Friday, May 9, 2014

Mastering Academic English

As an international graduate student, one of the challenges I am facing is to meet the writing demands. I read Braxley’s article about mastering academic English. I feel lots of the issues addressed in this article are same as I have experienced.

For example, I have tense problem in my English writing and I talked with my American friends about it. One of them said, “I've read Chinese and people of other cultures have trouble processing things related to timing and sequences because of the way tenses are used in their languages.” It is true that in Chinese we do not have inflection –ed to change the verb to show past tense. Hence, in order to use the correct tenses, we have to pay attention to it and double check the forms of the verbs we use after we write our papers. Another American friend said, “I don't really think about tenses too much unless I'm switching between tenses and have to keep things straight.” I think the language we use shapes our mind. I find that Americans tend to think and express themselves in a logical manner and a clear structure. They are usally direct to the point and give reasons or details to support their points. However, we, Chinese like to make lots of foreshadowing before giving our positions. Chinese readers can get the messages between the lines. However, English readers often found the purpose of our writing unclear. Hence, when we write in English, I should shake my "Chinese speaker" habits and think more like an English speaker.When we write scholarly articles in English, we should definitely write grammatically correct English. However it is not enough. In order to sound scholarly, we should pay attention to three other main things I think: writing style, structure, and format. The style and register of our language is very important. For example, I wrote “The mom usually talked with the kid in Chinese at home.” The editor changed my sentence into “The mother usually talked with the child in Chinese at home.” “Mother and child” are more formal than “mom and kid. We should be aware of the word we choose. In addition, we also should follow the structure for academic writing - topic sentence and supporting details are tied up in a coherent and cohesive manner - making meaning flow in a logical way. Also, I just realize good writing is not to show large amounts of vocabulary and advanced grammar. It is how we can help the audience understand our ideas in an effective and efficient manner with less confusion and uncomfortableness. Personally, I would appreciate something easy to follow, something succinct and straightforward, and something practical and constructive to the field.  We should also use the right citation format, like APA, which is the norm in academic field.

Last but not least, we should also write with a good reader awareness, since writing is a form of communication. Hence, reader awareness is fundamental in any type of writing. Sometimes we are too hesitate in expressing ourselves, but we did not ask ourselves who the audience are - whether they are professors, doctoral students, administrators, teachers, parents, clinicians, or other professionals - or whom we are writing for. We should think about these questions before, during and after our writing.

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