Maybe you want to write a letter or email to your penpal. Perhaps you want to keep a diary in your target language. Maybe you need to write an essay for a class or proficiency exam. What do all of the above have in common? Writing! This study tips post will focus on writing—from improving your handwriting in the event that you are learning a language with a different alphabet or writing system than the one you are used to, to working up to being able to express your ideas fluidly on paper/screen.
I can only really specifically talk about improving handwriting from the standpoint of having learned the writing systems of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, but I’m sure that these tips can apply to other alphabets and writing systems as well.
My first tip would be to take your time to learn the correct stroke order if there is one (and there almost 100% certainly is). Knowing the correct stroke order will not only help you to remember how to write each character or letter properly but also will help you recognize them in others’ handwriting, or in fonts that may be a little more artistic. Do you have a family member or friend with terrible handwriting that you can still somehow read anyway? Your brain can recognize patterns in the writing that help you decipher the scribble. For writing systems like Chinese, where you might have to fit ten or more strokes within a small space, knowing the proper order is especially important for making sure your character looks right, and for recognizing characters in the handwriting of others.
Find suitable paper
So how can you improve? If your language writes syllables in blocks, try to find graph paper or other blocked paper to practice keeping your syllables the correct shape and consistent in size. If your language has some parts that go above or below the base line, find some of that writing paper with the divided dotted lines that you used back in elementary school when you were first learning to write! Practice just like children learning that writing system would practice. My handwriting in all of my languages started out very stiff and awkward, but as I got more used to the flow of things, it began to show in my writing.
Content and style:
Now that you know how to physically write, you need to think about the content you want to write about and/or your target audience and figure out what you need to know to accomplish that. If you want to write about whales, you’ll need to know some vocabulary and facts related to whales and the ocean, for example. If you’re aiming to write a daily journal, you’ll need to know some words related to daily life. Know what you want to write and prepare for it. Of course, with technology all around us, you might just be able to pick up your phone or hop on your computer to look up words you need as you need them.
Words aren’t the only important thing to writing; the style is also important. Your writing style will surely be a lot different when you’re texting someone as opposed to when you’re writing an essay. Learning about the conventions of different types of writing can be really helpful. If you can’t find sources that specifically explain those conventions, try to find native writing sources that are similar to the kind of writing you want to do. Do you want to write some sort of article? Check out a news site in your target language and see how the articles are written. Aiming to write a blog? Find blogs similar to what you would like to make and see how the author writes. And hey, that works as good reading practice, too!
Practice and improving:
You won’t become a master writer overnight—nobody does. You should try to practice as often as you can to get used to putting your thoughts into writing and build up speed and fluency. Try to keep a notebook with you to jot thoughts down in throughout the day, for example, or aim to write a certain amount of journals every week. Even simple things like texting and chatting online in your target language can help—that way you can practice things like spelling and proper punctuation and spacing.
Something I find helpful when writing is to just do it and not obsess with checking words or grammar as you go. Try to just let yourself write continuously. If you have to write a word in your native language in the middle of the sentence because you don’t know it or forgot it in the target language, so be it (unless it’s on an exam, of course)! You can go back later and reread and edit your work and look up words. The important thing is to get yourself into that mindset of thinking in the target language with as few distractions as possible. Over time, if you write often, you will find that it comes to you more and more easily 🙂
Checking your writing:
On the topic of editing, how can you check your writing once you’re done? If you’re taking courses, your teacher is an excellent resource, and he or she will probably be very happy to see you actively taking extra steps outside of class to improve. Otherwise, do you have friends who natively speak the target language? Bribe them with a tasty meal for helping you out if you must~ Or, in my case, I like to post my writing to Lang-8, a website where you can help those learning your native language to edit their work, and native speakers of your target language help you out in return. Everyone wins.
Just keep at it! Happy studying~