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Creative writing in language

Creative Writing in the Language Classroom

Jane Spiro, author of Creative Poetry Writing (2004) Storybuilding (2007), looks at how, why, and with what effect we can include creative writing activities in the language classroom. Jane will be hosting a webinar entitled “Creative Writing in the Language Classroom” on 9th and 15th March. You can find more information and register to attend here.

Why introduce creative writing activities?

Our use of the mother tongue is full of the same ‘creative’ strategies that poets use when they are shaping a poem. When we tell jokes we are often playing with puns and the shape and form of words: when we use idioms we are often invoking a metaphor or simile that has become part of the language. The names of products, or the nicknames we use for people we like and dislike often play with the sound of words – alliteration and internal rhymes, the connotation of words, or multiple meanings. So one reason that creative activities in the language classroom are worthwhile, is because they mirror the strategies we use in our mother tongue.

Another, perhaps even more important reason, is that an effective creative writing strategy brings the whole learner into the classroom: experiences, feelings, memories, beliefs. Of course other activities can do this too – but the creative writing activity can lead to an outcome which is memorable, which the learner may want to keep, or even ‘publish’ to others: a Valentine poem, a poem of thanks to a parent, a birthday poem for a sibling or friend.

How do creative writing activities fit with language learning?

Many teachers say there is no time for poetry activities, or creative activities, alongside all the language goals of the classroom. Another objection, is that the language of poems and stories is quite different from the everyday language students really need.

This webinar will answer these two concerns. We will explore the ways in which creative writing activities can be developed as part of the language syllabus, helping to make vocabulary, structures and patterns memorable and engaging. We will also consider how creative writing activities allow opportunities for connecting language skills so that writing leads to informed reading, and vice versa. Our discussions and activities will also prove that these strategies are within the capacity of all learners (and teachers too!) and do not require special ‘genius’ or talent to be achievable.

6 Little Known Ways Creative Writing Can Make You A Better Language Learner

In this post, Jennifer argues that creative writing in your target language can enhance your learning, expand your vocabulary and help you to gain a better understanding of grammar. You’ll learn about:

  • How writing exercises encourage you to maximise what you know in your target language
  • How writing in your target language can help you identify your weaknesses
  • Why writing can be a stepping stone to real communication in a new language

(If you’re a fan of writing, then you might like my StoryLearning courses, where you can learn a language through stories.)

Over to Jennifer…

All of us are, without exception, creative and inventive.

You might not think so sometimes, but it’s true!

And one of best ways to use that creativity in your language learning is by writing.

Practicing writing helps you improve a number of key language skills:

  • Grammatical Accuracy
  • Your Sense of Rhythm and Sentence Intonation

Writing combines logic and intuition, which helps you develop a better understanding of how the language works.

No matter what your current level is in the language you’re learning, creative writing can help you to improve.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the main ways you can benefit from making writing a part of your language practice.

1. Writing Encourages You To Be Inventive & Use All The Language You Know

Perhaps you feel like you can hardly construct a sentence in the language you’re learning?

Well, that may be true but you probably still know more words than you think!

Why not try to keep a journal in your target language? Describe the weather, your favorite clothes or your daily activities.

Alternatively, for more of a challenge, you could try to write a short text about a friend. This is more difficult but can also be a lot of fun!

  • Focus on describing the person, their actions and the sequence of events
  • Even if your sentences aren’t perfect, you can probably think of some adjectives to describe them and some verbs to talk about what they’re doing

Don’t worry about making mistakes, just try to use the words you do know as best you can and form sentences with them.

At first, it’s best to focus on communicating ideas and meaning, even if your grammar is not correct.

You may not be able to construct perfect sentences, but if you can get your meaning across, that’s a start.

Exercises like this encourage you to have fun combining words without thinking too much about the rules.

It forces you to be inventive and make use of what you do know, rather than worrying about what you don’t.

You learn to express yourself first, and the grammar starts to fall into place the more you practice.

Different ways To Say The Same Thing

If you’re a beginner, your vocabulary will be limited.

So being able to rephrase your thoughts is a valuable skill. When you don’t know the word you need, try to think of other ways to describe it using the words you do know instead.

This is called circumlocution and it’s a great way to expand your vocabulary and express yourself, even if it is in a roundabout way!

Try out this simple exercise:

  • Make a list of several common words or phrases in the language you’re learning
  • Now, write down as many ways of expressing them as you can

2. Writing Helps You To Master Grammatical Structures

Writing is also a great way to organize chaotic elements and ideas.

Have you been studying the use of tenses? Then why not create short texts or stories that use these tenses?

For example, you could compose a short text in the past tense to describe yesterday’s events or write your plans for tomorrow in the future tense.

Regular creative writing activities help you to habitually construct sentences in the patterns of the target language rather than thinking in your native language.

Grammar is best learned through examples and practice and this makes creative writing a great way to master grammatical rules.

(It also help to escape the clutches of the Grammar Villain!)

You can experiment more and more as you gain confidence.

3. Creative Writing Allows You To Create Associations That Help You Remember Words

No matter what stage of language learning you are at, associations can help cement freshly learned words in your mind without effort.

Curiosity is often one’s best friend while undertaking this journey.

When you write in your target language, try to write about memorable or funny experiences.

Remember that controversial issues grab and hold the mind’s attention so the more you can use them in your writing, the more of the new words and structures you’ll remember.

You can also create associations by writing about things like music or movies in your target language.

For example, if you enjoy listening to music in your target language, you could write a short text reflecting the feelings and associations that the song has evoked in you.

This is a great way to use some of the words from the song in a new context. The mental associations you’ll create by using the same words in different contexts will make them much easier to remember.

4. Writing Helps You To Identify Your Weaknesses

Creative writing quickly shows you whether you understand the material you’re working with or not.

It also helps you to identify your most common mistakes and provides insight into the personal strengths and weaknesses of your knowledge.

This means you can fix your mistakes and practice to get rid of your weak spots. As result, you’ll become much more proficient in both your writing and your speaking.

When you write in a foreign language, you don’t want to write texts or emails that are full of errors.

Focus on being accurate at first, then develop eloquence.

Remember, simple and correct is better than complicated and full of errors.

As you improve, review your previous texts and compare them to more current ones. This will help you to track your improvement and motivate yourself.

5. Writing Can Be The First Step To Successful Communication

Creative writing encourages you to develop your linguistic skills in a comfortable environment.

Conventional learning methods don’t always bring the language to life for every individual and speaking to strangers can be scary at first.

Writing allows you to hone and practice your language skills so that you feel confident when it comes time to use them in the real life scenarios.

6. Writing Helps You Maximize Your Exposure To Your New Language

The amount of time you can use your target language each day is limited.

Every minute spent speaking your native language is generally wasted as far as the learning process goes. So why not do some of your short, simple everyday tasks in your target language instead? For example:

  • Try making your shopping list in a foreign language
  • Set up your schedule or write your to-do list in the language you’re learning
  • Do you keep a diary? Write it in your target langauge and try out new vocabulary when making entries

The more you make your target language part of your everyday life, the faster you’ll become a confident speaker!

Are You Ready To Make Writing A Part Of Your Language Practice?

Creative writing is an effective and enjoyable activity.

Not only does it help you improve your language skills, it nurtures emotional intelligence and teaches you to communicate more authentically.

Playful creative writing can help you explore the language you’re learning without fear of criticism.

And, apart from mastering grammar and vocabulary, you can also develop a better understanding of the language’s culture by writing about it.

Make a point of practicing with writing tasks weekly and before you know it, your vocabulary will have expanded, your texts will have less grammatical mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to mastering your new language.

Jennifer Lockman is contributor to the blog and a student majoring in Journalism. Her expertise includes e-learning, general education and writing.