It takes a decent amount of practice and effort to get good at writing essays. This is even more true when you’re trying to get words on paper in a foreign language. Of course, good starting knowledge of your target language is a prerequisite of writing an excellent essay but it takes more than being fluent to really express yourself well in academic writing. So take a look at these clever tips on how to write a great essay even if you’re not a native speaker of the language you’re writing in.
Start by reading
The secret to great writing is great reading. Consume both literary and academic texts, focusing on the style of your target language you’ll need to use in your essays. An especially beneficial way for learning to create outstanding essays is reading exactly those - great essays. You can find many online to find inspiration from. You should also read texts that use the type of vocabulary you’ll need to utilise in your writing. Are you expected to write on the economy? Read up on business articles. Have to critique a written work? See where you can find a literary analysis to borrow from. In addition to updating your vocabulary with the terms you’ll need in your essay, reading on connected topics will also help you gather and form ideas for your writing.
Continue by analysing
But once you’ve found a couple of example essays that have impressed you, you should do more than just read. Instead, analyse them to make sure you understand what makes them great examples. Pay special attention to the vocabulary used, the way thoughts are structured, and see if there are any particular phrases that you come across multiple times. Create an idea bank for yourself where you can jot down all the things you think make essays great.
Luckily, the typical essay format doesn’t really change across languages - you’ll still be expected to write a specific type of text, regardless of language. So, if you’ve had even a bit of experience with writing them in your own language, those skills will translate rather well. Just make sure you know what makes an essay good and how you can tick those criteria in your own writing.
Think in your target language with the right vocabulary
Another way to improve your foreign language essay writing skills is to start thinking in that language. First, it’ll help you feel more comfortable expressing yourself in your target language - a critical first step for any essayist. Secondly, you will see where your stumbling blocks might be in terms of vocabulary.
Which brings us to the next important point - learn and practise the vocabulary you’ll need in your essay. A great tip there might be to look up some useful terms or phrases that you can use in pretty much any essay. The Oxford Royale Academy has published a great list for exactly those in English.
Write by hand
Sometimes it pays to get back to basics. This is very true when it comes to improving your essay writing. For example, you might want to consider ditching the keyboard in favour of the more old fashioned pen and paper.
Perhaps surprisingly, writing by hand comes with quite a few benefits for both your brain and general well-being. It is also linked to being more creative and even improving your second language acquisition. These are all vital tools for improving your writing skills in general and come in especially handy when you need to put pen to paper in a foreign language.
Re-read and always get feedback
Once you’ve read all that you can, analysed the best examples, and then used the right vocabulary to hand write your ideas on paper, comes another very important step: that of getting feedback on your work. Start first with the feedback you can give yourself by re-reading what you’ve written several times. This helps to avoid silly typos and style errors that can ruin an otherwise outstanding essay. Next, it would be wonderful if you could find a native speaker of the language you’re writing in, who also knows a thing or two about essays, to look over your work.
Even with all the preparation, there is a chance that some mistakes in wording have slipped in, which is where the native speaker part comes in handy. However, you’d also do great to find someone who has the technical understanding to critique your essay from that point of view. But even if you are unable to find a master-essayist in your target language, just any second pair of eyes is always useful.
It takes time and effort to see improvements in your second language essay writing skills but, with the right strategy, you’ll start seeing results once you put the work in.
Start by reading examples of both great essays in your target language and other writing that makes use of the vocabulary you’ll be expected to use. Once you’ve found examples of great essays, analyse them to find the parts you can make use of in your own writing. In order to improve your self-expression and fluency, it also pays to switch your inner monologue to your target language, especially when contemplating the themes or topics you’re expected to write about. Also practise writing by hand, as that will help your overall language skills. And, last but not least, always remember to ask for feedback from people whose opinions you trust.
Once you start making use of all of these tricks, you’ll be able to write the perfect essay, whether in your native or foreign language.
Author bio: Liisi is a lifelong language learner and teacher who has managed to turn her passion into a profession. She is now helping fellow language aficionados find private teachers through her website Teacher Finder.