When you’re learning a foreign language, there are four main skills you’ll develop and practice: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
All four are very important and you have to make sure you work on all of them unless you have a specific reason why you should be focusing more on one rather than the others.
Listening and reading are receptive skills. They refer to the ability to understand and comprehend language. We develop these skills in a more passive way since we don’t actually produce language but we receive it.
Speaking and writing are productive skills. They refer to the ability to produce language. When we focus on these two skills, we’re more active since we’re actually producing language.
In order to improve your productive skills, you have to work on receptive skills. The more you work on receptive skills, the better you’ll be in productive skills.
You can use what you read and listen to as your template or your guide. This way, it’ll be easier to produce language since you would be writing or speaking based on a “sample”, and not out of the blue.
In this blog post, we’re going to focus on Italian writing. Let’s get started!
Some people say that if you want to write better, you have to read, and this applies to your native language too.
You shouldn’t read books or articles that you consider too difficult. In fact, you should read something appropriate for your level, something you understand and feel comfortable reading.
What you could do then is write a text based on what you just read. Make sure every time you write something you use a text as a template.
Finally, we recommend having a personal diary where you write your thoughts. You don’t necessarily have to write deep stuff. You could just write about what you did during the day.
Think this way: it’s better to write something simple and make mistakes than not write all.
Formal vs. informal language
When we write, we use more formal language than usual, unless we’re writing a WhatsApp message or similar types of texts.
Similarly, spoken language allows informal language much more than written language.
Languages are first of all learned orally. We learn to understand language before we can produce it. Thus, written language is not as natural as spoken language. Texts are artificial which means we have to learn rules to be able to write “well”.
Sometimes we associate the idea of writing well with using formal language and avoiding slang words, bad words, shortened words, and spelling mistakes.
When you write, you have to think of the purpose and the target. Once you know this, you can decide whether to use formal or informal.
Let’s start with the least formal type of text: WhatsApp messages.
Obviously, not all WhatsApp messages are informal. If your boss or teacher messages you, you might still want to use formal language. However, if you’re talking to friends, you’ll more likely use informal language.
Spelling mistakes, wrong word choices, or wrong punctuation are generally accepted in WhatsApp messages.
There are also some abbreviations you might find handy, like cmq (comunque – anyway), grz (grazie – thanks), qlcs (qualcosa – something), tvb (ti voglio bene – love you), and xò (però – but). They are mainly used by teenagers but if you’re in a hurry you can use them!
The great thing about learning a foreign language is that you can put your skills into practice by being creative. And you can be creative in many ways. In any case, remember it’s always good to have a template before you start writing.
If you’re a fan of poetry, write a poem. It can be a free verse poem, with no rules at all. Or you could write a poem with rhymes and a specific structure.
If you like music, write a song. First, think about what you want to write. Then think about the melody and rhythm and you’re ready to write your song!
If you enjoy reading, write a story. Think about the plot of your story, how long you want it to be, your characters, and the setting, and off you go!
Writing an email
Writing an email can be very easy if you know the structure. Again, it can be formal or informal depending on who you’re addressing it to.
Below, you’ll find appropriate words for a formal email. The different options are divided by a slash (/). You can use one or the others, but not all at the same time.
Gentile / Egregio / Egregia / Spettabile + Sig. / Sig.ra / Prof. / Prof.ssa / Dott.Dott.ssa + Rossi, (this is how you start your email)
Sono… (you explain who you are in case they don’t know)
Le scrivo in merito a… / Le scrivo perché… (you explain why you’re writing)
Distinti saluti / Cordiali saluti / Cordialmente, (this is how you end your email)
In attesa di un suo cortese riscontro, la saluto cordialmente / distintamente. (This is a longer way to end your email)
Silvia Marchisio (your name and surname)
As you can see, we use Lei and Le (you formal) to show respect.
Writing an essay
If you have to write an academic text such as an essay, it’s important that you follow a structure.
You first need to think about the type of essay you’re going to write. It might be narrative, argumentative, or descriptive, among others. You also need to consider the topic. Finally, you need a good bibliography and references.
In all cases, you need an introduction where you explain the purpose of your essay. Then you need to develop your essay into different paragraphs. Finally, you need a conclusion. You can then think of a catchy title.
Here are some useful words you might need for an essay:
- Prima di tutto / Innanzitutto (first of all)
- In conclusione (to conclude)
- Ad esempio (for example)
- Invece (instead)
- Oppure/ Altrimenti (otherwise)
- Tuttavia (however)
- Poiché / Siccome (since)
- Quindi / Perciò / Insomma (therefore)
You can always check out our blog post about Communication Skills in a Foreign Language