For those studying a foreign language, you should make it one of your top priorities to practice speaking as much as possible, whether that means making friends with native speakers, speaking to random people over Skype, or talking a conversation skills class.
But no matter how good your conversation is, there will a great deal of grammar and vocabulary words which you never will hear (at least in everyday conversation), so you have to budget a fraction of your time for reading practice. For a language like Japanese or Chinese with thousands of characters, you have to spend much more time in this area.
And then of course for those who really want to become truly fluent in a language, there’s writing. You can take a writing class but it will only last so long – the most important thing is to make writing a part of your daily schedule. The best way to do that is to start a public blog where you write in you foreign language of choice once a day, or at least a few times a week. The ‘public’ part is important because that will motivate you to write better and have pride in what you write. If you’re really lucky someone might even comment on it!
So where to create the blog? Let’s take Japanese as your language of study. At first you might think of using WordPress, having already been a reader if not a writer on here. But although WordPress does allow writing in many other languages, including Japanese, I have seen some cases where languages other than English don’t always work well with the site. For example, there used to be a bug where I couldn’t search for tags in Japanese, though that seems to be fixed now. More importantly, WordPress was designed originally in English (to my knowledge) and was definitely not designed by (many) Japanese people. There are some Japanese blogs on here written by Japanese people, but based on my research that is a very small portion of the population.
If your really want to make the best of your foreign language blog, pick a blog provider that is popular in that language’s native country. For Japanese, some of your top choices would be FC2, Ameba, Seesa, or maybe Hatena. You can see a good list of providers with brief summaries here: http://sonoyama.org/3283.html. Not only will you be forced to learn a bit of Japanese in order to create an account, but you’re more likely to interact with Japanese people, and more likely to experience aspects of Japanese culture. Many of these sites have a bunch of other features as well (like Hatena’s mini blogs which are a bit like Twitter) and you can gradually explore the site to see what they have to offer.
When you do create one of these blogs, promise yourself you’ll write most if not all of your posts in your language of study, though you can have notes at the end in English if desired. The amount you write in each post will be based largely on your level. For basic students you can write just a sentence or two, but someone with years of experience can aim for at least a paragraph or two.
Don’t be afraid to look up any word you aren’t sure about, and use Google to verify certain phrases to see if they are common or not (always remember to use double quotes and verify Google isn’t lying about the total hit count by jumping a few pages ahead).
And finally, when you make the blog promise yourself you’ll write at least 10 or 20 posts before you even consider quitting. The hardest part about creating a new blog is shifting aside your life schedule so you can squeeze in time to update your blog on a daily basis. If you don’t set a minimum post count you’re much more likely to just forget about it before you had the chance to integrate it into your life. But with a goal set, you’re likely to keep your promise and at least give the blog a chance at lasting for quite a while.
Even if you don’t particularly care the ability to learn to write in a foreign language I still suggest frequent practice. First, you’ll be able to practice grammar and look up words you won’t have time to when you’re actually speaking. Second, using words in your blog that you read (or heard) somewhere will force you to think about them more, which will increase your recognition of them in the future, as well as your understanding.
If you’ve decided to create a foreign language blog after reading this post (or just have happened to do so recently), please add a comment with your blog URL. Having an little extra traffic might give you that extra motivation to keep you writing for sometime.