Voltaire once said: “Writing is the painting of the voice“. Quite the brilliant man that Voltaire fellow! In previous posts, we’ve mostly talked about listening and reading methods. These two aspects of language learning are all about receiving information; the material is already created and you are simply taking it in. Consuming as much information as possible and including a large amount of input learning in your routine is absolutely essential. But if you ever want to communicate well, language is a two-way street. You also need to be able to create material for yourself and output that new knowledge into the world. It is fascinating to discover how to decrypt a foreign language, but if you truly want to have a fluent conversation, you’ll need to shape sentences and express your ideas and thoughts. No amount of listening or reading will allow you to do that entirely. You need to slowly develop your output language-learning skills. In this post, we will talk about how writing can be an excellent way to do so.
Input and output language learning are closely related; when you work on reading, your writing does get better. However, it is very possible to reach a 90% reading comprehension and still have a hard time maintaining a live conversation. Even though all skills are interconnected, you also need to work on each area specifically. The reason most people struggle with producing material, is that they don’t practice it nearly as much. It’s fairly easy to listen, read and take in the language in lots of ways without changing your life all that much. In order to properly create sentences yourself though, you really need to go out of your way. It does require more effort on your part, especially if your current lifestyle does not involve interactions with people speaking the language you are trying to learn. But using the language for yourself is the most exciting part of your journey.
The main advantage of writing over speaking as an output language-learning method is that the process is much slower. Writing is very closely related to speaking; both require you to think for yourself and use vocabulary you know to shape your own sentences. Writing however, is like speaking in slow motion. When you are writing, you have more time to think about your words, and you can even look up the right way to say things and words you don’t know. That’s why it can be excellent practice. Plus, there are also lots of written exercises you can do on your own. Now, the obvious downside is that spelling can be very difficult and that you aren’t getting used to voicing the different foreign sounds.
If you’re writing and you don’t know a certain word, you can instantly look it up to fill in what you’re missing. This is a quick way to learn the words that are most relevant to you, because you will see where you struggle. You can also steer your learning where you want it to go. If you are having a hard time with the past tense for example, writing a short story or a diary in the past tense will force you to get better and solve the issue. When speaking, you have less time to focus on these mistakes because you need the conversation to flow. You can’t spend two minutes on a single sentence, unless you find a very patient person to talk to. Talking to yourself or your pet can be great practice though! (side note: I’m not kidding.) Whenever you write something, try correcting your own mistakes as much as you can. It’s also very important to have someone look at your text afterwards. Otherwise, it is easy to repeat the same mistakes over and over again without ever knowing. If it gets corrected the first time, you will be less likely to make that mistake again.
Now, my psychic mind is telling me what a lot of you are thinking right now: “Okay, but what if I don’t know anyone who can correct my texts?“. Luckily, there are fantastic online communities at your disposal. In upcoming posts, we will talk about how you can find people from all over the world who are willing to help (often free of charge). After all, you can probably ask your friend Antonio to proofread your text once or twice, but if you ask him to correct a paragraph or two every single day, he might get a little annoyed with you.
There are millions of people like you trying to learn languages; many are fun, interesting and are happy to share their knowledge. Luckily, we have more ways to connect with them than ever before. You can use free language-exchange services to help others by correcting their English, and others can help you with your target language. You can often get a correction in as little as a few minutes. You can also find a penpal from another country to exchange messages on a regular basis and correct each other’s work. Alternatively, there are countless affordable proofreading services on the web. When you receive a correction, study your mistakes and find a way to make them stick. You can read the text many times over or write it out a few times to remember it.
When you write in your new language, you will likely be missing some accents and characters on your keyboard. We highly recommend that you change your keyboard settings and get used to typing foreign accents. An accented letter can sometimes make a huge difference and the meaning of a word can change entirely. For instance, in Spanish “año” means year and “ano” means, well… anus. That’s quite an important distinction to make here, right? Make sure you have access to these special characters. On smartphones, you can download a keyboard for your new language. The SwiftKey keyboard allows up to five languages at the same time without changing your keyboard language as you switch back and forth between them.
In order to be successful in language learning, it is best to vary your learning activities. It can be easy to focus only on input language methods like listening and reading. Keep in mind though, that output methods like writing and speaking, are just as important and should be practiced on a regular basis. This will improve your learning exponentially. In the next post, we will talk about ideas of topics you can write about. In the meantime, get those creative juices flowing and write about anything that inspires you! You’ll see major improvements in your language skills in no time.
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