Do you keep pledging to start writing diary entries and blog posts—and failing?
Even if you’re not the most naturally adept writer, writing practice is absolutely critical to your Spanish learning progress.
It’s the best way to fully synthesize your Spanish knowledge.
Yet writing in Spanish gets a bad rap as something arduous and complicated. Is it really that bad?
It’s kind of like a non-runner stepping on a treadmill—at first it can feel miserable and frustrating, like a total grind.
But imagine if you just stepped on a treadmill for a couple minutes every day? After weeks and months, you’d eventually be able to run miles without breaking a sweat.
Many learners think that writing in Spanish is difficult, when really we’re facing yet another “practice makes perfect” scenario.
The more you write, the easier the words will start flowing from your fingertips.
Benefits of Getting Good Spanish Writing Practice
We’ve got quite a few options for writing practice these days, beyond pen and paper. At this point, many of us have learned efficient keyboard typing from a young age (thanks, Mavis Beacon!) and we’re constantly tapping things out on our smartphones, tablets, e-readers and so on. So, are there benefits to writing by hand versus using technology?
It boils down to long-term versus short-term learning. When typing, your brain skips out on processing much of the material, and content goes from your ears or eyes straight to your fingers. The information isn’t processed in your brain. You can avoid this somewhat by copying things down in your own words, rather than creating an exact textual replica of the content at hand. Laptops are also notorious for getting students distracted, so watch out for that, too.
The upside to typing is that you’ll be able to copy things into a document quickly and accurately due to these factors. This is better for getting organized and preparing neat study materials. If you’re pressed for time and want to have a typed copy of your notes to refer back to later, typing may be the way to go.
Research shows us that the benefits of handwriting are beyond question. It employs our fine motor skills and engages various regions of the brain, switching on muscle memory and helping us remember words and phrases better through repeated gestures. When writing by hand, we’re also more likely to slow down and write things in our own words.
While we’re not learning extremely foreign characters here, like if we were learning Chinese, we Spanish learners benefit from the fact that handwriting boosts recall of new shapes and symbols. Those new syllable combinations, accents and Spanish letters (ñ, ll, rr) will become better cemented in our minds. Cursive handwriting takes mental processing power to a whole different level, if you want to get serious about your Spanish writing practice. Plus, despite what they say these days, penmanship still counts for something, even if it’s just a point of personal pride.
Tips for Getting Great Spanish Writing Practice
- Make it part of your daily routine. As you’ll see below, many types of Spanish writing practice can easily fit into your everyday life—you write more than you even realize.
- Read voraciously. Never stop reading. Get into the habit of reading any Spanish language material you can get your hands on. Magazines, newspapers, books, children’s stories—it’s all good. Change all your devices to Spanish interface so your brain gets subconsciously ingrained with Spanish syntax, grammar and vocabulary.
- Prepare your keyboards. You’ll need to enable both your smartphone and laptop to understand and produce Spanish writing. Keep reading to see how to do this!
How to Prepare Your Keyboards for Spanish Writing
Before we jump to the keyboards, depending on your system, you might need to install a foreign language package.
It’s easy enough on a computer keyboard: just check out “keyboard” settings in your control panel and change the “input sources.” There you can either select the Spanish or U.S. International keyboard, depending on what you prefer.
The Spanish keyboard has a separate key for ñ (where your “:;” key is located), ¡/¿ (where your “-_” key is located) and some other symbols, but the letters are all in the same spot. If you’re going to be living in a Spanish-speaking country and using computers in a library or university, you might want to become familiar with this keyboard layout. And if not, it’s a simple way to experience cultural immersion from home!
Your other option is the U.S. International keyboard, which keeps all of your symbols and letters in the same spot. To enter an accent, simply hit the apostrophe key followed by the vowel—no holding necessary. To type an ñ, simply type ~ followed by the letter “n” or “N,” again no holding necessary. The ¡ symbol is “option+!” and ¿ is “option+?”
No matter which keyboard you decide to use, displaying your keyboard’s map on-screen will be really handy at first. If you want to learn the Spanish keyboard and keep forgetting where certain keys are located, another option is to cut small papers, write out Spanish characters and tape them onto the appropriate keys.
Last but not least, choose a simple command as a keyboard shortcut to switch between language inputs with ease. I use alt + shift to rotate between inputs. This helps me switch fast and furiously while chatting with friends in Ecuador and the United States on Facebook at the same time.
Now, your computer keyboard is good to go. But what about the device that’s in your pocket all day long and serves as your main means of communication and daily life management? Let’s get the smartphone on the same page.
Both iPhone and Android users need to go through the same process. First, locate your “keyboard settings” screen. Usually you can long-press a button on your keyboard to get there. Select Spanish as a secondary input method. Once you’ve done that, you can long-press your space bar at any time to jump to Spanish.
If you want to take it all a step further, go to “settings” to access your phone’s “language and input” screen. There, you can swap your whole phone’s English operating system for a Spanish version.
11 Creative Ways to Get Daily Spanish Writing Practice
1. Get to blogging!
It’s amazing the things we’ll do when we’re assigned deadlines and threatened with poor grades. One thing I did? I wrote many, many blog posts. Looking back over these blog posts, I was absolutely thrilled to read my old thoughts and perspectives in my own voice. You’ll never regret starting that blog, even if you write terribly—but you will regret not starting a blog. So, start today!
WordPress is a blogging favorite, thanks to its easy-to-use interface. You can produce incredibly polished, professional-looking blogs here without being a total blog expert.
Blogger is clean, simple and connected to your existing Google account. It’s the easiest way to create and manage multiple blogs, interact with other people in the real world and keep track of interesting posts in an extremely neat and tidy newsfeed.
Tumblr is positively ideal for the non-committal blog writer. This is a great place to just fool around, have fun and post any multimedia content that catches your eye. You can write lengthier posts if the mood strikes you, but on the other hand can post hilarious cat pictures with one-word comments attached. If you’re reluctant to start a blog, start here. Odds are good that you’ll find something interesting to post and comment on every day! Read more about learning Spanish with Tumblr here.
2. Find writing buddies.
HelloTalk is like WhatsApp for those of us without any friends who are Spanish natives. You’ll get all the fun of an international, multimedia messaging service, but with a language learning spin on things. It’s essentially a social media site built specifically for the needs and desires of language learners.
Meeting people is beyond simple here, as users are a particularly enthusiastic and dedicated crowd. You can search for a fellow language learner who fits the bill (someone who’s a native Spanish speaker) or plug in your information and let them find you (or both)!
Spanish is one of over 100 language options offered here, so you can chat with someone in Spanish and offer them interaction in whatever other language you know well. Send messages back and forth, make free phone calls and connect yourself with the Spanish-speaking world.
Not sure about making phone calls to a new person right away? HelloTalk is made for modern social media users—it will read every text message you receive out loud in standard Spanish pronunciation, so you’ll get a great sense of the natural flow of Spanish even if you never ring someone’s phone. You can also speak Spanish directly into the app and have it typed out properly for you. HelloTalk will even go so far as to correct your grammar and spelling along the way—hoorah! And if you’re at a total loss, simply speak or write in English and HelloTalk will pop out a perfect Spanish translation.
italki is often recommended to Spanish learners who are seeking tutors and chat buddies, but one often overlooked feature is the italki Notebook. It’s like a blog for language learners, but much, much simpler than your typical blogging platform.
Simply make your profile and start writing entries. The longer the better, because users here really take their writing practice seriously. The longer you write, the more in-depth feedback you’ll receive on your work. Return the favor to the community and correct some English language posts as well!
You can then decide to schedule some time with a free language exchange partner or a paid, private language tutor here on italki, and they can check out your writing, correct it and offer you feedback.
WhatsApp is a multimedia messaging service used in Europe and several Spanish-speaking countries. If you’ve got friends who speak Spanish, take advantage of this relationship! Chit-chat on WhatsApp in your spare time, don’t forget to try out its microphone icon that lets you send short voice recordings to your friends.
Reddit isn’t just for browsing diverse internet content, it also boasts a huge, diverse community that you can interact with. Try subreddits for specific countries and regions (such as /r/latinoamerica and /r/ecuador) or for the Spanish language itself (/r/spanish and /r/espanol). Heck, you can even go right ahead and lie your face off about your knowledge and life experiences. Tell stories that never happened to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re telling fake stories to internet strangers. The important thing is that you’re practicing your Spanish writing. Read more about learning Spanish with Reddit here.
3. Stay in touch!
We’ve all encountered some Spanish speakers in our lives, no matter where we live. Perhaps you know an exchange student from Argentina in your neighborhood, or you had a Chilean Spanish teacher in high school.
Did you ever live abroad in a Spanish-speaking country? Then I’m willing to bet you still have some Spanish natives on your Facebook friends list, Skype contacts or email contact list. Get in touch! A quick message saying “Hola, qué tal?” might open up a world of practice opportunities.
Write your old homestay family a lovely postcard or letter, and then ship that off via snail mail. It’s never too late to revive old connections, and people are always thrilled to see that someone thought of them.
4. Use social media for good.
Social media is a simple solution if you’ve got friends who speak Spanish out there on the internet. It also works for making friends and discovering new resources. Oh, and you can always broadcast your Spanish thoughts to the world without real-world friends acting as your audience. You could even create a separate Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook account to follow Spanish pages and post your thoughts.
5. Turn routine writing activities into Spanish practice time.
On a day-to-day basis, what do you usually write? Are you an obsessive list-writer? Do you make pro and con lists when confronted with big decisions? Do you like to keep notes or keep track of your schedule via day planner or calendar? Most people keep notes of some kind, even if it’s only a grocery shopping list.
Start managing your life in Spanish! Every little bit of practice counts. Plus, it’s been proven that thinking, speaking and writing in a foreign language helps you be an all-around better decision-maker.
Worried that writing accurate notes is too important to mess up with rudimentary Spanish? Well, that just bumps up the stakes and makes writing excellent Spanish that much more important!
6. Start some personal projects.
A personal writing project might be a diary, dream journal, scrapbook or nature journal (documenting the wildlife and plants in your backyard and beyond—yes, I’m a science nerd).
Writing is an extraordinarily valuable tool for self-reflection. Remember how we’re better decision-makers when operating in foreign languages? Turns out it doesn’t just stop at decisions—putting in some extra mental processing power while forming sentences generally helps us to be more thoughtful, insightful and careful with our words.
And, while this is somewhat up for debate in the psychological community, speaking a second language can actually give you a totally different perspective on the world—and yourself. You’ve expanded your linguistic and cultural horizons by learning Spanish and, to some extent, are learning to view the world through a Spanish lens.
That might just mean that you write out your thoughts more eloquently or romantically than you might in English (I mean, Spanish is quite a flowing, beautiful language). That might also mean you’ll be approaching your thoughts, ideas and feelings from a whole different angle.
Plus, all your personal projects will get an added layer of privacy security if your nosey little brother doesn’t speak Spanish. Unfortunately for me, my little bro started learning Spanish around the same time I did. Sigh.
7. Get lots of good reading material.
Reading dramatically improves foreign (and native) language writing ability. So, start applying this to your Spanish now!
Want to know what you can read?
Come on, you read some little thing every day. If you live on the internet like the rest of us poor souls, that means that you’ll read much, much more. As a full-fledged citizen of the internet, I’ll admit that I blitz through newspaper articles, essays, literary pieces, research journal publications, memes, blogs, BuzzFeed funnies, webcomics, emails, social media updates and more on a regular basis. Now, I may not retain all that information, but I’m definitely getting massive exposure to language.
Now, let’s change the language of all this content. Find your favorite sources of information in Spanish. All big internet businesses are extending their reaches to the Spanish-speaking world, so you’ll be able to enjoy BBC, CNN, Vice, BuzzFeed, Vogue and more popular information sources online in Spanish. Easy.
Equally important is unplugging and getting offline for a while every day, as much for your Spanish improvement as for your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Seriously, get off the darn internet. There are great Spanish language books out there for beginners, intermediate learners and advanced learners approaching fluency. And if you’re really resistant to putting down the technology, you could always resort to reading an e-book!
8. Keep writing apps handy.
As much as I want you to get off the tech for a little while, apps are just too handy to ignore. They can help you stay focused on writing on a daily basis. Blogging apps will keep you constantly connected to your blog, be it on WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr.
A simple notekeeping app or word processing app is great for keeping track of ideas when inspiration hits and you’re not near your computer. There are plenty of great, functioning and free apps like these for both iPhone and Android.
If you like using your phone or tablet for writing (this is ideal for light travelers), you could even use an app for journaling. Day One is the cleanest, best organized and all-around most aesthetically-pleasing app designed for this purpose.
There are all kinds of benefits to keeping a digital diary or journal. If you pick an awesome app like Day One, your journal is portable, automatically backs itself up and stores copies in case of emergency, lets you create rich multimedia entries and even gives you the option to publish and share if you’re feeling social.
9. Make Google Translate your trusted companion.
So, let’s say you’re on board with all these great daily writing ideas, but are still daunted by the task of actually writing in Spanish. If you’re at a high-intermediate or advanced level of Spanish and your writing skill is lagging behind, Google Translate can teach you to write like a boss.
Some will argue that this is cheating, or not good practice, but I’ll personally testify to the benefits of using Google Translate to teach you to write.
Write what you want to write in your native language, or choose any old text in your native language, and then copy-paste it into Google Translate. Translate that sucker into Spanish. I know, it already feels like cheating. Now you’re going to go through and carefully edit the text, paying close attention to syntax, diction and grammar. You need to get this text to sound as close to natural, native-level Spanish writing as possible. When done properly, you can produce a glorious, smoothly-flowing Spanish text with this method.
If you’re submitting a paper for a classroom assignment, do not directly translate published English content—you should know better, that’s plagiarism, fool. If you’re a beginner or if you don’t feel totally familiar with natural Spanish syntax and language usage, don’t go this route. This is great for higher-level learners who’ve got Spanish reading, speaking and listening down pat, as they can employ their existing knowledge to get texts perfectly translated.
10. Time your writing activities.
It’s as simple as it sounds. Put pressure on yourself, add structure and come up with a little daily challenge. Time yourself for 10, 20 or 30 minutes and create a goal for that time period. Say, “I’ll write one quick blog post in 20 minutes,” or “I’ll describe the café around me in 10 minutes while I sip this latte.” Hold yourself to the allotted time and see what you can come up with!
Don’t be afraid to combine this tactic with your other chosen daily Spanish writing practices. For example, if you’ve chosen to write blog posts, diary entries or dream journal notes, give yourself a time limit in which to do this.
Without a time limit, you might never even get started because the prospect of writing a page of Spanish is too intimidating—it sounds like it might take two hours to accomplish. When you have in mind that the activity will only take 10 quick minutes to accomplish, it’s much easier to get motivated to start.
11. Narrate your daily activities.
This is a wonderfully simple activity that requires no extra work. It’s great advice for writers in general, because it gets you thinking creatively all day long. You’ll constantly be working on generating new Spanish sentences and descriptions.
For example, as you walk around the grocery store, describe the people and things around you in Spanish. When you’re debating buying something, mentally debate it in Spanish. After something hilarious has just happened to you, think about how you’d describe that event to someone in Spanish. Jot down any particularly great word choices or sentences in your notebook or note-keeping app for later use!
This isn’t just great for inspiring your writing—you’ll also get great practice telling stories and jokes in Spanish, which is essential for fun and fluent conversation!
After all, the whole point of learning Spanish is to communicate well with people, right?
Start incorporating these simple resources and activities into your daily life, and Spanish writing will soon become second nature!
And One More Thing…
If you like learning colorful, memorable Spanish lessons like these, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.