Tips to help improve English language and writing?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by Beeplance, Nov 15, 2015.

  1. Beeplance macrumors 65816

    Beeplance

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2012
    Location:
    Singapore
    #1
    Hey there people!

    Yeah, as the title goes. I'm on a journey to improve my mastery of the English language, as well as its writing styles. With that, I was wondering if any forumers here could perhaps provide me with any useful tips on ways which I can go about learning more advanced stuff about it.

    One of the important things which I know I need to do in order to improve my usage of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structures, diction is to engage in more reading everyday. Bearing that in mind, I often take the opportunity to read newspaper articles, opinion pieces (be it about current affairs or tech news, like NYTimes Columnists, one of my favourites), and generally anything else that I can get my hands on.

    Having said all of that, I'm hoping if there were any other good recommendations on ways and methods to further learn and enhance writing styles, and maybe also some of your personal experiences and advice on this aspect? My future aspiration is to be a writer, so if anyone can help me out here, I will be really grateful!
     
  2. appledefenceforce macrumors 6502

    appledefenceforce

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2015
    #2
    For communication, watch lots of youtube videos such as vlogs, formal interviews, documentaries, etc. And I mean a lot!

    For writing and reading, read a lot. News, academic materials, forums etc.

    Good luck.
     
  3. A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

    A.Goldberg

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2015
    Location:
    Boston
    #3
    Talk to @Scepticalscribe, our most eloquent poster.

    I suspect she will be popping up here shortly to grace us with her literary wisdom.

    I'm no literary expert, that's for sure. I would suggest however reading beyond newspapers as they typically use one "style" of writing. Compare that to a novel. Or a scientific journal. Or a magazine. While one area of writing may interest you, exploring all areas of the English language certainly will give you the most exposure.

    Learning a second language also gives one greater insight on language and the mechanics behind it. I speak two languages natively... But I guess learning them from birth never really made me think about language until I started studying a 3rd language, Spanish, in Middle/High school. The formal education demonstrating and labeling mechanics and parts of speech, conjugations, etc was something I never really bothered to consciously think about.
     
  4. Beeplance thread starter macrumors 65816

    Beeplance

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2012
    Location:
    Singapore
    #4
    Thanks a lot, people, really appreciate it! @A.Goldberg those are really insightful recommendations, I'll keep those in mind.

    Yeah, @Scepticalscribe reputation precedes her. Hope she can provide some tips as well, and looking forward to be enlightened :)
     
  5. AlliFlowers Contributor

    AlliFlowers

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2011
    Location:
    L.A. (Lower Alabama)
    #5
    Find a copy editor. No matter how brilliantly you write, there is always room for improvement, and that is the job of your copy editor. He/she will find the little things that are commonly overlooked and give you the kind of constructive criticism that is invaluable to a finished product.
     
  6. vkd macrumors 6502a

    vkd

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2012
    #6
    One good tip is to actually learn English and NOT American. :)
     
  7. Scepticalscribe, Nov 16, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2015

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #7
    Your kind remarks are much appreciated.

    Firstly, the best, most obvious, and the easiest, way to improve one's written English and to increase one's vocabulary, and understanding of grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and so on, is to read, read, and read. And then read some more.

    Secondly, what you choose to read does not matter an awful lot - comics, books, novels, classics, newspapers, broadsheets, magazines, periodicals, children's stories, - as long as you are reading constantly. Indeed, if you read widely, you will gain an understanding of the different tones - and vocabularies - used in different forms and formats.

    Every writer I have ever heard interviewed - or have met - when asked to give advice for budding writers almost invariably recommended that you read endlessly before you can even begin to think of finding your own voice in writing.

    Now, for what it is worth, I used to teach history and politics at third level for the best part of two decades.

    One of my professors - the then head of department - an excellent boss, with whom I disagreed on this matter - once instructed me that when grading the term essays of the students to ignore their use of language, syntax, grammar and so on. His argument was that what was I was examining was their understanding of politics, and political concepts, and that the language in which they chose to attempt to analyse and address this was irrelevant. "You are not grading their understanding of English, but of Politics," he remarked.

    I was considerably younger at the time, and had just started working as a teacher in the department. Moreover, I liked and respected him, so I didn't challenge him at the time, because - on the surface - I could see his point.

    However, I'd challenge him now. This is because - irrespective of the subject matter, - whether it is Politics or Shakespeare - mastery of a basic competency in English - a mastery that is sufficient to argue, or present, or make your case clearly and cogently - is an absolutely vital skill to have mastered. And the written language is an agreed means of communication. Save your artistry (as in 'I am expressing myself and don't wish to be constrained by the tyranny of grammar' or '"I have the right to use text-speak in essays 'cos thats how i rite'") for poetry or prose you intend to submit as fiction. In a formal essay, slang should be used sparingly.

    Essay writing is not just a test of your knowledge of, and understanding of, the topic that has been set. To a far greater extent, it is also designed to test whether you can make an argument, or marshall your material to make a case using the arguments, data and facts that you are supposed to have learned when studying this particular course, or topic. Essay writing teaches you to present material, and weigh up the merits of competing sources. This is why, very often in the Humanities, there is no 'right' answer; rather, there are answers that could have been a lot worse, and some that may have been a bit better.

    Now, you may well ask what this has to do with the question originally posed by the OP?

    Simply this. In my time teaching, I noticed a gradual decline in the quality of the written English in essays and papers presented by students. When I started teaching, in the late 1980s, the average university student at the age of 18, when they would be starting university, (and there were always those who read widely, - and thus, wrote well, but they are not by any means a majority) had a written vocabulary roughly akin to that of a 15 year old, a mid teen.

    Thus, their essays were clunky, a bit awkward, but comprehensible. In general, by the time they left university, their vocabulary had improved to that of an 18-19 year old, which was more than perfectly adequate for their needs.

    By the time I quit the groves of academe, and was persuaded to abandon the Ivory Tower for the Real World, I realised that the written vocabulary of the average 18 year old had become closer to that of a twelve year old - i.e. a kid just about to start High School, or second level.

    Now, there was nothing wrong with their brains: They understood quite clearly what was going on in class, and got the concepts that we were discussing and disputing. However, they lacked the vocabulary to discuss it at the level required, to be able to interrogate it, or analyse it, in writing or - less frequently - orally.

    The vocabulary of a twelve year old - no matter how bright that kid actually is - is insufficient and inadequate to handle adult philosophical, or political concepts in a professional, informed, objective, and critically analytical manner.

    Recent functions - book launches, wine tastings - where I have met former colleagues, one or two of my own former teachers, (and one of two of my own former students, who are themselves now academics) tell me that the situation is, if anything, even worse than when I left the academic world.

    That the kids are borderline illiterate in some instances. That expecting basic literacy in essays is a dream, that they spend their time teaching kids how to write and structure essays, meaning a beginning, middle and end. They find themselves teaching sentence structure, how to express thoughts on the written page, why paragraphs matter (my former student is now teaching politics and he mentioned that too many of his classes are devoted to basic English writing and comprehension skills - we both laughed at what my former professor - who also taught him one year - would have said), that spelling and grammar have a role too when writing and putting your thoughts on paper.

    They were all clear on the causes behind this shocking decline in standard of basic literacy. The kids are not taught how to write, they read next to nothing, they have short attention spans, and they have absorbed the message that they have a right to express themselves howsoever they wish.

    Now, back to your question. Read, read, read. This will allow you to absorb - unconsciously - how sentences are structured, and the subtle differences in how individual writers express themselves on paper.

    Then, when you find a writer whose style (and content) you like, read that closely (and feel free to worship): I used to revere the writing of - say - Neal Ascherson, or someone such as Conor Cruise O'Brien, or Timothy Garton Ash.

    These were - and are, both Garton Ash and Ascherson are still alive - writers whose supple, original and informed minds are well worth reading simply for intelligent and thoughtful content and whose mastery of their craft as prose stylists who love language makes reading them an intellectual - and viscerally physical - pleasure. (That doesn't mean that I always agree with their conclusions: I don't. But I would never miss an article of theirs because that fusion of a first rate mind allied with a sublime pen makes for literary perfection - to my mind, at least).

    Anyway, my point is to find someone whose writing - whose prose style - you like, and read it closely. You don't wish to channel them or to try to clone them (which of us would channel Oscar Wilde, even if we could? We are not him, and have not lived his life experiences brilliantly gifted though he was). See what you admire in that, and see how that fits with how you express yourself. And read, read, read. With a curious, critical, and yes, admiring eye. And an eye open to just enjoying the pleasure of reading.

    Good luck.
     
  8. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2010
    #8
    Judging by your post i would say you have an excellent command of the England Language. At least in the written form. You are not going to learn anything here.
     
  9. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #9
    Read books, literature. Try not to read trash. Danielle Steele and John Grisham might be fun (for some people), but you should go for the classics.
     
  10. Scepticalscribe, Nov 16, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #10
    Seriously, I'd recommend reading both literature, great writing, and the equivalent of soft focus, undemanding rubbish. There is nothing wrong with trash as long as you read the good stuff, too.

    For relaxation, I read a lot of fantasy - a lot of it is absolute rubbish (some of it is surprisingly good) but I enjoy it as undemanding escapist reading. Same with what is seen as romantic drivel, banal or rubbishy thrillers, or the sort of thing all too often dismissively derided as 'chick lit' - if it makes life easier, read it and enjoy it, just as long as it does not comprise your sole reading diet.
     
  11. Renzatic Suspended

    Renzatic

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2011
    Location:
    Gramps, what the hell am I paying you for?
    #11
    Like fer realz, brah?

    My problem with original source, English based English is that they have this strange habit of abusing the letter "u" every chance they get, throwing it into words where it's entirely superfluous simply because they can. I think it's quite rude of them, and shouldn't be tolerated.
     
  12. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2010
    #12
    Yes I know you guys can't deal with those "u". Perhaps that is why you have made up words and regularly turn nouns into verbs.
     
  13. Renzatic Suspended

    Renzatic

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2011
    Location:
    Gramps, what the hell am I paying you for?
    #13
    Verbing weirds language.

    I think it has more to do with the fact that we Americans have finally realized we'll never be as cool as the French, and are now doing our own thing. England still wants English to be a Romance language, the CADS!
     
  14. Mousse macrumors 68000

    Mousse

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2008
    Location:
    Flea Bottom, King's Landing
    #14
    Don't read news articles or forums unless you want to learn some atrocious writing habits.

    Hail, I frequent forums to be discourteous to the English language.o_O:D

    Read novels by good writers. I like Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegutt, Terry Pratchett, E. B. White, Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to name a few. Their writing style might be a bit antiquated now, except for Pratchett. Still, it's far superior what you'll learn from any news article or forum.
     
  15. localoid macrumors 68020

    localoid

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2007
    Location:
    America's Third World
    #15
    Read Hemingway, a writer who could be more expressive with six words that most writers can with six hundred.


    Hemingway’s Rules For Writing Well

    1. Use short sentences.

    2. Use short introductory paragraphs.

    3. Use vigorous words.

    4. Use the active voice rather than the passive voice as much as possible.
     
  16. seasurfer macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2007
    #16

    Which of his books you suggest to read?
     
  17. localoid macrumors 68020

    localoid

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2007
    Location:
    America's Third World
    #17
    My introduction to Hemingway was The Old Man and the Sea (being "forced" to read it in high school) but you could just pick about any of Hemingway's works at random or have a look at some of the best of Hemingway lists on that can be readily found the Net and pick something that sounds interesting to you.
     
  18. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #18
    Yes, I take your point. It's just that, for myself, there's quite a lot of good stuff to read that I don't like to waste my time on the trivial stuff. (Also, pulp makes me want to bore my eyes out with a dull auger.)
     
  19. Scepticalscribe, Nov 16, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2015

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #19
    Oh, I take your point, and was a lot more - ah, dogmatic - about such things when I was in my teens and twenties (and subsisting solely on a diet of serious political, historical, economic and cultural stuff, interspersed with serious works of high literature).

    But, there are times you need to switch off, and I loathe television, which is not something I was ever able to watch purely for relaxation.

    Besides, I think one of the reasons some kids are put off reading is the attitude that many of those who are avid readers adopt, an attitude which used to be a bit prevalent with classical music too. Welcome all comers, and get them started on the easy to understand stuff, just as, with wine, you don't start them off on Amarone, or a good Gruner Veltliner. You whet the appetite on something that is more easily accessible, and comprehensible, and digestible.

    These days, if you get them reading regularly, it is easier to slip the good stuff in along with the pulp, at a later stage.
     
  20. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #20
    Yes, well, I do admit to reading some light stuff for relaxation. I wasn't particularly bowled over by JK Rowling's prose (and, honestly, I thought it was intellectually a bit lightweight), but her world was, admittedly, utterly captivating. I had quite a good time reading those books. There've been some others too, and, ah, as far as I'm rather blunt with my opinions, I don't object to anyone reading their preferred books.
     
  21. JamesMike macrumors demi-god

    JamesMike

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2014
    Location:
    Oregon
    #21
    My grandson introduced me to JK Rowling's books. I was not sure about enjoying them, but wanted to have a handle on what my grandson was reading, turns out I enjoyed them.
     
  22. Scepticalscribe, Nov 16, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #22
    George Orwell - a superb stylist and an exceptionally gifted prose writer - (and also a first rate political analyst) - also set out some rules for writing English in an essay entitled "Politics And The English Language" - a lovely essay - which he published in 1946.

    To a certain extent, they echo what @localoid has written above, and are as follows:

    "(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

    (ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

    (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

    (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

    (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

    Having said that, personally, I quite like using the passive voice sometimes in formal, written communications. Paradoxically, the muted - and almost subdued - tone can allow for a more pointed message to be delivered in writing than might otherwise have been the case.
     
  23. garirry macrumors 68000

    garirry

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2013
    Location:
    Canada is my city
    #23
    I assume that you're an adult (above 18), but I can tell from my experience that watching plenty of Youtube videos helped me learn English when I was in my pre-teens. My knowledge of the language was really bad prior to that, and now I'm speaking it more fluently than my native language. I actually received very little actual education in English, only a few minor grammatical courses really and school which barely teaches English here.
     
  24. Scepticalscribe, Nov 16, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #24
    I thoroughly enjoyed them. Her characters, and world-building were superb, and the narrative managed to sustain the weight of expectations and deliver a veritable tour de force with the final book.
     
  25. Renzatic Suspended

    Renzatic

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2011
    Location:
    Gramps, what the hell am I paying you for?
    #25
    Personally, I find myself to be more of a sink or swim fan. I say we hand out copies of Ulysses to 5th graders, and see which kids survive to the end.
     

Share This Page