Which is the most neglected of the four skills amongst language learners?
Elementary, my dear Watson. It's writing, of course.
People tend to get so obsessed with becoming “fluent” (whatever that means) that they focus almost entirely on speaking. Next comes listening, which tends to happen automatically as you're out on the street or watching movies. Reading? Well, you have to read in order to work your way through a textbook, although how many people ever sit down and really read?
Last, comes writing. I guess there are lots of reasons why people don't write. It's hard work, for one thing. Getting your writing corrected is a hassle if you don't have someone around who can do that for you. It's a slow process and can be very frustrating if you focus a lot on accuracy.
Writing as a learning tool
Writing has some serious benefits. Whereas when you're speaking you don't get the chance to backtrack, re-listen, or have another go, you can do all of these things with writing and this process gives you the opportunity to analyse the language you're using on a much deeper level.
Luckily, with the advent of some awesome websites, writing is starting to make more and more sense for language learners as they can get corrections on anything they write quickly, easily and, perhaps most importantly, for free!
The activities such as the one below may take you time to do to completion, but are very powerful ways to improve your language core. I really believe that time spent on substantial activities like this are infinitely more powerful than a number of “quick fix” activities.
Write a “speech”
You're going to go through a process of writing about something that interests you, getting it corrected and then integrating that into your speaking. Totally up to you what the topic is, but one good option is to talk about your language progress, because this is something we tend to talk about a lot with native speakers and is a good idea to be able to talk about convincingly.
Write out a little anecdote in your target language. To make it manageable, keep this fairly short.
Submit your writing to lang-8.com for correction by a native speaker.
When you've got your corrected version back, submit it to rhinospike.com for a native speaker to record for you.
Learn your piece of writing by heart. Do this by reading it and listening to the recording at the same time, over and over, then memorising the text bit by bit.
Record yourself speaking it. Listen back, compare it to the audio recording from rhinospike.com, then do it again, refining each time. Recite it as you walk to work, take a shower or cook the dinner, until you can do it effortlessly without thinking.
For added kudos, submit to youtube.
Befits of this activity
Learning “speeches” gets your brain and your mouth to do things it wouldn't normally do. In normal speech we use only familiar language, hesitate and add all kinds of fillers, delaying tactics etc. With this, you've got to train yourself to come out with the right words at the right time, and this will pump your speaking ability!
So, would you try this? Please…
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