How Non-Native English Writers Can Improve Their Writing Skills

by Anne Wayman

Pen and paperA guest post by Lior Levin.

Writing is not like solving equations, you can’t finish a piece robotically, as you do in Mathematics. Good writing is way beyond reading literature books, having a degree in the language or being born in a family of novelists.

Good writing comes from the heart and the soul, there is no way anyone can fake it or achieve the feat by “working formulas.”

I am a non native English freelance writer and I know how difficult it is to reach a level where your readers actually pay you some attention. I admit that my writing is not as fluid as that of a native English writer but I firmly believe that anyone who has the drive to “write better” can top a native writer with his efforts, perseverance and continuous practice.

Give Yourself Enough Time

When I started writing three years back, I would spend four to five hours a day writing essays, opinions, analysis and arguement topics. Sure they read awful but those were my learning steps and stumbling blocks, I traded labour and time with expertise.

Average writers need enough time to grow, to learn what sounds right and what sounds crack. With time and regular practice, you would eventually master your approach.

More importantly, time takes care of the interest and love part. When you are engaged in a habit for years, you will end up loving it which means you will spend more time on it. When you love a culture and spend time on it, it is bound to improve.

Give yourself enough time, it can be 2 years or 5 years; this depends where you’re standing on this day.

Resist the Urge to Hit “Publish”

When you have finsihed writing something, don’t hit “Publish.” Save your post as a draft and turn it off.

It is a known fact that “first drafts” are full of grammatical errors, typos and have a good number of sentences that are wrongly constructed. It’s highly ambitious to expect a 100% perfection in the first shot, so don’t hit the “Publish” button right after finishing your blog post.


Instead, return to the post the next morning and read the copy you wrote the other night.You will be surprised how bad the piece reads now, which sounded “okay” yesterday. Fix those mistakes, re-construct the phrases that sound complex and make your writing “flow.”

Write Regularly

Write every day.

No matter how busy your schedule is, don’t go to bed unless you have written something on your own. Don’t bother about the length, important thing is to be in the habit and make it a discippline to write every single day without failing.

There will be times when you would not feel the urge to write. In those days, read your favorite blogs, pick a subject and write down your opinion and views on your own blog. This is called re-blogging and it is perfectly acceptable.

The takeaway message is: being in a discipline and hustling your way to success.

Hone Your Skills

Writing regularly is important but more critical is to improve your skills and polish your writing. If you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, a thousand years is not enough.

We all do mistakes, we all fail. That is normal; do not take this as a “ground breaking rule” that since you’re a non native English writer, you can never improve. Instead, keep working on the areas that needs improvement, hone your skills and learn the proper way of approaching a problem.

For example: I have had problems with using connectors between sentences. My phrases appeared disconnected and miles apart from each other. Often, they won’t make any sense and my teacher would put a big red question mark on top and say “go fix this. Rewrite.”

Here is how I fixed it:

I would write the first few sentences and stop. Next, I would write the same thing on my native language and then I would read both of them. Analyzing a paragraph written in my own language helped me to identify the areas where I can improve my English writing skills.

Read, Read and Read

Not only blogs, make a daily habit of reading newspapers, magazines, books or novels. You should spend 70% of your time reading while the remaining time should be used to write, practice and learn. Reading is the best way to make yourself aware of the style, approach and the fundamentals.

For example, if you want to be a good freelance writer on lifestyle niche, read lifestyle blogs on a regular basis and follow current trends, news and stories. See how prolific writers write their articles, study how they approach their posts and follow the best practices.

At the end of the day, regular practice and subsequent skill improvements will take you a long way. Like I said, it might take some time, but given the fact that you practice regularly and keep improving, you will eventually be your own teacher.

This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing consultant for a neon sign store that offers custom made neon signs; he also consults for a css company

How have you improved your writing skills?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

todo pertin January 10, 2013 at 9:04 pm

nice article. loved it…and thanks

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annew January 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

You’re welcome.

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Alok Asthana August 5, 2012 at 9:31 am

One effective and convenient way is to take up a web based interactive course – WriteEasy – to improve various aspects of writing. Good course. Details are on http://www.solutolearning.com

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annew August 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

Why do you like it? Do you work for them?

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Ellen January 31, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Great (and well-written) article Lior. A lot of what you said also applies to native English speakers (I’m amazed at the errors I find in my first drafts!). English can also be a very confusing language. I’ve actually started a blog to explain English expressions, because half the time I didn’t know what they meant!
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Helenee January 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I don’t have a standard approach, when it comes to writing in English.

Sometimes, especially when I have longer pieces to write or when I want to work quickly in order to fix an image I’ve got in my head, I will work in Greek and then translate in English.

Sometimes, just because the language comes quite natural to me (yep, practice is good!), I will use directly an English structure or wordplay and then revert to Greek – it’s quite funny, actually, alternating between the two in consecutive paragraphs, in the same paragraph, or even in the same sentence.

There are times when I might write in English, start to finish. This also depends on the mood, on the style and subject, as well as on my fatigue level.
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annew February 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

Helenee, I admire people who have more than one language, truly.

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Helenee February 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Oh, what counts more is how artistically and/or effectively we use even that one language, isn’t it?
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Helenee February 3, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Doesn’t it? ;-)
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annew February 6, 2012 at 11:37 am

Suspect clarity comes before artistry Helennee – what do you think?

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Jane Rutherford January 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm

As a non-native english writer, I really appreciate this post. I already try to read as many books in English as possible and I never hit publish on anything that I haven’t read through again the next day. But I know there’s still a lot of work ahead of me. Thanks for this post!
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annew January 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Glad you found the post helpful, Jane.

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Joseph Praba January 29, 2012 at 4:42 am

Thanks for this Lior Levin.

In Malaysia where I come from English is the second language. So it’s true what you say about approach and style for us non-native speakers. Many of our local journalists and reporters in Malaysia could take cue from your tips here. We write our English loaded with cliches here to express ourselves when a simpler one would’ve made it a lot better I admit.

On the other hand reading lots of literature by renowned authors does improve grammar and vocabulary. However, I agree with you that to write good original and compelling prose requires a bit more skill.

I too own a blog and write about stuff that interest me. Although I am not a fantastic writer, I noticed my improvement as I kept at it. Practice and self-examination is key as you mentioned. Alas, not many actually take the time to do so or admit that they do not write well.
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annew January 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Joseph, that’s why I think of writing as a practice. When I look at stuff I wrote years ago I see real improvement because I’ve kept writing.

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Joseph Praba February 25, 2012 at 3:12 am

Absolutely Anne. There’s no better method than continued practice. Cheers!
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annew February 27, 2012 at 11:10 am

Cheers back.

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Loldri January 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Nice post, I agree with what you have written here as someone who has English as a 3rd language, however, I would add something:

I think that generally the quality of printed materials is much higher and there is a lot of “any old rubbish” on the Internet as anyone can have a blog but not everyone can have a book published. Because you are trying to improve your skills you need to make sure what you are reading is of a good quality. I guess what I am saying is even if you read online make sure you get a lot of books!

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annew January 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Good point about the ‘ned Lodri – I forget how much junk is out there because I don’t look for it, but there is a huge amount of awful stuff.

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