For the vast majority of language learners, myself included, we learn another language so that we can speak it. We aren’t learning it so we can read the newspaper. We aren’t learning so that we can write letters to people. We may do both of these, and enjoy them as activities, but they are not the reason for our learning. We want to speak. We want to be in conversations in which we both understand and are understood. Speaking, not writing is why we learn.
If speaking and listening are the most important things we do with the language though, why would we spend any time worrying about writing? Reading we can understand, but writing?
I want to offer five reasons why I think that writing should be an integral part of your language learning journey. And specifically, I want to ask you to consider a personal narrative in the form of a journal or a diary as the main focus of this writing. I believe that writing has amazing potential to help maximize your language learning and significantly increase the rate at which you learn. Which of course will get you speaking sooner. Here are my five reasons why writing will help you learn language better:
- Our brains function in the same way whether we speak or we write. A message is created and transmitted. It just sends the message down a different pipe. If you take a moment to grab a pen and paper and write a few sentences you will see that you cannot write without speaking out the words in your head. In this way, writing is a stress free way to practice speaking. Because we get to write at our own pace with no audience, we can give our mind a tremendous amount of repetition with the grammar, words and expressions of the language.
- Writing allows us to use all of the words and grammar forms that we are currently learning and to solidify those we have already learned. This goes back to the repetition mentioned above, but if for example, we need to hear or produce a word 30 times for it to begin to get “stuck” in our mind, we can significantly increase the rate at which we incorporate new words into our usable vocabulary.
- Writing about our days in a journal or diary connects the words and grammars we are learning to the context of our lives. This context and emotional connection creates richer meaning and allows for greater retention of the material. We remember things better when we put them in a context that is familiar to our lives and that we are interested in.
- The next step is to get a native speaker to correct these journals. Once corrected, these journals become an amazing source of integrated review which will allow you to easily and quickly review everything that you have learned. Language learning too often is a race from A to B to C and we often forget much of what was presented back at A by the time we get to point D. If however we have journaled all along the way, looking back through these regularly allows us to reconnect with all of the grammar points and words we learned previously. This is what I call integrated review. To get your journals corrected, ask a native speaking friend for help or if that is not possible, check out the amazing FREE online program called Lang-8.
- These journals are also a great to have as a form of self assessment. There is nothing quite like looking back at your first journals to remind you how far you have come. If you haven’t read Yuki’s story yet, go back and read it now. It will help you understand this last point.
Writing is an important skill in any language, but now one we are usually interested in worrying about as we go about learning a new language. But don’t underestimate the potential writing has to be a great part of helping you learn that language. It is a maximizer and will enhance all that you are doing to learn. So get started writing today!
Many of you worry that your writing will stink.
Let me tell you a little secret - it will.
But it doesn’t matter. Even your blather is part of moving you forward and the more blather now, the quicker your blather will become poetry.
So get started. Do your best. Write about things you love. Have fun!
What has your experience with writing been like as a language learner?
Ready to get serious about learning another language?
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