A lot of independent language learners avoid working on their writing skills because it gives them traumatic flashbacks from their high school language classes. Thankfully, when you decide to learn a language on your own, you don’t have to follow someone else’s curriculum. You choose what exercises and resources you do and don’t practice with. To help you out, we’ve got some easy tips to improve your writing in your target language that are both fun and effective. (And nothing like the essays you know and hate.) All you need to know about how to practice writing in a foreign language, the fun way, is right here.
We’ve told you time and time again to focus your efforts on speaking and listening when you first start learning a new language. Those skills give you the most bang for your buck because they allow you to communicate with people most quickly. And being able to do that gives you a major sense of accomplishment. Which in turn motivates you to keep learning. But it is worth your while to learn how to write well in your target language!
Writing in a foreign language can make new words stick like glue in your long-term memory! It engages your kinesthetic memory—especially when you write by hand. According to the famous “learning pyramid,” the average retention rate for writing (also called “doing”) is 75%. Compare that to a passive activity like listening (5%) or reading (10%), and it’s pretty obvious why practicing foreign language writing is important.
Writing can also force you to think about the mechanics of your target language. For example, how sentences are built, when different tenses are used, and which turns of phrase are most natural. This also benefits your speaking skills.
Knowing how to write well in a foreign language is going to make you an important asset to your company or set your resume apart from the rest of the candidates in the applicant pool.
And last but not least, it can be a great creative release that relieves stress and anxiety and improves your overall mental health! (If you’re interested, here’s a fascinating article on all of the ways learning a language is great for your brain.)
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If you didn’t think that learning to write was important before, hopefully now you’re convinced! Now, here are 6 tips on how to improve your writing, along with fun ways to put them into practice.
It’s no secret. To excel at anything, whether it’s chess, baseball, piano, or language, you have to practice a lot and practice consistently. However, it’s not always easy to find time to practice a language. So, I like to get it out of the way at the beginning of my day.
🖋 How to do it: I often start my day with 5 to 15 minutes of freewriting, which is somewhat like meditation. Don’t set any expectations for yourself, don’t stress about conjugation, and don’t go back and edit your work. Simply set a timer, put pen to paper—yes, I recommend doing this by hand)—and write continuously. Write about anything that comes to mind until the timer goes off.
Freewriting is a fun, stress-free habit for getting your daily writing practice in and to help your ideas begin to flow more naturally in your target language.
The best way to get overwhelmed and disenchanted with writing in a foreign language is by trying to take on too much at once. So if you’re having trouble finding the willpower to practice writing, put your plans for that Italian novel on hold, and instead opt for lots of shorter prompts.
⌨️ How to do it: One fun way to practice short but frequent writing bursts is by posting on social media. Especially Tweets, since you’re given a limited number of characters to work with! Tweet about your day, tweet at your favorite celebrities or brands, tweet your thoughts about news articles… just make it relevant to you.
Posting on social media can be a good way to keep yourself committed to your language practice through public accountability, which Luca has talked about in some of our videos. However, you can also create a separate account dedicated to your target language if you don’t want all of your followers to see your practice.
If you think you hate practicing writing, get as far away from “traditional” writing prompts as possible.
💬 How to do it: For you, I recommend chatting or instant messaging with a conversation partner (click here to see the best websites for finding one). It’s basically the 2021 version of an adult penpal! If you can find someone you click well with, the time will fly by when you’re writing back and forth, and it won’t feel like practice, just like you’re messaging a friend!
Some people even swear that dating apps are the reason they’ve gotten so good at writing in their target language! 😍 Hey, you never know! Wondering how to practice writing in a foreign language on your favorite dating app? Most apps let you search for matches in a particular city. Just choose one where they speak your target language.
Need to know how to change the language on your phone’s keyboard to text more easily in your target language? Check out our guide on changing your keyboard language settings right here.
That leads me to my next tip…
It’s best to get feedback about your writing from a human, but if you’re not comfortable with that quite yet, using free automatic writing checkers is another option.
LanguageTool is a good one to check out because it supports many different languages. Microsoft Word also has some built-in writing assistance features. Here are other programs and websites we recommend for specific languages:
- 🇪🇸 To practice writing in Spanish (escribir), we recommend SpanishChecker
- 🇫🇷 Check out BonPatron if you want to practice writing in French (écrire)
- 🇩🇪 DudenMentor will be your best friend for improving your writing in German (schreiben)
- 🇬🇧🇺🇸 And if you’d like to learn to write in English, we suggest Grammarly or Write & Improve a free tool developed by Cambridge English. Write & Improve is neat because it also gives you foreign language writing prompts for different levels if you’re not sure what to write about.
✏️ How to do it: A way to make this resource fun is to think of it like a competition with yourself. See if you can beat your previous score for the least amount of mistakes!
If you’re interested in how to best use these tools, check out our article on grammar check tools for language learners.
I should warn you that these automatic tools aren’t always accurate. Be sure to do your own research to make sure that they didn’t flag any errors by mistake.
You obviously want to know what you can improve on when you write, so feedback is important. But you don’t want to feel like you’re constantly being “graded.” Therefore, it’s good to keep some of your writing to yourself. Sometimes, you should practice just for the sake of practicing.
Like with freewriting, the simple act of writing a lot can help you improve.
🖍 How to do it: I suggest keeping a personal blog, journal, or diary for this purpose. And you don’t have to only fill it with your own writing. For instance, I keep a notepad full of quotes, sentences, and expressions that I come across in things I read and particularly love the sound of, because it inspires me to want to be a better writer!
And on that note, to be a good writer in any language, you have to be a reader. Especially when you’re learning to write for a specific purpose, you need to read lots of similar texts written in your target language. Mimic the style rather than translating directly from your native language.
That said, translating can be another fun writing exercise—and I’m not just saying that because I’m a translator!
📖 How to do it: Pick a specific text genre to read and analyze. Business emails or memos can help with professional language, newspaper op-eds can help you work on your logic and argumentation, poems and songs are great for learning about rhythm and rhyme… Then, try to copy the style as closely as possible.
These can be good foreign language writing prompts if you can’t think of anything interesting to write about. We put together some more great reading suggestions for language learners here.
To sum up this article, here’s a list of tips and entertaining ideas about how to practice writing in a foreign language:
- incorporate writing into your daily language practice, and to do so, try freewriting;
- keep your practice sessions short;
- since you’ll be on social media anyway, write a few short Tweets or Instagram captions each day;
- find the practical side of writing;
- text a language partner or crush;
- get edits and feedback about your writing, for instance using an automatic writing help tool;
- keep some of your work private so that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself, with a personal blog or journal;
- read, read, read!
- and finally, imitate or translate different styles and genres.
I hope you have as much fun writing as I do! Did I manage to change your perspective about writing practice? Let me know in the comments 😉
Get all of my foreign language writing tips in the video below—which you can also watch on our YouTube channel. I recorded it in English, but there are subtitles in 6 different languages if you need them. Click the Settings icon (⚙️) to turn them on or to change the playback speed.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more tips on improving your language skills!
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