Writing in English

     In this article, we will be looking at how to write in English.  We will discuss types of English writing such as standard, formal, and informal, writing skills in English like punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and numbers, plus types of English writing such as informal letters, informal email messages, and informational report writing.     In this article, we will be looking at how to write in English.  We will discuss types of English writing such as standard, formal, and informal, writing skills in English like punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and numbers, plus types of English writing such as informal letters, informal email messages, and informational report writing.

Types of Writing in English

    Like any language, English has a variety of registers such as standard, neutral, formal and informal.  It is important for your students to be familiar with each and be aware of their differences.  They need to be able to choose the level of language that is appropriate for the piece they are writing.

     As a general rule, students need to be instructed to use standard or neutral language in email messages, formal language in letters, articles and essays, and informal language when texting with a friend.

     First, let's define what standard or neutral English is.  Standard English is the form of the language that is universally accepted and understood by most people.  It is the level of language that is appropriate in most situations.  Students will find this form used in printed materials, businesses, and the media.

     Just what is standard English though?  There are many, many different forms of English around the world, so which one is most commonly used in places like the mass media?

     Mass media has risen sharply within recent history and has given many English speakers with different dialects access to the same programs and printed texts.  From television to the internet to good ole' fashioned radio, language speakers from around the world are tuning in to the same things.  This caused the standardizing of spoken and written English to become imperative.

     Hollywood was actually instrumental in standardizing English for the rest of the world.  They needed a language that could be understood by the most native English speakers possible.  They took the parts of the English language which vocabulary, grammatical features, and pronunciation were fairly universal and would not be recognized as belonging to any particular area and put them together.  

     Averaging the language between countries caused a couple of problems, however.  Although a universally intelligible form could be arrived at on many occasions, this form took away from the everyday informal speech patterns used by particular areas of the world, causing a lack of emotional balance.

     Given that neutralizing English for all native speakers was impossible, the powers at be established four standardized versions for different territories.  In the film industry, English-speaking America is one of these territories.  The standardized versions avoid words and idioms that may have a negative meaning in some of the countries where the videos might be shown.

     Multinational companies soon jumped on the standardized English bandwagon.  This helped them to translate their websites, software, and manuals.  It was a far simpler move than having to translate their native language into twenty different versions of English.  The result of all this standardizing is that the world now has a globally accepted neutral English used by industries and regular people alike.

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

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English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

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     In this section, we are going to focus on formal English that is used in literary works or when speaking to an unfamiliar person or a person with higher authority.

     As newbies in English, it is very important for you to teach your students what form of English is acceptable to use, when to use it and where.  Students need to use formal speech when they talk with a boss or other professional like a doctor.  Senior adults have also earned the right to be spoken to formally.

     Formal English is a restricted subgroup of the entire language and yet speaking situations are not the only occasions students will need to use it.  The English literary world is still quite formal.  Native English speakers will think that written works in English are too formal.  They may even think that written English sounds pompous and dry.  

     Although times are changing and some literary works such as internet blogs and email messages are beginning to move away from being ultra-formal in English, it will still behoove your students to learn how to write formally.

     The final form of English we will go over in this article is informal language.  Informal English is more casual, relaxing, and personal.  It is used when speaking with someone you know or when writing to somebody you are familiar with.  Informal English is not only used with friends but can also be used with coworkers and colleagues.  

     Students can use informal language when sending texts or email messages within the company depending on who the recipient is.  If the recipient is a coworker of the same rank or status, use informal English.  However, informal language should never be used with a colleague that outranks the sender.

     English is rich in informal terms and phrases that are used in everyday life situations.  Teaching informal English can go a long way in helping your students to use the language in real-life situations in the future.  Caution your students, however, to be careful about when and under what circumstances they decide to use their newfound informal expressions. 

     Newcomers to the language will not necessarily know when or where it is still considered polite to use informal phrases.  Tell your students that it is a good idea to error on the side of formality, as not to offend someone unintentionally.  

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

Writing in English Skills

     Although there are many skills that a student has to master to become a good writer in any language, we will focus on some English writing skills that are particularly important such as punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and numbers.

     If your students are native Spanish speakers, they won't have too tough of a time grasping English punctuation because it’s far less complicated than Spanish.  The biggest difference between the two is that Spanish uses an extra punctuation mark at the beginning of questions and exclamations.  The marks at the end of these sentences are identical but the additional beginning Spanish sentence marks are turned upside-down.

     Both Spanish and English share many other punctuation marks such as the comma, period, and colon, however, Spanish has a couple of marks that English doesn't have.  The two little dots that appear above a vowel as in "pingüino" are called a diéresis.  They instruct the reader to pronounce the vowel-like its letter sound.  The squiggle situated above the letter "n" is called a tilde is turns the regular "n" sound into "ñ" or "nyeah" as in niño.  So again, English is less complicated for Spanish speakers.

     Now, here's the not so good news.  Spanish doesn't have many contractions and the only two that exist don't use an apostrophe.  Spanish doesn't use the apostrophe to identify possessive nouns either.  

     Back to taking things away things.  Spanish uses accent marks in a number of instances.  Leaving out an accent mark can not only cause a reader to mispronounce the word but it can change the entire meaning of the word.  For example, look at the word "papa".  Without an accent it means potato but with the accent over the second "a" it becomes father.  

     Accents are also used over a vowel in words such as qué, cómo, and cuándo.  The accents are necessary because the words can be used in either statements or questions.  When using the words in questions the accents are necessary but when used in statements they are not. 

    Once native Spanish speaking students learn what they don't have to use they will be on their way to writing well in no time!

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

     Second language learners will be a bit overwhelmed at times regarding spelling the English language.  It is one of the most difficult things about English, second only to pronounce it, much the same reason.  There are loads of cases where English is not really pronounced how it's written or written how it sounds.  

     I'll never forget my undergraduate English course in spelling.  Yes, that's right.  I was determined to be an expert in English.  How long did it take a university to teach me all the ins and outs of spelling?  An entire four-month semester.  I was pretty proud of myself after I finished.  I had really improved my spelling capabilities thanks to writing the rules and their hundreds of exceptions on index cards in order to drill myself before exams.  How do I spell twenty years later?  About the same as I did before I made all of those fancy cards.

     My point is if it is this difficult for the person with above-average intelligence to learn how to spell their native English language, how difficult do you think it will be for second language learners.  So be extra patient with your students!

     The last skill that your students will need to master in order to become good writers is writing numbers.  Again, when it comes to numbers, there are very few differences between the United States and the Spanish-speaking world.  

     The one big difference between English and Spanish numbers is with writing calendar dates.  In US the month is written first, followed by the day, and then the year.  In Latin America, the day goes first, then the month and year.  This isn't a huge deal to figure out when the months have two digits and the day exceeds twelve but it can be a huge problem with dates like 7/9/20.  Does it reflect July, 9th or September 7th?  A big difference, right?

     The last thing that is a bit different when it comes to numbers between English and Spanish is writing commas and decimals in larger numbers.  They are written in the reverse of each other.  In English twelve thousand and twenty cents would be written $10,000.20 but in Spanish, it is written $10.000,20.

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

Types of Writing in English

Finally, we will take a good look at how to write a few common types of literary items such as a formal letter, a formal email, and an informational essay.

     Let's start out by examining the elements and structure of a well-written formal letter. 

     The general structural elements of a good formal letter are the heading, greeting or salutation, the body, and the conclusion.  The heading consists of the sender's contact information on the left-hand side of the page and the recipient's information on the right.  The date is also included below the recipient's information on the right side of the letter.

     The greeting or salutation is written below the contact information on the left side of the page.  This is the part of the letter where a hello is given.  The greeting will set the tone for the rest of the letter so in this case, it needs to be formally written.  

     Below the greeting, students will introduce the topic that the letter will contain by addressing its main purpose in a thesis statement or topic sentence.  The statement should contain all three-points that will be addressed in the body of the letter.

     The body should be made up of at least three paragraphs that address the three main points of the letter's main idea separately.  This is where the reason for the letter is discussed, requests are made, and the pros and cons of a situation are addressed.

     In the end, a conclusion is written in which the original three points are rephrased and addressed for the last time.  It is an opportunity to summarize the foregoing document and should not be used to address new issues or subpoints.

     The last thing that should be written in a well-written formal letter is a good closing.  This is the part that contains the ending or good-bye.  It can be a word or a phrase used somewhere else in the letter or something entirely new.  The parting words or phrase can be brief or a bit longer depending on the circumstances.

     Finally, give your students some good tips that will help them become better writers.  

     Make sure that your students have a good grasp on how to plan a letter.  Show them how to use writing organization tools such as mind maps or outlines.  This will give students an opportunity to explore all of their options before beginning to write.

     Help your students to use standard phrases in their letters.  Warn them not to overuse them, however, as too many can make their writing appear to unoriginal or cliché.

     Tell your students to use their mind map or outline to help them stick to the topic.  It's good to give details, but too many of them can make even a seasoned writer lose their way and go off-topic. 

     The final things that students need to watch for are the paper's length and spelling and grammar errors.  Emphasize quality versus quantity when it comes to the appropriate length of a letter.  Letters shouldn't be more than 300 words or about 2/3 of a page or students risk losing the attention of their recipient.

     Last, in this day and age with spell and grammar checking tools built into the applications, it's hard to believe that teachers still receive papers with these kinds of errors.  Emphasize the importance of remembering to use editing tools before handing in their papers.  I can't tell you how many teachers' resumes I threw in the trash after finding spelling or grammar errors on them!

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

     There are two kinds of email messages, formal and informal.  What makes them different is their structure.  A formal message has a defined structure whereas an informal message can be written much more loosely.  An informal message is any kind of friendly letter written to a friend or loved one.  Informal letters can be anything from a note to a pen pal to a letter to Santa.  

     What you need to teach your students to decide right off the bat, is who the intended audience of their email message is.  Instruct them to use formal language, sentences, and paragraphs, along with formal salutations and good-byes if they are writing to a person of a higher rank, social standing, or age and informal languages such as slang and emojis with their friends or classmates.

    The main purpose of composing a formal email letter is to exchange information with someone that you have business dealings with.  It should be structured with the receiver's email address at the top, followed by the subject, salutation, and date.  This information should be followed by the meat of the message which needs to include the introduction, body, and conclusion, exactly like explained above, in the formal letter writing section.

     Please draw your students' attention to the fact that this is the point where a letter and email differ in the order of information.  At the end of an email message, the sender still needs to write a closing, a sign-off as in a regular letter but they need to give their name, title, and contact information at the end instead of the beginning of the text.

     Finally, we are going to discuss some tips for writing good formal email messages.  Number one is to be clear and precise.  Be specific about the purpose of the message.  Professional people already don't have enough time in a day to read all of their messages.  Why add to that with lengthy emails?

     You can also save the recipient time by getting to the point of your message as soon as possible without seeming rude.  Use bullet points to convey key information or short paragraphs if examples are necessary.

     Last, by all means, don't forget that this is an email to a colleague not a text to a gaming partner.  Don't appear to be juvenile and risk your reputation by using emojis.  Be professional!

     Information reports give information and present facts, discuss topics, and analyze problems in order to inform the reader about a particular subject.  This kind of report must be accurate, clear and concise and have a solid structure.  Reports can be found in reference books, textbooks, encyclopedias, website articles, and magazines.   

     There are four main types of informational reports.  They are scientific reports which provide results of research, technological reports which are written about inventions or advancements in technology, social study reports which are written about society, culture, history, geography, or the economy, and finally, investigative reports which give information gathered and analyzed in order to solve a problem.

     Some of the main elements that need to be incorporated into one of these structured reports are the type of report to be written, the topic, the audience, language features, rhetorical questions, and examples.  Once these things have been decided, an outline can be made in the same way as when writing a formal letter. 

     Students will need to write an introduction with a good thesis statement, the body which covers the three main points found in the thesis, and a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the paper.

     Remind students to pick an order for the information such as logical, chronological, or order of importance and stick with it.  It is also best to stay neutral by using the third person when writing the paper, and finally emphasize that writers need to proofread their papers in order to remove any unnecessary information, and run a spell and grammar check before handing in their assignment.

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

English Writing Safari Post Card Adventure

Conclusion

     I can't count the number of students that told me that they couldn't write at the beginning of one of my courses but by the end were confidently handing in good papers.  The key?  Structure, practice, more structure, and more practice.  

     Writing is not an art that only the gifted few can pull off.  Sure, a little creativity goes a long way when it comes to writing fiction novels but for the average letter, email, or, report, written by the average student or professional, familiarity with the elements, structures, and tips of and for writing will lead to clear, concise and overall interesting texts.

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