You just got an assignment to write an essay in a foreign language?  Congratulations!


Why am I congratulating you on this challenge? It means you’re already advanced enough to tackle complex challenges. It’s not an assignment you get on the very first language class. Since you’re at this point, it means you’ve already covered the basic grammar rules and your vocabulary is deep enough to allow you to form complex sentences.


So congratulations on that!


As for essays, they are never easy to write, even in your native language. These assignments impose few difficulties: you have to be creative and convincing, but you need to use and reference authoritative sources of information at the same time. You have to follow a structure, but you mustn’t make the essay boring.


An essay assignment in a foreign language can overwhelm you. Don’t worry; you have what it takes to complete it! Today, we’ll go through the main things to do when you need to write an essay in a foreign language. Follow these tips and you’ll do just fine:


1. Understand Why the Assignment Is Important


The experience of writing an essay might as well be a horror story. Do you know why most students struggle with these assignments? – Because they don’t understand their importance. They are not in the right mindset. They just perceive these assignments as something they have to do for a grade. However, they think essays are a useless part of education. They are wrong!


Think: Why do you have to write this essay? It’s not just because it’s a mandatory assignment. It’s because it’s important for you learning the language you want to learn.


This experience teaches you how to think in the target language. You’re practicing proper argumentation and structure, which makes you confident to express yourself. No matter what the topic is, the mere fact that you’re writing an essay is useful for the language learning journey.


When you realize the importance of this assignment, you won’t perceive it as burdening. You’ll perceive it as an opportunity. Then, you’ll be ready to carry on with the remaining steps of the process.


2. Brainstorm!


When you’re writing an essay in a foreign language, you usually deal with topics relevant to that culture. For example, you might need to write an essay about Taoism if you’re learning Chinese. You might need to write about Gaudi if you’re learning Spanish.


Before you start doing anything, ask yourself: what do you know about this topic? If you don’t know anything, conduct a preliminary research. Just go through few online resources to gain basic understanding of the theme. Then, get to the brainstorming stage!


Brainstorming is fun! This is the most important thing to remember during brainstorming: think in your target language! Do not write in your native language with the intention to translate your ideas later on. Here are few other things to keep in mind:


  • Visualize your arguement with maps, flowcharts, diagrams, and sticky notes.
  • Just write down whatever comes to your mind, without being judgmental to any of your thoughts. 
  • Give yourself half an hour for freestyle brainstorming. Then, take a look at those ideas. You’ll find your main point there. When you find your focus, you’ll be ready to proceed with the following stages.


3. Make a Plan!


Every essay needs a structure. Did you get precise instructions on how to format the paper? If not, the basic five-paragraph format is the best way to go. It gives you enough space to demonstrate your ideas and arguments while providing enough structure for the reader.


A basic essay is consisted of the following parts:


  • Introduction – here, you provide background for the reader without assuming they know anything for your topic. You lead them towards the main thesis statement, provided at the end of the introduction. That thesis statement is the foundation of everything you’ll write in that paper.


  • Body – that’s the largest part of the essay. It’s usually divided in three paragraphs; one for each main argument. Each body paragraph starts with an argument and continues with an explanation of that argument. There should be some symmetry within the essay. Make sure to maintain similar length between the body paragraphs.


  • Conclusion – that’s where you connect the loose ends and provide a closure for your reader. You will restate the thesis statement and show how you proved it through the arguments. Make sure you don’t make the conclusion repetitive, though.




4. Read Resources in the Foreign Language


Okay. Now you have your outline. The only thing left to do is write the essay, right? Wrong! If it’s an argumentative essay, you must find relevant resources to support your arguments with.


Try using authentic research articles and news rather than translating resources from your native language (or English). Be an avid reader! Reading in the foreign language is one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary and improve your writing skills.


Don’t forget to take notes! You’ll have to reference all sources you use. Add them in your outline, so you’ll know where you’ll reference a specific source.


5. Convey Your Own Style through the Essay


Here comes the hard part: the writing. Don’t worry! You already have an outline and you know what you’re going to write.


If you had difficulties throughout those steps, you can ask your italki teacher for help! However, don’t ask them to write your entire essay. Just ask them to assist with the points you find overwhelming and do most of the work by yourself.


One of the most challenging aspects of writing an essay in a foreign language is style. Language learners are so focused on grammar and vocabulary that they lose their voice somewhere along the way. Express your personality! Stand for your opinions! This should be your essay, after all.


6. Edit and Proofread!


Read the entire essay and have these questions in mind:


  • Did you convey your main point?
  • Did you prove the thesis statement?
  • Did you cite all resources?
  • Are there any gaps to fill or redundancies to get rid of?


That’s what editing is all about: improving the essence of your message. When you’re done with that, you can worry about grammar and spelling. That’s called proofreading.


This is the golden rule of proper proofreading: if you’re not sure about a complex sentence, make it simpler. Break it up in two sentences.


To make the editing and proofreading process more effective, ask for help by a native speaker. Find a language partner and ask them for tips on how to improve your essay.


7. Understand: The Mistakes Are Learning Opportunities


Maybe you won’t make your very first essay in a foreign language perfect. Maybe you’ll make silly mistakes. Don’t get disappointed!


Remember: every mistake is a learning opportunity. When you correct a mistake, you learn the right way of saying or writing things. That’s what essays are for, after all: finding the right way to express yourself. The correction of mistakes leads you in that direction.



The Key to Success: Practice, Practice, Practice!


So what did we learn today? Writing an essay in a foreign language is definitely a useful experience. There’s a right way to do it. Just cover all stages:


  1. Understanding the importance of the assignment
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Planning
  4. Research
  5. Writing
  6. Editing
  7. Learning from the mistakes


The most important thing is to keep practicing. You’ll get better if you keep writing. When you’re able to write an amazing essay in the foreign language, you can congratulate yourself. At that point, you truly are an advanced learner.


Book a lesson with an italki teacher today for essay revision and help! 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash