What Can Foreign Language Learners Teach Writers?

This guest post is by Write Practice Regular Afshin Mohammadi. Afshin is a writer and foreign language teacher in Iran. You can follow Afshin on Google+.

I recently presented a paper on how creative writing exercises appear to be useful in the foreign language learning  classroom. My findings were surprising. I found that writing stories can help language learners become better language users and, concurrently, allow them to become better creative writers.

Language Learning

Photo by Clever Claire

Teaching Creative Writing to Language Learners

When I asked my students at a language institute to write about their neighborhood, hometown, and future aspirations, they didn’t write a word.

They always had things to say in spoken discussions, but when I asked them to create something from scratch, they froze.

They thought everything is already “there,” clear enough, so why write about it? They hardly could start writing with a clear point of focus and their supporting paragraphs were often too loosely organized that you would sometimes forget the main idea, if any!

Creative Writing Exercises to Teach English

I decided to circumvent the textbook requirements and introduce a more exciting mode of the skill in question: creative writing.

This way they had the freedom to start writing by referencing the immediate events and incidents in their personal lives. No longer was writing limited for them to a set of abstract concepts in the textbook, but rather they saw a plethora of subjects to write about in their real life.

My learners started to see their language learning writing exercises, inspired by the real-world around them, from a very different perspective.

The Power of Writing for Language Learners

When you write your first line, you discover the sparkle of a new world right in your hands. You find you have the power to bring life to inanimate beings around you.

What remains highly important is that you keep writing. Best ideas come not when you are blocked, rather it takes active writing and rewriting to find your own personal communicative language with your readers.

To my students, they had a tabula rasa in front of them to plan, tailor and place events and talks in them through constant creation of new people, new places, new talks, and new worlds, in fact. They went long exploring unlived incidents with their characters, and this was their source of motivation to practice their language learning.

More Than Just Language Learning

By practicing creative writing, my students didn’t just practice a new language. They learned new things about life.

Life learning happens in real moments lived by an individual. We can only experience a limited number of sorts of these kinds of moments in our short life. But can we live inside of others? Can we feel like someone else as well, while we regard ourselves unique and nothing like them?

Good writers creep into other people’s shoes. We learn how to keep being ourselves by monitoring others. Eyeing people and events happening around us are useful to create our unique and real characters.

The learners participating in my study were intermediate English language learners with a rather narrow repertoire. However, they managed to create characters as interesting and unique, as those found in a famous, experienced writer’s stories, just by steeping into another’s perspective and being willing to learn.

How about you? What has creative writing taught you?


Continue one of the prompts below for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

a. I knew this relationship wouldn’t survive for long. But I had never thought of the numbness coming with…

b. After a lengthy reign of humans over the earth, now it’s… turn to…

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