How to Master a Language for Life
Now that we’ve established the importance of writing not only as an intrinsic skill, but as an essential component of the language acquisition process, I’ll share some key tips about how to incorporate writing into your study routine.
Tips for all foreign language students:
- Get corrections on your writing from a well-educated native speaker. While the act of writing itself is invaluable to developing productive language skills, getting feedback in the form of corrections will allow you to progress far more efficiently. You can get started right now by submitting an essay and receiving a free correction from one of our teachers.
- Dedicate 20% of your foreign language study time to writing. For the fastest and most balanced results in language acquisition, you should devote equal amounts of time to the four language skills—reading, listening, speaking, and writing—and to review your personal content. Writing is often the skill that requires the greatest motivation to practice; therefore, anytime you are in a creative mood or feeling energized, take the opportunity to get in some of that all-important writing practice. Remember that writing consolidates your vocabulary and grammatical mastery and helps you develop fluency, making the transition to speaking much easier.
- Be sure to write an essay before every conversation class with your language instructor. That will help you follow the previous two tips and will also assist you in speaking with greater fluency and a more varied vocabulary, making the most of your classes.
- Write little notes and messages in your foreign language. From now on, get in the habit of writing your shopping lists, to-do lists, ideas, inspirations, reminders-to-self—in sum, any and all short texts for your own personal use—in your target language. In addition, any time you are sending text messages or even emails to people who can read the language, take that opportunity to practice your writing.
- Read high-quality texts, such as fine literature. Reading is the foundation for writing, and just as there is truth to the adage “garbage in, garbage out,” the opposite also holds: if you read books, magazines, blogs, and essays written in elegant prose, you will gradually develop refined writing skills yourself.
- Look up words as needed, but do not translate entire sentences until after you are finished. Remember that the writing process is extremely beneficial to language acquisition—in particular, having to construct your own sentences is the best way to practice vocabulary recall and command of grammar. After finishing your essay or even parts of it, however, you may use an automatic translator and a grammar checker to help you self-correct. You should later obtain corrections from a native speaker regardless; but by running a grammar checker first and comparing your original version with an automatic translation, you can teach yourself and allow your teacher to focus on more subtle stylistic improvements to your text. But at times it may also be preferable to leave all the correcting to your teacher.
- Share your writing with others. Doing so can be a spur to your creativity and the extra motivation you need to get your ideas in writing. Don't know where to publish your writing? Then write for the Natural Language Institute! We're happy to publish essays written by foreign language students of different levels in the community section of our website.
A common question students ask when told to write is, “What should I write about?” While the generic responses, “Write about whatever inspires you, whatever you're thinking about, or whatever you feel like writing about” are perfectly valid, I will give you a few more concrete suggestions according to your current level.
Content suggestions for beginners and intermediate level students:
- Read, listen, write, and then speak about the same topic. By reading and listening up on a subject first, you will gain inspiration and also key vocabulary to then prepare a written composition. Additionally, following that sequence enhances the role of writing in converting passive knowledge in a language to active or productive knowledge and will make your conversation flow more smoothly. Natural Language Institute homework assignments make that easy to do.
- Write about yourself. Since writing is practice for speaking, writing all about yourself will come in quite handy later on when having conversations. Begin by introducing yourself in writing. That's a great way to practice basic vocabulary and simple sentence structures in the present tense. But don't stop there! Practice past tenses by writing countless essays that tell your life story, and train future tenses by writing all about your plans for the coming months and years. Write about your family, friends, pets, house, childhood, work, studies, and so on.
- Write about subjects that particularly interest you. There are three obvious reasons for this recommendation. The first is that you will be inherently more motivated when writing about subjects that are personally intriguing for you. The second is that you are likely to bring these topics up in conversation and to associate with people who have similar interests. Therefore, just as with the previous tip, your writing is direct practice for future speaking opportunities. Third, just as in reading and listening, you should always try to kill two birds with one stone. To give a personal example: I have been writing French essays about a house I plan to build in the future. Thus, while I practice my French, I'm also making headway on my architectural plans.
Content suggestions for advanced level students:
- Challenge yourself by writing about new topics. Once you have advanced proficiency in a language, your strategy should change somewhat. To master a language for life, you need to be sure to read and write about a wide variety of subjects, thus ensuring that your vocabulary continues to expand.
- Write in a diversity of styles—academic, formal, professional, persuasive, humoristic, poetic, and so on. As with the previous tip, writing in different styles will not only prepare you for various opportunities in your foreign language, it will also continually stretch your language skills and help you achieve mastery.
- Write about complex and intricate subjects. Along the same lines, as an advanced student, be sure to challenge yourself by writing about highly technical, subtle, or deep issues that will push the boundaries of your linguistic competence.
Use the form below to submit your essay for a free correction from one of our skilled, native teachers. Not only will you get feedback to help you improve your fluency, but you will also be able to play Racing Letters, our innovative game to allows you to dynamically review and master corrections on your personal writing content.
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