The main advantage of writing things out is you have a lot more time and resources to compose your thoughts as opposed to the rapid exchange of interactive conversations. In addition, writing things by hand gives you muscle memory as an additional memory aid.
The most important thing to remember with your own writing as well as all other aspects of language acquisition is to quickly get corrections in order to avoid falling into bad habits. In addition, it’s vitally important that you actually implement the corrections yourself and not just throw aside a piece of paper with corrections on it.
In the past, it’s been fairly difficult to find Japanese speakers to correct your writing. Fortunately, there is now a social networking site built exclusively for this purpose with an excellent community: Lang-8.
I won’t go into much detail of how to use the site since they have their own video for the purpose right on the front page.
In general, I would consider writing to be the last portion of the four parts of language acquisition: listening, speaking, reading, writing. That’s because writing itself can be considered to be an art that goes much beyond the practical necessities of communicating in a foreign language. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t jump in to writing fairly early in the learning process. The important thing is to set realistic goals and distinguish between simple writing and composition.
Therefore, I would suggest writing about topics that are conversation-like. For example, contacting a friend in order to ask how he/she is doing is not only great writing practice but also becomes an opportunity to perfect your speaking skills as well. As a general guideline, at least in the beginning, I would write about things that could likely come up in a conversation. Combine that with actually talking about it with your conversation partner for a powerful learning combination.
Below are just a sample of possible writing topics. The Complete Guide to Japanese also has writing suggestions at the end of each chapter.
- What I did last summer.
- What I do on most days.
- Why I want to learn Japanese.
- What I want to do if/when I go to Japan.
- Interesting people I know and why they’re interesting.