Guest post by Maria Ortega Garcia

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know journaling for language learning is very dear to my heart and I keep advocating it to my clients and students. It is the quintescential activity to blend your French practice with self-awareness, self-development and mindfulness.

This week at French Sunnyside I’ve invited my friend and fellow online teacherpreneur María Ortega Garcia to share with us her experience and thoughts about the fascinating idea of using journaling to progress in the languages you are learning.

Here’s what María says about it.

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« In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. »

Susan Sontag

There are two keywords in Susan Sontag’s quote: “expression” and “creation”. 


Journaling to Explore and Express Yourself

Self-expression as a result of self-exploration is such an important element of language learning, often ignored. If we don’t shed light on ourselves to find out who we are, what we like, what our values and fears are… we won’t we able to communicate deeply and connect with other humans. The current western world is full of shallow conversations and disconnected humans craving deep connections.

So, when we think about the main reason why people learn a foreign language, it tends to be to connect with other humans through a shared language. 

It boggles my mind seeing how little emphasis is given to self-reflection and self-expression in the mainstream language learning world. We seem to feel more comfortable answering random questions about a random text that has nothing to do about ourselves, than answering deeply personal questions.

And I get it, you might not feel comfortable sharing your answers with a stranger or your teacher. Although, I believe the student-teacher relationship has to be a close one. One where your teacher really “sees” the student and their potential and the student trusts the teacher has their best interest in mind and is able to take them where they want to go. But privately? Why are we trained to be so uncomfortable questioning ourselves, to ask ourselves how we feel and give a real answer?


Journaling, like any skill, requires practice

Journaling in the target language, too.

I remember when I started journaling in French back when I was 25 or so. It was the first time I started journaling introspectively and going beyond a mere recollection of the day’s events. My French took off then and my journey to self-development started.

Because personal development and learning a language go hand in hand.

Creating something relevant

Going back to journaling. At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that “creation” was the other keyword, right? 

When we journal, we are creating something that has relevance for us and with which we are emotionally connected. And this is a soft spot for the brain.

When we are trying to learn anything, we really need to be very clear about our reason and motivation behind the action, otherwise, our brain will just not back us up.

Brain wants easy. Brain wants to do the same routine so it spends less energy and it is less bound to fail. Brain does not like purposeless effort. Also, believe it or not, brain gets wired and alert when there is emotion involved.

There is scientific proof that “emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behaviour. This control is intimately linked to learning processes, as intrinsically limited attentional capacities are better focused on relevant information.”  (Tyng, Amin, Saad, Malik, 2017).

So, when we journal about things that provoke emotion in us, when we question our behaviour, when we delve into our fears and explore our dream’s motivations or behavioural patterns, we are feeling an emotion (we might even cry or feel deep joy at our spilt words) and then, brain is alert. Brain is all there for the job.

Brain will remember.

How can I start journaling if I’ve never done it before?

  1. Look for prompts on-line. They can be journaling prompts in your target language or you can directly translate them in your target language.

  1. Start every journal entry answering the same questions, like How do I feel today? Why? What happened today that made me feel this way? What are my goals for today? How am I feeling about it? What is going on in my mind at the moment (thoughts)?

  1. Start with simple sentences in the first form of the present tense. Focus on your senses (I hear, I see, I feel….)

What if I don’t know enough of the target language to write a full entry? 

Some ideas:

  • Use your mother language when you don’t find the right word or when the idea you want to write is too complex. Do not stop the flow by going looking up the word! Nobody’s watching after all. 😉

  • Write in your mother language and then translate parts of it afterwards as your level allows. I find this is a great way of learning relevant vocabulary.

Final words

Journaling in the target language is one of the most powerful tools to get to know who you are in the target language. It has been endlessly said that we develop different personas with each language we speak, and I adhere to this idea.

And that’s why journaling is so interesting: because you can observe, black on white, how you express differently in your mother language than you do in the target language. Maybe the concerns are different or the way to express them differs. 

« Fill your paper with the breathings of your multilingual* heart. »

William Wordsworth

Fill your paper with the breathings of your “multilingual”* heart.” said William Wordsworth and you will fall in love with yourself and the language you are learning.

*Not in the original quote. I added it myself! 😀

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Don’t forget to head over at Maria’s website and if you’re learning Spanish, subscribe to her newsletter for more insights about Creative and Embodied Spanish.

What about you, my dear reader? Do you ever journal to process your thoughts? Have you tried journaling in French? Have you experienced this sensation of developing different personas in the different languages that you speak? Leave a comment below and let’s share our experiences!

With much much love,

Paix et lumière,

Jessica

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