There are some very good reasons why writing is one of the four pillars of learning a foreign language (along with reading, listening and speaking). The obvious one is that writing is an essential communication skill. Of course, you don’t need to be able to write in order to be communicative, but your communication skills will be far more advanced if you can type a coherent and grammatically correct email, for example, in the language you are learning. The aspect I want to focus on today, however, is the important role writing plays in memory.

Most of us use digital devices nowadays to communicate in written form. We type emails or we send text messages. The longhand written form seems to be slipping into the shadows of history. But despite the prominence of the keyboard, writing still has its place in learning. Psychology Today reports that neuroscientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for the cognitive development of children and that cursive writing activates areas of the brain that do not participate when we punch words out on the keyboard. It also activates the working memory centres of the brain. Other research has shown that children who write by hand produce more words and ideas than those who use a keyboard.

Writing is not just good for the developing brain. It seems that writing anything down makes us remember it better, whether it’s a grocery list or new words. This may be because we are putting some thought into ordering the information.

Something else I find rather fascinating about the act of writing stuff down in order to better recall it, is that the process of writing somehow “tricks” our brain into thinking it’s actually doing it. This apparently leads to greater memorisation. So, if you’re teaching or learning a new language, don’t forget those old-fashioned writing tools: pen and paper.