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Can ESL writers ever match EFL writers / students?


Karmi 1 | 2   Student
Aug 12, 2013 | #1
How does ESL (English Second Language) and EFL (English First Language) apply to essay writing? Is it possible for ESL students to produce excellent essays that are not recognizible by a professor as ESL writing?
FreelanceWriter    5 | 1,297 ☆☆☆☆   Freelance Writer
Aug 12, 2013 | #2
Is it possible for ESL students to produce excellent essays that are not recognizible by a professor as ESL writing?

Definitely. I've explained several times that I learned English grammar and writing from my ESL father, Uncle, and high school English teacher. The problem that is so evident in posts from many ESL writers on this forum is that most of them have absolutely no clue that they're not anywhere near the EFL level of English fluency and they think that they have no obligation to divulge that they're ESL to potential customers because they think it "shouldn't matter" to them.
OP Karmi 1 | 2   Student
Aug 12, 2013 | #3
That's the problem. Teachers don't like to point out mistakes of students, either. I need to learn from EFL writers to improve my writing skills.
FreelanceWriter    5 | 1,297 ☆☆☆☆   Freelance Writer
Aug 12, 2013 | #4
It's not really about writing as much as it's about things (like idiomatic expressions) that are picked up by ear more than they are learned formally. For example, even if you ignore all the spelling and vocabulary differences (and accents) between Americans and Brits, we still speak very differently in ways that are immediately and obviously recognizable to one another. The differences between the way Indian and Asian and African ESLs speak (and express themselves in written) English and the way those of us who are Americans speak and express ourselves in writing are very obvious to any American. In fact, some of the differences are so characteristic that it's sometimes possible to distinguish some ESLs from others and to identify where an ESL learned English. That's partly because certain idioms are commonly taught in other countries that are "correct" technically, but that just don't sound the way Americans speak because of how they're used. One example would be the way many Koreans speaking English overuse the phrase "oh, really?" There may not necessarily even be anything grammatically "wrong" with good ESL writing that still sounds totally different from the way we use English. There are good and bad ESL writers and good and bad EFL writers; but even the writing of many very good ESL writers still sounds like it was written by someone who is not American to any American reader, and especially to any American professor, (since you asked).
OP Karmi 1 | 2   Student
Aug 12, 2013 | #5
I'll continue reading this forum and learning from writers who don't make grammar or spelling mistakes.
99Essays 4 | 258   Freelance Writer
Aug 12, 2013 | #6
I thing FW just explained that grammar and spelling mistakes are not the only, or necessarily the primary, problem.
Major 39 | 1,367 ☆☆☆☆  
Aug 13, 2013 | #7
Is it possible for ESL students to produce excellent essays that are not recognizible by a professor as ESL writing?

Yes, provided they are proofread by an EFL writer ;).
maxshite 1 | 3  
Aug 24, 2013 | #8
Karmi, the reason why EFL teachers don't actively correct their adult students' discourse (and/or) writing mistakes is that it really doesn't help. Current SLA research informs us that just pointing out the mistake or engaging in recasts (repeating the utterance in the correct way) make little impact in improving an English language learner's speaking (and writing). There are aspects of any language that, once adulthood has been reached, are nearly impossible to master without errors. One example of this problem in speaking English is conjugating the third person singular (she/he/it) of a regular verb in the present tense; quite often students leave off the -s, and it may take many years for him or her to use the form correctly and effortlessly.
RandomRandom    4 | 40   Freelance Writer
Nov 12, 2017 | #9
I believe they can.
If you're an ESL writer, then you probably speak another language as well. Are there dialects in that language? If there are, then haven't you seen people completely change the way they speak the language so that it sounds like the dialect that is not native to them? I've seen this happen with my mother tongue. I do not think English is so different from these dialects that someone who natively speaks or writes it one way could never change and start writing or speaking it another way. In my opinion, it may even happen faster with English because luckily, English grammar rules are so well-documented. FW gave the example of British and American English language differences. I think that if an American were to live in Britain for a prolonged period of time, then they would be able to speak more like the Brits than the Americans especially if they were trying. To me, it is the same thing if a Brit decided to live in America for a prolonged period. Furthermore, I think it is different with writing because you do not need as much time to 'sound native'. A year is enough for anyone actively trying to change their English language style to do so up to a point where their original dialect is no longer detectable.

I think the first step for any ESL person seeking to change their writing style is to recognize where the differences in language expression come from. For many, awkward and noticeably ESL phrases come from the interaction between native tongues and English. If you really want to improve your English, you should try as much as possible to think in English rather than thinking in your mother tongue then translating it to English.

In this forum, I come across these question more than I want to admit. I have even posted something similar myself. I think the answers from some ENL speakers, especially those who admit to not knowing another language are misleading. The reason I think this way is because the label ESL is something that could never change no matter how good your language command became. I mean, even if I were to become an English professor, I'd still be ESL. At that point, however, I think I would stop advertising myself as ESL and letting everyone know that English wasn't my native language. The advice from some ENL members here seems to suggest that I would still need my work proofread by native speakers even at that point. Of course that is false and misleading, not to mention too pessimistic for anyone seeking to improve.

NB. This advice is for people who have already used the language long enough to express themselves understandably. I doubt it would work for someone who is just learning English
FreelanceWriter    5 | 1,297 ☆☆☆☆   Freelance Writer
Nov 14, 2017 | #10
British English and American English aren't good examples because its the same language. Any experienced writer in this business routinely switches back and forth between the two. The differences (including idiomatic expressions) are relatively easy to look up and learn. When it comes to non-native English speakers, it's possible to speak English quite "fluently" while still being recognizably ESL and it's very hard to eliminate all ESL traces without having lived in the US (or with Americans) for a while.
RandomRandom    4 | 40   Freelance Writer
Nov 14, 2017 | #11
I think you misunderstood me. My point was meant for ESL writers and speakers who have had enough experience with the language to a point where it becomes somewhat like a dialect for them. Again, I forgot to mention that speaking like a Native for an ESL person can be close to impossible. But writing is relatively easier and quite achievable for anyone who has it as a goal.
wordsies    5 | 250 ☆☆   Freelance Writer
Nov 14, 2017 | #12
Any ESL writer will have specific elements of writing that are "odd" by ENL standards. However, really good ESL writers (you can probably count them on the fingers of one hand) can write idiomatically, whereas others write in a bastardized version of English that is almost always an instant red flag.
Smiley73 3 | 353 ☆☆  
Nov 14, 2017 | #13
If an ESL writer were to truly work on his craft and develop it over time, then yes, he might eventually be a match for EFL writers. Working on the craft means finding a way to immerse themselves in the English world to the point that they neglect to use their own mother language already. That is the only way they can ever become a match for ENL and EFL writers. By creating a world where they speak, write, and think only in the English language, then they can begin to progress with their writing quality. They must also read quality English sources of information like newspapers and magazines. The must void the bilingual sources of news and supermarket tabloids like Us Weekly and People Magazine. The bilingual news sources need to be avoided in order to not tempt them to revert to reading their natural language and the tabloids, well, if they are going to read in English, they may as well increase their intellectual capacity as well. Tabloids will teach them to speak and think in "trash" talking English, which will not help them to improve the quality of their written work.
RandomRandom    4 | 40   Freelance Writer
Nov 15, 2017 | #14
(you can probably count them on the fingers of one hand)

I agree with this. Is it that they cannot learn or is it that it is not a priority for them? Personally, I'm more inclined to believe that one who sets out to learn will be really good after a while.
FreelanceWriter    5 | 1,297 ☆☆☆☆   Freelance Writer
Nov 15, 2017 | #15
I don't think you can learn to write in a convincing EFL voice just through practice, no matter how much writing you do, simply because you'll just be making the same mistakes over and over without realizing it. The only way would be to live with EFLs long enough to pick up idiomatic expressions and to have EFLs point out every awkward element of grammar and syntax that is characteristic of ESL English that you will, otherwise, never successfully eliminate from your English. Unless someone corrects you in real time whenever you're speaking English, there will probably always be easily-identifiable indicators that you're ESL in your English speech and writing. However, if you already speak English fluently and you have EFLs around you at all times to point out and correct every mistake, you could probably achieve EFL-like fluency in a year or two.
Extremely experienced, honest, versatile American writer in NYC with a Law Degree from NYLS: Visit NYCFreelanceWriter "dot" com
RandomRandom    4 | 40   Freelance Writer
Nov 15, 2017 | #16
I don't think you can learn to write in a convincing EFL voice just through practice, no matter how much writing

I don't think writing alone is sufficient, for the same reason you state. It pays to read actively too, in my opinion.

As Smiley73 above states, actively reading material by ENL people would help. Active reading here means noting the language use, phrases, vocabulary, finding synonyms etc.

I agree with you when you say that having ENLs correct and coach actively may help to a big extent. However, the reason the idiomatic expressions for ESLs persist is that that is not a resource they have.



Forum / General Talk / Can ESL writers ever match EFL writers / students?

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