Write a tech-savvy speech

olly writing languageWhich 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”

queen 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.

  1. Write out a little anecdote in your target language. To make it manageable, keep this fairly short.
  2. Submit your writing to lang-8.com for correction by a native speaker.
  3. When you’ve got your corrected version back, submit it to rhinospike.com for a native speaker to record for you.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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  • I’m guilty of neglecting writing. I even made it a personal challenge this year to write 100 texts in Spanish. So far…well, let’s just say it’s not going well. :/ I really like the idea of combining writing with speaking (or, I guess it’s more oratory skills in this case). I think I’m going to try it!

    • Cool – I hope you do! It’s something I used to do a lot of, and it really worked for me. Let me know how it goes!

  • Strange. It always seemed to me that speaking was more neglected than writing as a whole.For people who learnt languages at school at least. In those conditions, you do have to write a lot.

    But I agree on the importance of writing. And this exercice is definitely a good way to improve. A way to make it even better would be then to present the speech to a native speaker.

    • Yes, great idea! If you have a language partner or tutor, then definitely take it to them for some feedback!

      As for the school thing, you’re right – schools have it the other way round, focusing on reading, writing and grammar. I guess I’m talking about people learning out in the real world, where I don’t think people spend much time writing at all. Maybe it’s because of all the writing they did at school 🙂

  • Kieran Maynard

    I remember the method at Tower of Babelfish is basically learning grammar this way through trial and error via native corrections on Lang-8. A great way to improve your writing, but not just that, since as you point out you can improve your speaking as well by memorizing authentic but useful speech. I used to do this mostly for getting academic stuff in Japanese/Mandarin corrected, but lately I’ve been going back to do Korean and Spanish. Great article!

  • Very good points.
    I write a lot in my fluent languages, but hardly ever in others.
    I strongly agree with speeches. It’s one of the only and best ways to push yourself up to C1 levels. Most people can’t communicate at C1 or sound professional in their own language, so it’s important to check your abilities in your own language first before trying to attempt something in another language.

  • Kieran Maynard

    Ok, so I did this and made a silly video to go with it: http://youtu.be/aohZe5sER18

    Thanks Olly! I wouldn’t have thought to do it without this post.

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  • Thanks for the comment (and sorry I missed it!). Even at lower levels I think it’s a valuable thing to do, as it allows for a contrastive analysis between your L1 and your L2. Then, as you say, at higher levels, it helps you really focus in on producing something convincing and natural!

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  • I love this idea! I’ve got the habit of trying to think to myself “how would I say …” in Portuguese (the language I’m currently learning). But, especially on technical topics that would be related to my job, it can be really tough to find an accurate translation. The idea of writing a speech is so practical because I might well be put in a position where I need to introduce myself and explain my technical/skills background in a professional environment, so I’m gonna give this a try!

  • Great idea, Olly! I am more of an introvert so speaking in a new language is always hard for me. I find that writing things down (in a tone that is more “conversational”) helps me practice things in my head and on paper before I can say it out loud. If that makes sense 🙂

  • Iris

    Just found your blog, there are some great articles and podcasts here! Now making sure I’m not gonna be too distracted reading ABOUT language learning that I forget to spend time learning the language!
    Anyway I really like this idea of writing a speech and will soon start with one. However there’s one problem I have with this idea and wondered if you have any suggestions how to get around that. When I would write a speech, get it corrected, maybe even recorded and learnt by heart, I’m afraid it still won’t be natural. E.g. if I write it in too simple, short sentences it, the person who corrects is may say it is correct (from grammatical point of view), while it is still not exactly the way that local people would say it. I fear that learning this speech by heart only enforces the too simple language and kind of fossilises it…
    Any suggestions for how to prepare a speech that also sounds very natural? And moving from using simple language to more complex language?

    • Hi Iris! Great question, and you’re right to consider that. Quite simply, I always work with a teacher/tutor who I run everything by. They help me with the language and suggest improvements.

      Here’s where I find people to help me: http://iwillteachyoualanguage.com/italki