Daily Life · School tips · Work

Do’s and Don’ts of Writing an College Essay in a Second Language

While going through school I have been helping my brother-in-law with his essays as well as writing my own. Background – he immigrated from Peru several years ago and while his english is pretty solid(speaking), his writing is a weak point. Let’s be honest – most people who are fluent in english (reading, writing, and speaking) like naturalized citizens struggle with writing a solid essay. This list compiled down below are a few things that will help you learn to write a better essay in english if it’s your second language. I do have to say that I believe it would help with writing in any other language but I won’t swear to it.

  1. Do Organize – I’ve said it in previous posts and I’ll say it again – organize before you write. This is probably the most important step to writing an essay no matter the language. You have to organize your thoughts – write it in bullet points, do a brain web, anything that helps you get organized. It always amazes me how people ask me to read their essay and it’s so unorganized. Your brain might make the connections but I guarantee your readers will not.
  2. Do NOT Write it in Your First Language – This was new to me when I started reading my brother’s essay. He would write them in spanish and then use Google Translate to translate them into english. Now – I love Google Translate. It’s how I am able to communicate with my mother-in-law, but using it to translate more than a few sentences is a BAD idea. I know that writing, particularly in english, is very difficult, but try speaking what you are going to write as you are writing it. It will help you learn the flow of what you are trying to communicate. The problems I have found in essays that utilize a translation website are: grammar, missing words, incorrect sentence flow, and mistranslation. If you are unsure about a word – yes look that up, but do NOT use it for the whole paper or even sentences. It becomes choppy and looks like something expected out of an elementary school student.
  3. Do Read – I know that sounds weird, especially in the age of TV. That being said, however, you must read. Read and re-read your essay. Read other essays, books, magazines, and literature. No – subtitles do not count. This will not only help you become more accustomed and acclimated to the language but it will also help your grammar skills. Amazingly, I can tell who reads and who doesn’t simply by the style of writing they employ. If you aren’t going to read a book or don’t want to – please re-read your essay at least 3 times out loud. Give breaks in between your readings. It is most important that you read it out loud though, this forces your brain to find all the discrepancies your ear will hear.

I hope these help the writers out there that are struggling. Personally, I hate doing peer reviews and reading an essay that is so unorganized, choppy, and ill-written; so I’m sure my professors do also. It’s ok to need help – that’s why schools offer tutoring. It’s ok for it not to be perfect – that’s why you are in school. But it is NOT ok to not do your best and try to find a shortcut to doing a decent essay. When you get out of school – you will need these skills. Improve yourself in the safety of the classroom now – the working world is far less forgiving.

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