What makes a good story for a language learner?

Writing quality short stories is hard, but writing short stories for non-native speakers can be even more challenging. In addition to writing creative, interesting content, you also have to focus on using simple language. It’s worth the difficulty though: having language-accessible content means that you open yourself to a wider readership base much more easily.

Keep It Short

Have you ever noticed that if someone asks you something complicated while you are on a walk, you naturally stop walking while “computing” the answer? This is because when we use the logical side of our brain, we have trouble doing two things at once. We also get tired more easily: studies have shown that when people go through a challenging experience, they have lower barriers to resist things like eating a tempting cupcake (if you want more info on this, check out this book).

How is this relevant for short story writing? Language learners are reading and listening to your story with the logical side of their brain, which is working hard to process the language and understand it. They will fatigue easily, so keeping stories short will ensure that they feel like they completed and accomplished something before they their brain naturally gets too tired to focus.

Keep It Interesting

Just because a story is short does not mean it should be any less interesting. Herein lies the challenge: create interesting content that excites the imagination, but with straightforward, simple prose. Ernest Hemingway was a master at this. Here are a couple of Hemingway rules of thumb when writing:

  • Write Short Sentences: keep it to as few adjectives and adverbs as possible
  • Trim The Fat: your goal should be that there is not left to add, and nothing that could be taken away
  • Don’t Describe, Make Readers Feel: don’t tell readers what to do, present them with the circumstances that allow them to come up with their own emotions and feelings towards your writing. This is harder than it sounds, but it separates great writers from the rest
  • Write First, Edit Later: It is easy to block yourself by constantly editing what you write. Let it flow, then bring out the scalpel later.
  • Walk Away: give your story a rest, then come back in a week or two and you will have a fresh perspective on it
  • Be True to Yourself: Write about what you are passionate about. If you go into a book trying to monetize a niche or make money, you’re going to fail.

Keep It Simple

When kids first start speaking, they start by using the most common words they hear that they can relate to things that they know and care about: Mom, Dad, Food, etc. It is no different for language learners. We learn through use and exposure, so in your story writing, use common words as much as possible. It might feel to you as a writer that you are repeating very similar and basic words a lot, but your audience will see that word repeated and get the satisfaction of understanding the word because they have seen it before.

To help you, here are a couple of lists of the most common words in several key languages: