How learning to write gives students an advantage over monolingual peers
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! An unfortunate truth about the current state of society is that most people do not actually know how to write and very few know how to effectively read. As unfortunate as this fact is, it is important to acknowledge the problems we are facing so that we might remedy them. Here is what the data says:
With that in mind, the best way to raise those around you is by raising yourself up. Rising tides raise all ships and if you must be that rising tide for your friends or your coworkers or your family, then so be it. Learning to write effectively will help you in areas of your life you can't even imagine and people will notice as your speech becomes more eloquent. The best part is, this won't just be the effect of you writing in your native language. If you take the time and make the effort to write in your target language you will notice rapid improvement with it. Learning to write can help you become bilingual.
Learning to write can help you become bilingual
One of the things many people notice as they begin studying an second language is that most native speakers have a difficult time explaining the grammar rules of their own native language. A primary reason for this is that most people never actually learned how to write and, therefore, never really needed to know the rules. Most speech is not reliant on perfect grammar. If it were, very few people would ever say anything. This is even more true in languages like French and German where the grammar becomes exponentially more complex the second you pick up a pen and endeavor to learn the writing systems.
Luckily, as with learning a language, it is possible to learn to write beautifully at any age. More than that, it is important to learn how to write, irrespective of your age. What you will likely notice, though, is that it isn't a very enjoyable task, especially if it is something you are new to trying. No matter what you do, the first couple things you write are not going to turn out the way you want them to and that's okay. There is a reason I am always telling people to write and it is exactly because the things you write will not turn out the way you want them to the first time.
Everyone has written a rough draft before and, if you are anything like me, it probably felt like a waste of time. The reality is, however, you are not as good as you think you are, and neither was/am I. It took years for me to accept that outlines and rough drafts are all important and integral to the writing process.
If you are working on improving your writing to learn a new language, as cliché as it is, there's a reason people repeat the phrase "learn to love the process" and it's because you will likely never stop writing. Whether you are writing in the same language or a new language every week, it will become addicting as you improve and start to feel the ripples in your life. There are, however, ways to make the process a bit faster all while adding extra stimulus to further advance your language learning experience.
How reading can enhance your writing
One of the primary issues people run into when they are learning to write or even when they are advanced in their writing ability is a limited vocabulary. While it can be fun to peruse a thesaurus from time to time trying to seek out the perfect word, oftentimes the activity falls flat because you aren't sure if it is the appropriate word for that context. That is why reading is so powerful. You will not only come across words whose meanings you do not know, you will also find them in their natural habitat, or at least in the proper context.
If you are reading in at least two languages you are even more likely to experience the benefits of this exercise. Write down the words you don't recognize and try to craft your own sentences with them, it will be much more difficult to forget the word if you have had to think of ways to use it on your own.
Not only that, but when you inevitably improve you will have unlimited sentences to go back and improve on or correct. Whether it's with even more new vocabulary you picked up from reading or a new grammar pattern you spotted, going back to improve sentences you've written in the past is a great exercise.
Something that is often overlooked, too, when someone embarks on their second language acquisition is that there is a ton of industry specific terminology. The advantage to this for the average reader is that you can choose the vocabulary you learn by being intentional in your book selection.
While this choice can be paralytic due to the sheer volume of options, it is also better than being told what you are going to read and by when in a school setting. Your education is in your hands and no one is ever going to be more invested in your future than you are, so read the things that will bring you closer to your goals and the language acquisition will follow.
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Starting to speak by using your own material
Since you are now spending all of this time writing, might I suggest some reading aloud to go along with it. Reading the things you've been writing aloud does a couple things. First, it give you a way to get speaking without having to think. Most of the time the reason people struggle to speak is because they are spending more time thinking of what to say than they are speaking. When you already have something written out this is a nonissue. You can simply read what you wrote; and since you wrote it there is a high likelihood that it is something you would also say in a normal conversation.
On top of all that, when you read something out load it is far more simple to detect faults and awkward sounding phrases. The more often you do this, embarrassing as it might be, the less you will come across awkward and clunky phrasing when you are actually speaking with native speakers.
At the end of the day you play how you practice, so if you practice hard you will be ready when it's game time. If not, well, there are other ways to go about learning a language, they just might take a bit longer and yield unsatisfactory results. This is especially true if you are already living abroad.
Writing in foreign language immersion programs
Most immersion students enrolled in foreign language immersion programs never really write. Sure, they participate in classes and are "graded" depending on the program, but writing is rarely something they are measured on and that is unfortunate. When I was living abroad, writing is one of the only things that kept me sane. It is also the reason that I learned French better than any of the students in my cohort.
If you are already living abroad, simply learning to write in your target language will give you an advantage, oftentimes even over the locals. As sad as it is, the USA is not the only country that has diminishing literacy levels. More importantly, though, especially for those who are living abroad, writing can help you maintain and develop your identity.
Now we have been over reading, writing, and listening. All that's left now is to discuss the strategies that go into creating eloquent speech and crafting beautiful sentences. Though you may have already noticed most of this things are intertwined. The more you read the better you'll write and the better you'll write the better you'll speak. The more you speak the more you'll listen and the more you listen the more you'll want to read. The cycle is self fulfilling and that is one of the best things about it. Stack your Ws, gain momentum, and you will be able to overcome any challenge that you face throughout the duration of your language learning experience.
Learning a language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.
Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.