You have probably read my Part 1 post on developing your writing skills, where we kept things short and sweet. Here in Part 2, I have some suggestions on interesting ways to extend your writing and further develop the range, fluidity and accuracy of your texts.
Before you start…
Make sure that you read lots. Here you will find extra inspiration, which I believe often happens subconsciously.
As with the other three skills: listening, reading and speaking, I still believe that working in relatively short bursts is usually best. I say relatively short bursts as when writing extended pieces there may be times when things are going so well that you don’t want to interrupt your flow… I don’t always practice what I preach with this one, but as my back is beginning to ache slightly from leaning over the desk, I know what I should do… I’m off to make a quick coffee…
So, make sure that you’re comfortable, fed, watered and that you’re taking regular breaks… Whether it is to get up and have a ‘silly moment’ (as one teaching colleague once described it) and dance around the room, or a longer pause to make a call to a friend.
So often in my travels, even when knowing very little of a language at the start, I have found that thanks to my desire to learn, my small book of verb tables and a mini-dictionary, I’ve been able to not only get by, but to really interact and progress. So, wherever you are, try to get your hands on some tools of the trade:
- A dictionary: For not too tricky tasks, I like Collins Pocket Spanish Dictionary
- A thesaurus (for when you have a reasonable vocabulary on a topic, but want to extend your range), such as Larousse Dictionnaire Des Synonymes
- A book of verb tables (Might sound boring, but I find these indispensable!). Being able to quickly find out the patterns to mould verbs to different tenses, provides the buildings blocks for writing (and speaking)). The Collins Gem series, such as Collins Gem French Verbs , are good for when travelling and Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs is one of my favourites for use at home.
Putting your writing skills into practice:
Get active online
As you’re on a blog right now, this idea may appeal to you. Visit blogs and forums in your language of study, choosing a theme which interests you. For example, I look at French cookery forums and blogs. Comment and join in with the chat wherever you can. Bloggers love receiving comments and it’s more practice for you.
Use messenging services, such as Facebook Messenger, to chat with those who speak other languages. During my days of intermittently backpacking and working in the city, I learnt so much by chatting with friends made during my travels. I spent hours in London internet cafés learning Latin-American Spanish and socialising. This is even easier now… Just join a group on Facebook on a topic that interests you (and where people are conversing in your language of study), say ‘growing cacti and succulents’, ‘crochet’, ‘books’ or ‘films’, and you’re away!
Last time it was haiku, but now we’re looking for something a bit longer…
- Diamond poem: Draw a diamond to fill a sheet of A5 or even A4. Choose any topic, such as ‘places’. Write words describing or relating to places that you love, i.e. beaches, white sand, rainforest, in the top part of the diamond, and places that you hate, i.e. ‘football pitches’, at the bottom (or vice versa, depending on which would make you feel the most positive!). Places you feel indifferent about can go in the middle. This poem can create quite a dramatic effect when read aloud, and is great for building vocabulary and revision. A thesaurus is a great tool here.
- Shape poem: Think of a lexical field (a group of words on a theme) and just let the ideas flow, but write your words in a form which represents what they’re about. You may like to design the shape at first, so you have a framework from which to work to when writing your lines. For example, you could write a poem about the jungle in the form of a leaf, or one about love in the shape of a heart.
- Acrostic poem: Like the diamond poem, this can be great for building vocabulary on a theme. Think of a word in your target language, i.e. ‘liberté’ (‘freedom’ in French) and write this in a vertical line on your page. The first line of your poem should then begin with and ‘l’, the second with an ‘i’ and so on. Each line could be one word if keeping things simple, or several if wanting to get more complex. You could have letters/words either side of your initial vertical word line, if you want to make it more adaptable.
Of course, any of the above could all be done in your first language, but I particularly love the application of these methods when writing in another language, where we may wish for the help of a framework to base our creativity on.
I remembered those little magnets with words on the other day… These could be ideal if we are feeling poetic but lacking in creative oomph. The words are there for us, we just need to play with them and order them until they resonates. Sets are available in other languages, but you could also make up your own set. They don’t have to be magnetic, but if you can find/cut out little magnets to write on that would be fantastic. I currently have this zodiac themed one and this set of Original Fridge Poetry in French on my wish list!
If you’re up for a challenge, take a paragraph on a topic that interests you and have a go at translating it. Or even do this with a poem – hard, but rewarding. If you can get someone in-the-know to proofread it, do so. Howevever, even if you’re alone in the process it will be a great learning curve.
You may not yet want to write lengthy pieces in your target language (but if you do, good on you!) so here are some alternatives:
Create a storyboard or cartoon. Mixing up bits of texts with art often helps. Don’t worry if you don’t think you can draw, like language it’s all about practice and fun!
Be imaginative! Write an ideal scenario, or a nightmare one! Both ideas usually appeal to schoolchildren, but from looking at some of my favourite blogs on journal writing, such as Little Coffee Fox, it seems that many a grown-up likes this too! Here’s a post on imagining your ideal life/a fanciful dream. You could do my ideal day, my ideal home, my nightmare holiday (you get the idea)… Great language practice and can be great therapy too! Maybe it will even help you to realise a dream or two! This approach should also get you using the conditional tense, another bow to your arrow. Pick the present tense though, if you are looking for a different here and now!
Using Story Cubes: These dice with pictures are hugely enjoyable and excellent prompts for getting you to spin yarns, and can also be bought in sets on particular themes. So, roll a few and write a mini-story inspired by the pictures you see! Perfect for when we know that the creativity is in there waiting to get out, but just needs a nudge.
Letters and Postcards
I’m going to finish on these, as I think that receiving ‘snail mail’ is divine, although I don’t send anywhere near enough. We can make it short – a brief ‘Hello’, and ‘I was thinking of you the other day when ………’ or we can make it longer. People will love to know that you’re thinking of them. So, have a think about who you could write to in another language?
I shall pick just one writing activity to focus on this week; it will be ‘Letters and Postcards’. What will yours be?