3 Major Things ESL Writers Need to Double-Check
Updated: Oct 11
As a writing tutor, I've seen what my linguistic training teaches: English learners, regardless of their first language, tend to make the same sort of mistakes in writing. Of course, particular languages might lead to their own 'quirks' in English, but these are three of the most common, and most pervasive, problems I've seen in my students' academic writing:
1. Article Trouble
The English article gives plenty of trouble even to students' whose native language also has articles, like Italian or Spanish. This is why it's so important to have a second set of eyes look over your paper. Not just any native speaker will do--you need someone who can not only correct your missing or misplaced articles but teach you how to write better in the future.
2. The Pluperfect
English tenses are notorious--and rightfully so. The one that I've seen to challenge ESL writers the most is the pluperfect, which we use to talk about something which is even more in the past than some other past thing we are discussing. Students tend to mix up the pluperfect ("had gone") with the present perfect ("have gone").
Take heart, ESL writers: it just takes practice, practice, practice to learn the right context for the pluperfect. Having a good partner or editor also goes a long way.
3. Overly Formal Style
This one comes more from cultural differences than linguistic ones. In Russian, for example, academic prose tends to be extremely ornate. Think of the English you might see today in a newspaper article versus in a Victorian novel--that's the difference between everyday Russian and academic Russian.
While it's important not to be too casual in academic writing, being too formal can lead to long, convoluted sentences that just turn readers off. As someone who has had to grade papers like that...I can tell you your professors will thank you for being less stiff.
However, native speakers aren't immune from overly formal style....but more on that another time.
I hope these pointers guide you in your editing! Be sure to subscribe for more writing lessons.
If you would like more personalized guidance, I am available to edit your papers for you and give you tailored feedback to make your writing better.