Things You Need to Remember as an ESL Writer

By Nicholas Klacsanzky

Hi everyone.

If you have ever done freelance writing, you know how difficult it can be to get a thought out of your head and put it on paper (well, on a laptop screen too). This task gets about twice as more difficult if you have to write outside of your native language. Not only do you need to think and write in a foreign language, but also make it sound as natural as a native speaker. Here is what you need to remember when working with the English language as a non-native speaker:

  • The feature that will unmask you being an ESL writer is syntax. Every language possesses its own syntactic constructions and laws, and failing to use them in your writing will be the number one sign indicating your foreignness. If you compose sentences in your native language and then translate them word by word (or even phrase by phrase), it will result in a horribly crude (in terms of syntax) paper in 90% of cases.
  • Phrasing is also what reveals your true identity as an ESL freelance writer (or an ESL student, or whatever). Rather often, ESL writers tend to look up “smart-sounding” words or phraseologisms and use them instead of their more regular analogues.
  • Unlike many ESL writers think, native English speakers are not necessarily super-proficient with articles a/the. The same refers to double negatives: you would be surprised if you knew how often Americans make these mistake themselves.
  • However, what can really betray you is your knowledge (or more likely, the lack of it) of tenses. English native speakers navigate through the nuances of past perfect or present perfect continuous tenses with the elegance of koi fish in a Japanese pond. Which means that you will need to master English tenses too. Pay additional attention to the following tenses, and the differences between them: present/past perfect, present/past perfect continuous, and future in the past. Also, you should be great in the sequence of tenses.
  • Do not try to write perfectly. When editing, do not proofread more times than you usually would, trying to sound “more like a native speaker.” The more you proofread and edit your own writing, the greater the chance that you “see” a mistake where there is none, or miss one. Even native speakers make mistakes (a lot, actually), so be reasonable.

This is it. I hope these pieces of advice help you to write a bit better. Have fun writing!

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