Writing Your Way to Fluency

October 24th, 2013 | Posted by ross in tips | Writing

Guest Post by Allison VanNest, Grammarly.com


Even if your goal is just to be conversant in a new language, don’t neglect reading and writing in favor of speaking and listening. These four aspects of language acquisition all work together to forge new pathways in your brain. Incorporate daily writing practice into your routine to learn faster. Here’s how:

Be Social. Find a writing buddy who speaks the language you are learning, and offer to trade writing samples. italki’s notebook feature allows you to post short pieces of writing for correction by a community of native speakers. It’s a social way of learning that helps you develop your language skills at your own pace.

Master Idioms. Some of the most difficult things to master in any language are the idioms—regional expressions that can’t be literally translated. For example, in English you might greet someone informally with “What’s up?” but if you translated that expression word-for-word into a foreign language, you might get some funny looks. Writing lets you explore those expressions and incorporate them into your speech.

Practice Grammar. Native speakers tend to instinctively know when words are in the wrong order or the incorrect pronoun appears in a sentence; however, even similar languages such as Italian and Spanish have differing grammar rules. It’s much easier to figure out the ins and outs of grammar by writing and reading. You can take your time and correct mistakes that might go unnoticed in speech.

Develop Your Vocabulary. When practicing conversation in a new language, you tend to fall back on the limited stock of words you’ve already mastered—if you’ve only learned the words for apple and banana, you can’t ask for an orange. Writing allows you to explore a richer vocabulary since you aren’t limited to the words on the tip of your tongue.

Make it Personal. Keeping a journal or diary in the language you are studying is a great way to learn. Since you’re writing about your life in the real world instead of practicing made-up scenarios, it helps to reinforce the connection between your brain and the new language.

Get Creative. You don’t have to stick to writing about the mundane. If you don’t want to journal about your day-to-day life, trying writing a piece of fiction instead. You’ll develop more vocabulary when writing creatively, and you may discover that it’s more fun, too. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you might participate in NaNoWriMo this November, a month-long challenge to write an entire novel in 30 days. If that sounds too overwhelming, Grammarly has a group novel project, GrammoWriMo, for participants to each contribute up to 800 words.

Write, Then Translate. When you’re learning a new language, you still think in your native tongue. Try approaching the written word the same way. Write a page in your journal in your native language first and then translate it into the language you want to learn.

Take a Picture. Ryan North, the creator of Dinosaur Comics, shared examples of his six-panel comic strip that had been captioned by foreign language students. The Japanese and Korean students used the pictures to tell their own story. You can try the same thing by taking a comic strip and blanking out the text, watching a cartoon with the sound off and making up a story for the characters, or even just looking at a picture or movie still and describing the characters and action. It’s okay if it’s silly; in fact, that just makes it more fun!

Keep a Sense of Humor. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay. Learning a new language is tough, and if you accidentally use the wrong word or mangle a sentence, remember that every mistake is a learning opportunity. When a native speaker corrects your grammar—you meant to say something about the weather but accidentally asked to pet their uncle’s cow—laugh it off and learn from it. Next time, you’ll get it right!

About the Author

A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team and its extensive social media community on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t forget to sign up for Grammarly’s group novel project to begin this November at www.grammarly.com/grammowrimo.

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