Writing in a foreign language can be a difficult task. Students often make common mistakes when writing their first essays in Spanish. My first Spanish writing lessons involved answering a question in a full sentence. I moved up to writing 10 page papers discussing full-length Spanish novels, but while I was in school, I still kept the following tips in mind.
5 Tips to Complement Your Spanish Writing Lessons
1. Write what you know
Do not go crazy. This is not an advanced literature class, okay? If you are in the process of learning a language, your teacher does not expect you to write the next great American novel in Spanish. It’s rare that I would say this to any student but – do not aim too high. Your Spanish vocabulary is limited and running to the dictionary every two minutes is not conducive to the learning process. If you put 40 new vocabulary words into your 300-word essay, you probably won’t even be able to translate your own work. Not only will you be overloading your brain with a bunch of words you couldn’t possibly remember all at once, you will probably be writing a pretty crappy essay at the same time. It’s fine to look up a few words, but try to keep it to what you know.
2. Think in Spanish
This goes along with writing what you know. You want to think in the language you are writing in. Here’s the thing, you have been thinking, speaking, and writing in English for most of your life. You are going to know all kinds of intense verb conjugations and complicated vocabulary that you are simply not ready to use in Spanish.
You might want to write something like “I would have gone to the store if I had only had more money, but instead I decided it would be much more entertaining to frolic through the park.”
Yeah, that’s a lovely sentence, but if you’re a beginner or even intermediate Spanish student, translating that into Spanish is going to give you a headache for sure. Think in Spanish so you can write in Spanish.
3. Accept the fact that you are going to be writing at a very low level.
In my Junior year of high school, I distinctly remember my advanced Spanish teacher telling the class that we were writing at a 5th grade level in Spanish. To a 16 year old, this sounded pretty terrible, but that’s the reality. Of course, my university professors kicked my Spanish writing lessons up several notches, but the point is, you are not likely to be at the same writing skills level in Spanish as you are in English. Just accept that fact and strive to create well-written Spanish assignments at the highest Spanish level that you can and never compare it to what a native Spanish speaker can write.
4. Take accent marks and spelling seriously
During my early years of Spanish, I was often told to just ignore accent marks. I truly wish that had never happened, because once I got to teachers who did not appreciate this rule, I lost a lot of points on tests and writing assignments. Pay attention to accent marks and spelling from the beginning.
The best part about accent marks and spelling in Spanish is that they follow very clear rules. This means that even if you struggle with the grammar, you can at least ace the spelling portion. Each letter in Spanish has a specific sound, and everything is spelled like it sounds. Isn’t that magical? That means, if you can pronounce it correctly, you can spell it correctly! This is so much easier than in English!
Accents follow an equally as simple rule. Spanish words have the emphasis on the second to last syllable of the word. If the emphasis is placed anywhere else, you need an accent mark. For example: In the word comida (food), the emphasis is on the second to last syllable, so no accent is needed. Now take a look at the word televisión (te-le-vi-si-ON). If this followed the second to last syllable rule, it would be pronounced “te-le-vi-SI-on.” Since that is not the case, an accent must be placed on the last syllable.
Pretty easy right? For more on accent marks read the article Avon’s Basic Spanish Lesson on Accent Rules.
5. Get writing
Practicing your writing skills is the only way you will ever get better. Start writing emails, notes, and maybe even a diary entry or two in Spanish. Use these tips and you’ll be well on your way to a well-crafted Spanish essay.
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