How to Write in English if It’s not Your Mother Tongue
You might be a great writer in your native language and be well versed in English, but when asked to write in this foreign language, your abilities can fail you. This does not diminish your writing skills nor does it mean that your level of English is not good enough. The reason for this lies beyond you and can be discovered in peculiarities that differentiate one language from another. For instance, studies show that Arabic ESL students tend to use many proverbs while Spanish ones often prefer poetic words over common expressions. These things are a direct influence of their mother tongues' features but they don't always work out in English.
How to Improve English Writing as a Second Language
- Read More in English
The more you're exposed to written English, the better your writing skills will become. Reading original books, articles online, newspapers, and magazines is the only way you can develop your “feeling of the language” that plays the most important role in writing. You might be familiar with all grammar rules, but seeing them being applied directly is what will make you remember them. Another benefit of reading in English is getting used to its spelling, which can often be tricky and illogical.
- Learn the Subtle Differences
English language is undoubtedly rich in words that can express even the slightest variation of emotions. For example, you can glance, peer, peek, glimpse, stare, glare, gawk and all these just to describe the act of looking at something or someone. The differences between these words are not that obvious for every English learner, but if you want to become a better writer, you must know them. Using the exact word appropriate in every situation will make your writing natural and expressive.
- Be Brief
English is not necessarily one of those languages that appreciate poetic flights of fancy. The most renowned writers have achieved their success by writing in short and clear sentences. No wonder there is an app called Hemingway that checks your writing for unnecessarily long sentences and excessive words and cuts them down. It pays special attention to adverbs because most people tend to overuse them. Of course, not every American or British writer was known for their clarity, but at the same time, there are no apps called after them. If you're not using English for writing literature, being brief and clear is the best approach possible.
- Use Action Verbs
Many languages depict cultural traits of people who speak them. While some nations prefer to hide the true meaning behind complex and numerous sentences, the English speakers say everything directly. The same is appreciated in writing. Beating about the bush is something that never works toyour advantage in English. In order to express your thoughts quickly and effectively, use action verbs that basically means avoiding passive tense - a grammar notionbeloved by many ESL students. Just think about it, there is no need to say “The meadow was warmed by the sun” when you can simply say “The sun warmed the meadow.”
- Avoid Latin Words
Languages that have Latin origin are both a blessing and a curse for ESL students. On the one hand, they make the process of studying English a lot easier for those, who originally speak one of those languages. On the other hand, English writing of these people tends to be a lot formal than necessary. The thing is that these words come to mind a lot faster because they sound more familiar. While they might help you to achieve a positive impression in academia circles, those are not the words that prevail in naturally spoken English. Anglo-Saxon words are the ones that make English stand out in a self-sufficient language. So if you want to make writing in your second language as realistically natural as possible, try to avoid words that will be easily recognizable even for those, who don't speak the language. With this being said, Latin words are still necessary when you're dealing with more scientific or academic types of writing compared to entertaining and informative ones.
- Never Translate from Your Language
This is the most common mistake most beginners make because it's very difficult to set your native language aside. But translating from your mother tongue into English simply does not work. Every language has its own notions and grammar rules, and they rarely correlate with those in foreign languages. With literal translation, you will never be able to achieve natural-sounding English but will rather get a mixture of both. Thinking in a foreign language requires a lot of time and effort but it's the only way you will be able to master and understand it the way native speakers do.
Practice makes perfect. The mentioned above tips should already set you in the right writing mood, and afterward, it only boils down to practicing it as much as possible. If you want to become good at writing in a foreign language, you need to do it on a daily basis. At first, your texts might sound awkward and be riddled with mistakes, but it's the only way to hone your skills. However, there is one last tip…
- Get Feedback from a Native Speaker
When writing, you need to know how well you're doing and what has to be improved. You can obviously use the help of an English teacher, but in many cases, it's a lot beneficial to have a pen pal who can chat with you in English and point out your mistakes. With modern technologies, it's really easy to find someone willing to help you with English regardless of where you live. An English-speaking friend is also better than a teacher because you can talk with them on any topic and feel a lot more relaxed without feeling the pressure of being checked. Finally, you'll also learn many new words and expressions from this person in the process of speaking.
These tips are about writing in English as your second language, but they are also universal and can be applied to any foreign language you're striving to master.