It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, all of us need to read and write with some level of skill if we want to succeed.

Although verbal eloquence in your mother tongue (in this case, English), is an invaluable skill, in the long run it won’t be enough. It’s expected that a well-spoken individual should also be well-written.

Most people who come to South Africa and learn English as a foreign language assume that locals who have grown up in English speaking homes have a superior proficiency in their home language. However, native speakers of English tend to bend the rules and forget the fundamentals of English, resulting in a shabby command of the written word.

But those who study English as a second language pay close attention to all the rules and end up writing with greater precision.

Foreign nationals, who desire to complete their studies or further their careers in South Africa, put a lot of effort into improving their English. Many will sign up for English classes and professional writing courses in order to fit in with fellow academics and the work force.

Unfortunately poor spelling has become symptomatic of many English speaking learners.

Too little attention is being given to language skills in our current education system where the focus is on subject matter rather than the basics like spelling and good writing skills. Learners lack the tools needed to excel in creative writing because their vocabulary is limited and their grammar is not up to scratch.

English is the preferred language of educational instruction but, despite the statistics, the emerging generation is ill-equipped when it comes to the essence of good English reading and writing skills.

The result is a youth that has little faith in their writing abilities.

scrabble tiles and pile of books
More attention needs to be paid to spelling and language skills. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Due to the intensive nature of the current curriculum that is focused on covering a large volume of work, educators have little to no opportunity to deviate from the teaching schedule.

This means that learners who don’t grasp language concepts immediately, fall behind. The only remedy is getting a private tutor to keep kids up to speed when this happens, however most of the time these learners are forced to struggle along with inferior skills in English that influences the rest of their education and the workplace beyond.

Learners need to be motivated to improve their writing skills. It would be extremely beneficial if youngsters were not only taught the basics of reading and writing but also exposed to the practical application of these skills in real life scenarios. It is difficult for a child to comprehend why they must do vocabulary exercises or spelling tests, but if they knew that these tasks lead up to well-written CVs and cover letters followed by successful careers, their attitudes may change dramatically.

We have to make the English learning process relevant in order for it to be successful.

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Written Communication for the Workplace

Entrepreneurs and owners of small start-ups often end up having to market themselves and keep their social media platforms up to date. Not to mention the correspondence that comes with business: emails, invoices, quotes etc.

Someone with poor creative writing and language skills will find themselves on the back foot when it comes to business communication.

In business, it’s all about making good impressions whether in writing or speaking. Poor English can cost professionals potential clients and understanding the importance of communication in business is of the utmost importance.

people brainstorming
Effective English communication skills are essential for business. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Precision is key, even just a punctuation mark in the wrong place can change the meaning of a sentence and in the business world no one wants to waste valuable time in miscommunication.

Can Anyone Be a Writer?

These days, writers seem to be popping up everywhere! Public figures are putting pen to paper and producing autobiographies every other day. Celebrities’ names adorn the covers of many children’s literary works in bookstores. And you can’t help thinking how it’s possible that some people are just so diversely talented.

The truth is that most aren’t such talented writers.

There is a difference between good story telling and great writing.

Editors and ghost writers are the true heroes of many a successful publication. Good writing is a dying art, and you would do well to join the ranks of the few clever souls who plan to keep it alive by taking writing courses and improving your English writing.

Steps to Take to Improve Your Writing Skills

No matter if you are teacher or student, anyone that’s really interested in improving their writing skills will agree that you can’t build on a poor foundation. Most of us need to be reminded of some or other aspect of the basics. It’s no good dreaming of drafting your breakthrough novel if you can’t string together a proper sentence, ensuring that it consists of a subject, verb and complement. And how many of us can tell the difference between passive voice and active voice off the top of our heads?

A big mistake that many people seem to make is correct positioning of the pronoun “I”. When listing a group of people that you, the narrator, are a part of, always place yourself at the very end of the queue. This means that when I tell you that, “Matilda, John and I are going to the movies”, you shouldn’t reply by asking, “Can me and Ben come along too?”

Students brushing up on their grammar should begin by constructing shorter sentences, avoiding complex sentences that require commas and semi-colons. Before embarking on the ins and outs of sentence structure, learners need to be familiar with all the parts of speech and their functions such as nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives.

For someone that is starting to learn English as real beginner, tutors can guide by prompting sentences. Start with the subject and allow the student to complete the sentence with the predicate. For example, “I work at ...” and the student will complete the sentence.

Then you could help them to build onto that same sentence and elaborate using adjectives and adverbs and adding more than one clause. For example: “I work at the library along with three fellow librarians who take their work very seriously.”

Getting learners to practise their language skills verbally is a great starting point and can help to reinforce new skills while building confidence. You could ask individuals to describe something like the weather outside or speak about a particular subject of interest.

A well constructed sentence is merely the beginning of an exciting writing adventure.

Help students to see correct sentences as invaluable building blocks that can eventually be strung together to tell the most thrilling of stories. Once a learner demonstrates competence in sentence structure, encourage them to write short creative writing projects. A wonderful long-term project that offers great scope for both the imagination and language practice is keeping a journal. Learners can also practise the difference between writing in first-person or third-person.

Read More If You Want to Write Well

It’s been proven that avid readers tend to be skilled writers. Reading re-enforces language skills because if you read good literature you begin to recognise poor writing, even in your own written assignments.

girl reading book
Increasing your reading will automatically improve your writing skills. ⎢Source: Unsplash

The other important advantage is that, as a reader, one has an understanding of what kind of writing would be appealing to a reading audience.

Ways to Enhance Spelling

The “two, too and to" homophones have a way of confusing even the most seasoned writers, take for instance Donald Trump’s team who botched a Facebook post by writing “No dream is too big, no challenge to great ...”A fine example of how just one letter can change your image.

Typos like these just look unprofessional no matter how you look at it and these are the things tutors should be helping their learners avoid.

Unnecessary spelling errors can cost companies a lot of money. Aside from having to re-print publications and branding on merchandise, silly mistakes can also cost a business its clientele. It’s difficult to trust a brand that doesn’t have strong communication skills and can’t even get the basics right.  Shoddy spelling can be a reflection of shoddy workmanship or product quality in the eyes of prospective customers.

Incorrect punctuation can also lead to terrible misunderstandings. For example you may respond to an inquiry for your services by listing some of the options and instead of using a forward slash (/) you use a comma. This could result in a massive workload or major profit loss.

Reading more frequently and a greater variety of literature will go a long way when it comes to improving written communication in the workplace and reinforcing good spelling and grammar. However, for those determined to rise above the rest and really hone their skills it may be worth seeking out formal instruction and enrolling in an English writing course or online English programme.

Consider Taking a Writing Course

It could be that despite your best efforts you still seem to lack the edge that you want when it comes to your writing abilities. This is a wall that many individuals hit but it needn’t be a hindrance to your goals. It may just mean that it’s time for you to get some professional help to up your game.

There are plenty of wonderful writing courses on offer and some people really excel when they are instructed on a more personal level, so perhaps it could be worth hiring a tutor to work on your English skills.

Making the Most of Basic Writing Tools

Dictionaries might seem an old-fashioned resource but they still remain an invaluable tool for any great writer. If you are undertaking any kind of writing project, from an email to a short story, a dictionary should always be by your side. Whether it’s spelling you want to double check or a new word you need to incorporate into your writing piece, the dictionary is your best friend.

And don’t forget the trusty thesaurus which goes hand in hand with the dictionary. Of course you can also access all of these writing resources online too, which is probably the more convenient option when writing on the go.

words in disctionary
A dictionary is essential for decent writing. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Our smart phones are also helping us improve our English every time we write using predictive text. If you pay attention to the way the words are spelled using predictive text you will pick up some useful spelling tips. Microsoft Word is a fantastic silent tutor that consistently points out spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes too.

Pointers for Writing Great Essays

There are some basics that we all need to know when it comes to writing an essay. Firstly, the structure (introduction, body and conclusion) is the basis of every good essay. But the question is: how do you write a great essay? What will set your essay apart from the rest?

Any English educator or examiner will tell you that a superior essay is really a combination of quite a few successful factors. Firstly, you need a decent topic and then you have to introduce your essay with a powerful statement paragraph, ending the whole piece  with a conclusion that brings all the aspects of your essay together in a final summary. But it’s just as important to remember the in between bits too and all the details of good vocabulary and accurate grammar and spelling.

How to Get Started

Planning is the secret to effective writing. It’s impossible to put together a well-structured essay without doing a little brain storming.

There are plenty of different ways professional writers like to tackle this part of the process, from flow diagrams to jotting down a list of points; it’s really up to you. Once you start the planning process you will be amazed to see how your thoughts start taking shape, forming a good essay.

The next step is to link all these ideas together into one flowing text. You may end up juggling paragraphs around a bit until it becomes a cohesive combination of points. Now that you have a clearer idea of the angle your essay is moving towards you can begin compiling the body.

Although it may feel unnatural, many experienced writers will tell you to start with the body of your essay before attempting to write the introduction and conclusion. Despite the fact that this method goes against the flow in which your essay will be read, it actually makes sense because if you think about it, your introduction is essentially the part that gives the reader and idea of what to expect and the conclusion is a summary of all the main points in your essay.

It’s important to remember that your first draft is just that, a draft. Don’t get too hung up on the details at first and allow yourself room to wander from the point here and there, expanding on various topics as you move through the writing process. This type of creative exploration may lead you down some exciting paths and could provide you with the brilliant ideas that will take your essay from good to excellent!

Remember that everyone works at a different pace and uses different methods. Whether you spend a couple of hours on an essay of 1 500 words or spend a few weeks in perfecting your writing piece is totally irrelevant. Find your own groove and trust your method. Don’t compare yourself to your contemporaries or fellow students; it’s a dangerous mistake that could cost you your confidence and personal writing flair.

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Can South Africa Still Spell?

To be honest, the level of spelling in South Africa seems to be declining rapidly; however, one school of thought is that it may not be a matter of crumbling standards but rather that we are exposed to a far greater scope of reading material than ever before.

If you think about it, in this day and age, we read written communication from so many sources every day. On social media alone it could be anything from a tweet, Instagram comment or Facebook post written by a variety of individuals both schooled and unschooled. Not to mention private blogs and business marketing that floods our inboxes daily.

The fact of the matter is, most of the written forms of communication we read on a daily basis aren’t written by trained professionals. And about a decade ago, the bulk of our reading material was produced by authors and journalists; perhaps we’re being too skeptical?

We need to remember that a lot of the things we read every day on our various media feeds are merely the opinions of individuals voicing their views on the internet and, essentially, putting their spoken words into written posts without distinguishing between the differences of verbal and nonverbal language.

word written on pebble
We need to focus on improving verbal and written communication in youngsters. ⎢Source: Unsplash

What Now?

English is the new worldwide business language and has recognition in a professional capacity in almost any country that conducts some sort of international trade (so basically the whole world since we are now a global village). Clearly, we need to ensure that the emerging generation of future businessmen and women are well equipped for written and verbal communication in this international language.

Too many people lack the confidence in their writing abilities and avoid putting thought to paper. If this is the case it means that society will be deprived of these individuals creative energy. We must therefore nurture written communication skills in our youth, giving them the gift of success.

Why Writing Needs to Be a Daily Habit

It’s true, practise makes perfect, even when it comes to writing. Not only do you hone your writing technique but, like any kind of activity that requires consistent training, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Many a good writer will attest to the power of the journal. Give it a bash, keep a daily journal for a year and you will see first-hand how easily writing just flows out of you even when performing menial writing tasks like drafting work emails.

Daily writing is even highly recommended for those that have a natural flair. Aspiring novelists are advised to make a habit of writing a personal blog post every day. Not only does it provide wonderful exposure but it also creates the opportunity to receive valuable feedback from a reading audience and thus hone ones writing craft.

The Power of Editing

Every single book ever published has been proofread and edited. No matter how skilled or reputable the author may be, an objective reader is essential when it comes to polishing a piece of writing. The job of the editor isn’t merely checking for spelling and grammatical errors, it’s the editor’s responsibility to ensure that the book, article, short story etc. is cohesive and clear for the sake of the reader.

It’s easy for a writer to assume their audience will understand what they have written but this is not always the case and that is one of the chief responsibilities of the editor. This can mean suggestions about the angle, tone and even content changes to ensure that the correct message is conveyed and that the written text is readable.

Read and Write in Equal Proportions

Writing is an art, and just like any artist, the writer needs to maintain a certain level of inspiration. This means spending time reading various types of written works and gleaning valuable tips from fellow writers. By reading, one observes new techniques writing styles much the same way a painter would observe a variety of painting techniques in an art gallery. It’s important for any writer to continuously push themselves to approach their work with fresh eyes and inspired thought in order to remain enticing to the reader.

Reading excellent writing will force you to be more critical of your own work and this is a good place to be because it will mean you take great care in what you do. Some people would argue that the ever popular Harry Potter collection doesn’t merit all the hype. Critics claim that J.K. Rowling’s vocabulary is too simplistic but perhaps this is in fact the genius behind her success. Sometimes it’s easy to hide behind verbosity and it takes a skilled writer to keep it simple yet enthralling.

The Evolution of English

In 430 AD there was a tribal mix of various Germanic groups who proceeded to colonise the island of Britain. These tribes all spoke various strains of a Germanic language and as kingdoms on the island came under the rule of Anglo Saxons a new language emerged that came to be called Englisc (what we now refer to as Old English).

There is therefore no specific date on which we can mark the moment English became an official language but according to historical records, the first language that resembled what we now know as English began as the four dialects of Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon and Kentish.

It is thought that about 85% of Old English words have disappeared over time, there are still some familiar words we use every day that originate from this ancient dialect. There are a number of Anglo Saxon written works that are still in circulation today such as the ever famous “Beowulf” from the somewhere around the 8th and 11th century. This ancient text is a staple in many English Academic studies.

South African English has a colourful history of its own and boasts many a colloquialism that has made it into the dictionary.

The point is that English is ever-evolving and we must make every effort to keep up with it in order to stay ahead.

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