Why I Continued Writing Them in My First Year of University and Their Benefits

Writing a Diary in English

I started writing an English diary during my first year of university. I was majoring in English and American Literature, and one of my required English classes included a task to write an English diary at least four days a week for nearly a year. Although it was an assignment, I personally enjoyed it a lot and felt it significantly improved my English skills and critical thinking. I want to share my experiences on why I was able to enjoy writing an English diary and how it helped me grow.

Making Friends with Your English Diary

When I was told I had to keep an English diary, my first concern was how to maintain it consistently.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I wasn’t good at steady, ongoing tasks. Summer homework diaries in middle and high school were particularly challenging, so the idea of keeping a diary for half a year was daunting.

What helped me continue my English diary was treating it like a friend.

When thinking about how to write my diary, I remembered Anne Frank’s “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which starts with “Dear Kitty.” This “Kitty” is said to be Anne’s imaginary friend. She candidly and openly shared her harsh wartime experiences with “Kitty.”

Inspired by this, I decided to write my diary as if it were a friend. This approach worked well for me.

For example, when I felt pressured to write about serious topics and couldn’t start writing, I reminded myself, “But you talk about trivial things with friends too,” and could relax and start writing. When I felt I had no interesting topics, I thought, “But you share small, mundane things with friends,” and ended up writing lengthy entries about minor events.

By thinking of my diary as a friend, I found it surprisingly easy to continue writing and genuinely enjoyed the process.

How Keeping an English Diary Improved My Thinking Skills

As I continued my English diary, I realized that it required more than just English skills.

Have you ever tried to write in English from scratch and found yourself focusing too much on grammar and vocabulary? I experienced this many times. Each time, I felt discouraged by my lack of English proficiency and vocabulary, which often led to a drop in motivation.

However, as I learned to express what I wanted to say in English, I began to realize that what I lacked wasn’t just grammar and vocabulary knowledge but the ability to organize my thoughts and come up with ideas.

Japanese is an emotional language, while English is logical. Logical thinking is essential for writing in English. No matter how much grammar or vocabulary you know, if your writing isn’t logical, it won’t make sense. Thus, organizing your thoughts clearly is crucial.

For instance, in English, it’s common to state the conclusion first. To do this, you need to understand your conclusion beforehand. So, before writing, you must find your conclusion and logically organize the steps leading to it. Doing this helps organize your thoughts. The satisfaction of clearly seeing your argument, like Moses parting the sea, is addictive once you experience it.

Once I developed this skill, writing in English became much easier.

I could express myself using only the grammar and vocabulary I learned in middle school, significantly reducing the mental burden of writing my English diary. This skill also proved useful when writing in Japanese and understanding complex topics like chemistry, math, and coding. It’s a valuable skill applicable in various fields.

Experiencing the Benefits of an English Diary Abroad

After about six months of keeping an English diary, I had the opportunity to participate in a language and cultural study program abroad, where I experienced the benefits of my diary firsthand.

I traveled to England for a month-long language course at a local university. Many situations highlighted the benefits of my English diary.

The most notable benefit was how easy it became to produce English output. Some might think writing and speaking are different, but the only difference is the method of output—whether through your hand or mouth. The ease of finding words in my head was a result of my diary practice. Writing my diary as if talking to a friend helped me transition smoothly to speaking with people.

I first noticed this benefit during a placement interview on the first day at the university. I was relieved to see my thoughts quickly translate into English, and I could logically answer questions. The casual nature of the interview allowed me to relax and even engage in a conversation about my favorite book characters with the examiner. This was all thanks to my English diary practice.

Writing simple sentences using basic grammar and vocabulary I learned in middle school also proved beneficial.

I shared classes with people from non-English-speaking European countries. Through conversations with them, I realized that Japanese grammar and vocabulary levels are quite high. The difficult grammar and words I learned for university entrance exams were not as well understood by others. It’s important to note that their overall English proficiency was not low—we were all placed in the same class after taking the same test.

By avoiding complex words and grammar and using simpler expressions, communication became much smoother. In class, local teachers often remarked, “Japanese people know a lot of difficult words” and “You know such complex grammar. We now use simpler versions.” I felt the difference between academic English and practical English. While mastering academic English is important, practical English is crucial for communicating with people worldwide. This experience made me realize the value of practical English, which I developed through my English diary.

Enhancing English Diary Writing with Companions

Having someone to help you continue your English diary is essential.

It’s hard to keep up with something alone. Sharing concerns, exchanging tips, and working together can boost motivation. For me, discussing the English diary with friends in the same class helped maintain motivation. Friends who initially found writing difficult also managed to complete the task, thanks to mutual support. Having companions is crucial for continuing an English diary.

Sharing diaries with friends or keeping an exchange diary can also help maintain the habit.

After the summer break, our teacher suggested we exchange our diaries anonymously with classmates. The excitement of not knowing the exchange partner added fun, and we enjoyed it. Trying to guess the partner from the diary content was like playing detective.

While I had been writing my diary as if talking to a friend, knowing someone would read it brought a new perspective. Initially, it made me nervous, but I gradually relaxed. Having someone to correct your mistakes and give feedback helped improve both English and logical thinking skills. It also broadened my perspective by exposing me to others’ opinions.

Try Writing a Diary in English

Compared to those who practice English diaries daily, my experience of writing about four days a week for a year might be shorter. However, the experience was invaluable, forming the foundation of my English and critical thinking skills. Writing an English diary helped me grow in various ways while enjoying the process.

Continuing an English diary is not easy, but it’s highly beneficial. If you’re interested, I encourage you to give it a try. I hope my experience can be of some help to you.