This weeks' blog post is part of a series about thinking before you speak to find your voice in English. For one month, we'll be talking about how you can use your book habit and your reader's journal as a way to think first and make English your own.
Each week, there is a mission for you to complete, so that by the end of the month, you'll have a thriving reader's journal that is helping you meet your goals for your English. If you missed the first part of this series, you can find it here.
Reader's Journal: your shortest path to fluency.
Your reader's journal can help you find the shortest path between you and your ideas: the shortest path between you and your English-speaking friends.
I know what it's like to be talking about something that you're passionate about--only to find yourself speaking in circles.
And I think you probably know what I mean . . .
Maybe you've experienced this in English?
What's it like to take a huge leap, to pack a few things into a suitcase and to travel to another country, make it your home? To let the days of feeling foreign slip away?
To find that you live your life in a new language--that you use this language to speak to your friends, maybe your spouse, to express everything you might think or feel.
At some point, you have to ask yourself
Who am I going to be in this new place? Who am I going to be in this language?
Because non-native language(s) are beautiful, they are freeing. And they can be elusive.
You may go months at a time where the words just roll off your tongue with an ease, an elegance. Without too much thought on your part. But no matter how long you speak a language, how much you struggle to make it your own. . .
There are days when you find yourself lost in a labyrinth of words.
When you're talking to a friend about a topic you're passionate about (or frustrated about, excited about). And your words take you for a ride.
Lost in the labyrinth, when you can't find your words in English.
Instead of traveling the shortest distance between you and your friend, between you and what you want to say, your words make you travel in circles, down slippery paths that turn out to be dead-ends.
You find your way through eventually, but it sure took you a while to get there, didn't it? And it was a struggle.
You've more or less expressed what you wanted to say, but you don't really feel satisfied, do you?
Your friend has been listening patiently while you trip and stumble over words and while you look around for your way. Now she nods and says,
"Oh, I know what you mean."
And sums up your struggle in one perfect sentence, with one perfect phrase that you couldn't quite find.
She shows you that direct path through the labyrinth that eludes you (on some days) as a non-native speaker.
Your reader's journal can help you find your words in English
If you read and keep a reader's journal, it's not so much that you will never see that labyrinth again or that you will never talk in circles again.
No, if you keep a reader's journal, you'll find that eventually, you will know the labyrinth like the back of your hand. When you are put to the test in conversation, you'll find that
- It's much easier to find the shortest path between you and your ideas in English. You find the right words more often--and you sound like yourself.
- When you do find yourself searching for your words or talking in circles, that will be easier as well.
How to keep a reader's journal that helps you find your words.
Remember, there are many ways you can use a reader's journal, maybe you just want to make sure you don't forget the books you've read, the favorite passages, characters, why you loved the book. Maybe you want to use your reader's journal to weed out mistakes or clumsy phrases you use again and again in English. Or to make your vocabulary more elegant, more exact. We'll talk about that in the next post.
For today, let's just focus on how to use your journal to find your words--to be more fluent in English.
Reader's Journal for Fluency: the right mindset in four tips:
One: Set a timer.
After you read, grab your journal, find a comfortable seat and select an amount of time you want to write. Ideally, 15 minutes a day is a good start, but it can be more or less if that helps you stay motivated.
Write for the entire time without stopping--even if your ideas seem kind of silly at first.
Actually set the timer. Why? It makes your writing feel more immediate, it helps ideas flow more spontaneously. That's what you want when you're working on fluency.
Two: Write freely and forget about mistakes--for a while.
I'm not saying you should never worry about speaking correctly or elegantly.
But, like it or not, we all have two modes of writing--one that is unedited, where ideas flow and a second mode where we can worry about grammar, and word choice.
If you want to develop your fluency, you need to be sure to use this free-writing mode from time to time.
By the way, native speakers who write or who need to gather great ideas use this mode on a daily basis. Try it in your own language and see if you come up with new ideas, new solutions to problems . . .
Three: Don't let anyone read it!
That's right! This is a collaboration between you, yourself, your coffee and the silence of early morning.
This is your place to scribble, to make mistakes, to repeat yourself. To voice your ideas unedited.
When you start to think about sharing, you start to go back into 'editing mode.' You ask yourself, what will someone think? Did I spell that right? Did I use my verbs correctly? Skip all that for now.
And if you do make a mistake that really bothers you, don't stop to erase it or block it out, just draw a thin line through the words you don't like, and keep writing. You'll come back to that later.
Four: Write it by hand.
If you've read my guide to starting your reading habit in English, then you probably know how I feel about 'real' books on 'real' paper. So you probably won't be surprised to see me talking about writing, with an actual pen, on actual paper.
I promise I won't ask you to move into a cabin in the woods without the internet or something.
The thing is, writing by hand is an entirely different experience. There is quite a bit of research on the topic... but let me just explain in a way that I think you know to be true.
A computer is a great place to write for accuracy, to check your spelling, to polish your ideas... it's not such a great way to allow for the free and unfettered flow of ideas that will help your fluency. Can you really perform in any kind of free-flowing manner with a computer constantly harassing you about your spelling mistakes?
Writing by hand and on paper allows for the non-linear. You can make a picture, a doodle, a sketch. You can write something sideways or in a bubble in the middle of the page. The act of freely placing your ideas and your words the way you want them on paper helps you express yourself, it helps you make creative leaps, and it helps you remember.
I highly advise writing your creative ideas out by hand. And what could be more creative than the process of making English your own?
Ready to start journaling for fluency? This week's mission:
I can't wait to see how this goes for you! This week's mission is simple:
- Grab your journal, set the timer and write for 15 minutes 3-4 times this week (or every day if you can manage it).
Let me know how it goes. At first, it might feel strange, but if you make this your new habit, you'll see that in a month or two, your ideas will come to you more quickly in English.
You'll sound more like yourself when you're speaking. You'll start making the language your own.
7 Reader's Journal Prompts for Fluent English
Not sure what to write about? Check out the visual below. It has 7 journal prompts to help you write for fluency.
Or check your inbox. If you're signed up to my mailing list, you'll get a short worksheet with several questions that you can print out and pin up at your writing desk, or slip into your book... or glue inside your journal.
Not on the list? No problem, you can sign up here.
If you find this graphic helpful, you can always pin it to one of your own boards on Pinterest and come back to it later.