Writing tips

The best way to learn to write in your new language is by writing! Find ideas for practising and improving your writing.

Good writing involves planning, revising and proof reading. Writing is a useful way of practising two other language skills—grammar and vocabulary.

Strategies for writing

  • Learn to write by writing for example, keep an informal language learning diary in the target language, or exchange emails or postcards with a native speaker.
  • Aim to think in the target language. Try not to translate from your first language.
  • Look at samples of writing from native speakers, websites and reference books—analyse how they are written and note any useful linking expressions (eg however, because, but). Are there any obvious differences from a similar piece of writing in your first language?
  • Consult LLC reference resources with tips for writing. Some larger dictionaries have sections focusing on different styles of writing—formal/informal, CVs, requests, etc.
  • Use online dictionaries and Linguee.
  • Learn from tutors' feedback, corrections and comments. Check your writing carefully—particularly for mistakes in grammar and vocabulary use.
  • Use spell/ grammar checking on the computer, although remember these are not 100% accurate – so always proofread your own work before you hand it in.

Activities for writing practice

  • Dictations – listen to a recording with a transcript and write down everything you hear. Listen three or four times, pausing or stopping as you go. Then compare with the transcript, (often at the end of the book). Great for spelling practice.
  • Paragraph extension – double or extend the length of a text you have written previously.
  • Photocopy a passage from a magazine, reader, or your textbook and highlight the key points. Then write a summary.
  • Poems and songs – translate a poem or the lyrics of a song from your native language into the target language. For a challenge try and retain the end-of-line rhymes.
  • Rewriting a text – find a text that is written for a specific audience such as children or business people. Now choose a completely different audience, style (eg formal, informal), or genre such as letter or news report, and write a NEW text about the same subject.
  • Linking – link unstructured notes together into paragraphs. For example, tell a story, describe a person/ place/ object, or give a logical argument for and against something.
  • Translation – choose a text in the target language that you can fully understand. Then complete these steps:
    • translate the text into your native language as accurately as possible
    • translate back into the target language
    • compare with the original text. Correct your mistakes and check for any unanticipated changes in meaning.

Inspired by: Fernández-Toro, M. & Jones, F. DIY Techniques for Language Learners, London: Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT), 2001, pp. 62-69