Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing: Taking It Slow and Easy

Many of you have now reached the stage when studying is simply becoming too much. There is too much homework. It is taking too long to do. The teacher says it should only take two hours, but you find that it is taking four hours, just to read one story, or another four hours to write a 12 sentence composition - with a dictionary. You thought you would enjoy learning English. Now you hate it and you want to quit. Why is it so hard?? Nobody told you about this part.

You are not alone. Many students feel like this. Here are a few tips on what to do to help yourself.
If you are the kind of student who spends four hours on a composition because you are an educated person who has always had good marks, stop trying to be that person. You are wasting your time. This will not happen. You are working in a different language, with a very limited vocabulary.You don't know how to say things in a complex way, so accept this fact and stop trying to be someone you are not "in English. " Instead, accept that for a while you are going to have to say things more simply than you want to. It doesn't mean you are a bad person. It simply means you are working in a language that you are not familiar with. Now, when I say write simply, I don't mean that you should write at the pre-intermediate level, using beginner vocabulary and simple sentences only. I mean write at your own level. Don't try to write like someone who is three or four levels higher.

When you are given a writing assignment to do at home, brainstorm and develop an outline, the way your teacher taught you. Then, spend only an hour writing the whole composition. it should be completely finished. Don't use a dictionary because using it will interrupt the flow of ideas. Write double spaced so that you can change things later. After an hour of writing and a complete composition, put your pencil down and walk away from the piece. Don't come back for one whole entire day. Don't even consciously think about it. (You may find yourself unconsciously thinking about it).

A day later, come back and look at what you have written. You will find that you can read it much more objectively. You are no longer so "in love" with this piece of writing that you can't stand the though of changing one word. This is where you start the revision process - fixing and changing the content. Read each sentence out loud. Does it sound right? Should some of the information be put some place else? Is one part confusing, or vague or just crazy? Do you need to add information to parts of it of the composition because your reader would be confused without more information?

It much easier to hear changes that should be made than to see them. It is also much easier to hear them one or two days after you have written the composition itself .
You are now beginning the real writing. Add the information you think is missing. Change the information that you think might be confusing or that sounds like translation. Move information to where you think should go instead of where you have it now.

Then take another break and come back for the real proofreading of mistakes. Again, read your paragraph out loud, slowly, sentence by sentence. Listen for possible grammar mistakes. Should this be an "ing" instead of a "to". Should you be using past tense all the way through this narrative story instead of present tense? Is this a run-on? Do you need s or ed at the end of these words. Does it sound wrong. Say it another way. Does it sound better? Change it based on your ear.

Then, go back and read silently focusing as many times as you need to, once for each major kind of mistake you tend to make. For example, if you have a lot of sentence fragments because you keep forgetting to use the verb "to be, " especially with adjectives, or you keep putting in an extra "be" on present perfect sentences. Do you usually have a lot Run On sentences and comma splices instead of a period and a capital letter, or worse yet instead of a lovely joining word. Do you always forget about subject verb agreement. Go back look at every verb and every noun. Does it need an "s"? There are several different kinds of errors in writing, but one that is based on carelessness, or laziness is unforgivable. It means you did not bother to proofread when you knew the rule and could have easily fixed the mistake.

I absolutely want to stress, however, that this process sahould not be done in a four hour period in one day. If this is what you are doing, of course, you hate writing. I wold too. Give yourself time and distance from the subject. Have fun doing something else. Then, you will come back refreshed and ready to have another go at it.

Now, unfortunately I know this does not apply to in class writing when you are under a huge amount of pressure and when you inevitably forget a lot of t he vocabulary you actually know. That is the subject of an entire different discussion.

My next post will be about reading and how to make that a much easier, and pleasant process.

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1 comment:

  1. I really thank my teacher Michelle.
    I did not know exactly about mistake my writing.
    It is good for me and I will try to do that.


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