Writing notebook entries and writing in general are indeed good ways for improving language knowledge. But, many learners face a big problem: lack of inspiration. Many of the learners don't know what to write about. Why? Because they don't know what they are able to write based on their level. My idea is to use this discussion to find and share some topics the learners can write about for notebook entries. Share your experience and ideas.
I usually find my inspiration reading a newspaper, especially the section of news that concerns the region of the world where my target language is spoken.
I write also about books i read and films I saw. Sometimes I write about a topic that implies some special vocabulary. For instance “ human rights”. I look up the article in Wikipedia in the language I am learning and then I try to use the new vocabulary in a small text.
I've written over 300 notebook entries, so could maybe give some tips. :)
- Personal experiences. You can talk about trips you've taken, either recently or in your childhood. Other childhood experiences, like how you learned to swim, drive, played with friends. Anything can be made in a story. The great thing about this, is that you're practicing the past tense!
- News stories. Sometimes I open a news website. Any site will do. You might need to look at a couple, but something should inspire you. I've found cute stories about an 80 old lady who's still very active. Anything! Just make sure you don't look at sites that are in the language you want to write in. It's much better to just read the story and then write it in your own words in the target language.
- Children's stories. Yes, you can write your own children's story! I've done that many times. It's a great way to practice dialogue. I've written many stories about an owl and a frog and how the frog wanted to learn how to fly and asked the owl for help. Just get creative!
- Photos. Sometimes when I have a really hard time finding inspiration, I pick a random photo I've taken and describe the day I took it.
- Jokes. I have only done this a couple of times, but it was good practice! You can pick a joke in any language and translate it into your target language. Of course it has to be a long joke and not a one liner.
- Game rules! Pick any game you like and explain in detail how to play it. It's a lot tougher than it seems and you most likely need to use some vocabulary you don't use a lot.
I think that even beginners should be true to themselves in the topics that they choose. I am currently a beginner (on the verge of A2) in Russian, and I found myself becoming frustrated at having to learn, read, and write about mundane topics of little interest to me: what I eat on a daily basis, interactions at the supermarket, the weather, my routine. It's completely irrelevant to me to know how to make a purchase in Russian, as I have no intention of traveling to a Russian-speaking country in the near future, and I find these banal topics totally soul-crushing.
Now I know that standard textbooks are geared to the needs of the majority, and so teachers get used to teaching certain important grammatical concepts in a limited context. The genitive and food shopping seems to be a popular theme, though I don't see why we couldn't do it with books or by discussing the results of a study.
So what's the solution? Challenge myself to write about the topics that I genuinely care about and want to be able to speak about in Russian, write about what I have listened to, and bring it to teachers, and hence break the pattern.
I listen to podcasts and watch videos on topics that do interest me: languages, culture, books, art, travel, history, and psychology. When I don't understand a word, I look it up. I understand probably 85-90% of a video in slow Russian. Then, the difficult part, I write about it, both summarizing and adding my perspective.
Here are a few topics I plan to write about in the next month:
-Metaphors about time in Russian children's songs
-Societal expectations of the roles of men and women in Russia
-Why mechanical drills are NOT necessary to acquire a language, even a "difficult" one such as Russian
-Why I prefer books to travel
-Why I am tired of travel bloggers glorifying a commodity (travel) as a spiritual experience