Finally, I’m posting the article I wrote like 10 years ago. It’s the second part of this article, so make sure you start with that one!
Number two – writing/reading.
Not only speaking is crucial when it comes to language comprehension. Being able to read a book, a blog post or to chat and write an email are a must. I hate it when people confuse ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ (although even some natives do it). It’s just so annoying. Come on, it’s the basics. But I don’t know, maybe it’s just me since I’m into grammar.
Now a bit about my writing beginnings…
I went to high school in the Czech Republic and despite the fact it was a decent one, even focused on languages, we didn’t really get to write or read much in English. A couple of articles, letters and short stories, but that was it. No proper essays, never, not even in Czech. You can imagine the anxiety I felt when I came to the uni in Scotland and all of a sudden, I had to write 1000-2000 word essays. Not just a vomit on the paper, no waffle, but an actual essay including a thoughtful research and bibliography. Suddenly, I had to read loads of books and papers in English and didn’t know the style I was supposed to use for my writing. Everyone in my course seemed to have written at least one essay in their lives. I’d say I was the only one who had never written any. I mean, I could write in English quite freely, but the essay format is very different from random writing. The text needs to be structured, coherent, you need a topic sentence, a valid argument, evidence etc. etc.
At first, I found it really annoying. Why do we need to do this, why can’t we have oral exams like in my home country? But looking back now, I appreciate it. It helped me to stay focused on the topic (which is useful even when you’re talking to someone or simply chatting), express myself clearly and objectively. For me, the problem was that I was just trying to show off my English skills so much that I misused some of the words and ended up writing a flowery text with no meaning. Obviously, you can’t repeat one word all the time, but you should aim to make the text as intelligible as possible. So, after a couple books, lectures and essays, which I always discussed with my flatmate James, I suddenly began to understand what they wanted from us.
I’m not saying that I’m a pro now. I’m definitely not. But I’m trying to get better. James’ been an incredible support in this. I think he’s read like every single book in the world and tried hard to pass his writing skills onto me (he was even awarded a prize for the best essay results last year!). As for Alex, he’s helped me too and had a look at some of my essays. For exchange, I tried to correct his CV. But then again, he’s more of the coffee-gym buddy.
A tip: If you ever feel like you can’t write freely, just grab a glass/bottle of wine to accompany you on your writing adventures. Not that I’d like to promote alcohol, but James does it with all his essays and he always gets straight As. Just saying.
This is a picture of Alex I took last year. Note the smile on his face. Might look cute, but imagine that smile 24/7. In all situations, under any circumstances. Does he never feel sad or depressed? I guess we’ll never know. I mean, surely not from his facial expressions…
Reading the books, doing the research and writing the essays undoubtedly (one of the first words James forbid me to use in my essays – it’s too subjective) enrichened my not only academic understanding of English. Nevertheless, I wanted to progress in casual writing too. That’s pretty much why I started having a blog. To sum up and end this short (long?) story, the advice is: discuss your essays, the books and articles you read with your friends, tutors and listen to their opinions. Again, if you’re not studying abroad, yet want to be better at writing/reading, simply write and read. It can be anything. You don’t have to start writing a blog like me. Find a book suitable for your English level. Write a diary entry, a short story and then show it to someone who speaks English fluently. Share your thoughts and in the end, who knows, you might even become another Shakespeare.
A tip: Buy a kindle and download your books there. I know it’s not paper, I know it doesn’t have that paper smell but…! It’s environmentally friendly and you get to carry around thousands of books in one tiny gadget. On top of that, there’s a dictionary you can download and whenever you’re not sure about a word, just tap on it and the meaning will pop up. All the words that you look up are then added to ‘Vocabulary Builder’ where you can revise them as flashcards. You can also mark them as ‘Mastered’ if you don’t want them to show up in your Vocabulary Builder anymore.
And what do you do to improve your language skills? Please let me know!