If you’re looking to improve your writing skills in a foreign language, here are eight tips that will help you make the most of your practice time:
1. Look at Mistakes as Learning Opportunities
Writing in a foreign language isn’t easy. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes, and some of them might even end up being quite embarrassing.
Whenever that happens to you, try to take it in stride. Remind yourself that you still make occasional mistakes whenyouI write in your native language too. Naturally, we’re going to make even more mistakes when we write in a foreign language.
But don’t let your mistakes discourage you and make you afraid to put your words on paper. Instead, look at them positively and use them as a learning opportunity.
Mistakes help you identify the areas you need more practice in. Make sure you understand why what you wrote was incorrect so that you can avoid making the same mistake again in the future.
2. Use a Grammar and Spell Checker to Edit Your Writing
With tip #1 in mind, the second tip is to use a grammar and spell checker so you can catch most mistakes while you are still writing. This way you get immediate feedback on your writing so that the errors won’t become ingrained in your brain.
Grammarly is an excellent choice if you’re writing in English. You can find similar apps for other languages. On Apple computers, for example, you can turn on keyboards for different languages.
3. Think in the Foreign Language While You Write
The most errors happen when you try to directly translate your thoughts in your native language while writing in the foreign language you are practising.
One way to avoid this is by giving yourself plenty of time and not rushing when you write in a foreign language. It takes a little bit longer, but you will make far fewer errors.
When you do need to translate some word, use Linguee, a fantastic website where you can type in a phrase from your native language and see how it would be translated into the foreign language that you are studying (it’s available for seven different languages). Google Translate is also sometimes helpful in this situation.
4. Become an Avid Reader
Reading widely in a foreign language is one of the best ways to grow your vocabulary, strengthen your writing skills, and absorb the language’s grammar.
In each language I study, I try to read everything I can get my hands on: novels, newspaper articles, poetry, comics, instruction manuals, and the list goes on.
Listening to audiobooks doesn’t count here. You want to read a physical book or an eBook so that you can observe punctuation, spelling, and the author’s stylistic techniques.
It’s especially important to read the types of articles or books you would like to write. This will help you learn the vocabulary and style specific to that type of writing.
When you read in a foreign language, also take note of idioms. These are phrases that are usually not taken literally and are generally only understood by those with a strong grasp of the language. Idioms are a great way to spice up your writing and make you sound more like a native speaker.
5. Create Your Own Phrasebook
If you start collecting idioms like suggested in tip #4, you can store them in your own personalized phrasebook. This phrasebook can be as simple as a Google doc or a note on Evernote. You can break it up into sections based on the vocabulary you learn.
6. Study the Grammar
Making small grammatical errors when speaking usually isn’t that big of a deal. In fact, the spoken version of a language is often completely different from the written one.
To strengthen your grasp of a language’s grammar is recommended working through a grammar workbook (start with the “Practice Makes Perfect series” of workbooks from McGraw Hill. They have workbooks for many different languages.)
7. Learn How to Write with Style
Learning how to write well doesn’t stop with mastering grammar and spelling and proofreading your work for typos.
You also need to know how to outline your work, craft strong introductions and conclusions, write simply but compellingly, and much more.
You should put this advice into practice when writing in both the foreign language and your native language.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a fantastic book to start with (especially if you’re writing in English).
8. Ask a Native Speaker to Edit Your Writing
Whether you’re writing in your own native language or in a foreign one, always ask a friend or a family member to proofread your work. Even the most famous writers have editors who review their books for errors.
So, of course, it’s even more important to have an editor when you’re writing in a foreign language. No matter how advanced of a speaker you are, there are often subtleties in the language that only a native speaker’s ears are attuned to.
They’ll tell you, “This sentence doesn’t sound right. Write it this way instead.” They may not be able to give you a detailed explanation of why but trust that they know what they’re talking about.
If you’re looking for native speakers to correct your writing, I recommend trying out Italki.
After joining the site, you can write short entries in the language you are learning. Your notebook entry will appear to native speakers of that language who will leave you helpful feedback and point out any errors. In return, you can help edit other user’s entries that are written in your native language.
If you need more in-depth feedback on your writing, try setting up a language exchange with a native speaker.
If it’s difficult to find a friend who has the time to help you on a consistent basis, then your best bet is to hire a tutor. Italki also has language teachers at affordable prices (they have both professional teachers and community tutors).
The Takeaway: Practice, practice, practice