Some Tips for ESL Writers

By Bhalachandra Sahaj

Hi everyone.

Last time, we discussed what details you should pay attention to as a writer for whom English is not native in order to make your writing look more native. Today, I am going to expand on this topic and teach you how to notice when your writing is too ESL-ish, and where exactly it needs corrections.

Below are just five pieces of simple advice. Following them will not necessarily make you a great writer, but will definitely help you feel more confident in your English writing skills and avoid a number of confusions connected to poor writing.

  • One of the best ways to eliminate spelling mistakes from your writing is to check sentences without reading them. How? When you read, your brain recognizes letter patterns and automatically “substitutes” words, so you do not read words letter by letter; this causes you to skip a significant amount of spelling mistakes. Besides, when reading, you can immerse yourself in reading, and miss mistakes as well. Instead, try scanning the words rather than reading them. Look at them without reading, or try to see them as simple images, and you will notice more mistakes. As an alternative, you can proofread for spelling mistakes starting from the last word of your paper, and moving through the essay in such a reversed order until the beginning is reached. This way you will also “hack” your brain’s reading skill, and noticing spelling mistakes will be easier.
  • Pay attention to whether you are using US or UK spelling. Yes, there is a difference between these two, and you could be actually using both spelling systems (and even vocabularies!) without knowing it. You can google the main differences between them; “color” versus “colour,” “vacation” versus “holidays,” “staff” and “team”–these kinds of differences.
  • Do not try to write in a verbose or lengthy manner. In fact, conciseness is your best friend. It does not mean that you can write only small texts–it rather implies that you should not make your sentences too wordy, and finish them as soon as you convey the meaning. The more words you use, the higher the chances that you will make a mistake.
  • Watch out for literal translations. Every language has idioms that are difficult or impossible to translate into a foreign language without losing their meaning. Instead of translating them, try to find analogues: it is surprising how many languages say the same things in different words. For example, translating from Japanese, the proverb “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” would sound like “wearing a cat instead of a hat on your head.” So, as you can see, literal translation is not an option.

These are just some pieces of advice I can give you at the moment. Stay with our website, and there will be more soon. Good luck writing!


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