How can I improve my written English?

The top 5 tips to help you write emails, social media posts and messages in correct English!

I get it, I really do.  Writing is possible the hardest skill to master, when it comes to learning any foreign language, let alone English, with its strange spelling rules, rigid word order and “waffle” (you know, using 50 words to make a request when 4 will do in Russian)!

When we start studying English, we (hopefully) listen and repeat common phrases, we read and practice our pronunciation, we try to understand and create simple conversations…  But where does writing come in?  Yes, we might practice this skill from time to time, perhaps as a written piece of homework between lessons (but it just takes so long!  I’m so busy!), or maybe we message friends on a daily basis (spellchecker, I love you!).

However, we often don’t know if are writing correctly in English, or it’s often the last thing we practice, or we struggle to do it even if we have cause to!  In fact, if your English skills were chocolates in a selection box, writing would be the coffee creme: left until last because no one likes it/ignored completely/thrown away in disgust…

(Incidentally, I love coffee cremes, so send them my way before they go off – thanks)

So, what can we do to painlessly improve our written English skills?  Here are my top 5 tried-and-tested tips, from the double perspective of being both an experienced EFL teacher and eternal language learner:

  1.  First and foremost: you need to read in English at any opportunity.  The skills of reading and writing are interdependent on each other, just as there’s no effective speaking without listening to English first.  The more you read in English, the more familiar you’ll be with spelling rules, common phrases, grammar structures, appropriate prepositions…  Just a few minutes a day will make a difference (and you’re doing it right now, so well done!).
  2. Ask for feedback.  If we keep doing the same things, we get the same results, correct?  So it’s time to ask your partner if that WhatsApp message made sense, check your important email with a trusted colleague and see if your friend will proofread your business post before your Instagram followers see it.  If you don’t feel comfortable making this request, I can help you myself.
  3. Act on your feedback!  If someone checks your text, of course it’s a great feeling clicking “send” with confidence.  But make sure you know what they changed and most importantly, if there are any mistakes that you keep repeating.  Learning from them will give you more confidence next time, if you know you’ve consciously corrected something.  Again, I can give you detailed feedback to help you perfect your skills.
  4. When reading (see step 1!) check for differences in tone and register.  But how can you find them? This is a tricky one, but the way to do this is reading from different sources.  For example, the language of the BBC is very different from someone’s social media post, as is the tone of a glossy magazine when compared with a broadsheet newspaper.  Try looking at how the same piece of news is presented or discussed in each of these examples.  Compare the differences in words and phrases, structures (and don’t forget that unregulated social media posts could well contain examples of incorrect English.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include them in your reading, but approach with care).
  5. Try to remember certain fixed phrases, linking words and transitions that help keep text flowing.  I’ve written some examples in this blog post to help you.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel with writing.  The rules are all there, and so are the phrases.  Instead of looking at writing from a creative angle all the time, get in touch with your inner mathematician/engineer: allow yourself to learn some key phrases off by heart, to suit the written situations you often find yourself in.

Doing all the above on a regular basis (little and often, everyone!  Any form of language learning is a marathon, not a sprint!) will make a massive difference to your literacy skills and with it, confidence in writing.  If you’d like help getting started, I can recommend my free writing packs to help you develop these good habits.  I can also give detailed, personalised feedback on any assignment to correct your mistakes, helping you improve your written English for good!

Whatever steps you take, I wish you the best of luck and let me know how you get on in the comments!

Rebecca, English Club Online

Online Native English Tutor

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