Written by Marie Apaloo
In the world of language learning, we are living in the age of the "communicative approach," which tends to glorify oral fluency over other language skills. This approach and its mentality are prevalent in both language classrooms and everyday life. For instance, if you've taken a language class recently, you've probably noticed that conversation is given more attention than quiet study, and we have all heard someone say that they want to be able to speak language X without opening a book or doing any boring grammar exercises.
And yet, when you think about common methods of communication (email, text, and social media) and some major challenges that you might have to overcome using a new language (academic writing, signing a lease, or opening a bank account), it's evident that neglecting English reading and writing skills is doing us a disservice.
How to Improve Your English: 6 ESL Writing Exercises
If you are wondering how to improve your English, some often-neglected writing practice is a great place to start. Focusing on your English writing skills will improve your grammar, vocabulary, and structural understanding of the English language, which will spill over and help you become a better speaker, too. To get you started, here are six ESL writing exercises that you can use to improve your English.
1. Write a Blog Post
Blogging is a fun and effective alternative to traditional writing exercises. First, you can write a blog post about niche topics that you are passionate about, which is important because it will give you a key ingredient for writing—motivation! Second, you can receive feedback on your posts in the form of comments, which is important for improving your language skills. This may seem scary at first, but if you harness both positive and negative feedback to improve your writing, it can help you bring your English skills to the next level.
2. Write a Review
Providing critical feedback for a product or creative work requires a quite sophisticated grasp of the language. You could choose a movie, book, airline company, restaurant, or whatever interests you and write a review. There are many platforms you could use to do this; Tripadvisor is my personal favorite, but Google and Facebook are good options, too. The added bonus here is that when you submit your review, you are also contributing to the sharing economy. You never know—if the company likes it, you might even get a shout-out or some freebies from them!
3. Translate Your Favorite Song
Most people are familiar with the idea of using music to improve their English. It's a fun alternative to traditional ESL writing activities, and the benefits of using music in language study have been scientifically proven. Neurological research has shown that music and language are processed in the same area of the brain and that there are similarities in linguistic and musical processing. In other words, musical exposure is complementary to language learning.
One way to incorporate music in your English writing practice is to print out the lyrics of your favorite English song and translate it into your native language. In modern language teaching, translation has fallen into disfavor as a reaction to old-school methods of language teaching that involved never-ending text translations. But when it's not used in excess and when the content is engaging, translation can be an efficient way to expand your knowledge of a language. When you add the musical element to it, you have the added benefits of learning English culture, slang, and rhythms of speech. These items help develop a native speaker's speech style.
Personally, I had a lot of fun using this technique when I was learning my second and third languages (Spanish and Portuguese), and I learned plenty of slang and expressions that native speakers found impressive, as they showed a richness and depth in my understanding of the language.
4. Write a Story
Everyone has a story to tell. You could write a creative story (whether it's your own unique invention or a parody of a famous book) or your own biographical story. Story writing is a great way to improve your English-language skills and advance your fluency, as the process will force you to use and expand your vocabulary. Plus, it lets you explore the complexities of the English language at your own pace. By contrast, you may feel as if you are struggling to stay afloat while speaking in a conversation. For ideas and inspiration, you can always flip through story prompts. Additionally, you can use websites, such as Reverso Context, to broaden your vocabulary while writing. Unlike other resources, Reverso Context actually provides context when translating words or phrases.
5. Rewrite a Story as a Script
Summarizing, rewording, and transforming a story into an adapted version is hugely beneficial for your language skills, as you really need a deep understanding of the language to be able to manipulate it. However, this writing exercise is often more fun if it's done with a group or a partner. To start writing your script, choose a simple story that you enjoy and are familiar with and think about the lines, sets, costumes, and characters that you would need to perform this story. After writing it, you might find that you want to film it, too. Who knows… maybe your vampire parody will go viral!
6. Write an Online Dating Profile or Personal Ad
Last but not least, why not write up your own online dating profile? There's no need to publish it, but writing up this profile could be an entertaining activity to do with a friend or a good opportunity to combine self-reflection with language. Besides, the kind of things that go in a dating profile are often the same topics that we talk about when we first meet someone (where you're from, what your aspirations are, what you like to do), so this ESL writing exercise will be useful preparation for meeting and befriending English speakers. This exercise is also a bit simpler than some of the others, meaning that it is useful for people at all levels of English, from beginner to advanced.
Writing is an integral part of learning English as a second language, and these ESL writing activities can help you polish your English writing skills and improve your ability to express yourself creatively.
As a final tip, start with a topic that excites you, set aside distractions, and write freely before asking a friend or a professional to edit your work. Embrace both positive and constructive feedback, and celebrate your improvements and achievements as they unfold.
Perfecting the use of the English language is a lifelong process (even for native speakers), so enjoy the journey and the results will come!
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About the Author
Marie is an in-house editor at Scribendi's Montreal office. During her MA in applied linguistics, she investigated how one's native language affects their second language, and she applies this understanding while editing texts written by non-native speakers of English. Outside of work, she enjoys radical sports and reading from her eclectic book collection in her hammock.