Today’s question is, how do you write? Do you love long, artistic, experimental and flowing sentences, full of dependent clauses and prepositional phrases? Do you love to walk around an idea and show it from various angles and viewpoints before you move on to the next thing? Or do you prefer things short, simple, precise, and direct?
I already briefly touched upon my writing style here, in a post describing my blogging habits. Although one’s blogging habits and one’s writing style are clearly not one and the same thing, I believe that these concepts may overlap to a certain extent.
Any habit is defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition. One’s writing style, on the other hand, refers to the manner in which an author chooses to write to his or her audience. It reveals both the writer’s personality and voice, but it also shows how he or she perceives the audience. So while a habit is a routine of behavior that tends to occur unconsciously, one’s style is a matter of choice.
I’m not sure, though, that I’ve chosen my writing style absolutely voluntarily. Being a non-native speaker of English, the way I write is inevitably influenced by my limited L2 repertoire. So although I mostly produce short, simple sentences and my writing sometimes suffers from under-lexicalization, it’s not always my deliberate choice. My struggle to make a point in an L2 simply forces me to play it safe and, often subconsciously, to avoid structures which may hinder communication between me and the reader.
As Victoria Grefer points out,
The more complex I make a sentence, the more room I feel I have for a stylistic error that will confuse a reader.
My no frills style is partly a result of language limitations which probably differ from those a native speaker has to deal with. These limitations can be painful and depressing at times. The truth is, though, that they constantly push me out of my comfort zone, and, in a way, they also help me feel relatively safe. I could easily start blogging in my mother tongue, but then I would have no excuses to justify my linguistic and stylistic errors.
I suppose that one’s writing style also reflects one’s reading preferences. In other words, I write the way I like other people to write – not because I think it’s the right way but because such texts are easy for me to decode.
This brings me to the L2 classroom. Our students often grapple with limitations much more serious than those I’ve described above. At low levels, they have to get by with a very restricted vocabulary and a narrow range of grammar structures. They might not know how to work with dictionaries and thesauri effectively. In other words, although they probably have a lot to say, they don’t have an effective means to communicate their message. This may be a source of bitter frustration and some may even want to give up writing at some point.
The frustration will probably increase if a student prefers a poetic style in their L1, for example, but feels he can’t use it when writing in the L2. Thus, whatever he produces will look insufficient and imperfect in his eyes. The other extreme would be a student who uses an embellished style at all costs, even when it’s absolutely inappropriate and incorrect. Such as student will probably be scolded and punished by low grades anyway. This will eventually discourage her from playing with the language or even make her dislike writing completely.
Before you start scolding and punishing your student for poor writing, try writing yourself. Try what it is like and what it takes to produce a coherent text in a foreign language, or in any language, for that matter. I recommend that you look your fears and limitations straight in the eye first and see how your students might feel.
To wind up my post, below are a few inspiring bloggers who write for teachers who wish to help their students overcome those fears and limitations: