How to write in English outside class

Summary: Extra writing outside of class or homework is a valuable way to improve language skills. This article provides tips and self-study writing methods for generating ideas, using models, planning, editing, and more.

Doing extra writing that is not set in class or for homework is a great way of improving your range of language, working on producing accurate English, revising language that you want to learn, etc. There is another article on this site with 30 different kinds of writing which are useful English practice, so this article looks at how to do so.

  1. Go with your own ideas first – To get the ideas flowing and produce language in a realistic way, it’s usually best to write without any help first of all, then use model answers, advice on writing that genre, etc later to polish your writing up.
  2. Sometimes look at other people’s ideas first – Particularly if the model is full of good language, if you’re writing a genre that you’ve never written before or if you lack inspiration, it can occasionally be good to look at a model business report, formal letter, etc, then try to produce something similar.
  3. Look, hide, write and look again – If you are using some help beforehand, it’s still best to not look at it while you write, so put it away somewhere until you’ve finished, then see if you’ve missed anything that you should add to your writing.
  4. Avoid translation – Translating from an email etc in your own language is more difficult than writing directly in English and makes it much more likely that you’ll produce things that don’t sound like natural English, so you should avoid this or at least use the “Look, hide, write and look again” hint above.
  5. Plan before writing – A quick plan saying “Body 1: arguments for” or “Body 2: reasons for the mistake” will make it easier to think of ideas while you are writing and to know when to start a new paragraph (as well as making a better paragraphed piece of writing).
  6. Brainstorm before writing – Although it’s rarely necessary in real life, a few minutes listing vocabulary that you could include in your fairytale or possible arguments for and against an idea can be a good way of expanding the language that you use and make writing easier.
  7. Write as quickly as you can and edit later – For the many people who rarely speak English outside class, writing can be made more useful preparation for speaking by writing close to the speed that you would speak, only correcting your writing if the meaning isn’t clear as you go along and leaving other editing for later. This is also more fun and therefore more motivating than writing slowly and deleting what you’ve written all the time.
  8. Write without a dictionary, then use one later – This is the most important tip for writing quickly, and also makes you explain things you don’t know the word for in different words, which is a very important communication skill.
  9. Put your eraser away – This is another important tip to make you write more quickly and edit later. Crossing off and adding words above the line is much quicker, makes you less likely to write four or five attempts, and means that you can still see what your first attempt was (and occasionally that it was better than the correction).
  10. Don’t just correct when you edit – If you are writing to improve your English level, adding more impressive vocabulary, rephrasing instead of repeating, etc are even more important than finding spelling mistakes, fixing your grammar, and so on.
  11. Find or make writing checklists – When you’ve finished writing, it can be really useful to double-check that your formal email “avoids contractions like I’m”, that your story “describes all the characters and places”, etc.
  12. Sometimes read it out loud – It’s much easier to spot words which don’t match the sentence, repeated words, boring sentences etc when you hear them out loud, so it is worth listening to yourself reading it out loud when you can.
  13. Edit again later – It is much more difficult to judge what you have written than what someone else has written, because you always have what you meant to write at the back of your head. However, when you come back to it a day or a few days later, you can more easily spot obvious mistakes, find things which don’t make sense, etc.
  14. Check your previous feedback – If you have had the chance to get feedback on similar writing from a teacher, conversation partner, etc, then it can be useful to look back on that to make sure you haven’t made the same mistakes, to borrow good language from that final corrected version, etc.
  15. Borrow from good models – After trying to improve your own writing as much as you can, you can try to add good phrases, linking words, descriptions etc that you find in similar restaurant reviews, short essays, etc.
  16. Search for language that you could add – Model emails, essays, etc can be difficult to copy and sometimes unrealistically good, so often it is better just to search for “science fiction vocabulary”, “storytelling phrases”, “linking words”, “informal email language”, etc, then see where you can add that language to what you have written.
  17. Write in different ways – If you always write electronically or always write on paper, trying the other way can make writing more interesting again, and the change in speed will also make you write differently.
  18. Sometimes write for yourself – If you want to improve your English but have no one to write to, you could write your own diary, shopping lists, to do lists, etc in English.
  19. Sometimes write for an international audience – Even if you don’t know anyone to write to in English in your normal life, you should get some kind of audience or at least have a motivation to write if you review products on Amazon in English, leave YouTube comments in English, post on English language learning forums, etc.
  20. Sometimes write for people you know – Although your mother probably won’t be happy if all communication from you is suddenly in English, there must be someone you know who also wants to learn English and so would be happy if the occasional chat message, email, comment on their photos, etc are in English.
  21. Write things that you would usually write in your own language – Changing your to-do list etc into English should be easy and full of useful language because it is related to your life.
  22. Write things that you would never usually write – The best way to expand your range of English is probably writing fiction such as movie scripts or short stories. If you already write fiction, you can have the same effect by writing a different genre such as fantasy, romance or science fiction.
  23. Help each other write – You and a classmate or friend who is also studying English could agree to help each other with your writing by providing topics to write about, giving feedback on the first draft, suggesting more impressive new language that could be added, etc.
  24. Write with someone else – Switching who is writing after each paragraph of a story, an essay, etc can be a great way of learning from the other person and also make writing more fun and more motivating.
  25. Use the language that you want to memorise – Although it might not make a good story, diary entry, movie script, etc, trying to put all 15 words you want to learn or all 8 phrases from a previous lesson into one piece of writing can be really good practice.
  26. Set yourself a writing in English goal/ challenge – Even if you don’t always manage it, it can be very motivating to decide to write an English diary for a whole month without a break, to post five reviews online in a month, to text a friend in English once a day, etc. Sharing that goal on social media can be even more motivating, and also further good practice if your social media post is in English.
  27. Do everything in English – This could include the planning stages above like brainstorming, writing a checklist, reading advice on that genre, and emailing a friend about helping each other with your writing.
  28. Write with the time you have available – If you only usually have five minutes spare, coming back to something over several days can be good writing practice as you will naturally edit and expand on it each time. On the other hand, if you have time and the ideas are flowing, writing non-stop for as long as you can and then editing all that another time is also great practice.
  29. Sometimes write informal English – Formal written English can be quite challenging and even boring to write, but luckily writing informal emails, imaginary dialogues between friends, etc is just as useful English practice.
  30. Sometimes write in note form – Writing something like your schedule or a summary of something you’ve just read in English with just key words can save time and be useful practice of situations like taking notes when listening in lectures.

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