We all want to communicate well, no matter what the language, and writing is an integral part of this.
Naturally, writing in our native language feels easier and less awkward compared to writing in our foreign language. This becomes pretty obvious the second we pick up a pen or turn on our computer and try to put our thoughts to words (without the help of Google Translate).
Suddenly, we become painfully aware of each tiny aspect of grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation we're not completely confident about. Is this how you start an email? Should this be in the past simple or past continuous tense? Can I use a colon here?
Does this sound familiar?
If so, then this post is for you. Here, we'll look at nine helpful hacks to practice and improve your writing in your foreign language.
1. Always remember that writing is a process, even in your native language.
First, it's important to remember and constantly remind yourself that writing is a process. We don't become fluent in a language overnight, and we definitely aren't able to write well in that language overnight either.
The reason many people don't feel confident with their writing is because they have the wrong idea of what writing involves. Many people expect to become experts despite the fact that they may not be good writers in their native language.
Unfortunately, writing doesn't work that way.
Whether you're writing in a foreign language or native language, the writing process itself is very similar. In order to be a good writer, you need to master the writing process. This isn't just about memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules. It's about knowing the structure, format, organization, process and brainstorming that goes into a good piece of writing.
Once you've mastered the writing process in any language, the rest becomes easy. However, failure to understand the process will affect writing in any language, especially in your foreign language. If you can't write well in your native language, you won’t be able to write well in your foreign language either.
2. Read as much as you can.
You must be able to read in a language before you can write in it. Reading in your foreign language helps you become familiar with the language. It's also a great way to learn new vocabulary, grammar and get a feel for the style without needing to formally study writing. Essentially, it's a way to learn without realizing that you're learning.
Reading as many different texts as possible as much as possible is key to being able to write well in your foreign language. After all, you learned how to speak by hearing people speak. You learned how to drive by watching others drive. Why should writing be any different?
3. Keep up with your grammar.
Whether we like it or not, grammar is the foundation of writing. In order to write well in any language, you must first be familiar with the grammar of that language.
Grammar is all about how words are formed and used. It's the rules of the game. And without these rules, it's impossible to clearly express your thoughts.
In order to improve your writing skills, it's extremely important to know about the fundamental grammatical rules in your foreign language. This is one reason many students aren't comfortable writing: they're not comfortable with grammar.
However, you don't need to be an expert right away. You can (and should) try writing at every stage of the language learning process. This is a great way to practice what you've learned and build a strong foundation for writing even better in the future.
Make sure to write down, study, and practice your grammar skills as you learn them. You can start by applying them in short sentences, and work your way up to writing a short text that uses the rule you're studying. For example, if you're studying the present tense, you can write a short description of what you typically do each day. You can usually find plenty of helpful writing prompts by grammar topic online.
4. Learn proper punctuation.
Have you ever been distracted by badly punctuated writing?
It may seem small, but a well-placed comma or question mark goes a long way. When your work isn't well punctuated, it gives the impression that you haven't mastered the language. It also can really affect the meaning of your writing.
A very important step to improve your writing in any language is to learn how to use correct punctuation.
Hint: It's always a good idea to brush up on punctuation rules in your native language first!
5. Start with short and simple pieces.
Now that you've built a strong foundation, it's time to dive into writing. But where should you even begin?
Start by keeping it short, simple and informal. Try to focus on writing short, informal pieces that aren't meant for others to read just yet. This will help you concentrate your writing on things you want to work on and keep you from getting discouraged.
We recommend applying your grammar skills to your writing and focusing on one topic at a time. If you're ever looking for inspiration, there are plenty of writing prompts on the internet. You can even look for writing prompts in English and then translate them into your foreign language!
Remember that slow and steady wins the race; think big, but start small with writing.
6. Focus on correct sentences.
Many new writers get carried away with trying to impress readers in their foreign language and end up losing focus of the most important things.
Focus on using simple, correct sentences first. Avoid adding extra clauses and ideas, and only use translations that you know well. It may not be as beautiful as your writing in your native language, but it will be much easier for readers to understand your ideas if you keep it simple.
Don't worry: the more you practice, the more complex your writing can become. The key is to stick to the structures you know and work your way up as your skills improve.
7. Have another person review your work.
Another great way to improve your writing is to get a native speaker or fellow language learner to provide you with feedback.
This could be a friend, family member, coworker, language exchange partner, or even someone you know who is also studying the same language. If you don't know any native speakers, HiNative is a great resource for getting some help from native speakers. Give it a try!
You can write emails or letters back and forth, or simply send them examples of your writing for some feedback. You can even contribute to a blog or forum in your native language (Rocket Languages has some great forums for this)! The key is to find someone whose skills you trust, especially as you progress to intermediate and advanced writing.
8. Keep a journal.
Writing in a journal or diary is one of the best ways to practice your writing skills. As with any skill, the key is to practice as much as possible, and a journal can really help you do this.
If you're not sure what to write about, here are some ideas:
- Write about your “now”: how your day went, an interesting event, how you're feeling, or what you're thinking.
- Make up a conversation between two people. You can be creative with this!
- Write a letter to a friend, yourself, or a celebrity. You don't need to send it; just writing it will be helpful.
- Translate a text you've written in your native language into your foreign language.
- Write a review for a book you've recently read or a movie you've recently watched.
- Write a script for a speech, podcast, or – for the creative ones out there – you can even write a script for your own play or short film!
- Write Facebook statuses or tweets (whether or not you post them is up to you)!
- Write a short story or poem.
- Think about mistakes you've made in your foreign language and rewrite them correctly or talk about how you would approach them differently in the future.
Give it a try!
9. Be patient with yourself.
Finally, it's always important to remember that patience makes perfect, especially with learning a foreign language.
Keep in mind that writing is the most difficult skill for many language learners. The key is to always keep improving your speaking, listening, and reading skills, and to start small and work your way up with writing.
Be patient with yourself and don’t lose faith in your abilities – instead, focus on the incredible process of learning a language and all of the benefits it brings you. After a while, those foreign words will no longer be "Greek" to you and you'll be the one writing them!