Journaling, or writing a diary, is a great way to practice your English writing as a non-native speaker. Writing a journal can involve jotting down what happened throughout the day along with your thoughts, emotions, and insight on your experiences. You can pick and choose the aspects of your life you would like to record in your journal to best fit your needs and preferences.

Writing experiences and thoughts in English can help non-native speakers learn to become more articulate in the language and also gain confidence in writing in English. It gives opportunities to write freely and privately without any judgment from anyone else. On top of allowing you to practice your English, journaling can help you with your personal growth and monitor your mental or emotional state.

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Journaling as a non-native English speaker

  • Start off with bullet points
  • Feel free to mix use both your native language and English
  • Do not worry about grammar and spelling in the beginning
  • Get help from an online translator and/or an online English proofreader
  • Start with an easy prompt or process
  • Stuck? Begin each entry with the same opening phrase
  • Write in simple English sentences

If you are not yet confident in your English writing abilities, you can start off by just writing bullet points about your day in English rather than full sentences. Consider using a free online notepad as a convenient way to organize your thoughts and gradually build confidence in expressing yourself in English.

If you are still in the beginning stages as an English learner, feel free to mix your native language with English when writing your journal. You can write more difficult or complex words and phrases in your mother tongue in conjunction with English. Once you get the hang of writing in English, you can reduce the number of times you switch back to your native language until you are fully writing in English.

You can begin journaling without worrying about your grammar and spelling. Just make journaling a light and fun task where you can freely write in English without any judgment from others. However, if you want to brush up on your grammar, do not feel shy to use an online translator or an online English proofreader. Look up words freely on Google or even ask ChatGPT for help. Some great online translators are Google Translate and DeepL. For online proofreading, you can use Grammarly or Engram, which is optimized for non-native English speakers. These tools will aid you in pinpointing any grammatical or spelling mistakes and help you come up with different ways to express what you want to convey in English. The more you write, you will spot patterns and start to fix the mistakes that you make often. Soon, you will not have to rely so heavily on these tools, and they will just become supplementary tools that you can use for just double-checking.

Start off with an easy prompt or process and add on anything you want to in the future. For example, you probably do not want to begin by requiring yourself to write a whole page every day. This can wear you out and make you reluctant to continue. Start by just writing even just one sentence or bullet point a day. This will encourage you to write every day and not see journaling as a difficult or demanding task.

If you do not know how to start each journal entry, you can begin each day with the same opening phrase such as “In the morning, I…” or “Today, I feel…” This helps you get started writing and prevents you from getting stuck with writer’s block.

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Write in simple English sentences. You do not have to get stressed about making your writing sound eloquent. Trying to make each sentence sound like it is from an academic paper can make journaling feel difficult and make you reluctant to write every day. This will make you prone to be inconsistent and skip days or even weeks of journaling. Make the task easy and simple to encourage consistency.

Types of journals: what to include in your entries

Different types of journals have been trending throughout recent years. From bullet point journals to gratitude journals, the variety of journaling is vast and continues to broaden. However, be cautious: do not try to do every single type of journaling. You will overload your capacity if, for every entry, you are trying to write a poem, record everything that happened that day, reflect on what you are grateful for, recall what you dreamt that night, track whether you fixed any bad habits, and draw a sketch that represents your day.

Choose the type of journaling that best fits your needs and preferences. Below is a list of popular types of journaling. If you are unsure which to choose, the bullet point journal has a low barrier to entry followed by the first-person narrative journal.

Start off simple and slowly add on any elements that you would enjoy writing about. Make journaling something fun and easy to do, not a task you feel obligated and reluctant to do. Spend just five minutes a night on your journal rather than requiring yourself to spend an hour or more for each entry or else you will tire yourself out and subconsciously recognize journaling as a demanding task, making you unwilling to continue journaling.

Feel free to experiment with different types of journals and even mix and match to find what best fits you. You can start off with a bullet point journal and later also write one thing you are grateful for below every entry.

Types of journaling

  • First-person narrative journal
    This is the most classic form of writing a diary. You write in first-person and generally in full sentences.
  • Bullet point journal
    This is a simple form of journaling where you write what happened throughout the day in bullet points.
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  • Gratitude journals
    Recently highly popular, gratitude journals involve writing down what you are grateful for every day. Emma Watson is known for starting off every morning by writing down three things she is grateful for. You can begin with just one thing you are grateful for every day either in the morning or evening. It can be general (grateful for food and shelter) or specific (grateful to my brother for helping me fix my desk).
  • Habit tracker journals
    Habit tracker journals are generally checklist journals that keep track of your progress in forming good habits and getting rid of bad ones. Some examples of activities or habits that may be in a habit tracker journal include meditation, reading, stretching, and drinking eight glasses of water a day.

    Although trendy, habit tracker journals may not be ideal for practicing your English because it only consists of checklists in which you cannot practice your English writing. Some similar journals include productivity journals, to-do lists, and short-term and long-term goals checklists. Other variations include meal planning and tracking journals as well as exercise journals to track your diet and workout routines.
Image Credit: Annetta Bosakova
  • Creative writing journal
    This type of journaling encourages and inspires writers to be creative without feeling the pressure of deadlines and expectations. It allows writers to explore their imagination and experiment with different writing styles or topics. You can choose the form of writing, like poetry or short stories, or base each entry on different prompts, which you can easily find online.

    This type of journaling is appropriate for non-native speakers who like fictional writing. If you are not yet confident with your English, you can start off with one short simple poem for each entry.
  • Dream journals
    Dream journals are specific journals for recording what happened in your dreams. This is perfect if you are interested in your dreams and remember them. If your daily life is repetitive or you do not know what to write in your journal, dreams are great because they are typically whimsical and eccentric.
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  • Sketch or doodle journal
    You can freely express your artistic side in sketch or doodle journals, drawing out your day or simply creating random doodles that you feel like drawing for that day. These sketches and doodles can stand alone as your journal entry or can be supplementary to a written journal entry. If you like drawing and want to also practice your English, you can include a written entry or slowly introduce more text into your drawings, beginning with words and phrases to even sentences. Some people even like drawing a short and simple comic strip of their day.
Image Credit: Pexels
  • Photo journals
    Digital photo journals allow you to put one or more pictures with each journal entry with the first picture becoming your thumbnail picture for that day. These journals are great if you are a visual person but not into drawing. There is a plethora of apps, both for mobile and desktop, that support uploading pictures to your journal entries, some being Diarium and Day One Journal. Photo journals let you look back at your memories in one glance and at the same time provide some details about each day in text.
  • Prompt journals
    Prompt journals provide prompts or themes for your journal that give you a direction for your writing so you are not stuck with writer’s block and unsure what to write about. The prompt can be the same overall prompt for every entry, or you could have a different prompt for each entry.

    Examples of overall prompts or themes for your whole journal
    -  Gratitude journal: write one thing that you are grateful for
    -  Learning: write one thing that you learned today
    -  Excitement: write one thing you are excited about

    Examples of different prompts per day
    -  Describe your ideal day.
    -  What would you say to your future self?
    -  What is your greatest fear?

    Prompt journals are great for non-native speakers looking to improve their English. If you are writing a classic journal about your daily life and find that it is getting repetitive, you can try out prompt journals which will allow you to write about different topics every day.
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If you want to practice your English, out of the nine types of journals listed here, we would recommend the first-person narrative journal, bullet point journal, gratitude journal, and prompt journal (not necessarily in that order). In the following section, we have example entries of each of these journal types so you can get an idea of how you can write yours.

Journal entry examples

Classic narrative first person

Monday, May 1st, 2023.
Weather: Overcast

I went to work today and worked on finalizing the summer marketing campaign. I couldn’t figure out how to adjust something on Figma for a whole hour, so I got frustrated and took a break at the company lobby.

Two new employees joined the team and joined us for our team lunch after their onboarding orientation in the morning. Their names were Isra and… I forgot the name of the other woman. Isra is from Turkey, a country close to my home country Cyprus. It felt so nostalgic to speak a bit of Turkish with her.

Later in the afternoon, I wasn’t sure about my English grammar for an email that I writing to the product design manager. I asked Tony to proofread it, and he kindly looked over it. He’s always willing to help.

At home in the evening, I rewatched an episode of the TV show Sherlock. It’s still my favorite show, and I can understand a lot more of what the characters are saying now without subtitles.

Bullet-point format

Each bullet typically starts off with a verb.
Mon, May 1, 2023. Overcast.

  • Finalized summer marketing campaign
  • Had trouble with Figma for a whole hour, so I took a break in the lobby
  • Two new employees joined us for lunch. Isra from Turkey and… I don’t remember the name of the other woman.
  • Wasn’t sure about my English grammar for an email to the product design manager, but Tony helped me
  • Rewatched an episode of Sherlock; can now understand a lot more without the subtitles now

Gratitude journal

  1. I’m grateful it wasn’t raining again today because the succulents in my yard have been getting too much rain recently.
  2. I’m grateful for having a friendly and helpful coworker like Tony who is always willing to help.
  3. I’m also grateful for my cat, Leo, who always makes me happy when I come home.

Prompt journal

Today’s prompt: Describe your dream house.

My dream house is a two-story house with a beautiful garden in a sunny country like Spain or Italy or a sunny state like California or Florida. There is a pool in the back yard and a classic red mailbox in front of the driveway. You can smell the flowers, hear the birds chirping, and feel the crisp morning air. The front porch swing is swaying ever so slightly in the breeze, welcoming you with its comfy cushions and warm brown hue. Inside my Victorian-style house are two bedrooms for my children, a master bedroom, and a room for my dog.

How to get better: reading and listening is the key to writing well

Humans are much like AI when it comes to learning languages. The more input or training data an AI learns, the better the quality of its output. If it is trained on massive terabytes of data, it can produce high-quality output or results. The same goes for humans.

Language involves four core skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The first two, reading and listening, are passive skills, which are parallel to input. The latter two, speaker and writing, are the outputs of language. The more a human reads English text and listens to spoken English, the quality of their output (speaking and writing) will improve. A person cannot get a large vocabulary or know a variety of sentence structures without reading and listening to a substantial amount of material. Therefore, to speak and write better in English, read and listen to a great amount of English content.

Benefits of journaling

There is an abundance of benefits you can get from writing a journal. Check out our list below for the various benefits that come with journaling, whether it is in your native language or a language you are learning.

  • Turning your inner thoughts into concrete words helps you become more articulate and better express yourself in that language
  • Writing about your feelings that day helps you process and release any bottled-up emotions and helps you process what happened throughout the day
  • Tracking your progress and growth can help you be more organized and better at setting goals, both short- and long-term
  • Recording what went on each day helps improve your memory, and you can trace back to what happened on a particular day, including memorable events, big purchases, and even what someone said to you
  • Reflecting on one’s self can help with self-awareness and self-discovery
  • Writing digitally allows you to use online proofreaders to help improve your grammar
  • Having a record of your feelings and emotions will allow you to identify emotional patterns and aspects of your mental state that you would like to improve
  • Writing a journal is a more active and reflective habit than mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or numbing watching YouTube or TikTok

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