If you are learning English or any other language, then you will know that the best way to improve is to practise! Think about it – how did you learn to speak your mother tongue fluently by the age of around four years old? It was continual practice and of course total language immersion.

As an adult learning a new language, total language immersion, in the form of traveling, working, or studying in an English speaking country would be ideal – however, this is a luxury that not everyone has access to!

One of the best ways to learn English and to immerse yourself in the language is to make friends with English-speaking people.

Of course, this is not always easy if you are living outside of a country where English is a widely spoken language. This is when you need a pen pal!

In today’s digital world where we see our friends more often on social media than in real life, there is a real opportunity to learn English through learning to write letters. In fact, you could use a letter writing to improve your English,r’s languages is not only mutually beneficial but also a fun way to get to know someone.

The Difference Between the Formal Letter and Informal Letter to a Friend

Learning to write letters is one of those things we learn at school that are actually hugely beneficial for life. When it comes to the letter format in English, there are two types; the formal letter or the informal letter. The latter is sometimes also simply referred to as the friendly letter.

When it comes to written communication for business, professional or corporate reasons the formal letter format should always be your default. Examples of these would include a cover letter for a job application; resignation letters; complaint letters and even email communication.

In some instances, a thank you letter could take on more of an informal letter tone, however, if you are writing in any sphere of business, remember that even though you are saying thank yo

person using typewriter
Although you are learning, have fun when writing informal letters. | Source: Unsplash

u, you are not letter writing to your friend!

This business communication style takes on a very formal letter format that includes closing greetings such as Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely.

Learning to write letters for business is an important career step. Never underestimate the impression that excellent grammar, punctuation, or spelling can add to your CV’s cover letter for instance. The business letter can be either career-limiting or career-advancing so when it comes to this formal letter format, take extra time to proofread.

On the other hand, letter writing to your friend can be much more relaxed. There are fewer rules to the friendly letter and while you still need to add your name and address, much like the formal letter format, there is definitely room to be more creative and to have more fun.

In the informal letter to a friend, there are many greeting options. You could begin by saying Dear, Hi, Hey, Hello depending on your relationship with the person. If it’s an email, you could put a clue in the subject line about the contents, even if it is a friendly letter.

Of course, making sure that your grammar and spelling are correct, even in an informal letter to a friend is important, but writing and reading for comprehension is the real benefit of having a pen pal who speaks the language you are trying to learn!

These days even using instant messaging like Whatsapp or Facebook’s messenger can be used to deliver an informal letter. You can use the enter key to create paragraphs and structure your letter and even autocorrect will help you to spell check and proofread.

Using the Informal Letter to Improve Your English and Your Friendships   

There is no doubt, English is the most widely-used international language and is able to connect people from all nations across the globe.

Being able to speak, write and understand the universal language of English will open up the world to you, help you when you travel, and give you access to international jobs.

If you are able to make friends with a native English speaker, it will be the ideal way to become more fluent and immerse yourself in the language. Start exchanging the odd friendly letter, especially if he or she wants to learn your language, and see if this could potentially help you both improve your languages.

When writing an informal letter to a friend, of course you can discuss absolutely anything. Keep it interesting and fun by writing about current events, movies, your favourite foods, music, and hobbies. Unlike the formal letter format, your tone can be relaxed and casual.

Learn Spoken English through the Informal Letter

Once you have found the English pen pal and have started the process of letter writing to your friend, you will begin to notice how English people write and speak. Do take note though, that because you will be writing an informal letter to a friend, it is likely to contain slang words and colloquial English that might not be understood in other parts of the world.

Writing and receiving an informal letter to a friend from the United States, compared to a friend in the United Kingdom for instance, may contain different ways of saying things. For example, in the US they would say ‘pants’ – whereas in the UK they would say ‘trousers’ because pants mean underwear.

As you use the letter format to hone your language skills remember to make your friends in other countries aware that you are learning English and to bear with you if you make grammar mistakes or if your wording is not quite right. If you do the same for them, it can benefit you both.

Use the Friendly Letter to Discover a Culture

selection of envelopes
Find a pen pal on the other side of the world, and learn about a new culture too. | Source: Unsplash

As one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, English, as a first language is spoken in many countries outside of the United Kingdom. To name just a few, you will find that English is one of the official languages in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Ireland. It is very often spoken as a second language in many other countries too!

So no matter where your language exchange buddy comes from, you will have the added opportunity of discovering a new culture through letter writing to your friend! Imagine being able to not only find out more about them but their country, culture, and general way of life too?

Whether it’s music, history, gastronomy, or humanitarian work, you could improve your English and become an expert on a country you have never visited. All through the exchange of the informal letter.

Many romantic relationships have started through the exchange of an informal letter to a friend. Writing can be a wonderful and safe way to express your emotions and get to know the all-important mental and emotional side of another person before being distracted by their physical qualities.

When it comes to true love, the letter format has played an intriguing role for many centuries.

In days gone by, there was more than one informal letter that went on to become famous as love letters of all time. Check out Ernest Hemmingway’s letter to Marlene Dietrich or Oscar Wilde’s friendly letter soaked with ink and love to Lord Alfred Douglas.

Where to Find an English-Speaking Pen Pal

So while it may not end up in love, if you are reading this, then you already know that one of your main objectives for learning to write letters in English, is to improve your language ability, but while you are at it, it’s a good idea to make it worth your while. Choose the right person to be your language exchange buddy!

Find someone who is not only serious about helping you to develop your English through the letter format, but who has a similar personality to your, or is equally passionate about a hobby that you can discuss through learning to write letters in English!

Here are some of the places you could find a language exchange buddy who could help you to learn to write letters in English:

On Social Networks

Using social media as a way to make friends with people from other countries, who speak different languages is probably the easiest and most sensible way to find a language exchange buddy. If your goal is learning to write letters that are more business-like in tonality, you could form a colleague-type connection with someone in a similar industry to you, on LinkedIn.

Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are also well-known methods for finding someone on the other side of the world with whom you could strike up a friendship through the friendly letter exchanges!

woman using laptop
You might find a great language exchange partner on a social media platform. | Source: Unsplash

At School

Many schools are very committed to language learning exchange programmes. This is when the school organises trips to English-speaking countries where you get to immerse yourself in the language by living with an English family. Not only is this a powerful way of learning, but it can also be a life-changing experience.

You could forge the friendship of a lifetime.

Once you are home, you could continue letter writing to your friend, growing both your friendship and ability in English.

From the Informal Letter to the Informal Conversation

While learning to write letters in English is a brilliant way to help you become more fluent, remember that you need to also practise how to speak and how to pronounce words correctly. Thanks to the technological age that we are living in, this is really easy to do with your overseas language buddy. Why not arrange the odd Skype, Zoom or Google Meet call to help each other in this way?

The Lesser-Known Benefits of Learning to Write Letters

Being confident in our writing ability has enormous benefits for life. Not only will it help you succeed academically and in business, but it will add to your self-confidence because it simply such an important life skill.

Learning to write letters is a great way to build up your confidence as a writer. And the more you write, even in a second language, the more complex your sentences will become. This will help you immensely when it comes to writing essays, your thesis, or even a book. Just remember that while practicing your writing through an informal letter to a friend is beneficial, that would still be regarded as an informal letter which is very different to writing formal texts for university or business.

Getting Started with Your Language Exchange Buddy

Your first step to getting started with a language exchange buddy, who has agreed that writing letters is an excellent way to upskill each other, is to find someone who is as committed as you are!

Have a few honest conversations upfront about your goals and motivation for learning.

Don’t waste time learning to write letters to a friend who doesn’t respond or write back.

Even though you will be writing an informal letter to each other, suggest concentrating on certain language aspects from time to time. For example, you could decide to concentrate on adjectives one week, which could make for humorous, but educational reading for you both. The following week, you could decide to concentrate on verbs and so on.

There are really no rules for learning English through some friendly letter writing. You could correspond daily, weekly, or on an ad hoc basis. You could set themes for the week or not. You could ask your partner to critique your most recent friendly letter during regular Skype or Zoom updates.

You can be as creative as you like. Be open to learning from your mistakes without feeling embarrassed. Remember your language partner is also learning. Above all, be able to laugh at yourselves, learn, and have fun.

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.