Writing - why not just speaking?
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Writing – why not just speaking?
This post is divided into the following parts:
1. Introduction – how people usually perceive the language learning process
2. Emphasis on speaking – can we learn speaking just by speaking?
3. The importance of all the linguistic skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking
4. Why writing?
5. How to practise writing
You will also find a short vocabulary section at the end of this post for words or expressions marked in italics.
One of the most widespread views on learning a foreign language is that it’s about acquiring vocabulary and grammar. Once this is mastered, you should be ready to talk to other people in your target language. People who share this view expect that after studying all possible tenses and different lists full of new vocabulary items, they will go out and speak freely in their chosen foreign language.
In addition, I often hear the following sentence from my students: "First of all, I want to speak". (in a given language). I have the impression that they assume that speaking is such an important skill that other linguistic competences become superfluous.
I strongly disagree with it. We will not speak a language freely if we do not spend enough time developing the other three basic language skills: listening, reading and writing. With poorly developed listening skills, we will not fully understand our conversation partner and will not be able to respond adequately.
Well, yes, but why waste my precious time on reading and writing? I am mainly focused on speaking! Of course, most of us learn a foreign language to be able to communicate verbally with people who don't know our mother tongue. So what do we have to do in order to learn to communicate effectively, to have an increasingly wide range of vocabulary, grammatical structures, to know what to say in a given situation and what is not appropriate?
If we keep using the same vocabulary, we will not make much progress. Reading helps us to increase our vocabulary and grammar, to acquire a passive knowledge of vocabulary and grammatical structures. We might not use them immediately, however, we have a chance to get familiar with them and gain a better understanding of how to use them.
Grammar exercises alone are no substitute for reading! In order to fully understand and assimilate a specific grammar issue or vocabulary item, we need, among other things, to see how it is used in a specific context. Reading blogs, posts, articles etc. is one of many options at our disposal to help us familiarize ourselves with different language structures.
Writing, on the other hand, helps us to organise our knowledge of a language and to practise in a safe environment what we want to say to other people so that eventually we will be able to strike up a spontaneous conversation. All four language skills are equally important in the acquisition of language competence, and none of them should be neglected. Especially nowadays, when a large percentage of communication takes place non-verbally.
On the other hand, by focusing only on speaking, we paradoxically delay the development of this important competence. As I mentioned above, you cannot improve your speaking skills in a foreign language without practising reading and writing, and without getting better at understanding your interlocutors. The key to the latter, as we already know, is improving listening skills.
However, in this post, I would like to focus primarily on writing. It is pretty easy to find high quality videos or podcasts, their producers also often have their own blog. However, you can’t find as many resources to practise your writing skills.
Important note; if you are studying at a language school or with a private tutor, etc., you will occasionally have the opportunity to do written exercises. However, in order to make faster progress, it is sometimes worth taking the initiative yourself. I will tell you how to do this effectively.
So, how do you practise writing?
Start with simple activities and then gradually take on more challenging tasks. One way to practise writing may be to post comments under Youtube videos. Listen to or watch a recording that interests you. See what native speakers or advanced speakers of a given language write under a given video.
It is worth writing a short comment about something that has caught your attention. This form of exercise does not take much time, and we can learn a lot from it. If someone responds to our comment, it will be an opportunity to exchange content, views, learn and use more useful phrases. If we leave a comment on the channel of a native or proficient speaker who teaches a given language, there is a good chance that they will answer us and additionally correct our mistakes.
Alternatively, you can choose to read a blog article in your target language and write a comment underneath it. Bloggers usually want to have a good relationship with their readers, so they are quite likely to respond to us.
Another option is to use instant messaging or chat platforms - you can talk to native speakers or advanced speakers of the language, who can often correct your mistakes.
On Facebook, on the other hand, we can become part of language groups. You can, for example, type "learning English group" into the Facebook search engine and a few groups will pop up. We can also follow linguistic fanpages and other similar sites. You can leave there comments, exchange opinions, etc.
On Whatsapp you can also find conversation groups where you can chat with other users in a specific language. On language platforms (e.g. Busuu), you can do written exercises on a specific topic and then send them to native or advanced speakers and ask them to correct them for you. At a later stage, for example, you can commit to writing blog articles or a diary in your target language.
To sum it up, you can find a lot of places where you can practise your reading and listening skills. It is also possible to find or create opportunities to practise your writing skills, you just need to know how to do it. I am not encouraging you to stop practising speaking in your target language. I just believe that by practising listening, reading and writing you will improve your speaking skills much faster. So think about it, make a decision and stick to it. You will see it’s definitely worthwhile.
Widespread views – common, popular views.
To master a language – To become very good at a language, to learn it thoroughly.
Other linguistic competences become superfluous – Other linguistic skills become unnecessary, useless.
To have an increasingly wide range of vocabulary – This happens when the list of the vocabulary items you already know is getting bigger and bigger with time.
Grammar exercises alone are no substitute for reading – Grammar exercises cannot replace reading practice.
To assimilate a specific grammar issue – You become familiar with a specific piece of grammar and you know to use it.
None of them should be neglected – All of them should be taken into consideration and practised.
Gradually take on more challenging tasks – As time goes on, you can decide to complete more and more challenging tasks.
At a later stage, for example, you can commit to writing blog articles or a diary in your target language – Later on, you can decide to write blog articles or a diary in your target language so that it becomes your routine.