As a second-language learner, I have always had issues with writing in English. You might think it’s strange for me to admit that I have issues with English since I have taught English for the past decade in the United States.
I used to joke with my students with that there was no way for an American to move to Korea and teach Korean to Korean-born children. I told them that I was grateful beyond for the opportunities that this country has given me.
Having said that, I always felt that English teachers could do a better job of teaching writing. I say that because I personally struggled for many years before I figured out three fundamental rules for writing in English. I used to have a huge poster in my classroom to teach my students to AIM for good writing because I learned that all great writers have followed the following rules when they write in English. They are: Avoid Redundancy, Improve Vocabulary, and Match Words and Phrases.
1. A = Avoid Redundancy
I used to tell my students that all English writers despised redundancy, which is different from repetition. Any English teacher knows that repetition for effect is a great strategy. But being redundant, not so much! For example, I often tell my students that they should never say, “In my opinion, I believe” in an argumentative essay. Why? Because everyone should already know that one is expressing his or her opinion in an argumentative essay. If you keep saying “In my opinion” or “I believe,” you are being redundant.
2. I= Improve Vocabulary
The second rule of writing English, which I still struggle with all the time, is improving vocabulary, aka elevation diction. During my dissertation writing, this was one of the most challenging aspects. My writing teachers used to tell me that I was “wordy.” What they actually meant was that I didn’t have a high-quality vocabulary to convey my thoughts in the most succinct manner.
For example, many students will say, “I am gonna turn in my homework.” I would encourage them to say, “I will submit my homework.” When my students asked why that matters, I would point out how so many writing contests or college personal statements often have word limits. I would also tell them that is one of the reasons why poetry is considered one of the highest forms of writing since it allows the economy of expression.
3. M= Match Words and Phrases
Finally, I would tell them how the English language requires everything to match, which is expressed in the idea of the subject and verb agreement and parallelism. Remember reading John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address or Martin Luther King’s speech? Enough said.
I feel that English teachers who are born in this country understand such rules instinctively. What many English teachers who are native English speakers don’t realize is that students who have not read many good books or stories are unable to pick up such preferences naturally. I argue that teachers must teach the rules explicitly if we were to want to help our students.
Next time you have to teach students to write essays, I encourage you to review these fundamental rules.