sad – and when a language learning method tends to rely on language speaking too much, calling it “the natural approach” or something funny like this, sadness mixes with doubt in equal measures.
Not writing is “natural” for a three-year old.
For a language learner, not writing means missing out. You’re not organizing your ideas. You’re not trying out new vocabulary. You’re not taking time to encounter (and produce) language that doesn’t disappear in a puff of air the moment you said it.
1. “Describe the house where you live” and other language classroom delights
The real reason behind not wanting to write in a foreign language might be this – you’re not given a decent chance.
Here’s what I mean: at the end of a vocabulary lesson focusing on houses and furniture, your teacher gives the entire class a paragraph or two to write. All the same, all with little creativity and deserving to be copied from the model text in the coursebook. Which you do, since the task does not excite or motivate you to do anything else.
Some language classes I’ve been to are quite guilty of this. Here’s something I believe: a piece of writing shouldn’t just be an excuse to recycle whatever language came up before – it should force you to go looking for language you don’t know yet. That’s where inspiring topics come in handy – issues you’re super-keen to write about.
2. In for the long run: writing, reflection and gradual change
Three things happened recently that inspired the idea behind this part.
- Seth Godin’s 5000th blog post – and the emphasis he puts on writing often, from the heart and frankly.
- Lindsay Clandfield’s talks in London – and his use of Scott Thornbury’s quote that “I don’t know what I’m thinking until I write about it.”
- My discovery of Italki – and the “notebook” feature it offers.
Here’s the idea, then:
Write as much as you can in the language you’re learning. Make it as open as you like, as personal, important, honest as you want it to be. Seek out corrections, feedback, discussions and interactions. These are all excuses to write some more.
The bad news:
You will make mistakes and they will be pointed out. You will speak your mind on the internet and someone will be offended, amused or simply bored by your texts. Both of these things will hurt a bit.
The good news:
You will make mistakes and they will be pointed out. You will speak your mind on the internet and someone will be offended, amused or simply inspired by your texts. Both of these things will make you think and improve and write more.
3. Starting your foreign language writing: tips and resources
Italki (mentioned above) has opportunities for writing texts and submitting corrections.
Duolingo (reviewed before) gives you a chance to translate other texts – and improve other translations.
Lang-8 is a language-learners text exchange with a free and a Premium feature.
Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr are super-popular and easy to use expression platforms.
I’ve also heard that pen and paper are easy to pick up and use.
Google Drive (reviewed before) is a free, versatile way to store, share and edit documents.
Oneword.com is really simple (one word, 60 seconds, WRITE!) and I wish it existed in other languages as well.
Interpals lets you find penpals from all around the world. The ultimate excuse to write well!
Got any more ideas? Write me a comment and I’ll add yours to the list!
(Photo credit: eltpics)