One of the questions I got a lot quite frequently: any tips on how to improve your English writing when English is not your first language?
It’s a very relevant question since I am a non-native English speaker myself.
For many years, English writing (and speaking too) was one of the aspects of life I struggled to grasp.
I tried many things, exploring different ways and applying many tips.
I failed. I tried more.
When I got slightly better, I recall that I was obsessed with how my writing looked. So I spent hours rewriting texts, using new phrases and putting some unnecessary effort into trying to sound like native speakers.
After many years of trial and error, my English writing improved quite substantially.
At a point in time, I became the go-to person when my organization needed press releases (we relied on external parties before). I also helped the CEO to craft letters and copywriting materials sent to industry big shots.
Table of Contents
- How to Improve Your English Writing When English is Not Your First Language?
- 1. Learn new English vocabulary every day
- 2. Read English magazines, newspaper articles, and books
- 3. Practice your writing skills in an English writing environment
- 4. Pay attention to grammar rules when you write in English
- 5. Create a social group
- 6. Learn to use correct punctuation, capitalization and spelling when writing in English
- 7. Write emails using English
- 8. Write short sentences
- 9. Gradually expand your sentences
- 10. Make mistakes and learn
- 11. Enrol English classes
- 12. Watch YouTube videos
- 13. Join amateur writers’ groups
- 14. Write about things that interest you
- 15. Listen to the podcast
- 16. Make dictionary your good friend
- 17. Visit mainstream news websites to see how professional writers write
- 18. Start a blog, even you’re the only one who read it
- 19. Write guest blog articles
- 20. Recall and rewrite sentences or quotes from books or articles that interest you
- 21. Post on social media
- 22. Use a thesaurus
- 23. Read aloud
- 24. Use grammar and spell-check tools
- 25. Proofread your work before submitting it for publication or posting online
- 26. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- 27. Use subtitles when watching English videos
- 28. Listen and transcribe
- 29. Keep exciting words in a “special place”
- 30. Improving your English writing takes time. Be patient
- Concluding remark
How to Improve Your English Writing When English is Not Your First Language?
Here, I outline 30 tips on how to improve your English writing when English is not your first language, just like me.
These are tips that you can put into practice and use right away. They are practical, effective and most not does require much effort.
The article is quite lengthy. To help you better, feel free to use the table of contents provided, or you can bookmark it to save it for later read.
Also, feel free to comment or leave other tips; I would consider adding more info to continue improving the article.
This article is aimed at beginner writers (especially non-natives) and includes tips for those who have more experience. Hopefully, this will be helpful to someone!
1. Learn new English vocabulary every day
Yes. Vocabulary improvement is a sign that you’re progressing well in your quest to improve your English writing.
There are many ways to learn new English vocabulary every day.
I like flipping through English materials (including billboards, advertisements, ad copies, etc.; other than writing, I like all things creative, too) and noticing unfamiliar words.
I use these words to write sample sentences so I won’t forget them.
I would also explore how this word is used in different contexts to make sense of its use and use it in my own English writing.
Another way is by reading as much as possible in your native language and translating words you don’t know into your native language. Once you see the word’s meaning in your native language, you can then try to define it in English.
You can also learn new vocabulary by using a bilingual dictionary and looking up the definitions and synonyms for these words.
Some people also use flashcards, which are sets of cards with words on them that you can flip through at any time.
2. Read English magazines, newspaper articles, and books
Reading English magazines, articles and books will help improve our English writing skills tremendously. Choose a genre that intrigues you – economics, science, technology, sports or fiction.
Reading helps me understand how to use phrases, vocabulary and grammar better because I can apply what I read to my English writing.
We can also get inspiration from what we read.
I am most fascinated reading about people, learning about their background, struggles, failures, and successes in their own field such as business, politics, sports, etc.
Another way is by subscribing to newsletters from business, tech and industry experts. This will allow you to stay updated with what’s happening in the world daily without having to open your browser or install apps on your phone.
When it comes to books, non-fiction is my choice.
I read about Mahatma Gandhi, Elon Musk, Barrack Obama, Richard Branson, Charlie Chaplin, and even about Adolf Hitler and Pablo Escobar.
Some are heroes, some others villain. But I want to explore their stories and understand why they made the life choices.
3. Practice your writing skills in an English writing environment
Always find opportunities to practice your writing skills in an English writing environment.
For example, do blog-hopping on English blogs and participate in the conversation. Express your opinion about a particular blog article in the comment section.
Perhaps you agree (or disagree) with the author’s list of the best novelists of all time. Initiate a constructive discussion (but avoid personal attack). You may as well build a new friendship.
There are also many online forums out there focusing on specific topics of your interest.
You may be a technology enthusiast keen to learn about artificial intelligence (AI). For example (in my case, I am eager to learn how AI will transform the way we write and publish).
Find related forums and begin striking conversations. You will feel awkward initially, considering you are new, but people are supportive and helpful.
4. Pay attention to grammar rules when you write in English
When writing, pay attention to grammar rules to help you weave the meaning of your message more effectively.
Grammar is the cornerstone of effective English writing. Without good grammar, any language will collapse.
Accurate grammar is vital to ensure that you’re conveying the right message and that your intended message resonates with the readers.
It is probably intimidating to learn writing in excellent and accurate grammar, but as you go, you will begin to understand the rules (and the exceptions), and you will become a better English writer.
Whether you are writing in English for your job or just to express yourself, I highly recommend that you read books about grammar. In addition, there are many good resources out there on the Internet.
A few years back, a close friend came to me saying he wanted me to guide his English communication.
I told him:
“Good. Why not we create a Whatsapp group for just the two of us, and we only use English in our communication?”
It was a spur-in-a-moment thing.
Initially, we thought that the idea was funny and peculiar. However, it turns out that we had the best of our times communicating in English, and that group of two remains very active until this day.
But what is most important is that I noticed our English has become a lot better. And he is more confident when speaking and writing in English.
So, perhaps you may want to create a private group using a medium you are most comfortable with. Find friends who would be willing to learn, make the same mistakes and help each other improving English writing.
6. Learn to use correct punctuation, capitalization and spelling when writing in English
Accurate English writing requires correct use of punctuation, capitalization and spelling. These may sound rudimentary, but they are all crucial in helping you communicate your ideas to readers.
I have discovered, for example, that incorrect use of punctuation will completely change the meaning of a sentence. As a result, people will be less interested in reading things they poorly understand.
There are many books out there writing about the correct use of these writing elements.
But wait! If rule books do not interest you, the Internet has many good resources that can guide you through this process.
Proper spelling is also necessary because it positions you as an English-capable writer.
7. Write emails using English
Emails are one of the most influential media for you to put your English writing into practice.
Write your following work email using the English language. Don’t worry. You will make mistakes here and there, but you will learn, and you will improve.
Or write a LinkedIn message to your acquaintance, catching up and asking how they are doing. Use English.
A word of advice, though.
Do a thorough check if the email recipient is an important stakeholder (such as a big prospect who may be turned off by bad English writing). If necessary, show the draft to your peers to ensure message clarity and that apparent errors are eliminated.
8. Write short sentences
Start improving your English writing by crafting short sentences first. Short sentences are easier to write, and mistakes are easier to detect.
Short sentences do not require complicated grammar, and it is easier to get your point across.
Writing short sentences also helps you avoid conflicting messages.
On the other hand, long sentences are difficult to comprehend (for both native and non-native speakers).
But the tendency to write long sentences when we are improving our English writing is very high. I know it since I made this mistake too, thinking long sentences equate to better writing competency.
9. Gradually expand your sentences
After you have mastered (well, sort of) writing in short sentences, you can begin expanding your sentences into longer ones. Then, it’s time to take your English writing up a notch.
Short sentences are easy to write but communicating your ideas well using longer sentences is more interesting for readers.
Practice the transition from short to longer sentences until it becomes natural for you. You may also need to consult your rule books here.
At one point, when you have become more accomplished in English writing, you will notice that your content consists of a good mix of short and long sentences or phrases.
10. Make mistakes and learn
Go on and make mistakes while improving your English writing. After all, mistakes make us better, don’t they?
If you can notice, even this article I wrote contain errors. Nobody is perfect. Keep going!
Learning to write well in English, first and foremost, means acquiring a deep understanding of the language. This involves committing errors and learning from them.
It will all come with practice, so take it easy on yourself and just enjoy the journey to improving your English writing.
What is important here is that you learn from these mistakes and put the lesson learned to good use.
11. Enrol English classes
That sounds like a no-brainer, right? So what’s a better way to improving your English writing than learning from the masters?
If you have the money, go get yourself enrolled in an accredited English writing course. The more intensive and frequent your English class is, the better it will be for your skills development.
Moreover, today, enrolling in a class does not mean you will have to cycle every day for 10 km to go to class. Now, almost every imaginable lesson today can be delivered online.
While you are in Thailand, your teacher can be teaching you all the way from London, San Francisco or New York. What better than having a native English speaker teaching you how to improve your English writing when English is not your first language?
I rest my case.
12. Watch YouTube videos
Can watching YouTube videos improve my English writing?
The answer is absolutely yes!
Watching videos is a great way to learn how to improve your English writing. For the uninitiated, YouTube is hosting some of the best teachers on earth.
What’s more, virtually anyone can put up a video on YouTube and teach you how to write correctly in English.
My favorite YouTube channel in learning English is ETJ English by Elliot. Elliot is an English tutor from the UK and has massive followers keen to improve their English.
13. Join amateur writers’ groups
Amateur writers are those who are still learning to become better writers and authors. However, they might have plans to publish their own books soon.
As you continue to improve, find a peer group that you can be part of, find new friends and most importantly, help you improve your English writing skills.
Some of the skills and knowledge of the more experienced writers will rub off on you.
You can, in turn, help to guide others who need more help. It’s how we learn from each other. We seek help, and as we get better, we help others.
14. Write about things that interest you
Write about things that interest you. For example, write about your favorite football club, Manchester United and how its rival Manchester City will never reach the former status.
Write about the novel you’ve just finished reading. Try to associate how the protagonist’s characters and life with your own life. Write how the story will help you overcome the grief of losing someone or something valuable in life.
Write about your hobbies – drawing, making crafts, food, traveling, you name it.
Writing about things you are passionate about making your work more relatable to the reader. So remember to express with emotion and passion what you are writing about. It will definitely help improve your English writing skills.
15. Listen to the podcast
Other than YouTube, I also listen to the podcast, especially when I am driving to work. My favorite podcast is ETJ English (see above on YouTube, but his podcast talks more about his travels).
I also listen to BBC English to improve my English writing skills and listening, pronunciation, and conversation.
Of course, there are many podcasts out there that can help you improve your English writing skills. I suggest you find the ones that interest you, explore and stick with those you are comfortable with.
16. Make dictionary your good friend
During my early years improving my English, I used to carry a printed dictionary with me and made it a habit to look up new words that I come across.
Those are the good old times.
Today, you don’t need to carry the heavy, printed dictionary anymore. Instead, you have the best tool in your hand – the mobile phone.
My primary source of online dictionaries is Dictionary.com, as it is fast to access and practical. However, if you want, you can also download any dictionary apps to your phone. There are plenty of choices.
17. Visit mainstream news websites to see how professional writers write
Mainstream news websites such as BBC or The New York Times provide tons of quality articles written by professionals. They are a handy platform to keep on improving your English writing.
Read their articles, observe how they construct their sentences, and the way they use accurate grammar.
You can even read the comments at the end of an article to see how other readers respond to particular reports. You may also identify mistakes in the words and see how you could write differently.
Visit these websites regularly and learn from them. As you do this more frequently, it will be easier to find your own writing style.
I visit these websites to read the different articles on politics, world news and other genres. I also access their feed via my social media accounts, mainly Facebook.
18. Start a blog, even you’re the only one who read it
Starting a blog is an excellent way to express yourself and blow off some steam. Some others do it for money, which is totally fine as many people have been highly successful in making money off blogging.
You can pour the things you are thinking about other than writing. It helps improve your English writing by training your mind to think in English and form sentences quickly.
If nobody is reading your posts, it doesn’t matter. You learn from it anyway. As long as you know that you are the only one who read it, start writing.
What is interesting about blogging is that you will find yourself engaging with those who leave comments on your posts once your blog gains traction.
You will strike “blogging friendship.” You will widen your network. And as a result, you will become more confident to write and become more motivated to improve your English writing skills even further.
19. Write guest blog articles
Once you have taken your English writing skills to the next level, let’s write for other blogs.
One time, I approached a very prominent blogger who wrote on English writing tips and asked if I could contribute to a guest blog article.
After reading my draft, he wrote back to me that the article was not in a publishable form, and I had to do quite plenty of polishing up.
I felt embarrassed, but I did the best thing: finding a professional editor to go through the article and sending it back to the blogger.
His response was encouraging: he complimented me for not taking things personally and taking the extra initiative in engaging a professional editor. And yes, my article was published in his blog.
20. Recall and rewrite sentences or quotes from books or articles that interest you
The literature is rich with fantastic phrases and quotes from authors and prominent people. Use these quotes and turn them into your own sentences (cite the original source or person accordingly).
This way, you learn from those who have written about specific issues or people who look at things differently. You can also recall and rewrite your favorite sentences from your favorite books.
Practice makes perfect; by doing this, you expand your vocabulary without realizing it yourself.
I think we all do this.
Occasionally, write your social media posts in English (if you have not done so) about your latest hobby, travels and book, or about the newest restaurant you visited. This is part of practicing and polishing your English writing skills.
The most important thing is to love what you are writing about; otherwise, it will be difficult to continue posting on social media. You also need to engage with your audience or let others know that you’ve visited their profiles (especially if they like the same things as you do).
22. Use a thesaurus
What is a thesaurus?
A thesaurus is a reference tool that gives synonyms and antonyms for words. It also lists words in order of likeliness: what you might want to use if you don’t know what word to use and need something similar.
For example, using a thesaurus, “friend” can also mean “colleagues” or “associates.” Its antonyms could be “enemy” or “foe.”
With thesaurus, one word can expand into several newly learned words.
Thesauri can be found in electronic form or for purchase in book form. In addition, a thesaurus website allows you to type in words or phrases and then gives you a list of other words that are like the one you typed in.
23. Read aloud
Try to read aloud your English sentences (well, in the absence of people) to see if things make sense (and spot awkward/wordy expressions, for example).
What’s the point?
Well. You will be able to hear if you are using natural-sounding English or not. It’s like saying something aloud to yourself in your mind.
For example, you might say “Not many people came” instead of “Not many people were there.” While they both mean the same, if you listen carefully, you will notice that one is better in writing than the other, depending on your text context.
You can also record yourself reading aloud on your smartphone and play it back to see if everything flows the way you want it to. Again, try different voices (if possible) or punctuate using pauses at natural points.
24. Use grammar and spell-check tools
Text tools such as MS Word come with a built-in spell checker, and more and more apps now offer integrated language tools that work well with your text platforms.
I have been using Grammarly, an AI-powered grammar tool, for several years (the free version, that is). It’s been beneficial, and last year, I decided to upgrade to a premium account and has never looked back since.
One thing to keep in mind. These tools are your companion; they do not take over your role as the primary writer. They can’t also detect every single thing accurately. For example, I would write “hardcopy” instead of “hardcover,” and most of the tools would not identify this as a mistake).
25. Proofread your work before submitting it for publication or posting online
Always proofread your work!
Read and reread your email or article draft. Read from the first to the last sentence, and see that everything makes sense.
Look out for awkward sentences. Check topics against each other.
Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Also, ensure you didn’t forget to add a comma or any punctuation in the right places, so the text makes sense when read aloud.
One thing you don’t want is someone correcting your paragraphs in front of you or, worse still – people pointing out your mistakes on social media. Some social media platforms like Twitter would not even allow you to edit your post once you hit that publish button (you can delete it, though).
26. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Do not be too shy to seek help from others who would be more than willing to teach you and help you improve your English writing skill.
That doesn’t mean you should seek help from just anyone, though (especially those who seek fees). The person has to be qualified and experienced in teaching others.
No one expects someone whose English is not their primary language to write flawlessly. There are bound to be errors, especially when we are at the learning stage.
27. Use subtitles when watching English videos
Isn’t it frustrating watching English movies or programs and not understand the discussion?
Enable the subtitles mode, either when you are watching the television, YouTube and so on. This helps you pick up words faster and more accurately.
You’ll also get to practice the English conversation’s natural flow, which would help you grasp more words and expressions.
28. Listen and transcribe
Sometimes you hear people conversing in English, and you want to make sense of certain things about their conversation.
Listen carefully and transcribe the most important words. This is an excellent exercise for improving your ear and fluency.
Of course, you should not do that to people who seem to be conversing privately and on sensitive matters. That is seeking trouble!
If you have a transcription app, this would be even more helpful as it can help identify the speaker’s accent or any grammatical mistakes you might have made when speaking.
It will also help you better understand the tone of voice with which they are communicating.
29. Keep exciting words in a “special place”
Some words (such as the “power words”) sound better than the others. And you want the opportunity to use these words in your writing.
Keep a file of the interesting words you’ve come across and use them in your writing when appropriate.
You can refer to it from time to time, especially if you are ever stuck for a word.
I used to keep an online document where I jot down the most exciting words I learned that day as part of my plan to enrich my vocab. From time to time, I refer to this list of interesting words to use in my writing.
When I feel lost, I look up these words that would be more accurate than choosing a word at random.
30. Improving your English writing takes time. Be patient
Learning a skill takes time, resources and energy. Writing impeccable English is not something you can master in a few months or even years. But with patience, you will start seeing the difference in your writing over time.
Consistency is vital when learning or improving a skill. So if you decide that you want to learn English writing, do not stop halfway through just because it got tough or because Ben told you that “you can’t write.”
Even native English speakers need time to achieve this competency level.
Don’t stop learning and keep trying. You can do it!
So, I hope you are happy with this list of 30 tips on how to improve your English writing when English is not your first language.
I applied all these 30 tips to improve myself.
But if I were to pick the 3 most impactful, I would say reading, watching YouTube and blogging as those with the most profound effect.
How about you?
How do you practice and improve your English writing skills? Have you encountered any difficulties in this area of your life? Let me know in the comments section below or contact me.