Writing in English as a Second Language

My private hacks while writing in a second language.

The other day I received an email from one of my readers. She wrote that, being an editor herself, she couldn’t help noticing some grammatical and syntactical mistakes scattered along my articles. I had to Google “syntactical definition” as I wasn’t even sure what she meant. Having English as a second language means that I Google the meaning of words much more often than you would have guessed.

At the end of the day, that email from my reader was a compliment. English being my second language, I often fear my articles are much worse than what her email indicated.

Living in an English speaking country for 15 years now, I still can’t consider my English to be remotely as good as my mother tongue. And it is not comparable with writers who were born into English, studied in English, not to mention studied writing — in English. Nevertheless, I pass with my writing. It is good enough.

A few of my struggles and how I deal with them:

Vocabulary. This is a tough one. I notice that my vocabulary is not as varied as I would like it to be. I use simple words and I have a tendency to repeat them. When I edit my articles, I will Google a certain word’s synonym to find a better suiting word to replace it with.

Phrases. Oh boy, I get these wrong all the time. I constantly have to Google my phrases to check if I used them correctly at all. At times I am surprised to find that I used a phrase that does not even exist (it happens when a phrase from my mother tongue is being literally translated in my head), or that I used a phrase in a wrong context. Many a time I need to completely restructure a sentence because the phrase I initially used doesn’t match what I wanted to say whatsoever.

Spelling. This one you think should be easy with spelling check apps. Obviously, I am using Grammarly for that. However, Grammarly is not foolproof, especially when my spelling mistake forms a word that actually does exist, or even makes sense in my sentence, but it is not what I wanted to express. In order to find these mistakes, I usually re-read my article on a different platform. I simply copy-paste the entire piece and read it again, say, on my website. For some reason, the change of page layout makes me more aware of spelling mistakes while re-reading articles. Go figure. But it works. Oh, and another thing about spelling. I actually live in Australia, and I got used to the Australian spelling, which is mostly British English. Luckily Grammarly does correct my British English to an American spelling. Let’s face it, most people reading my articles would think that mum, prioritise, or centre are spelling mistakes.

Punctuation. Punctuation rules are different in my mother tongue. And only after starting to write I learned that in English there are more than one set of punctuation rules. I never heard of the serial comma or had a clue how to use a semicolon properly. Luckily Grammarly is helpful with that. And when in doubt, Google comes in handy again.

Prepositions. These are a killer. I make so many mistakes with these! Especially in phrases. See my last paragraph’s ending phrase? “comes in handy”? I initially wrote, “comes on handy”. Again, the combination of Grammarly and Google is priceless.

Titles. I use a title case converter for my titles 100% of the time.

Other things to consider.

I am easier on myself now, as I noticed that writers here on Medium, ones that I assume English is their first language, make mistakes too.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that our articles help, inspire, or entertain.

Here’s an inspiring take on using the English language properly, just in case you missed it:

Stephen Fry — What Makes Us Human (BBC Radio 2)

Bringing awareness into wherever it’s needed. www.makeloverevolution.com

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