For me as well as a half or our readers, English is not the first language. This does not mean that we cannot read and write as well or better than most native speakers. In this post, a Hungarian journalist explains her way to master the English language. My way was different and passed through conference rooms and business negotiations. You are welcome to create your own path to mastering the second language.
When English is not your first language, composing texts may lead to absolute frustration. Your vocabulary is not enough to express your ideas, your sentence constructions are too simple and primitive, and the text doesn’t sound natural when you finish it. Your thoughts seem to be so brilliant and comprehensive until the moment you start writing them down. When they appear on the paper (or the screen of your laptop), they remind you of childish writings or don’t make too much sense at all.
While these are the most common problems for writers, who are not proficient in English, some native speakers might experience them as well. We have composed this article to help you change the situation and improve your writing.
Read English books every day
You have to devote at least 30 minutes of your time to reading because there are no better teachers than professional and acknowledged authors. Is there someone in the world, who knows more about texts than Shakespeare or Dickens? Guess, not!
If you can afford reading more than 30 minutes a day – that’s even better. Reading is the best practice to make your language richer and livelier. Everything will do, from Internet forums and blogs, where you can grasp the conversational and natural speech, to fiction and academic journals, which provide more linguistic complexity. When reading a book, pay attention to sentence structure, expressions and the way other people organize their thoughts. Combine different styles and genres and your writing skill will improve with time.
Like any other second-language writer, you might have problems with grammar. Of course, knowing the rules is helpful, but you won’t be able to apply your knowledge without seeing how native speakers do so.
Stop, think, write
When you will read a book next time, try this practice: stop in the middle of your reading, reflect on what you have learned, and write something about it. You can retell the content in your own words, compose a reaction text or predict what is going to happen next. You can even express your critical ideas and think about the weak parts of the text. In a word, this might be anything that comes to your mind considering the content you are reading. This way, you will get used to the process of shaping your ideas into words.
What is more, you will understand and remember things better. Summaries and reflections will help you work with materials in a more efficient way and therefore develop your analytical thinking. Implement different practices in your everyday life and let them become an integral part of your routine. You will see that the ideas will start popping up in your head during your reading with time.
Also, despite the fact that it is important to include different genres in your reading “menu”, make sure that you take those materials that evoke interest in you. With the Internet, you have a broad choice, so pick the ones that seem exciting to you. This way, you will gain this good habit without pressure, obligations, and stress.
Find and join a writing group
Working in a group of people with the same interests as yours, you get plenty of benefits. First, you can receive feedback and detect mistakes that were not obvious to you. Second, you can check the texts of other people and see their minuses and pluses. What is more, participation in a group will make you produce texts on a regular basis. And at last, it is pleasant to share with others, when you are involved in any creative practice. If your main professional sphere is connected with marketing copywriting or related areas, you will surely we glad to compose fiction, novels, and short stories.
All writers, especially second-language ones, are highly recommended to find a supporting, responsive, and honest community. Chances are that you will find a group, where native speakers are present as well. Ask them to review and edit your texts and explain some tricky language issues to you. However, even if you cannot find a writing group of your dream, don’t worry – you can always organize one yourself. Why not? Every member will benefit from such an initiative.
Read and reread
As we have already mentioned, reading is not enough. Analyzing is everything. When you read too much but don’t really absorb the material, then your reading is useless. Sometimes, it is better to slow down and think about the text. Don’t forget that there is always a real person behind it and he/she wants to share something with you. What is he/she trying to say? What are the reasons for him/her to compose a text like that? What kind of language twists does he/she use to make the ideas work?
Rereading the same passages again is a good practice because this helps you to slow down and get the most of the text. Faster is not always better, especially in this case. What is more, there are books that are so amazing that you find something new in them every time you reread them. Coming back to the same texts can be even more efficient than other strategies, like making notes and outlines.
Of course, when you know that there are so many books out there and your life is not enough to read them all, you fall into the temptation to read faster and less attentively. Maybe, you are right, there are so many books that can change your life, but it is much better to know less but deeper than trying to grab everything and get shallow and useless knowledge at the end. If you want to get the most of an article or book, you should come back to it and read at least a couple of passages again.
Just think about the following. When you are reading a text for the first time, you will more likely to focus your attention on the idea, content, and plot. However, when you take the same book again, you can think about the author and his/her art. Why do characters act so naturally? What elements of the text make us not just read about a scene, but visualize and feel it? What about some critic? Maybe, you have a suggestion on how to make it better? It is almost impossible to see and understand all of this when you are reading a text for the first time.
Choose the authors you want to resemble and read their texts again and again until you start grasping their methods and techniques. Learn more details, analyze the language, and think what skills do you need to have the same ability to express your thoughts.
Listen to audiobooks
When you have no opportunity to sit down and read a book for an hour, listen to one. It’s great to switch on your mp3 when driving, cooking, walking, jogging, cleaning your room or doing anything else. This is a great way to optimize your time.
This way, you can increase the number of books you can grasp without hurrying and missing anything important.
Your first language is not an obstacle
Before you start thinking in English, you will have to translate sentences from one language to another and think about the constructions and words while you speak. This is absolutely natural because everyone is trying to connect two languages he/she is working with for better understanding. Sometimes, you won’t be able to do so, because there are words and sentence structures that are unique and don’t have direct analogs in your native language. But you should stop thinking that your speech and writing habits are limited. Knowing more than one language is great and this is not an obstacle at all. Try perceiving this as an advantage, not a challenge.
Let the knowledge of your native language and culture strengthen your writing, not weaken it. Use it a source of thought and make two languages exist peacefully in your head. It’s not necessary for them to be in conflict and prevent you from learning more. All in all, your language is a cultural background familiar to you and unfamiliar to the native English-speakers and you are the one, who can use them in a fruitful and smart way.
In a word, composing texts in a second language might be not that easy, still more than manageable. As you have already understood from the article above, there are two key practices in your language learning: reading and writing. Books and your own creative activities will help you improve your skills day after day because they give you a chance to take a deeper look at the way English is used and to try doing the same yourself. Making these activities your everyday practices will surely bring amazing results with time. We hope that you will start feeling English as if it was your first language even if it’s not! Good luck with your learning and practicing!
Jennifer Pauli graduated from Corvinus School of Management and finished the faculty of Journalism at Corvinus University of Budapest. Currently, she is an editor, business writer, and copywriter, working with 1ws.com and other well-known companies, blogs, and personalities. Follow her on Twitter and LInkedin