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Improve Your Portuguese through Writing Practice

Writing is probably the language skill least practiced among language learners. 

In my opinion, people don’t fully realize how writing practice can positively impact their overall language skills. 

So, what are the benefits that come with drilling writing in your target language? (Portuguese or any other, really) 

Simply put, writing practice helps you to assimilate your target language’s grammar as well as better retain vocabulary. It also trains your brain to process thought directly in that language thereby making it more attuned to it. 

If anything, writing practice creates a place of intimacy between you and your target language – by exploring and playing around with its intricacies you gain a deeper insight into it. That’s how, in the end, you make a foreign language your own.

Read on.

Writing practice put in context

There are four main language skills and practice venues – listening, reading, writing, and speaking –  all of which are deeply entwined.  In other words, progress on one front implies progress on all the others. 

Now, the first two are “passive” insofar as you don’t produce anything of your own when you work on your reading and listening skills.

Conversely, writing and speaking are “active” since now, to practice these skills, you have to come up with something yourself.

While working individually on each of these skills has its particularities and benefits, it is impossible to set them apart. 

In this sense, when you are drilling your writing, you are also working, somehow, on your reading comprehension or speaking skills.

I strongly believe that we learn best when we embark on a diverse and well-balanced learning strategy that encompasses practice on all these fronts.

Today we are focusing on writing practice. So, let’s glance at some of its qualities and virtues.

Benefits of writing practice

Grammar assimilation

Writing practice helps you to assimilate abstract notions of your target language’s grammar.

One advantage of writing (over speaking) is that you do it at your own pace. You then have the time to reflect and figure out how you string words into sentences in your target language.

See, a lot of questions may arise for every sentence you attempt to write: Which preposition applies here? Should this adjective go before or after the noun? Am I using the right conjugation and tense? It goes on and on.

Since writing practice allows you the time to reflect and sort all these things out and provided that you do it regularly, you will end up internalizing the structures and dominant patterns of your target language.  

Vocabulary retention

Writing practice improves your vocabulary retention since it creates new neural pathways that enhance your memory and cognitive function.

See, it is one thing to see or hear a word. It is another to say it yourself or write that word out – words become less elusive that way. 

The more we use our word repository – actively, through either speaking or writing – the more solid and permanent that repository will become.

So, if you ever find yourself struggling to retain words and increase your vocabulary, you should then practice writing more often.

And btw, next time you look up a new word in the dictionary don’t forget to put it in context and use it right away in a short sentence – say it out loud first and then write that sentence down. 

Improved fluency and familiarity

The more time you spend drilling writing in your target language, the more familiarized you’ll become with the ins and outs of it, which goes hand in hand with the process of becoming fluent.

When we write, we are also training our brains to process thoughts in the target language. Like muscles, brains grow stronger when they get stimulated and exercised. In this context, “stronger” translates into attunement to our target language.

Keep your writing practice consistent and, the next thing you know, you will be dreaming in Portuguese!  

Best practices to drill your writing

Here’s how you write a text. First, you decide which story you want to tell, then you just need to pick your words and string them into sentences. 

Simple, right? Not really. Writing in a foreign language is no easy task, not least when you’ve just started learning it as it often leads to frustration, doubt, and uncertainty.

Oftentimes, words won’t be there for you when you need them and, when it comes to grammar and syntax, you’ll have to make choices without ever feeling sure about them. It can be daunting.

So, how can we make it more palatable?

Here are a few basic principles to keep in mind whenever you drill your writing.

Pick concrete topics

Choose everyday life topics to write about. 

It will be easier for you to give a picture of what your breakfast normally looks like than to describe, say, the maladies of contemporary Western society. 

So, avoid the abstract and subjective and stick instead to the concrete and mundane. 

Keep it short and simple

Write your text in short and streamlined sentences.

It is one thing to formulate your thoughts and write them in your mother tongue. It is another to write them in your target language.

You will probably find a deep rift between what your intellect wants to output and your ability to express it in Portuguese.

So, for it to work, and in addition to choosing mundane topics, you’ll have to adjust from a sophisticated way of speaking to a more basic one.

In grammatical terms, you want to avoid those longer sentences with linking words and subordinate clauses.  Instead, try to slice the story up into shorter, simpler sentences.

Granted, in the beginning, it all might sound telegraphic and, arguably, less elegant. But keep in mind that you are not writing a novel and trying to get it published. You’re just practicing and building the foundations of your Portuguese. 

Over time, and provided that you persevere and keep at it, your writing flow will improve and sophistication will naturally arise. 

Use translation aids when needed

It is perfectly justifiable, even wise, to use translation apps such as Google Translate to support your writing endeavors. 

As a beginner, you are likely to feel doubtful about how you go about crafting your sentences. Falling back on a translation tool will help you get an idea and draft your text. 

Now, don’t throw in big chunks of text with intricate syntax – it’ll only increase the chances of getting back faulty translations. Instead, follow the advice given above – keep it short and simple, from the beginning. 

Importantly, never assume that you are getting accurate translations. See, translated text often sounds unnatural or out of context.

Instead, always keep a critical eye open and scrutinize every sentence the best you can. 

! Mind that most of what comes out of Google Translate and other translation apps is Brazilian Portuguese. Being aware of this is particularly relevant if you are following the European standard. Learn more about how both standards compare: European vs. Brazilian Portuguese – How Different Are They Really?

Get feedback

So, you’ve followed the best practices mentioned above and written your text to the best of your ability. Well done! Now it’s time to ask for feedback.

Writing practice crucially begs for this final step for it to be effective in advancing your language skills.

Irrespective of how diligent you were with following best practices and scrutinizing the text yourself, chances are that it needs tweaking. 

Simply put, as a rookie you suffer from beginner’s blindness and you are not always able to detect grammar mistakes, out-of-context translations, or unnatural-sounding constructions. 

The best way to grow out of this beginner’s blindness is by getting feedback from someone who has a good command of Portuguese.

That someone could be some friend of yours who’s a Portuguese native speaker, a language-exchange partner, or even better, an experienced tutor.

Writing practice without this final step is already very beneficial. But believe me, you will learn much more if you have someone overseeing your writing and giving you feedback. Unquestionably.

Related reads! If you’ve felt inspired by this article, you may as well like these:

38 Quick Tips to Improve Your Portuguese
Here’s How to Push Through and Improve Your Portuguese Speaking Skills

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Olá! This is Pedro and I'm the founder of Portuguesepedia, a platform created to support and accelerate your Portuguese learning journey. Até já, p

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