Language learning is broken down into four skills: reading and writing, speaking and listening. They are often grouped into passive and active language skills; reading and listening are considered passive while speaking and writing are labelled active.
Most language learners place more emphasis on conversational skills – speaking and listening than they do reading and writing, and for good reason.
If you’re going on holiday, you likely won’t spend a lot of time reading and, if you write postcards or letters to your family and friends, you’ll likely do so in your native language. However, merrymaking in a foreign country is best done if you can speak at least a bit of that foreign language.
Learning English is a different proposition than learning any other language.
For the past hundred years, English has been the lingua franca of the world, the universal language of business and diplomacy and, even aviation. In 2008, the International Civil Aviation Organisation proclaimed English to be the standard language for all pilots, no matter their native language.
All of this highlights the fact that good pronunciation and listening skills in English are vital. It also demonstrates how little emphasis is placed on reading and writing in English, even though business people and pilots must surely need those skills.
For ESOL students still in class, all four areas of learning get more or less the same degree of attention. The one that gets the least attention is writing in English.
Unfortunately, that’s the skill that ESL students favour the most, so maybe it is an unhappy coincidence that writing skills get less focus in class.
Still, if you want to become fluent in English, you have to work all four areas of language learning.
These Superprof-recommended tips to get more writing practice will see you quickly get better at writing in English.
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Writing Tips for Beginners
Those who have just started learning English probably do not have a large vocabulary to draw on for writing even simple sentences but there are still ways to get writing practice in.
If your English courses use textbooks, you can copy the exercises – dialogues that you practised in class and simple questions like ‘How are you?’ and ‘What is your name?’.
Writing even these basic questions and their answers will help you learn English grammar and word order, especially if your native language’s rules for how to build sentences differ from the English sentence structure.
Another good reason to not overlook these simple sentences as writing exercises: if your native language uses a different writing system.
Other languages such as Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi use ideograms and scripts that look nothing like the Latin alphabet used to write in English so, before these language learners can write words and phrases in English, they will have to master a completely new writing system.
No matter which alphabet your native language uses, if you’re just starting to learn English, don’t worry too much about copying from your textbooks. It is not cheating to copy; it is a good way to practise.
Another good exercise: when your teacher assigns homework, don’t just write the answers in your notebook, also write the questions. Not only does that give you more to write but it will help you to connect the work you did with the questions asked.
All of that extra writing is a good way to remember the new words you learn, too.
What if your English lessons don’t use textbooks?
Your teacher may have worksheets for you to practise writing on; if not – and in any case, you should bring a notebook to class.
If your teacher writes something on the board, you should write it in your notebook. If your teacher calls on you for an answer, write what you say in your notebook. Write down what s/he asks your fellow students and their answers, while you’re at it.
If you’re worried about spelling the words you hear correctly, you’re in luck: most English words are spelt the way they sound so, if you write what you hear, you have a good chance of writing correctly.
This is a great way to focus on listening; you can get more listening practice if you follow these tips.
Writing at Intermediate Level
As you learn to speak English, you will be more focused on your speaking skills and how to listen, read and write. Your transition from a beginner English speaker to this higher level will likely pass unnoticed.
If you used the learning strategies listed above to get more writing practice – or followed the advice from your teacher to write more, by this time, you probably have a pretty good grasp on how to write in English.
You are likely a master on how to build sentences and you probably have a pretty good vocabulary, too. Furthermore, you know all of the word types: verbs and nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.
Now is the time to start word substitution exercises.
This fun and engaging activity involves writing a sentence over and over, changing one word each time.
- She wears a bright blue sweater every day.
- He wears a dark blue sweater every day.
- They wear a dark brown sweater every day.
- I wear a dark brown sweater each day.
- You wear a dark brown sweater each week.
Besides giving you a chance to write, this exercise challenges you to use synonyms and similar words to give roughly the same meaning.
It is both a writing activity and a vocabulary builder… but that’s not all; you have to also use the right grammar. Note how the verb changes as each different pronoun is used.
Copying English Texts
Now that you have a decent vocabulary and can read in English, you should keep a journal (a diary), a notebook where you record your thoughts and feelings every day.
You should also look for more difficult texts to copy.
On the Internet, in bookstores and newspapers, you can find texts written in English. Have you thought about copying them?
Copying news articles, paragraphs from storybooks and even poems gives you a wider selection of words, tones and writing styles to improve your English with.
It also provides you with a chance to learn vocabulary words that are not in your school books and it will do wonders to improve your reading comprehension.
What do you do when you find a word you don’t know? Look it up in the dictionary; learn all about it and use it as you would any other new word you learn.
As you progress from low-intermediate to a more advanced level of English, you might see what you can come up with on your own. Why not try your hand at writing poems and little stories; maybe even longer ones.
Who knows? Maybe your teacher would let you and your classmates role-play the dialogues you created.
What a way to improve your English speaking fluency!
Advanced English Writing
Once you have attained an expansive English vocabulary and you can converse with English speakers with little to no trouble, writing in English should be as easy as writing in your native language is.
If you can speak English more or less fluently, any writing you do might be of the more targeted sort; perhaps an essay for your upcoming IELTS or TOEFL exam?
As advanced as your English skills are, it should be rich with complex ideas and English phrases; expressions so evocative they may be called visual writing.
On the more technical side, you may find yourself still struggling with grammar rules that confound even the native English speaker, such as irregular plurals – watch/watches, baby/babies… sheep/sheep?
Prepositions are equally problematic. When is it correct to use ‘in’ versus ‘at’ and what about that multifunctional preposition ‘up’?
It doesn’t help that, often, these grammar rules are leftovers from older versions of the language that simply don’t make sense anymore; they are nevertheless important and you could lose a lot of points on any English writing you turn in for a grade if you get them wrong.
Writing English at the advanced level means that your work will be scrutinised both for content and errors of spelling and grammar so, even though you have succeeded in your language learning journey, you must still work at putting your thoughts and ideas on paper.
Writing both prose and poetry is recommended and if you are musically inclined, you may even write song lyrics.
The point is to keep writing.
Like any other skill, your ability to write in English will atrophy if it is not used. Soon, you will find yourself wondering where the commas and apostrophes go, and if run-on sentences are still considered bad form for writers.
As for disasters in spelling… they will no longer grate on you. You may commit a few such atrocities yourself if you overlook daily writing practice.
Can you speak English fluently? Did you learn English as a second language?
If so, please take a few minutes to counsel new English learners on how to get from beginner to the intermediate level of language learning in the comments section.