Viewing time: 5 mins 7 secs
The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How can you start writing better in English? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How can you write better in English? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.
I have a question from Reham Elsayed, a writer based in Tanta, Egypt. Here’s what she’s asked by email….
“Arabic is my first language, not English, so my writing is not that good. I feel like a fraud when I try to write in my second language and I don’t know what to do. As well, certain words sound better in English while others sound better in Arabic. How can I get over these limitations?”
Thanks for your question, Reham. I can relate a little because I’m working on improving my French and I find it daunting. Learning a second language is never easy.
Here are seven tips on how to improve your writing fluency:
1 – Read a lot: I know, this sounds like boring and predictable advice. But it works. Even though some North Americans no longer read very much, don’t follow their bad habit. If you want to learn to write in English, it’s absolutely essential that you read in it. Here’s the best way to do that: read only material that you love. So what if this leads you to cheesy romance novels or exciting thrillers? Reading a lot is the only thing that matters.
2 – Give yourself enough time for writing: Of course, it’s going to take you longer to write in your second language. Don’t allow yourself to become too frustrated, because that’s only going to make life more difficult.
3 – Break the habit of editing WHILE you write: Because you’re bound to be self-conscious about your struggles with English, you’re going to be very concerned about making mistakes. I strongly urge you to put that concern on hold. There is a time for writing and a time for editing. These are two separate tasks that should occur at different times. Yes, your first draft may be filled with errors. But no one else needs to see this draft and you will have plenty of time to edit it later. Always write first and edit second.
4 – Avoid idioms unless you’re sure you really understand them: As you’ve likely discovered already, idioms are the toughest part of any language. In fact, idioms differ nationally and sometimes even regionally. When my husband lived in England for several years he learned that to “knock someone up” meant to drop by and visit them, not to get them pregnant, as it means in North America. In time, you will get the hang of these idioms and you can start using them freely. But for now, be very careful with them.
5 – Write daily: We all become better writers with practice. And be aware that this rule applies to native English speakers as well!
6 – Find someone to check your grammar: The rules of English grammar are complex and can be difficult to learn. See if you can make a deal with someone you know who speaks English as a first language. Perhaps you can do something for them — handy-work? cooking? tutoring in your language? — in exchange for having them check your grammar. This person does not need to be a professional editor. Just someone who is fluent in English.
7 – Use online resources to check your work: Be sure to take advantage of the many free options for writing improvement. These include Grammarly and ProWritingAid, both of which offer paid versions as well. See links in the show-notes below. The other benefit of these online sources is that you don’t have to be embarrassed in front of a computer program….
In terms of words that are better in Arabic vs English — or vice versa — this is a problem facing every culture. In English, for example, there is no equivalent single word for the German term, schadenfreude, which means pleasure from the misfortune of others. When English speakers want to express that idea, they simply use the German word. I suggest you do the same.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from D. Blocher. Unfortunately, I couldn’t determine who D. Blocher actually is or was, so I’m not able to provide a photo. But I found the quote so apt that I want to use it regardless: “Learning is not a spectator sport.”
Reham, the only way to get better at writing is to write. A lot. You will make mistakes. Perhaps many of them. But you will get better with practice.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.