How to Improve your Writing Skills in a Foreign Language

Improve your writing skills in a foreign language by writing about anything that keeps you motivated, with the help of a couple of free websites.

2018/09/29

Stefano Lodola

By STEFANO LODOLA

Improve your language skills in a foreign language through creative writing

Creative writing is an excellent activity to improve your writing skills in a foreign language for many reasons:

  • It’s a chance to put into practice words and grammar patterns that you learned recently, and expand your vocabulary by looking up new words in the dictionary if needed.
  • It’s a chance to check the spelling of words you’re familiar with but never use in writing.
  • It’s an intimate time to reflect on the language you’re studying. Ask yourself: “why do I need to use this tense?”, “how can I express this idea?”, “how do I put these words together in a sentence?”, “are these words related to each other?”.
  • It’s a way to keep yourself motivated, especially by writing about topics of your interest. Writing itself is a pleasure, but you can also take pleasure in sharing your writings with your foreign friends and teachers.
  • If you read aloud what you’re writing and check the pronunciation online (on Google Translate or other websites), it even counts as speaking and reading practice.

In particular, creative writing is useful to improve your writing skills in a foreign language because it:

  • Provides interesting, lively opportunities for language practice.
  • Is not uncontrolled and uncontrollable verbal doodling but requires precision and accuracy in expression and vocabulary.
  • Allows us to focus on specific ideas, forms or literary texts
  • Is not intimidatingly out of reach for most of us but creates opportunities for students to explore their language and their imagination
  • Is not a substitute or a replacement for oral communication but represents a lively, stimulating way to give new meaning to a somewhat lesser-used language skill

Ideally, you might want to have your writings checked by your teacher, language exchange partner or volunteers online, but the act of handling new words alone already helps memorizing. Your writing skills in a foreign language will naturally improve with daily practice.

The best way to put those words into practice is to use them in conversation. I personally start every language lesson, both as a student and as a teacher, by repeating key points from the previous lesson, which includes making sentences with the words. You can do the same during your language tandem. However, making sentences by yourself works ,too. Since writing skills in a foreign language are often overlooked, creative writing is a good habit to take.

Write about what keeps you motivated

Write about what you’re interested in. It doesn’t have to be a “basic” topic, like buying groceries or tickets. I usually write about philosophy, society, and romance. You might want to write about surfing, cats, or physics. Your topics of interest are your basics, because it’s likely that you’ll have a chance to talk about them in real life.

For the same reason, I never take classes or group lessons: I might just not be interested in the topics they deal with in standard curriculums. Family? I don’t want one. Shopping? I hate it. Sports? I don’t watch it. Entertainment? I haven’t watched TV for 16 years.

It’s certainly easier to say things if you know a lot of words, but you can still get by through roundabouts. For example, I can still say that “my dad’s sister got married” or that “the guy threw the ball in the hole”, if I ever need to. I don’t like wearing clothes, not to mention learning the name of clothes in other languages. I’d rather describe the shape or the color of the clothes I want to point at.

Post your homework on Italki

italki

Any time is good to hone up your writing skills in a foreign language. You can always write, as long as you have a pen and a sheet of paper. In this age of language learning apps, this might sound old-fashioned, but actually there’s plenty of research indicating that you memorize information better if you take notes by hand. This applies to writing skills in a foreign language, too.

However, there’s at least one drawback in leaving your writings on paper. It’s not practical to share them and have someone correct them, unless you have a tutor who patiently does that for you.

You can have a native speaker check your homework for free! 

That’s why I always post my homework on Italki. Italki is the largest online language learning community and, among other features, has a section to post your homework on the website and have other users like you correct it for free. Yes, you can have a native speaker check your homework for free! This way, you also feel motivated because you know that someone is going to read it and even correct it for you.

On Italki’s website, you find the “notebook” page under the “community” item in the top menu.

If you’re new to Italki, sign up from this link to get 10US$ credit for your first lesson, if you ever decide to take lessons on Skype (registration is free).

Google Translate and Search are your friends

If you’re still learning a language, chances are that you’re not sure about how to spell words, or can’t come up with the right word in that language. You’re here to improve your writing skills in a foreign language, but if you’re writing alone you can’t ask your teacher or language exchange partner. For that, ask your best friend: Google Translate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you to copy and paste every funny translation that Google Translate churns out. Google Translate can be a useful tool to support your writing practice, and overall learning experience. This is how I use it:

1. Check spelling

Improve your Writing Skills in a Foreign Language​ with Google Translate
Improve your Writing Skills in a Foreign Language​ with Google Translate

Google Translate tells you real-time if something looks wrong in the sentence. While it’s still weak at analyzing long sentences, it works very well with spelling. Accept its suggestions.

2. Look up words as in a dictionary

Use Google Translate for your daily writing practice

Enter a single word in the text box, and Google will return a dictionary-like list of all known definitions, including sinonyms. Fast, uh?

3. Look up a word in context

Use Google Translate for your daily writing practice

Google Translate looks dumb but it can be pretty smart. If you provide a word in the context of a phrase or sentence, Google will select the most context-sensitive definition.

For example: if you type in the Italian noun coda, you will see that it means “tail”. Now let’s provide more context. Type in coda di gatto and it will translate into “cat’s tail”. But type coda in autostrada and it will translate into “queue/line on the highway” (traffic jam), because it’s found next to the word “highway”. The more context you can give Google, the better your translation will be.

Another example: if you type in the Portuguese noun cara, you will see that it means “face”, “visage”, “appearance”, but also “guy”. Now let’s provide more context. Type in lavei a cara and it will translate as “I washed my face”. But type aquele cara alto and it will translate to “that tall guy”.

4. Answer usage questions

Use Google Translate for your daily writing practice

Test your sentence in the real world. A quick regular search on Google will answer grammar questions, such as:

  • Syntax: to find out which preposition to use (“in the purpose of” or “with the purpose of”?)
  • Word order: in Italian, adjectives come before or after the noun they point at. Is it “bella vita” or “vita bella”?
  • Usage: like finding out which of two similar words is more commonly used (“a deep insight” or “a profound insight”?). Run a search on both phrases and compare the number of hits.

To make sure you get the most accurate results, it helps to go to your Google search settings and under Search Language, select your target language and native language.

Writing practice is simple, useful, and fun

Writing is an excellent activity to improve your language skills, not limited to writing. An excellent way to improve your writing skills in a foreign language is creative writing. Feel free to write about anything that keeps you motivated, regardless of how rare or hard that topic is. Either write by hand, or post your homework on Italki to have native speakers correct it for free. Use Google Translate and Google Search to support your writing practice and overall learning experience (but don’t cheat!).

Go unleash the writer within!

Stefano Lodola lecturing about learning languages

Do you want a complete guide on how to learn a foreign language?

The pictures shown in this article are slides taken from my on-demand course on Udemy “Fluent. Simple. My proven quick-start guide to learn any foreign language”. There I share what I actually do to learn foreign languages, in the form of a presentation based on contents that I usually show in polyglot clubs.

After this quick-start guide, you’ll know exactly what to do from day one. I put popular tools and personal tips together into a complete language workout for your brain. These tools can be used to learn a language in the spare time that you have each day and can be applied without going abroad.

This is not a generic guide: I only recommend methods and materials that I actually use myself and find useful. This treasure of life experience will spare you years of ineffective studies.

The course includes:

  • My experience as a language learner
  • Links to select learning resources
  • Study methods and tips
  • Advice to draft your study plan

To make sure that you’ll actually put that into practice, the course comes with the option to book a 30-minute consultation on Skype (not included in the course enrollment fee). We’ll discuss your study plan and I’ll answer any questions that you may have.

Click here to read the course program and watch the free preview.

Take it today and become a language learning machine!

Online Italian Lessons

Meet your language coach

As a language learner, I was raised speaking only Italian, but now I speak nine foreign languages.

As a teacher, I’ve taught Italian to adults in language schools and universities.

I’ve lectured in polyglot clubs and coached students on their way to fluency.

I’m eager to share my secrets with you.

Stefano Lodola

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Stefano's Language coaching was an excellent use of my time, Stefano helped me to understand what programs and resources he has found most useful in acquiring new languages. I feel more focused and confident and am working on my self-study program now. Thank you, Stefano!
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My lesson with Stefano was engaging and gave me a better idea of how i should approach my language studies in the future. I thank him greatly and I hope to implement these new methods into my everyday life. He is very knowledgeable and will explain any questions one may have in great detail. Definitely recommended to those who are interested in starting a new language or improving their method of study.
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