Journaling is famous for its therapeutic benefits, but have you ever considered that it could help you learn French more effectively and enhance your well-being the same time?
Journaling for French Fluency
If there’s one goal that is most commonly shared amongst language learners, it must be fluency.
- “I want to be able to have easy and fluid conversations about anything.”
- “I wish I’d feel less anxious about using French, I want it to flow.”
- “I want to become better at speaking and interacting with others.”
And in order to reach that spoken fluency, the most widespread piece of advice is “Speak a lot, speak all the time and then speak some more.” Practice makes perfect, right?
Well, not exactly.
At least not for everyone, and not in every way.
I mean, if you keep practising conversation in French, you will see some improvements:
- You will get used to finding words to express yourself out loud with an actual person, and not to care too much about accuracy.
- You will get better at understanding what the other person is saying, having a better grasp of the French melody, pronunciation as well as body language.
- And you will reinforce what you’ve been learning, which is awesome.
However, after a while, many of us find strategies to keep the conversation going without actually putting into practice the language structures and vocabulary we have acquired. We repeat the same mistakes over and over and simply stop improving.
Why? Because it’s stressful. And as in any stressful situation, we don’t feel encouraged to take risks. Yet, we know that it is by “getting outside of our comfort zone” that we will grow and improve, which can only be done in an environment we deem safe enough.
Safe environment encourages risk taking
In the case of language learning, it means that we get into your zone of growth only when we feel that we can make mistakes without it impacting our self-confidence or self-esteem.
And I don’t know about you, but as an introvert, speaking to a stranger about a generic topic I don’t really care about, in a language I don’t master, doesn’t exactly equate to “safe” in my mind.
But you know what does? That’s right, journaling.
“Exceptional learning can’t happen if we play it safe all the time, so as educators, we must create environments that encourage and support risk taking while embracing the potential for mistakes.”(Edweek.org)
Solo practice = no pressure
Journaling is practiced alone, which means that you aren’t under the pressure of producing an intelligible answer right there and then while your speaking partner patiently awaits. There is no external judgment, and it’s easier then to deal with our inner critic.
Make mistakes and self-correct
Writing gives you all the time and clarity you need to make mistakes and to correct yourself afterwards: you can revisit your texts and improve them. We know that self-correction is central to the development of language awareness. The more you self-correct, the more you become confident and autonomous as a learner because you understand much better your mistakes. ( The Phenomenon of self-correction in the speaking skills of undergraduate students)
Emotions trigger memory
Emotions are key to the creation of our memories. When a situation triggers strong emotions, whether negative or positive, our brains create a detailed memory of what happened. Using the language we are learning to process our thoughts and emotions is going to provide an excellent stimulation of our memory: we remember much better the specific vocabulary and tenses we use to tell our stories.
Finally, when you journal regularly in French, you develop your inner voice directly in the language. This means that the more you write, the more you create shortcuts in your brain to express your thoughts. You remember special turns of phrases that you like using, until they become engrained, as a second nature. You progressively stop translating from your language into French. Instead, you start thinking in French. It starts with bits of phrases, until your flow of thoughts is natural.
And when you can think fluently… you can speak fluently.
Journaling in French for your well-being
Now let’s have a look at why journaling in French can also bring you self-awareness and growth.
Simplification = clarity
Many of us feel reluctant to write our thoughts in a language we don’t master because we fear that we won’t be able to express things well enough. The difficulty is real, of course. However, we can use it to our advantage to unlock our patterns of thoughts.
In fact, when expressing ourselves into another language, it is the meaning of what we want to say that should always come first. Before you’re able to say anything in French, it’s useful to think to yourself: “what is it that I mean?” “what do I really want to say.”
You might then discover that you don’t have the necessary vocabulary or language structure to say exactly that. So you must find a way, with the tools you already have, to convey your meaning nonetheless. You must simplify the form, reduce the words and complicated turns of phrases to a minimum.
And what do you get? Something super clear. This is beneficial because it makes you stop hiding behind fancy words: you can see on the paper the simple words of what you think, of what you want, of what you feel.
You understand yourself much better, you’ve gained clarity on your needs, and you can act accordingly
No inner censure
We are all born in a cultural and familial context, with codes, expectations and projections. This natural phenomenon is at the origin of our inner judgment. We evaluate what is right or wrong, what can and cannot be done, how to act and not to act.
The interesting part is that because this inner judge that tells us what is or isn’t ok to think and feel is the result of our experience and education, it usually doesn’t speak our foreign languages.
What an opportunity then, to recover your full freedom of expression! In the same way that it’s liberating to write your thoughts in a notebook that nobody will ever read, it is even more liberating to write them in a language that even your inner critic doesn’t understand.
French becomes then your secret weapon to access your subconscious. The more you reveal it, the more you can bring light and healing to yourself. (Read also: The healing power of learning French)
Reframe your narrative
With each language comes a specific way to envision the world. When you think about it, it’s logical. Language was created to describe and communicate about our inner and outer environment. The way we speak depends completely on how this environment is perceived.
That’s why learning a new language enlarges your horizon, it opens your mind and widens your tolerance to difference.
Interestingly, when you start using this new language to tell your story the way you’ve always seen it, it can suddenly be understood through another angle, another perspective.
This is highly beneficial because we often get stuck into our narrative. We keep telling ourselves the same story of what’s happened to us, our relationship with our parents, lovers, friends, our relationship with ourselves. But once you look at it through a new lens, then new things are revealed. You understand yourself and your story differently. Perhaps a little bit better.
And maybe, just maybe, this will allow you to bring it some more compassion, some more forgiving, until you can let it go.
Freely create the rest of your story
Finally, with this new self-awareness, free of the inner judge and of the past, you’re now ready to work on the limiting beliefs that have been holding you back. It’s time to write the rest of your story, on the blank canvas that your new language is giving you.
Something I’ve often heard from my coaching clients during our work together is: “Ha! I’ve always been resistant to this idea but now that I think about it in French, all of a sudden, I can see how it makes sense for me.”
We have less prejudice and resistances towards new ways of thinking when they are presented to us in another language. This is a perfect terrain to replace the beliefs that have shaped our actions so far for new ones that will push us towards the direction of your dreams.
If you’ve always thought that something’s impossible, think about it again, but in French, and see what comes up. It won’t be the solution to everything, but you will certainly see your situation from another perspective, and that’s already a start.
And then, instead of wondering whether something’s possible or not, ask yourself: how can it be done? “Comment je peux y arriver?” and write down your thoughts, uncensored, imperfect, but real.
That’s what in French we call “ouvrir le champ des possibles.”
Want to give journaling in French a try? Download the free PDF “The Mindful French Learner’s Guide and get a taste of the French SunnySide Experience.