How Creative Writing Can Help You Learn a Language

What’s the last thing you wrote?

A grocery list? An address? A date on your calendar?

You might have already tried using your target language in your everyday life through writing. Maybe you’ve written sticky notes with vocabulary and placed them around the house. Maybe your grocery list isn’t in your native language.

Now, what’s the last thing you wrote for yourself and your well-being?

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a good writer, you’ve probably written a journal entry, a blog post, a list of goals, or even a poem or a song. Lots of people find that writing things down helps to organize their thoughts, express difficult emotions, and get through complicated situations. Taking the time to write for yourself can even benefit your mental health.

In a previous post I wrote after the Women In Language Conference, I talked about how creativity can help to brighten up your language studies. Add in the additional benefits of writing for yourself plus another way to interact with your target language and you’ve got a great recipe for reaching your language goals.

But I’m not a writer!

You don’t have to be “a writer” to write creatively and you certainly don’t need to write every day to improve your writing skills in your target language. You just have to begin.

Not sure where to start?

First, write down some ideas. You never know which one will turn out to be really interesting.

A while back, I tried to practice writing in French and went with the first idea I could think of: a woman on a train and a conversation. After that, I just kept going.

The point is that the time you spend writing for yourself shouldn’t be focused on stressing over what to write. Start with a word or a phrase and see where it takes you.

If you still need a bit of a jump start, try one of these tips.

Create a character

It doesn’t have to be lengthy prose. Make a list or fill out a character profile. If you’re not feeling especially imaginative, you can make one for a character from a book or TV show.

You’d be surprised how much introductory vocabulary you use while doing this activity, which makes it great for beginners.

Write a dialogue

Don’t have the chance to talk to a native speaker? Make up a conversation instead!

Alternatively, you can imagine a conversation between characters you’ve created (or ones you haven’t – fanfiction is a thing). You could also play a game of “imagine what those people are talking about” while sitting in a park or a coffee shop.

This one gets bonus points when you differentiate between the language as it’s spoken and the language you learn in books.

Describe a setting

This is a great way to practice using a wider vocabulary. Keep a dictionary nearby and try to use more precise rather than general words in your descriptions.

Use a prompt

Not sure what to write about? Try using a prompt. You can find plenty with a simple Google search. You can also buy a book or even check Reddit.

For an additional challenge, try searching for prompts written in your target language. Then, you can practice your reading skills as well. You might stumble on some interesting new words while you’re at it.

Translate your own work

If you’ve written something before, try revisiting it and rewriting it in your target language. This can be a little difficult at times, but it’s a good way to practice thinking differently in your target language.

Even if you don’t have the time to work on a creative project, you can always invest time in quick activities like

  • Doing Mad Libs
  • Writing a journal entry
  • Writing about a dream

Remember that the goal in using creative writing as part of your language learning routine is to have a bit more fun, relieve some stress, and express yourself. Don’t worry about getting everything right and don’t be afraid to use a word or expression in your native language if you can’t figure out how else to say it. You can always come back it later.

So, grab a pen and paper or open a new Word document and just start writing.

Have you done any creative writing in your target language before? Share your thoughts (or your writing) in the comments!

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