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English Language Teaching Global Blog


How to overcome cultural differences in ESL writing

Man struggling while writingSamantha Stroh, a published author with over 15 years of teaching experience, explores some of the difficulties second language learners face when writing in the language of another culture.

When my students know it’s time to write, the loud groans and yawns are audible from the next room. I also see many fearful faces. Very few of us enjoy the labour (yes, it is work!) of writing in our first language, but it can be terrifying in your second. An ESL writer must not only deal with grammar and mechanics (something most native English speakers also don’t understand) but also the real challenge of confusing cultural differences.

Writing expresses a person’s character and background by the tone and style that is used; trying to express that same voice while adhering to often strict style guidelines of another language can be daunting. It is possible, however, to be a great second language writer.

For ESL students, writing in English is challenging in a variety of ways, depending on where each student comes from. To understand how different cultures communicate, it’s helpful to think of the personality of that culture. Imagine being in a business meeting with native English speakers. Do they warmly greet each other with hugs and kisses? Shake hands? Bow?

In comparison with other cultures, English speakers are generally reserved. Sentences are often short and simple, and it’s the writer’s responsibility to be understood by the reader. No questions should be left unanswered and long, flowing paragraphs with never-ending adjectives and countless commas are frowned upon in most kinds of writing.

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