Want to improve your writing? Learn another language!
I know. You might be saying, “But…writing in English is hard enough. Why would I waste my time with any other language?”
It’s simple, really. Writing, as with any intense activity, is best performed after a good warm up. Your brain is about to produce a story, poem, or anything else creative from scratch. Your fingers need to warm up, your mind needs to get into writing mode, and your body needs to get used to whatever position it will stay in over the next few minutes…or hours.
I find it best not to launch right into my story or main project immediately after sitting down to write. It feels heavier and more like a chore if I don’t warm up with another activity first. Personally, I am focused on writing a novel, and I used to warm up with a quick poem or limerick – something to get the fingers moving across the keyboard and get my mind in the mood.
But now I’ve found that studying a language before writing is an excellent way to become a better writer, and here are nine reasons why:
1) It’s free.
There is a remarkable program online called DuoLingo. It is a completely free website for learning another language. Once you create an account, you can study anywhere at any time, as there is also a free mobile app. The languages offered include Spanish, German, French, Welsh, Russian, and a constantly grow number of other language courses. Users can even contribute to the construction of these courses (which is exactly why they have a Klingon course!) Each language course is packed with skills for individual practice, including writing, translating, and pronunciation (with your microphone on your computer or mobile device active). DuoLingo also offers comprehensive quizzes, immersion projects for translating articles on the internet, community clubs, and an extremely user-friendly interface.
2) It will challenge your perspective on language.
3) It will demonstrate new rhythms of speaking.
Rhythm is important in writing. If the cadence is too dull or repetitive in your work, then the reader will become bored and lose focus. Making the words flow in a pattern that is pleasing to read is a talent that must be honed in order to become a quality writer. Each language has its own natural rhythm and tonal structure, and learning another language is similar to learning an old song on a brand new instrument. Everything is suddenly brand new.
4) It doesn’t have to be difficult.
With DuoLingo, the lessons are already set out for you. You just open up the program and click on whatever skill you want to either learn or improve upon. The interface is extremely user friendly, and they have rewards and achievements to keep you motivated along the way.
5) It will train your fingers to rethink the keyboard.
This seems silly to say if you are a proficient typist, however, all skills have room for improvement. Typing letters in different arrangements with new punctuation and capitalization is a good way to make typing in your native tongue seem effortless. Face it, once you’ve mastered putting um lauts and tildes in their proper places, then typing a simple English language story will become all the more simple to do.
6) You will gain new perspective on old idioms and proverbs.
Every part of the world has a different perspective, of course. As a writer, understanding other perspectives is invaluable. When learning another language, you start understanding another culture’s perspective as you decipher their sentence structure and word choice. It’s quite fun, actually. For example, in Spanish, “Let bygones be bygones” is said colloquially as “Borrón y cuenta nueva,” which is closer to “clearance and new account.” Interesting, right?
7) It will improve your awareness of your own language.
The skills in DuoLingo are separated mostly into the the different existing parts of speech. Because of these divisions, the user gains an increased awareness of the different parts of speech of their own language. With skill divisions such as determiners, participles, future perfect tense, and modal verbs, the user indirectly gets lessons regarding the many pieces and parts that make up the English language as well.
8) It opens up the world.
As a writer, keeping an awareness and an appreciation for multiple perspectives is imperative. Language is the basis for all communication, and communication is the basis of world interpretation. When creating characters for a story, each character must have their own voice, background, and perspective in order to seem genuine. Learning another language is an excellent exercise in perspective that is not offered any other way.
9) You will learn another language.
With time and dedicated study, you might actually find yourself being able to communicate with millions of other people around the world. Americans are particularly bad about expecting everyone else to know how to speak their own language, and American writers could benefit from the loss of a comfort zone that comes with speaking in another language. As a writer, you should feel comfortable with words. To help this, try replacing your set of vocabulary with a completely different set. I’m betting that once you start, you’ll enjoy the challenge.
The video below introduces DuoLingo, for those who are interested.