One of the most common problems that I hear from my English students is this: "I don't write very well in English. I need to improve my writing skills".
If this sounds like you then I know how you feel because I feel the same way about my writing skills in all the languages I've learned. I don't write especially well in Spanish even though I speak it fluently. And, even though my spoken Russian is improving a lot, I haven't even learned the handwritten script that Russians use for writing.
Why is that? Because I never practice writing in Spanish or Russian. When I learn a language, I believe in being specific about my goals, focusing on the things that are most important to me and giving 100 percent towards achieving those objectives. Right now, I have no use for handwritten Russian; I want to speak with natives and I want to read. Even when I want to write, I'll probably do so on the computer. Learning the handwritten script now would mean investing my time for little to no payoff. So, I've focused on other things.
On the other hand, my writing skills in English are excellent, and I know that I'm getting a little bit better every day. This is because I write in English every day. If you want to improve your English writing skills, then I think you’ll need to write every day too.
The truth is that whether you write well in a language or not doesn’t depend on how well you know the language. In fact, it depends on much more than that. Yes, grammar is important for writing. The difference between good writing and bad writing, however, is your writing style. In order to improve your writing style (and tidy up your grammar while you’re at it) you need to write every day.
Can you think of any other skill that you have become good at without practice? If you've never played the guitar before, you can't just pick it up and rock out like Hendrix right from the get go; it’s just the same when it comes to writing in English. If you don't practice writing in English regularly, you're going to struggle when you do try to do it. But, if you take a few minutes to practice daily, you'll immediately get into a flow and be able to write a lot in a short period of time. If you're getting feedback on your writing from a native speaker or teacher, you'll start to rapidly improve your grammar too. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.
So, how can you improve your the quality of your writing in English? The first thing you’ll need is consistency. As I’ve already mentioned, writing every day is the best way for you to make progress. If you want to practice everyday, you’ll need to build a consistent routine.
Here are some ideas for you to build a consistent writing routine.
1. Pick a time when you usually feel fresh or creative
If you're not sure when the best time is for you, then experiment. Experiment by writing at different times and see what results you get. I suggest you block out a certain period of time (say 15 or 30 minutes) and focus on writing without editing.
Ideally, you should be working on your writing at the same time everyday. Once you’ve figured out what time of day works best for you, add this time to your calendar everyday and block it off to focus on your English writing skills.
2. Don’t delete
The 'delete' button is out of bounds for this exercise! Just focus on getting your words and ideas down on paper; you can go back and tidy them up later. Alternatively, if you're more flexible with time or have a specific project in mind, you can focus on writing a certain number of words per day (e.g. 250 or 500). The idea here is to focus on building your flow. The more you write, the more natural it will feel. As well, words will more readily flow from your brain onto the page (or into a word document!).
Don’t worry about mistakes. In fact, I suggest you embrace them! By making mistakes you’re going to learn more quickly. If you're constantly writing, you may find that you repeat the same mistakes multiple times, but only through this way will you be able to hone in and improve your errors.
3. Improve your grammar through context
The other main reason that I believe it is important to constantly practice writing is that when you're learning English, writing in context is one of the best ways to get comfortable with some of the most difficult grammatical elements. Rather than trying to memorise rules from a textbook, you will pick things up in a natural way by learning from your mistakes.
I've never met a student who could study articles from a grammar book all day and then use them perfectly in an essay; this is especially true when it comes to academic and business writing. The definite article, for example, has a very clear basic usage, but a much more ambiguous usage when it comes to writing academic essays -- where words can be adjectives or nouns depending on the context.
The more you write, the more you’ll get a feel for how the language is supposed to sound and what words and/or forms you should use. This may sound very unscientific, but this ‘feel for the language’ is, effectively, the process of you getting used to the grammar and structure of a language. Consider this: when you’re writing in your native language, how often do you write something a particular way because it simply feels natural? Most of us do this all the time. By establishing a consistency in your writing, you can work towards achieving a similar level of comfort with English.
4. Get feedback
Of course, embracing mistakes and writing every day comes with one caveat. In order to benefit from all your hard work, you need to get feedback from teachers and native speakers.
Thankfully, the Internet has made this very easy! In fact, arguably the best place to get feedback on your written work is on the very site you’re reading right now! italki has a fantastic notebook feature which allows you to write in any language and receive feedback from native speakers and language professionals around the world.
5. Read, read, and read!
In my experience, those who are able to write well in English are normally avid readers. Reading brings enormous benefits to your writing skills because it helps you internalise the grammar and structures of the English language.
It’s also a great way to learn new vocabulary in context. All the words in the world are of no use to you if you don’t know how to use them. When you read books, you see all of the vocabulary and idioms used in context and this helps you to gain an understanding of how to use them yourself and in your writing.
Ok! Now that you know why writing every day is so beneficial and where you can receive feedback on your work, it’s time to get started.
Here’s your challenge:
- Set aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to write about anything you’d like in English.
- Post what you’ve written on italki in order to get feedback and corrections.
Sounds easy? Well it is! The most important thing at the beginning is to get into your routine, so start simple and build up from there. You’ll find that the more you practice the faster you’ll be able to write and the better your writing will be. Pretty soon, it will be easy to write business and academic content with fewer mistakes in much less time and with much less effort than before.