Do you want to write well no matter which language you use? This post will tell you how to write in any language.
Everyone wants to be a good writer, especially in English. But, as someone who has to read many guest-post submissions, I can tell you most people are bad at it.
This article contains some advice on how to be a good writer in any language.
Learn How To Write In Any Language
I am going to say something controversial.
You cannot learn to be a good writer by only writing. Especially, if you are writing in a foreign language.
Don’t misunderstand me. You must write to get better at writing, but you will make little or no progress if this is all you do.
Let me explain:
There are two theories about learning in general.
1. The Skills Acquisition Approach.
This is how you were taught Mathematics at school.
You learn easy things first. Then slowly, over the course of many years, you find yourself with the ability to understand complex ideas.
This does not work well. People forget things very easily unless they practice them constantly.
On average, it takes eight days to forget a thing forever.
Nobody taught you to speak your home language. People just spoke around you and, by the time you were a few years old, you were able to understand what was being said.
Then, after a few more years, you could express ideas.
Later you learnt your letters and how to read. You did need to be taught this skill.
But, as anyone who became a reader as a child will know, you only learnt to read books by reading more books. Children who read more than just the mandatory books at school did better than those that did not.
They also became better at writing and comprehension.
What Does This Show?
What you can learn from these two examples? You cannot become good at writing in general, or in your target language, just by knowing the grammar or by reading theory.
You need to write, and, more importantly, you need to read a massive amount of text in your target language.
- First language English speaking students in High School only know 5000 words.
- Adults will know about 20 000.
- Well-educated people will know about 40 000.
You need to be at the third stage to start writing. This is the equivalent of a postgraduate degree or 4 000 books read.
Reading is key to retaining and improving your language ability. You could even forget your first language. If you don’t see a well known word for ten years, your brain will discard it as irrelevant information.
The best way to retain your vocabulary and ability to write well in a language is to read at least two books a month. One a week is preferable. They need not be long. 50-80 thousand words per book will do.
It also does not matter what the book is about, but, if you want to write about science, you should read science fiction or non-fiction to build the correct vocabulary more efficiently.
Don’t Write Before You Are Ready
I know that for most people this is not possible. You need to write for work or for school.
But, here is why it is bad to do when you are not ready.
If I want to learn French and write well in French, I will need to practice writing it. This is true. However, if I just buy a dictionary tomorrow and start translating an English sentence into French it will not make sense. I need to know French grammar to form a sentence. More importantly I need to know the words French people use to say things.
- French people don’t say “I am tired.” they say “I have become tired.”
- Japanese people don’t say “Where is my phone?” they say “Do you know my phone?”
You can only know these things after you have spent a lot of time reading and listening to the way people use languages.
Without this your language will seem stilted and natural. In the worst case you won’t be understood.
Languages are strict. People always say the same things. There are rules about which are the right words to use in any given situation. People don’t ever say “I desire to use the toilet” they always say “I need to go to the bathroom”.
You can of course be creative. This is what novels and poems are. But, without exception, good books and poems are written by people who know how to twist the rules of a language without breaking it.
It Takes Time
It will take you years to learn to write well, at least two. Even if you already speak the language you want to write in. You can only learn to write by reading massive amounts of books, poems, articles, or whatever you want to be good at.
Over time, you brain will be able to tell the difference between good language and poor language. Then you will be ready to practice your writing skills.
And then you must write often and a lot and in every style you can think of until you have written something you would be proud to show someone you respect.
You will know you are ready when you have written something you want to read.
Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean
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