Is English not your first language? It’s not mine either, but I write my stories and blogs in English. Why? Because English is an international language and widely used by the whole world. English opens doors to academic and business worlds. In Indonesia, it is highly advantageous for those who are able to speak and communicate well in English especially career-wise.
However, speaking and listening is not enough. Why don’t you take the next step and learn how to write in English? As someone who uses English as her first language (Yes, I’m Indonesian but I’m more comfortable speaking and writing in English), here are the top three hacks that will boost your English writing skills.
- Polish your grammar
Who doesn’t hate grammar? Even though I’ve been learning English for twenty years, I still can’t get it right sometimes. I usually use Grammarly, Hemmingway App, and Pro Writing Aid to help me with my grammar problems and sentence structure. If you are writing a thesis or dissertation in English, I highly recommend Purdue Writing Lab to help you cite your references in the right format. The following are common grammar mistakes that I found (and did) in English writing:
- Tenses: There are three main verb tenses in the English language: Present, Past, and Future.
Present: Today I visit the doctor.
Past: Yesterday, I visited the doctor.
Future: I will visit the doctor tomorrow.
These verb tenses are usually associated with time. This is challenging to learn for non-English speakers because many countries have no grammatical verbs tenses. Additionally, many people think that past tenses verbs can be simply written by adding ‘ed’ to any verb. Examples include: leaped, pelted, smiled, aired and etc). In some cases, past tense verbs can be different and not simply adding ‘ed’ to the verb like (run to ran, drive to drove, eat to ate). To learn more about this, I highly advise you to refer to the dictionary.
- Has/Have/Had: These helping or auxiliary verbs are the biggest traps in grammar. These are the examples of proper usage of these verbs (Perfect tenses):
I have eaten mom’s chocolate cake today. (Present)
I had eaten mom’s chocolate cake yesterday. (Past)
I will have eaten mom’s chocolate cake by tomorrow. (Future)
(Perfect Progressive tenses – they usually expresses the duration of the event and include adverbs like ago, since, for)
I have been running since this morning. (Present)
I had been running for an hour before I stopped to eat breakfast. (Past)
I will have been running for three hours by the time mom wakes up. (Future)
- Pronouns: He, She, they, I, you and we are commonly used in the English language. Please remember that different pronouns mean adding or omitting the ‘s’ behind verbs as well.
Examples, without verb+s:
I write a book.
We write a book.
They write a book.
You write a book.
Anna and Wilson write a book.
Examples, with verb+s
She/He writes a book.
It writes a book.
Anna writes a book.
- Commas: Commas are my personal pet peeves. Three years ago, I edited my friends’ fanfiction writing. I am surprised and amused at how people like to season lots of commas in their writing. Commas are not salt and pepper guys, don’t loosely use them to season your writing. Please only use commas when you want to connect two independent sentences with the right prepositions (FANBOYS = For,And,Nor,But,Or,Yet,So)
Liam wants to deliver the cookies, but he is not sure if his girlfriend is at home. (2 independent sentences) =CORRECT
Matthew goes outside the house, but without his parents’ permission. =INCORRECT. (The highlighted part is a dependent sentence, therefore commas should be omitted in this case).
- Prepositions (at,on,in)
‘At’ is used to describe specific times.
Example: Layla has dance practice at 12.30 p.m.
‘On’ is used for days and dates
Examples: We will hold the meeting on Monday.
Russel’s birthday is on 8 December.
‘In’ is for non-specific during month, day, season or a year
Examples: I like to cycle in the evening.
It is too cold to run in winter.
Jonathan is going to resign in February.
‘At’ is used to describe specific address.
Examples: Jeremy lives at Ivory Street No. 8 in North Jakarta.
‘On’ is used to describe the name of a street.
Examples: Vincent is going to visit Aaron’s house on Green Street.
‘In’ is used to describe countries, continents, towns, and state
Examples: Jennifer and Jonathan stay in China.
My grandma is in New York.
Stella works in Singapore’s China Town.
These are the list of grammar mistakes I commonly found when I was a fanfiction beta three years ago. If you know more, please feel free to comment below.
- Watch and read everything in English
It is not hard to find TV shows and books that are in the English language. If you watch movies, turn on the subtitles so you read while watching. If you are starting out, I recommend you read works from Enid Blyton (The Famous Five and Malory Towers are very classic and fun to read), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) or Geronimo Stilton books. I never touch Geronimo Stilton, but I grow up with those who love it.
Not only the book is filled with cute pictures and colored texts, it offers entertaining stories with primary level English. You can visit the nearest bookstore and go to the young adult’s aisle to fetch some English language books. Don’t be shy! If getting physical copies of books is too much for you, you can simply go to Wattpad and read fanfictions. Read the good ones though, not some werewolf romance book that is written in all under case letters with poor spelling (trust me, they exist. Shudders). If you want to read properly written fanfictions, visit Archive of our Own than Fanfiction.net.
As for movies, you can go to Netflix and chill. Turn on subtitles if you need to.
- Practice, practice and practice
Two years ago, I interned at a five-star hotel in Jakarta. One of my friends was a chef, and he was very enthusiastic when it comes to learning English. There were poor attempts of him trying to speak English with his European supervisor and foreign guests. Even though his English was far from perfect, he kept on trying even if that made him looked stupid. He gained my respect.
When we learn, we shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. Keep on writing. Ask for feedback. Read people’s stories and see what they did. Keep an online dictionary or thesaurus on your phone.
To conclude my post, I can safely these are not hacks to improve our English skills. We hear the same advice such as read and practice to improve, but that is exactly what we need. The real hack to learn is being consistent and persistent with your efforts. Good luck!