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Why Writing Matters

Why Writing Matters in Modern Foreign Languages

“Students who learn to write and to speak any of the international languages taught by the department are simultaneously improving their language skills in English.”

~Gladys Zubulake, Department of Modern Foreign Languages


Why Writing Matters in Modern Foreign Languages

One of the primary goals of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages is to teach students to communicate effectively. Written and oral communication go hand-in-hand irrespective of the specific language. Students who learn to write and to speak any of the international languages taught by the department are simultaneously improving their language skills in English. One of the many reasons for becoming fluent in a second or third language is that this ability assists the learners to communicate better in their first language.

In the world today, the means of written communication are rapidly changing. Lengthy written reports and letters still exist in many professions, but they are fast being replaced by more succinct documents, such as Web sites, e-mail, and blogs. In all these cases, being able to communicate in one or more written languages is a necessity for educated people in today’s world.

Typical Writing Assignments

Foreign language educators assign a myriad of written assignments. They range from writing sentences, paragraphs, and business letters to reports, essays, and research papers. Exams frequently include written essays. Students in composition classes write and revise compositions on a variety of topics.

Qualities of Good Writing

As with any language, the goal of writing is to communicate. Organization, clarity, and consideration of the audience are of the upmost importance. However, the foreign language student has other dimensions to consider when writing. It is not enough to translate from the native language into the target language. Different cultures have different ideas about writing. For example, American writers are quite direct with their prose; whereas, Japanese writers are more indirect. Other languages, such as Arabic and Spanish, incorporate more flourish or artistic quality to their writing. Thus, the student must consider the culture in order to reach a high quality of writing. In the Department of Modern Foreign Languages, professors strive to integrate the cultural aspects necessary to be a successful writer in the target language.

For more information on the quality of good writing, please refer to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

Appropriate Types of Evidence and Support

Evidence and support for research papers and literary reviews may be obtained through scholarly articles and journals available through the databases at the library’s Web site, or from books and articles available in our library or through interlibrary loan. Information or articles obtained through other Internet sources will only be acceptable upon the instructor’s approval.

Citation Conventions

Foreign language educators follow the conventions of the Modern Language Association (MLA) known as MLA style. Copies of the MLA Handbook can be found in the library.

Students should consult their professors on the appropriate writing style needed for writing assignments. Students must give credit to the cited sources, use quotations appropriately, and avoid plagiarism at all times.

Special Comments

Among suggestions for writing papers in foreign language classes are the following:

  • Write on a topic of your interest, as appropriate.
  • Use vocabulary and constructions you already know.
  • Write in the foreign language only. Don’t write in English and then translate. Avoid Web sites that claim to be able to translate from one language to another.
  • Be attentive when using the Internet as well as the dictionary. Be aware of connotations of expressions as well as their lexical meanings.
  • Be open to cultural and regional differences.
  • Know the purpose of your writing as well as your audience.
  • Be creative when writing.

References and Resources

Journals published by professional language associations are very good sources. Academic books housed in the library are also valuable. Students should ask their professors about citing Web sites and other specific sources.

Faculty Perspectives 
on Writing:

Julie Foss

Why Writing Matters in Modern Foreign Languages

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