Among the 4 basic language learning skills, writing is one of those that ESL students are always afraid to practice. While they might be learning a hundred words a week, for some reason, it is still hard to put them into the sentences that will make you sound like a native speaker.
Yet, the majority of ESL students realize the importance of writing for their academic success. The study that involved ESL students from Iranian schools and universities has shown that all of them equally supported the role of writing in learning English, even though the majority were concerned that their writing didn’t sound “English” enough.
The information for this study was collected in the school and university setting. However, learning how to write like a native English speaker takes more practice than you get in the classroom.
So, let’s take a look at a few practical ways to help you improve your writing and craft your texts like a native English speaker.
1. Work on Eliminating Wordiness
The first thing you need to practice to start writing like a native speaker is making your texts less wordy.
What is wordiness?
In ESL practice, wordiness is defined as the use of words that clutter writing and make it too complicated to comprehend.
Compare the following examples:
|In my own personal opinion, there is no way a death sentence can be justified. (15 words)
|In my opinion, a death sentence cannot be justified. / I think nothing can justify a death sentence. (9/8 words)
If you compare these two columns, you can see that it is possible to re-phrase one wordy sentence into two simpler sentences without losing the initial intent.
Why do ESL students often write wordy texts?
Wordiness is one of the most common mistakes that ESL students make.
One of the possible reasons why it happens is that students force the words they’ve learned into writing to practice as much of them as they can at once.
Besides, students often apply colloquial constructions they hear in videos or movies (like ‘my own personal opinion’, ‘most simple’, etc.) which are often incorrect both from the grammatical and the stylistic standpoint.
How to avoid wordiness in writing?
Wordiness can quickly become a bad habit. Let’s see what you can do to get rid of it.
- Plan your writing. Creating a detailed outline can help you a lot to prepare for writing. Knowing the intent behind your text helps avoid wordiness and structure your writing. You can use Harvard’s guide to outlining to help you plan your writing. We also recommend including several sub-points in every bigger point to make your writing more detailed.
- Avoid passive voice. There is a false idea that using Passive voice helps you sound more like a native English speaker. In reality, overusing Passive voice makes you sound distant and your sentences difficult to follow. Use active voice instead to make your sentences more clear and straightforward.
- Scan for unnecessary words and constructions. There are several groups of words that make your writing sound wordy. So go through your writing to eliminate them and restructure the sentences, if necessary.
|Fillers and Linking Phrases
|Qualifiers(words that describe other words)
|– Absolutely (certainly, completely, definitely);- Commonly- Due to the fact that- Have the ability to- In terms of- In spite of the fact that- It is important to note
|– quite- very- much- really – a small number- frequently- probably- possibly – unlikely
|– he is the person who doesn’t spare a dime (he is a generous person)- Claire is the woman that works in the hospital near me (Claire is a doctor from the hospital near me)- What he wants to say is that he wants to come to your birthday. (He wants to come to your birthday)
Keep in mind!
Avoiding these words doesn’t mean that they have no place in your writing. Depending on the purpose of the text, these words can be used to express strong emotions or underline an important point.
However, overusing them makes your writing cluttered and not native-like.
2. Start Watching Videos Exclusively in English
After a few years of learning English, you’ve probably noticed that every lesson consists of four activities: reading, speaking, listening, and writing.
In different lessons, these activities may come in a different order, but every lesson has them. That’s because all four complement each other.
While you may say there is an obvious connection between reading, speaking, and writing, listening doesn’t seem to have a significant effect on the quality of your writing. In reality, however, listening skills are very important in writing.
How does listening improve your writing?
First of all, you’re learning new vocabulary. The benefits of this don’t need further explanation.
Apart from that, you learn how different words can be used in different settings. English is rich with synonyms, and it can be hard to identify, which word is appropriate to use in different situations if you’re not a native English speaker.
Lastly, it helps you differentiate conversational English from textbook English. To achieve native-like fluency in English, you should immerse yourself in colloquial language, used every day by native English speakers. Sticking to textbook English won’t give you the same effect.
How do you perfect your listening skills?
Listening to a radio or a song is a good way to improve your listening skills, but it’s not dynamic enough.
Here are a few useful activities that you can practice every day:
- YouTube channels. While you can still follow your favorite English-speaking influencers and watch their videos, you can also follow the channels created specifically for ESL students, like BBC Learning English, Ef podEnglish, and Daily English Conversation. We recommend switching on the subtitles to catch the unknown words.
- Movies, TV shows. While YouTube videos are a good way to practice your listening skills, they aren’t always engaging enough. If you want a more exciting way to practice your listening skills, pick a movie or a TV show that you like, and watch it in English. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO allow watching movies and TV shows with subtitles.
- Podcasts. If you don’t have time to watch a video, you can still improve this skill by listening to podcasts. There are also podcasts created specifically for ESL students, like English as a Second Language Podcast, All Ears English, and Espresso English podcast. All of them you can find on YouTube or Google Podcasts.
While listening, we recommend keeping notes of what you hear, write down unfamiliar words, and questions that you can later ask your teacher to clarify for you.
4. Write Diary Entrees in English
Another quick but useful activity to help you write like a native English speaker is keeping a diary in a foreign language.
Keeping a diary offers you an opportunity to be creative and gives you complete freedom over what you write. It may be hard at first, as you might not know enough words to express your ideas and emotions, but who says that you can’t use a dictionary to help you out?
Here are a few diary entry ideas you can practice with this daily exercise:
- write your daily schedule
- record your daily reflections
- write poems or short stories
- describe an event that happened to you during the day
- write a review of a movie or a TV show you’ve watched
- write a dialog
Some of these ideas for writing can be combined with listening activities that we mentioned in the previous section. This way, you’ll be able to reflect on what you’ve learned while listening and solidify your knowledge.
4. Do Daily Reading Sessions
Just like listening, reading activities also greatly contribute to your writing skill. So, if you want to start writing like a native speaker, short reading sessions should become regular in your daily schedule.
Reading benefits your writing skill in the same ways as listening – you learn new vocabulary and how different words can be used in different situations, and figure out how to identify speech patterns and better understand different speech components.
While students with more advanced knowledge of English can pick up newspapers and magazines for daily reading sessions, beginners can benefit from online resources for ESL students.
Here are a few of our recommendations:
- ESL Lounge – in this resource all texts are broken down into four categories based on four levels of English fluency.
- International Children’s Digital Library – this website has great reading resources for the smallest of English learners. Adults with the elementary level of English proficiency can use this resource too.
- American English Resources – a great online platform for those interested in learning American English, with lots of resources to read.
Like with listening, we highly recommend keeping a notepad and a pencil while reading to record unfamiliar words and underline unknown grammatical constructions that you can research and clarify later.
5. Get Feedback
Lastly, when it comes to learning how to write like a native English speaker, you cannot underestimate the importance of feedback. Otherwise, how can you know that your writing is correct?
While you can always get feedback from your teacher, we also recommend visiting forums, where you can ask questions and share your texts with native speakers. You’ll get useful comments about grammar, application of different constructions, words, and phrases, and notes about the general tone of your writing.
Also, on forums, you can find great English learning software recommendations and tips on writing essays, dialogs, and research papers.
What Else Can You Do to Improve Your Writing?
All the tips that we shared with you today work great in combination to help you write like a native English speaker. However, all of these tips will be ineffective if you don’t reflect on what you’ve learned from them.
In the study that we mentioned at the beginning of this article, students shared that reflection was an important part of the learning process, as it helped them evaluate their experience and taught them how to shape their thoughts in writing.
So, while you do your everyday practice, don’t forget to reflect on what you’ve learned to solidify your knowledge.
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