In many ways, writing a composition in Spanish is very similar to writing a composition in English. In middle and high school, you learned about organizing your thoughts into outlines, writing topic sentences, forming paragraphs, creating transitions between paragraphs, summarizing the main points of your topic in the first paragraph, developing supporting details in the paragraphs to follow, and concluding your ideas in the final paragraph. You learned the mechanics of writing: capitalization, indentation, proper punctuation, etc. If you had an excellent English or writing teacher, you learned new vocabulary; words that would capture your reader’s attention and draw them into your composition. You learned to avoid trite, boring and over-used words. Instead, you replaced them with active, stimulating vocabulary that interested your readers.
When you write in Spanish, your vocabulary will be limited to what you have learned in class. Since you do not have a word bank of hundreds of words in Spanish that you learned at home from your parents, siblings, and friends, your compositions will be very basic. We will start with a simple five to eight sentence paragraph and work up to a composition of about 175-200 words with multiple paragraphs. It is expected that you demonstrate your ability to form paragraphs showing indentation, proper punctuation and capitalization, good opening and concluding sentences. As you study Spanish, you will learn that the rules for capitalization are slightly different, but most of the punctuation is the same.
Some students approach writing in Spanish by writing all their thoughts in English and then trying to translate them into Spanish. They become frustrated when they realize that they do not know all the words they want to use in Spanish, nor do they know the proper word order or verb forms. Since they already wrote the composition in English and now feel frustrated, they seek help either from a friend fluent in Spanish or from an electronic translator. This is a violation of the honor code! You must always do your own work at all times. You may seek help from the Teacher’s Assistant, the Professor, or a Peer Learning Associate. You may also use wordreference.com (a dictionary, not a translator) to help you find words you do not know.
As professors, we always assign compositions that require you to demonstrate what you are learning in class. If we are working on the present tense of Spanish verbs, you will not be assigned a composition in the past tense. If we are studying vocabulary of subjects studied in universities, the composition will ask you to talk about what you and others around you are studying and how that will lead you to the career of your dreams.
Here are some general suggestions you should follow:
- Think in Spanish and begin writing in Spanish. Do NOT write in English.
- Make sure you are working hard to learn the Spanish vocabulary words and grammar taught in each chapter. These are the words and grammar we want you to demonstrate in the compositions.
- Every time you learn a new word in Spanish you should use it in sentences, imagine situations or conversations where you would use the word, and link it with other words that you already know. Learning vocabulary this way will make writing compositions much easier.
- Start with simple sentence structure: subject, verb, complement or predicate. Expand your sentences using prepositional phrases (as you learn the prepositions). Make your sentences more descriptive by using adjectives and adverbs as you learn them.
- Organize your sentences in ways that make sense and allow your thoughts to flow on paper (or on the screen). In Spanish 101, you will be writing compositions during class time, so you can always ask for help from the professor.
- As you build upon your writing skills, use transitions, conjunctions and expressions such as:
Y (and) – e (before i or hi)
Por ejemplo (for example)
Después (de) (after, afterward)
O (or) – u (before o or ho)
Sin embargo (however)
También (also, too)
Al principio (at first)
Por fin (at last, finally)
Entonces (so, then)
Specific notes on the writing process:
- Think about your audience (the reader to whom you are writing) and consider the purpose for writing. This will set the tone.
- Write a quick brainstorm of ideas for everything you want to include in the composition.
- Form an outline organizing those ideas and important points into a logical order.
- Start by writing sentences in paragraph form to create your first draft.
- Edit and revise the draft, always paying close attention to the following points:
- Agreement of subject and verb (yo form with yo ending, etc.)
- Agreement and placement of noun and adjective (gender-number)
- Adequate vocabulary
- Order of words
- Meaning: Make sure what you write makes sense.
- Adequate and accurate grammar
- Accurate punctuation and capitalization
- Paragraph formation with indentation
The professor will base the grade on how well you express yourself in Spanish using all of these elements.
- If there is time, the day that you write the composition in class, a peer will read what you wrote and edit it, making suggestions for how you can clarify and improve the composition.