8 Tips to Get Better at English Writing as a Non Native
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Learning a new language can be difficult. Improving your writing skills in it can seem even harder.
I’ve learned four languages: English, Norwegian, Danish, and French, so I know first-hand the challenges of learning a new language. It can be tough to constantly improve your writing skills while also navigating the common pitfalls of being a non-native speaker. As a writer, it can be even more frustrating when you feel like you’re not able to articulate exactly what you want to say.
My journey as a writer and language-lover has led me to discover some helpful tips and tricks for improving your language skills. From total immersion to accepting mistakes, here are eight tried-and-tested ways to enhance your learning as a non-native English speaker when developing your English writing.
1. Immerse yourself
There's no better way to learn a new language than to immerse yourself in it to the fullest extent possible.
The most effective way to immerse yourself is, of course, moving to an English-speaking country. If that’s not possible for you, there are plenty of other ways to simulate a similar immersion. For example, focus on only speaking English and consuming content in English. Start by watching English TV shows and movies. Entertaining and educational, this is an easy, daily way to immerse yourself in the language.
For learning on the go, listen to podcasts. Podcasts are perfect for squeezing in that extra bit of language immersion when you’re busy. Find one about something you already love to make it more engaging. You could also consider podcasts specifically designed for English learning, like The Voice of America: Learning English. We recommend English Learning for Curious Minds, which is perfect for intermediate to advanced speakers. This podcast covers fascinating historical topics in each episode, tailored to help improve your English language learning. Listening to other people speak will help you to understand more when engaging with native English speakers, improve your connected speech, and build up your vocabulary. This will be incredibly useful when it comes to writing, as you’ll pick up common phrases and understand how to write naturalistically.
You should also practice conversing with native speakers where possible or attend language classes to test your knowledge. Many cities have free language cafés, designed to help non-native speakers have a place to communicate and practice their English.
Immersion is important, but make sure you take breaks to let yourself absorb the language and enjoy the process of learning it. Speak as much as you can, even if you make mistakes. Remember that making mistakes is part of the process! Finally, have fun with it and be patient.
2. Improve your vocabulary
Developing a solid vocabulary helps you improve your language skills. An adult native-speaker tends to have an average active vocabulary between 20,000-35,000 words. That’s a lot of words!
There are two forms of vocabulary when learning a new language: active and passive. Active vocabulary refers to the words that you understand easily in any context, without having to think about it too much. Passive vocabulary, on the other hand, are words that you can understand when reading or hearing them, but are harder to use when you are actively writing or speaking.
For example, if you’re asked to write a sentence using the word ‘serendipitous’ and you can do it easily, it is considered part of your active vocabulary.
Let’s consider passive vocabulary using the passage below:
“I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created.” - Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
While you might not use terms like ‘beheld’ or ‘wretch’ in daily exchanges, if you can understand them when reading the passage these words are considered part of your passive vocabulary. Understanding the differences between active and passive vocabulary is particularly useful for building your writing skills. Once you identify any gaps, you can spend time developing the scope of your vocabulary.
Reading fiction that’s written for young adults is another great way to expand your active and passive vocabulary. The Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower are all amazing books that can help you improve your vocabulary and reading comprehension. Young adult books tend to be easier to understand and will help you pick up new words in no time. Equally, you can read a newspaper or a magazine, or broaden your horizons by reading books in different genres.
You can also learn new words by playing word games or doing word puzzles. For example, you could complete a crossword or play Scrabble. Playing word games is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and using a dictionary or thesaurus while you play can help you find the definitions of unfamiliar words.
Journaling everyday is another great way to quickly become comfortable writing in English. However, this practice can get a bit repetitive. Using writing prompts is a great way to develop your vocabulary and keep it interesting. Consider setting aside time to practice your writing with some of these prompts:
- What was your favorite childhood memory?
- Write a story based on the last song you listened to.
- Write about a time when you were scared.
- Describe your perfect party.
- If you discovered a new planet, what would it look like?
By challenging yourself to use new words regularly, you will enhance and build your active vocabulary.
3. Treat everything as an opportunity to improve your English
Got an email to write? Write the %@#$ out of it. Got a group text you’re working on? Start by writing it longer than it needs to be and practice ways to shorten or rephrase it. Read news articles and books, watch movies and documentaries, and talk to people in English. Pay attention to the words and phrases used and try to incorporate them into your own writing. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and ask for help if you need it. Note down new words and phrases and review them often so they become part of your regular vocabulary. Practice speaking and writing in English every opportunity you get — this will help you feel more confident in your abilities.
4. Get by with a little help from your friends
It’s hard to ask for help, and it’s even harder to ask people to point out your mistakes, but this is one of the the most valuable steps you can take. Ask your colleagues and friends for feedback on your English, and be open to constructive criticism. This will help you to improve your skills and knowledge. Accept their feedback graciously; it’s not a personal attack. After all, you can’t improve if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong!
Consider asking a colleague or friend for feedback on a piece of writing you’ve done. E-mails, letters, prose, and any other piece of writing you have are all text your friend could look over. Any notes they give you can help you identify key areas for improvement and mistakes you might have missed. Make sure you’re asking native English speakers to help you.
Asking for feedback will also help you to build relationships and develop trust with others. Don’t forget to thank those who help you and acknowledge the value of their input.
5. Identify your patterns
We can all fall into bad habits. The same goes for language learning. Based on what your friends and colleagues pointed out, see if you can identify patterns and recurring mistakes that you can focus on improving. Make a plan of action to address those mistakes. Set achievable goals and do your best to stick to them. Consider keeping a notebook where you can jot down any mistakes. This way, you can quickly notice any patterns, which will make you more vigilant in the future. If you can identify specific areas that require improvement (vocabulary, grammar, tense usage, etc.), it is easier to create an action plan that will give positive results.
For example, if you identified that you have issues with grammar, your action plan can include using grammar tools like Wordtune when writing, and spending time studying grammar rules. You’ll quickly start to see progress when you have a defined plan to stick to.
Celebrate your successes as you go along and remember that progress takes time. Practice self-compassion and understand that setbacks are part of the journey. Above all, stay focused and don't give up. Continuously remind yourself of your desired outcome, and believe in your ability to reach it. With a positive attitude, dedication and perseverance, you can overcome repeating mistakes.
6. Use an AI writing assistant to catch errors and add clarity
Writing assistants are designed to help you catch any errors you might make and improve your writing. If used correctly, it can also be a great tool for learning and improving your language skills.
The Wordtune writing assistant checks for grammar and spelling errors, and suggests ways to improve vocabulary or enhance fluency. Paying attention to these suggestions will teach you how to add clarity to your writing and perfect it. It’s also incredibly useful if you are writing something important that you want to make sure is error-free.
7. Keep it simple (but not stupid)
It’s easy to make the common mistake of writing long sentences or repeating the same points over and over. Remember to keep your writing simple and to the point. This doesn’t mean to “dumb down” the writing, but to remove any unnecessary words or repetitions.
Even seasoned writers often overwrite, redundantly expanding on the same points. Wordtune’s shorten feature suggests ways to cut down on the number of words in your sentences to improve your writing. This helps you get straight to the point and keeps your writing clear.
Use Wordtune’s Spices feature to expand on short ideas and points in your writing. This handy feature gives you several options to choose from: continue writing, explain, emphasize, expand on, give an example, or counterargument. There are also options for adding in statistics, inspirational quotes, definitions, or even adding in a joke! It’s a great tool for anyone suffering from writer’s block (we’ve all been there).
If you’re struggling to articulate yourself, Spices enhances your writing quickly and easily. Using AI technology, Wordtune comes up with suggestions based on the text provided. You can then accept suggestions or request new ones. Pay attention to the suggestions and how sentences are formulated to flow with the natural rhythm of your writing. Perfect when you’re feeling a bit stuck or struggling to articulate yourself, Spices helps you focus on getting the task at hand done, while also helping you improve your writing skills.
Improving your language skills takes time. Immersing yourself in English as much as possible is a quick way to pick up the language and build your writing skills. However, it’s important to remember that making mistakes is part of the process, too. Asking your friends to correct your written English and taking advantage of AI writing assistants like Wordtune will help you improve your writing.
Although it can be challenging, through diligent practice and taking every opportunity to learn, improve, and develop, you’ll be an English language pro in no time.