Advanced ESL Writing,
Top Five Mistakes
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an ESL learner gets to a certain level of language learning they: |
When an ESL writer gets to this stage they:
all the basics
- No longer have to work at them
- Have become
- Know and can use English
- Can express themselves so that their readers can
- They're not quite perfect. Their writing just
doesn't read exactly the same as a native speaker's.
I have extensive experience of working as a proofreader correcting the
writing of advanced writers who aren't native English speakers.
list and explain five of the most common mistakes that I see in their
1. Overuse of linking words and phrases
Linking words and phrases
are words and phrases such as:
- However, and many others
I know that most ESL writing teachers
tell their students about using
linking words in their writing to join sentences and paragraphs
together. This is an important skill to learn and use, but I find that
linking words are often overused or the wrong word is used.
ESL learners are told that linking words are important and will make
their writing better and easier to understand. You're given exercises
to help you chose and use linking words, but like many exercises, these
are slightly unnatural, in that, they're designed to give you as a
student, as much practice of the topic as possible in a short time.
Native English speakers don't use linking words extensively. Just at
selected points in their writing.
An advanced ESL writer generally uses linking words much more
frequently than a native speaker would. Try to reduce your use of
linking words to sound more natural in your writing.
2. Unnatural word choice
Even advanced ESL writers can still make mistakes in their choices of
; but these mistakes are related to more complex words.
Often the words which are used incorrectly have a similar meaning to
the intended word but not quite the same. For example:
|Word used by ESL writer
In all the examples above the word used by the ESL writer, in the
context of the sentence, were similar to the correct word.
In all the
cases the sentence was understandable, but did not sound natural or
required the reader to stop and think, just for a moment, about what
the writer meant.
And this is the most common problem with advance level ESL writing –
sometimes it just doesn't sound right to a native speaker. It's close
but not quite right in a few areas.
3. Misplaced modifiers
is a word or group of words that describes something or limits its
- I want the blue hat.
(Blue describes which hat.)
(Quickly describes how we ran.)
This is something that's not just a problem with ESL writers but with
many native writers as well. The modifier is misplaced in the sentence
– it modifies the wrong word.
Usually this makes the sentence sound wrong. It doesn't flow naturally,
the reader has to stop and think. (An advanced ESL writer doesn't often
make a mistake so bad that it causes the sentence to become impossible
to understand, though.)
Incorrect: We almost washed all the dishes.
(Here almost describe the action of washing all the dishes.)
Correct: We washed almost all the dishes.
(Here almost describes all the dishes.)
Often in the work that I'm correcting I can still understand what the
ESL writer wanted to say, by using common sense and reading the
sentences around the one with the misplaced modifier. I can guess at
what I'd have wanted to say in that situation.
But it's still a mistake and each mistake, no matter how minor they
might appear, makes your writing less professional looking, which can
be a big problem if your writing is all that the reader has to judge
you and your ability on.
4. Mixing up prepositions
In the advanced ESL writing that I quite often see there are mistakes
with the use of prepositions
These five prepositions often get mixed up and misused. As with many of
the mistakes made by advanced ESL writers, the differences between the
prepositions are quite subtle; the sentences sound almost right, and
it's possible to understand what the author meant to say. But they
don't sound like the writing of a native English writer.
Incorrect: He's bigger from me.
Correct: He's bigger than me.
5. How about that zero article?
Most advanced ESL writers can use the indefinite (a/an) and definite
correctly but have problems using the zero article (no
article at all).
The problems are either the use of an article when there should be no
(zero) article present or the zero article being used when either a/an
or the should have been used.
Incorrect: She's afraid of the snakes.
(Meaning: she's afraid of specific snakes.)
Correct: She's afraid of snakes.
(Meaning: she's generally afraid of snakes.)
Advanced ESL writers can usually produce well written and presented
They're able to write without making many of the mistakes
that they made when their English was at a lower level; but they still
make mistakes. Only the mistakes are more advanced.
They're the sort of
mistakes that can be corrected with careful proofreading, if the writer
is aware that these are the sorts of mistakes they're likely to make.
This article should help you know about, and therefore be aware of the
possible mistakes. If, when proofreading, you check for the mistakes
I've explained here, you should be able to improve your writing so that
it gets even better.
This article was written by Jolyon Dodgson
If you would like more information about English writing and
proofreading or need someone to proofread your documents, you can go to
the Excellent Proofreading and Writing site
. The site has ESL,
academic, scientific, and many more sections about writing, as well as
checklists and techniques to help you proofread your own documents.