As useful as classes with a professional teacher are, we all know that to really make progress we need to practice outside of class time. I'm sure you are already listening to podcasts, reading articles, watching videos online, watching films in English and so on. If yes, give yourself a big pat on the back!
Input vs. Output
However, all of these activities have one big drawback: they are all 'input' activities, rather than 'output' or 'production'.
Input activities are vital for building your knowledge and awareness of a language. We have to listen, watch and read as much as possible in our new language to "feed" our brain with material it can use. If you don't put anything in, how can you get anything out?
The problem is, if we don't use what we put in, our brain is quick to forget most or all of the new information. The only way to really make it stick is to use it as soon as possible. We do this by 'output': using our new knowledge in speaking or writing. If we never practice communicating our own thoughts in the language, we will find that our speaking and writing skills lag behind our understanding. This is a frustrating experience for any language learner!
How can you get extra production or output practice? Here is a fun and surprisingly effective way to do so: write a blog.
One of our students, Alberto, started blogging in March 2017 and has done a fantastic job! Have a look at his blog posts and see how varied your blogging topics can be. He did this as part of his preparation for an Advanced English exam, which he passed! Don't worry if you aren't as high level as he is - you can start blogging with even very simple English.
How to Share & What to Write
You might feel nervous about sharing your English writing in public, but I would recommend writing and posting online rather than just writing a private journal. Keeping a hand-written journal is a useful exercise, but the feeling of sharing with the outside world can be a powerful motivation to keep writing. It's also an excellent way to overcome your fears and build confidence. Try sharing the blog with your teacher and fellow language learners.
Don't feel you have to write about your private life. Instead, write about whatever comes to mind. Write about the things you have read, heard or seen (in your mother tongue or in English), the things you post about on social media, the issues you care about, memories from your past, stories your friends have told you, open letters to a magazine or editor, or anything at all! The enjoyable thing about blogs is that the style and tone are entirely up to you. Have fun with it!
Our self-study workbooks include "Output Missions" that set you a speaking or writing challenge on many varied topics that match your interests. You can use these to give you something to write about every week!
If you find a new phrase or word during 'input' practice which you'd like to remember, note it down and then write a blog post on a topic where this phrase can be used. You can even write about the history of a word or phrase if no other ideas spring to mind.
As you write, you will find yourself struggling to think of the right word to express your thoughts. Paraphrase it, or get out a dictionary and find it. Check the word in a learner's dictionary to make sure you have the usage right, such as Oxford Learner's Dictionaries. Make a note of new or dynamic words and phrases you use in your blog post. You can even mark them in bold text or another colour, and provide a short glossary at the end of your post, or link to a list in your favourite flashcard application, such as Memrise.
How to Get Feedback
If you are nervous about your writing, make sure you use a spellchecker and grammar checker to catch the most obvious mistakes. You can also get writing practice and feedback at Write&Improve, a free service provided by Cambridge English. Another option is to post your blog entry as a 'Notebook' on italki, to get corrections and feedback before you post it on your blog.
As you blog, you'll be building up your grammar and vocabulary in an active way, which will also help you when you want to speak English. I'll write about ways to get speaking practice in a future post, so watch this space! Are you stuck for writing ideas? I'm going to be providing writing prompts and other fun tips via our YouTube channel, so make sure you subscribe for updates.
What are you waiting for? It's time to start using all that English you are putting into your head!