In learning a new language, it is very common to do the basic actions – reading and listening. Most second language learners tend to memorize the lessons they have read or heard. However, these two methods only allow the learner to receive information. The learning materials are already available and all the learner needs to do is to commit them to memory. Of course, consuming large chunks of information is essential to learning. However, communication is a two-way thing. If you want to communicate in the new language, you need to have an output method.
This means that you have to create information in the new language and have a way to put it out. The ultimate goal of a language learner is to be fluent in the second language in order to communicate. Therefore, it is important to develop another learning skill, called the output language-learning skill. If you cannot be fluent yet in the second language, you can improve the skill through writing.
Writing to improve fluency
“Writing is the painting of the voice” is a direct quote from one of the materials written by Voltaire, a French writer during the period of French Enlightenment. If you take the quote at its context, it means that you are drawing or painting the voice through writing. Let us not discuss how difficult to is to paint or draw versus writing what you need to say.
In the context of second language acquisition, writing here is defined as putting words down on paper.
The relationship between input and output language learning is quite close. You get better at writing when you read more. But then again, you can excel in reading comprehension but cannot conduct face-to-face conversation. Even if they are interrelated, a person has to work at each skill area separately.
Many people find it difficult to produce materials because they do not practice writing much. Listening, reading and taking in a language is quite easy and they do not induce much change in a person’s life. However, to create sentences yourself properly you have to get out of your comfort zone. It will require some effort to do this, especially if you do not regularly interact with people who speak the language you are trying to acquire. But you have to understand that using the language you are learning is the best part of your language acquisition journey.
Advantages of writing
Writing’s primary advantage as an output language-learning method over speaking is the slowness of the process. Speaking and writing are closely related. Both prompt you to think on your own and use the words you know to create sentences you wish to write. Writing could be described as speaking in slow motion because you have more time to think about the words to use. You go through many written exercises while learning a language, so be diligent about this part of the learning process. It is also possible to look up the words you don’t know and check how to say things correctly. This is why it is great to practice writing. However, you may struggle with spelling of the more difficult words. Likewise, you would not have enough time to get used to voicing the sounds that are still foreign to you.
When you are writing, you can quickly look up the words that you do not know from the dictionary. This method helps you to quickly learn the words that are more pertinent to you. You’ll find which words make you struggle and you can focus your learning on the areas where you are weaker.
When you try to speak in a foreign language while you are still learning, you do not have much time to focus on the errors you make because it would otherwise stop the flow of conversation. You can practice speaking even without someone to talk to. But there would be no one to point out the mistakes that you make.
On the other hand, when you write the words or better yet, create sentences, you are able to correct the mistakes. You also have a document to show your teacher or someone who knows the language. They can look over what you have written and show you where you’ve made mistakes. Having someone check and correct what you have written eliminates the chances of you repeating the same errors.
If you do not have a good friend who can look over your practice sheets all the time, join online language communities, where you can find people from everywhere who are willing to help. Many of them offer help free of charge because for them, sharing their knowledge is part of the learning process. Of course you have to help those who are learning your first language, so it is a fair exchange.
Another thing good about writing down the sentences or words is because you can study it many times over. Likewise, you can write and rewrite the corrected texts until you get used to them and you’re able to commit them to memory.
The other side of the coin
One thing negative about writing in your secondary language is the possibility of missing some characters and accents. In many languages, it is very important to use the accents because these little marks can entirely change a word’s meaning. Marks and accents create the distinction among words that are spelled similarly.
Old-fashioned it may be
In this digital age, writing seems to be so old fashioned. In reality, many people today are more adept at typing on a keyboard instead of holding a pen and writing the information down on paper. But this is still a process that students have to learn in school. Schools in the UK have found out that writing is helpful when their students have different mother tongues.
In many schools in the United Kingdom, over one million pupils aged 5 to 15 are taking English language lessons. However, teachers are having a hard time to help these students to overcome the language gap to become more fluent in spoken and written forms of English.
At a primary school in Wolverhampton for example, a teacher found out that when teaching grammar, writing becomes a very useful method instead of just listening to the instructions. They can see the grammatical structures when sentences and words are written down.
One of the exercises they do is ask the students to arrange the jumbled words to form sentences. Even if the students do not know the meaning of the words, they are able to understand the proper flow of sentence building in English. Teachers augment their lessons with plenty of reading and asking them to write simple sentences about what happened in the stories they have read.
The value of writing to help language learning is supported by Professor Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington. The professor teaches educational psychology. She says that writing by hand engages the learner’s mind and help the learner be more attentive to the written form of the language.
Handwriting is instrumental in improving composition and spelling of students as it enables them to connect each letter to form words. One way teachers in the UK encourage the students to write is by giving them incentives and opportunities, such as using nice stationary or using felt tips pens instead of pencils or ballpens.
Benefits of handwriting in language learning
As it is, learning to speak a second language can be quite difficult. But there is a saying that if you are able to write in a foreign language, you will be able to speak it.
You learn verb construction and new vocabulary when you practice writing in a foreign language. Memorizing verbs and nouns is fine and quite easy for many people to do. But using them smoothly in speech is another thing. When you keep writing new words in the foreign language you are learning, it helps your brain to retain them, allowing you to access them later. Writing also helps you to understand how to integrate the words to form whole sentences.
Writing practice helps you think and speak in the foreign language. As you continue practicing, you are able to quickly form new thoughts in the other language. The practice eventually leads to proficiency in the language because you have developed a deeper understanding of it.
Handwriting the language you are learning allows you to think and practice the language. Your ability to create full sentences helps when you eventually engage in actual conversation because you have already learned the grammar rules. You now have the ability to develop your own style of structuring sentences and communicating.
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