Writing in a foreign language can be a difficult task. Students often make common mistakes when writing their first essays in Spanish. My first Spanish writing lessons involved answering a question in a full sentence. I moved up to writing 10 page papers discussing full-length Spanish novels, but while I was in school, I still kept the following tips in mind.
5 Tips to Complement Your Spanish Writing Lessons
1. Write what you know
Do not go crazy. This is not an advanced literature class, okay? If you are in the process of learning a language, your teacher does not expect you to write the next great American novel in Spanish. It’s rare that I would say this to any student but – do not aim too high. Your Spanish vocabulary is limited and running to the dictionary every two minutes is not conducive to the learning process. If you put 40 new vocabulary words into your 300-word essay, you probably won’t even be able to translate your own work. Not only will you be overloading your brain with a bunch of words you couldn’t possibly remember all at once, you will probably be writing a pretty crappy essay at the same time. It’s fine to look up a few words, but try to keep it to what you know.
2. Think in Spanish
This goes along with writing what you know. You want to think in the language you are writing in. Here’s the thing, you have been thinking, speaking, and writing in English for most of your life. You are going to know all kinds of intense verb conjugations and complicated vocabulary that you are simply not ready to use in Spanish.
You might want to write something like “I would have gone to the store if I had only had more money, but instead I decided it would be much more entertaining to frolic through the park.”
Yeah, that’s a lovely sentence, but if you’re a beginner or even intermediate Spanish student, translating that into Spanish is going to give you a headache for sure. Think in Spanish so you can write in Spanish.
3. Accept the fact that you are going to be writing at a very low level.
In my Junior year of high school, I distinctly remember my advanced Spanish teacher telling the class that we were writing at a 5th grade level in Spanish. To a 16 year old, this sounded pretty terrible, but that’s the reality. Of course, my university professors kicked my Spanish writing lessons up several notches, but the point is, you are not likely to be at the same writing skills level in Spanish as you are in English. Just accept that fact and strive to create well-written Spanish assignments at the highest Spanish level that you can and never compare it to what a native Spanish speaker can write.
4. Take accent marks and spelling seriously
During my early years of Spanish, I was often told to just ignore accent marks. I truly wish that had never happened, because once I got to teachers who did not appreciate this rule, I lost a lot of points on tests and writing assignments. Pay attention to accent marks and spelling from the beginning.
The best part about accent marks and spelling in Spanish is that they follow very clear rules. This means that even if you struggle with the grammar, you can at least ace the spelling portion. Each letter in Spanish has a specific sound, and everything is spelled like it sounds. Isn’t that magical? That means, if you can pronounce it correctly, you can spell it correctly! This is so much easier than in English!
Accents follow an equally as simple rule. Spanish words have the emphasis on the second to last syllable of the word. If the emphasis is placed anywhere else, you need an accent mark. For example: In the word comida (food), the emphasis is on the second to last syllable, so no accent is needed. Now take a look at the word televisión (te-le-vi-si-ON). If this followed the second to last syllable rule, it would be pronounced “te-le-vi-SI-on.” Since that is not the case, an accent must be placed on the last syllable.
Pretty easy right? For more on accent marks read the article Avon’s Basic Spanish Lesson on Accent Rules.
5. Get writing
Practicing your writing skills is the only way you will ever get better. Start writing emails, notes, and maybe even a diary entry or two in Spanish. Use these tips and you’ll be well on your way to a well-crafted Spanish essay.
Check out these other articles about Spanish Lessons.
A while back, Spanish tutor Joan B. shared a list of easy writing prompts for practicing Spanish. Readers loved these, so we’re back with even MORE Spanish writing prompts to try!
Writing in Spanish is not only an essential skill on its own; practicing writing will also improve your vocabulary, increase your understanding of grammar concepts, and enhance your communication skills both in written and spoken forms.
The following are 25 Spanish writing prompts that will stimulate your imagination, stretch your abilities and, most importantly, help you to become a powerful and persuasive writer in Spanish. Tackle a writing prompt regularly (like once a day, or once a week) and you’ll soon find yourself writing persuasively with very little effort!
1. Describe a time when you had an argument with someone, and how you resolved it. This is a chance to describe a sequence of events or statements using the preterite tense (“El dijo…y entonces yo le dije…”), as well as the expressions (“No estar de acuerdo” and “Hacer las paces“).
2. Write a ‘tall tale’. Describe an outlandish event in as much detail as possible. Use this as a chance to practice narrative writing and use a variety of descriptive adjectives and phrases. The more out there, the better!
3. Explain what you do to conserve, recycle, reduce, and reuse. Green living is a hot topic today, and the words associated with it (conservar, reciclar, reducir, reusar) include useful Spanish vocabulary for daily living.
4. What is your favorite Spanish or Latin dish? Is it paella, pollo asado, or tamales? Whatever it is, write out the ingredients and process for making it, in the form of a recipe. You can look up a recipe in English for inspiration if you’re not sure how to make it.
5. In your opinion, what is the worst environmental problem facing us today, and what can be done to improve the issue? Take this opportunity to learn issue-specific vocabulary (for example, for global warming, you could use el calentamiento global) as well the subjunctive when expressing certain views (“Espero que…“).
6. Write a letter to the editor about a local community issue you feel strongly about. This prompt will challenge you to use formal, polite, and print-worthy grammar and syntax, as well as develop your own personal voice in Spanish.
7. You’ve decided to apply for a job where you’ll use your Spanish-speaking skills.Write a paragraph or essay in Spanish detailing your knowledge, experience, and study in the language. This can include descriptions of trips to Spanish-speaking places, formal study, the types of Spanish classes you’ve taken and concepts learned (“Sé explicar bien mis opiniones.“), and how long you’ve studied (“Comencé a estudiar en la escuela secundaria, y después assistí a la universidad.“). Not only is this great practice, it’s good to have on hand just in case you do need to document your Spanish knowledge, in short order!
8. Your roommate or neighbor has a very annoying habit and you’ve finally decided you can’t take it any longer. Instead of telling him or her directly, write a letter using a variety of formal commands and subjunctive structures (“¡Cámbialo!” or “Sugiero que…“).
9. You’ve met someone who’s about to start studying Spanish. What advice would you give him or her to succeed? This is a great opportunity to give advice (dar consejos) and even include a proverb or two (“La práctica hace al maestro.“).
10. You’re planning to travel to a Spanish-speaking country. Describe what you hope your daily routine will be. Practice using sequencing words (antes, después, entonces), reflexive verbs (relajarse, divertirse, etc.) and expressions for activities (ir al concierto, visitar un museo, dar un paseo por la ciudad).
11. If you could have any type of pet, which would you choose, and why? Talk about how you would take care of your pet and what activities you could do together. You can use hypothetical phrases (“Si pudiera tener una mascota, tendría un perro e iría al parque con él“).
12. Describe the members of your household and who is responsible for what duties around the house. The expressions you use are essential phrases for travel and daily life — it’s important to know how to say cambiar las sábanas (change the sheets) and lavar la ropa (wash the clothes)!
13. Prepare a short comedy act. Choose an event that has comedic potential and make light of it in a humorous way. Try to contar un chiste (tell a joke), which is challenging to do in Spanish as a second-language speaker. You can even ask a native Spanish speaker for help with tackling this prompt.
14. Describe your route to work or school. What mode of transportation do you use, which way do you go, and what are the pros and cons of your particular route and way? This is another practical writing prompt to exercise your ability to describe modes of transportations, routes, and transportation directions (“Primero, tomo el autobús número…“; “Evito el tráfico de las 5 por tomar una ruta alternativa…“).
15. Respond to a letter or other communication you’ve received from someone telling you about their news and activities. Even though they probably wrote to you in English, draft a response to them in Spanish, detailing your own news and activities and commenting on theirs. You can also draft a response to an imaginary letter in Spanish if you prefer. Explain what you’ve been habitually doing (“En estos días, estudio mucho…“) and retell specific events that have occurred (“Ayer recibí una buena nota.”). This is a good time to practice choosing between the imperfect tense and preterite tense for past events.
16. Invent a fairy tale in Spanish. You can begin with the words “Había una vez…” (once upon a time…) and let your imagination take it from there. You can write a fairy tale you’re familiar with, or create a new one. This Spanish writing prompt is good practice for perfecting the imperfect and preterite tense, as well as refining your descriptive writing abilities in Spanish, since fairy tales often involve vivid description of interesting characters.
17. Write a letter to a world leader whose policy actions you’re familiar with. Commend him or her on the actions you agree with, and explain why you agree. Offer criticism of those actions you disapprove, along with suggestions for alternative action to be taken. Use the comparative and superlative in your letter (“Esta acción es tan buena como lo que hizo“); you may also find use for the subjunctive (“Es mejor que resuelva el problema de…“).
18. If you could live in any country for an extended period of time, which country would you choose and why? Explain what traditions, customs, cultural practices and daily living styles appeal to you, and what you would do there. This is a chance to use the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional in a common and useful structure (“Si pudiera vivir en algún país, viviría en…“).
19. In your opinion, what was the most important world event of the past year? Describe the event itself, using the appropriate tense (imperfect or preterite). You may also find a use for the past progressive (“Mientras el gobierno estaba estabilizando, el presidente se murió.”). Try to use a mix of objective factual statements, as well as more subjective statements that reflect your opinion about the event.
20. Spanish is fast-becoming the lingua franca (a language that is used among people who speak various different languages) of the United States. What are the benefits and disadvantages of this, from an economic and cultural standpoint? Useful phrases for this prompt include “Por un lado…y por otro lado…” and “Pienso que…“.
21. Why do you study Spanish? What do you hope to gain from the language? Are your reasons primarily linguistic, cultural, economic, or something else? Explain what attracts you to the language, and the level you aim to reach. Also express how you feel using verbs such as “sentirse” and “me parece que…“.
22. You have the opportunity to live with a family in a Spanish-speaking country as part of a study abroad program. Write a letter to the family, introducing yourself. Tell them essential information, as well as some fun and interesting facts about you so they can start to get to know you. Use an informal yet polite tone. You can also include what you hope to gain by living with them by using polite requests (“Me gustaría si pudiéramos hablar en español casi todo el tiempo.“; “¿Sería posible hacer actividades todos juntos?“).
23. What do you like to do in your free time? Describe the activities you do, when you usually do them, and with whom. You can begin with “En mi tiempo libre…“. Use this prompt as a chance to expand and memorize Spanish vocabulary — you might learn new expressions as you describe your activities in Spanish.
24. What is your astrological sign? Do you believe in astrological signs? Why or why not? Do you think you fit the typical profile for someone of your sign? You might want to use expressions like aunque (although) and sin embargo (nevertheless).
25. You’re going to host two Spanish-speaking exchange students. Write them a letter telling them about any customs they should be familiar with, as well as the daily schedule they will follow. You can describe your daily school or work schedule, as well as the times that activities occur. You can also remind them of specific items they might want to bring from home.
If you work through (ahem, write through!) these 25 Spanish writing prompts, you’ll be well-versed in a variety of topics, registers of written Spanish, and typical structures and expressions to express your ideas concisely and clearly.
You can also take your completed prompts to your teacher or tutor for further feedback, or simply re-read them and edit them on your own, over time. Enjoy, and continue working toward the level you wish to reach in Spanish!
Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Joan aims to help students improve on tests and increase their conversational ability when traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. Learn more about Joan here!