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Improving writing skills: A foreign language

Improving writing skills: A foreign language

Skills

Hi there! If you’ve already read “Improving writing skills: Getting started” and were waiting for the sequel (I highly doubt it, not even my mom reads my posts yet) then welcome back. If you’ve just stumbled upon this blog, then let us do a quick recap:

On part I, I questioned the need to produce brand new content in order to “be qualified” to write and the likelihood of inventing content in such a time, where information overload is more common than the flu. I exposed my thoughts on the value of one’s experience and point of view when it comes to writing/producing content, and some tips on how to get started.

Start writing

Let’s pretend for a moment that we’ve in fact reached a point where we have a modest, yet concrete, list of themes or topics we’d like to address in our writing. Then what? Of course, the next steps, or the act altogether of keeping a blog might be piece of cake for some people, but I know for a fact that this isn’t always the case. Why? Because we are all different, there are differences in backgrounds, in skills, in confidence, in language, etc. All things that could affect how we view a particular activity such as writing.

In my previous post, I mentioned a well-known rule-of-thumb for writing: “Write about what you know”. So, following that rule, I’m going to address this post from my own experience. I am not a native speaker. I’ve studied English since I was in kindergarten, and I work for English speaking countries since I was in College. Still, it’s not my mother tongue, and I don’t live in an English speaking country, which would create the need to speak it every single day. However my job requires me to communicate in this language, and sometimes this can be scary. Especially when clarity is the motto of my field (I am a UX Designer).

Sometimes I get anxious about being misunderstood and I doubt myself, causing me to have a slightly more marked accent due to my nerves. When I don’t think about it I can express myself quite fine (can you understand this text well enough?). I’ve realized that this self-doubt is quite common, especially in this globalized job market. You no longer need to be at the top of your field within your geographical area. Now we all compete worldwide, and the skill of communication is key. So much so that I’ve known highly qualified designers and developers that could easily work abroad (through off-shoring) if it wasn’t for their lack of English communication skills, including writing.

Writing in a foreign language

This brings us to the following point. How can this unease towards writing (and communicating) in a foreign language be tackled? Well, first I think it is necessary to grasp the very real need to overcome it and to understand that no progress is possible without starting somewhere . Then, I think it’s necessary to adopt a “deliberate practice” mindset. This mindset, explained in more detail in Daniel Coyle’s book called “The little book of talent”, is based on the notion that talent, as we understand it, is not the result of genetics or good luck, but the result of focus-driven, constant and deliberate practice. The book provides a number of tips obtained from some talent hotbeds across the world, which can help form a roadmap towards a lifestyle that includes practice as a way to form brain connections, and therefore acquire new skills.

I encourage everyone to read this book. It’s a quick read and a very valuable one. Even if you want to improve your tennis practice, or if like me, you want to improve your skills to be a better professional in your field of expertise. For me personally, it was really helpful in the sense that it threw light on the way our brains learn, and it made me understand that any learning process takes practice and time, and strength to move past any plateau you might come across. I am very demanding when it comes to my abilities and learning skills. I want to master everything by yesterday, and that can be overwhelming. Thanks to this book, I now plan my days so that I can focus energies on improving very defined aspects of my abilities, and this way, I can tackle one objective at a time, while still having a life.

Useful tools to start improving your writing skills

Useful online tools to improve your writing skillsBasically, what I’m trying to say, is that the only way to start writing, or doing anything for that matter, is to plainly start. Yes, you won’t do it perfectly at first, but it is through practice and immediate feedback that you’ll be able to spot your trouble areas and correct them. For this, I come bearing gifts! Well, not really gifts since they are free, but you get the point. Below you will find a short list of tools that might come in handy when it comes to practicing your writing skills.

Google docs

This might be very obvious to some, but when I first started working for other countries, I always kept an open Google doc. Before sending an email or preparing a meeting, I would write it first on my Google doc. The spell correcting feature helped me a lot, since it spotted the words I had miswritten, and I could go back and correct them, paying attention to the mistake, with just one click. I marked paying attention in bold because it is very necessary, like I said before, to consciously spot your mistakes and fix them. Otherwise, you’ll keep making them. With time, the amount of marked words decreased a lot, and yet I still use this tool to keep polishing my skills and practicing. Except by now, I don’t even open up the spelling recommendations, I think until I can correct it myself.

Learn more about this tool

Grammarly

Once your spelling is more or less in place, it is necessary to work on your grammar. For that, I use this free tool that allows me to write or copy-paste my content and it corrects my mistakes. Again, try to pay attention and learn from the feedback.

Learn more about this tool

Hemingway

Then, moving up the complexity scale, past spelling and grammar, I focus on the overall quality of my writing. This app prompts me to write clear, short phrases, use active voice and correct some terms to make my writing bolder, and more concise.

Learn more about this tool

Google translate

This tool is very helpful when you are not sure how a word is said in another language. Instead of spending too much time thinking about it, go, search it up and grow your vocabulary.

Learn more about this tool

Thesaurus

Find synonyms and antonyms to make your texts richer, expand your vocabulary and avoid repetition in your texts.

Learn more about this tool

Linguee

This is a comprehensive dictionary that actually displays the searched words within different possible contexts to help you understand any word, and it’s usage, better.

Learn more about this tool

Duolingo

This little app helps you practice some languages in the form of a game. I wouldn’t say it is helpful to learn a language from scratch (trust me, I tried to learn French with it and ended up enrolling on a school), but it does help you practice if you have a foundation already.

Learn more about this tool

Peer review

Another good idea might be to get your texts corrected by native speakers. There are a number of communities and services (both free and paid) available online. Here are some I found after a quick search. I haven’t tried any myself, so I can’t really recommend any of them, but you could try the free services and see if this works for you.

Harvest or Paydirt app

Like I’ve said before, it’s all about deliberate practice. And so, I keep track of the time I spend doing everything and anything during my day with any of these two apps. Yes, everything, including procrastination. At the end of the day, I can look at my chart and see really how much time I’ve dedicated to my writing skills.

More about Harvest

More about Paydirt App

Practice makes perfect

Of course, these tools are not the only options or the only possible workflow. This is what I think might be a good start to fight those self-doubt demons and start practicing. That is what is truly important. Starting, practicing and improving.

I hope you find this post useful and that you can push yourself towards your goals. I also hope to see you around here again soon. Cheers!

If you liked what you read, have any comments, or you just want to
say hi, please drop me a line at uxagustina@gmail.com

I'd love to get in touch!

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