Why are journaling exercises key for language learning? Let’s consider the four parts to learning a language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. We can divide these four into two categories – receiving and transmitting. When you read or hear a foreign language you are receiving. When you write or speak it, you are “transmitting.” In my experience, the receiving part of foreign language learning is easier for most people. Part of this may be because many times language lessons focus on reading and hearing for understanding first. It’s human nature to take the easiest route, and it’s much easier to be a receiver than a transmitter.
That’s why it’s important to challenge yourself by writing and speaking your new language as early on as possible. It will help you avoid the pitfall of getting too comfortable being the receiver. You should be speaking in your language lessons with you teacher. Writing though, is something that you can do on your own in between lessons.
Journaling is a great way to encourage yourself to write. You should do it daily for the best results. The following journaling exercises will help you get started.
Journaling Exercises Strategy
Try not to look anything up during your journaling sessions. Use freeflow writing and just try your best to communicate your ideas without looking up words or verb conjugations. Use only the words you already know even if you have to talk around the subject a little bit to get your point across. This will help you think more quickly in your new language, a foundational skill for speaking and having conversations.
After you’re finished, then go back and make corrections to your journaling exercises. This is a crucial step! If you are learning with a teacher, tutor, or coach, ask them if they will highlight all of the mistakes for you. And if you really want to supercharge your learning, ask them NOT to tell you why it is a mistake. Then it’s your task to research the grammar and usage rules you’ve learned to find out why it’s wrong.
The idea here is to approach your language learning actively. ou are having to think and solve the puzzle of why something is wrong and then how to fix it. This act of changing it to the correct form increases the likelihood that you’ll remember correctly the next time.
1. Keep a diary to practice verbs.
Many languages require you to use different verb tenses such as the past, present, and future. Some even have more tenses/moods like the conditional and subjunctive. A great way to practice using the different tenses is through journal entries about yourself and your activities, plans, and desires. For example, if you are learning the present tense, you can write about your activities throughout the day in the present tense. You can make an entry about your goals to practice using future tenses and you can write about your childhood or what you did last week to practice the past tense.
If you are learning a language that uses the conditional, create an entry using this polite tense in the context of ordering at a restaurant or use it in if-then statements. To practice the subjunctive mood, create a journal entry about what you want people to do to make the world a better place.
This exercise is nice because it is often easiest to talk about ourselves, especially when we are first starting out.
2. Use your new vocabulary.
Are you learning a new set of vocabulary words in your online language lessons? Why not use them in a paragraph or description? Writing a description and incorporating it into your journal helps you better retain the new vocab.
If you are learning vocabulary words for family, write about your family. If you are learning words pertaining to politics, write about politics. If you are learning industry specific vocabulary, create charts in your journal about that.
3. Create a conversation.
You typically learn greetings and introductions very early on when learning a new language. Make a journal entry of what you would say if you met a stranger and how they would respond to you. Draft an imaginary dialogue. This lets you practice your conversation skills, albeit in writing, right away. And when it’s time to actually have an introductory conversation with someone, your brain will already have a kind of “muscle memory.”
Another nice thing about this exercise is that it evolves with you and so you can do it many times. As you advance, your conversations will change. You might write a conversation that you would have in a restaurant, asking for directions or at a job interview. The possibilities are endless.
4. Write a review.
Writing a review incorporates several language skills into one entry. First, you need something to review which could be a film, story, performance, sports match, art exhibit, etc. You can write a review about anything that interests you. You can choose a film, etc. that is in you maternal language or your target language. Although it would be the most beneficial to read/watch something in the language you are learning, it isn’t a requirement.
Write a short summary or description about you topic. Introduce the people involved, the plot or winner if it is a game, and the overall mood of the event or reading. Then discuss your observations and opinions about the matter. Your journal entry must be in your target language, of course! Feel free to look up words you don’t know for this one. It can be tricky to write about an unfamiliar subject because you may not have learned the words needed for specific things yet.
5. Write for vocabulary building.
Take a subject you are interested in but that you may not know all of the words needed to talk about. For example, you could write about taking a vacation cruise in the Atlantic Ocean. Try to use the words you know, but if you need to look up words for the activities you would do or the places you would visit, go for it! As you learn new words this way, you will have a better chance of retaining them because they both apply to you personally and you used them in your writing.
Perhaps you want to work on learning new adjectives. Write a description of a person and look up the words you don’t know. Or, take an adjective you already know and look up synonyms for it. This will really improve your vocabulary and allow you to build it quickly!
6. Record some rhymes.
Writing rhyming poems is a tremendous exercise to help you practice recall. This skill will take you far when it comes to having actual conversations in your new language. One of the last and hardest obstacles to overcome when learning a new language is developing the ability to quickly access the words needed to express yourself. When you try to make rhymes, you are forced to go through the words you know that sound similar and pull out the ones that have the meaning you need so that your phrase makes sense. This is the same thing you need to do when having a conversation, and this practice will go a long way in preparing you to speak to an actual person in your new language!
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