I always enjoyed learning Spanish – I took the language from third grade all the way up to senior year of high school. I was usually able to pick up on the grammar rules pretty quickly, but it was always a little bit weird having to think about how to use the rules as I wrote. When I write in English, I don’t think about grammar with every word that I put down on the page. Things like verb tenses and subject-noun agreement come naturally, especially since I speak the language every day.
When I got to more advanced levels of Spanish though, we were asked to start writing longer assignments and essays. For the most part, I had learned all of the vocabulary necessary to write meaningful sentences and could apply the grammar rules as needed so that everything made sense. However, a lot of times when I went back to re-read these assignments, translating them into English in my head as I read, my writing sounded impersonal. I would think to myself “If I was writing this for an English class, this is totally not how I would phrase what I’m saying here.” If written in English, it would have seemed monotonous and boring.
When I spoke in Spanish, I never really seemed to face this same block that appeared in my writing. I felt like I was talking as “me.” Part of this is, of course, attributed to the fact that when you are speaking, you can use the tone of your voice to add some personality to your words. However, I also realized that when I conversed in Spanish, there was just more flow. I wasn’t bogged down with the formalities of grammar rules as I was when I wrote. I found that I could add personal voice into my writing by thinking about how I would converse on the subject I was writing about. As I re-read my work, I thought “Is this what I would say if I was speaking aloud?” and if not, I could then think about what I actually would say and write that down instead. This eliminated much of the awkwardness and rigidness that arose from feeling like I was stuck in a strict convention of grammar rules and made my paper sound more like me. I think many students get distracted by the rules of a language, sometimes so much that can’t express their ideas as they would normally. I think my personal experiences with this struggle will help me recognize when tutees are becoming distracted by formal conventions and the strategy I discovered for myself is one that I can share with them.