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Monday, March 30, 2009

One who is good at English grammar can write well in English?

Is it true that one who is good at English grammar can write well in English?
(Acquisition of good writing skills requires more than Mastery of English Grammar)

In the English language teaching writing is called a productive skill because it is concerned with the production of the language. The teaching and learning of this specific skill has provoked much discussion about the question of how to write well in English. Some people may think that a good knowledge of English grammar is sufficient to enable them to achieve a high level of competence in written English. However, this is a somewhat simplistic view. As will be analyzed below, the acquisition of good writing skills requires not just a good command of the grammatical system of English but a wide lexical knowledge, a thorough understanding of the topic given and a repertoire of organizational skills.

Apart from a good knowledge of English grammar, one needs to demonstrate a broad lexical knowledge in a good piece of writing. There is an element of truth in the fact that grammar rules help to generate sentences. However, if the writer has no real understanding of the lexis of the English language and just applies the grammatical rules mechanically, he will run the risk of producing grammatically correct but semantically inappropriate or anomalous sentences. To use the English language with clarity and precision, he needs to know what words mean literally and figuratively, what words can collocate and how words, though synonymous, are different form each other in subtle ways. Therefore, the writer’s ability to manipulate structures and his word choice are both needed for the appropriate use of language. For example, while one can write ‘Sorry, I can’t make it’ in response to a friend’s invitation he must formulate his refusal to a business partner more formally ‘I apologize I will not be able to be there.’ In other words, structural accuracy is just as important as vocabulary selection in effective writing.

Next, one needs to rely on one’s general and/or specialist knowledge to develop the topic given in depth to produce an original piece of writing. If one’s mastery of English grammar can partly help shape the form of a piece of writing, it is the ideas presented that decide the content. A good writer does not write merely to reach the word limit (within the time limit); he must write to achieve his purpose, whether to narrate a story, to describe someone or something, to discuss a topic, to inform or to persuade the reader. The best way for him to do this is to ensure that the content of his paper is excellent. He is therefore expected to exploit whatever kind of knowledge he has acquired, be it his general knowledge, his knowledge of current affairs or his specialist knowledge to come up with brilliant ideas that can attract and maintain readers’ attention. As the writer is not in direct contact with readers and cannot therefore get direct feedback from them, he cannot afford to be vague. He has to elaborate his ideas or explanations to get his message across, leaving no scope for misunderstanding or interpretation of any type. This makes an enormous demand on the writer indeed. So in his treatment of the subject assigned, the writer has to draw on the above mentioned areas of his knowledge, which are by nature different from his knowledge of English grammar, to search for worthwhile ideas and arguments.

In addition, one needs to know a number of generally called organizational skills which are essential for the production of a fine piece of writing. Viewed as a process, writing involves the following major skills. The skill of much use during the first stage is that of planning. Before starting off, the writer has to envisage how he would like to go about his writing assignment. He has to take into consideration all the resources he has at his disposal (such as time, vocabulary, language, structures, his understanding of the topic) to make a detailed plan as to how to turn out the end product: a letter, a story, s description, a report, an essay, a term paper, etc. Next comes the skill of much importance here, the skill of paragraphing. After a brainstorming session in the planning stage, the writer may have hit on many ideas and now it is time for him to select and organize those that are really relevant to the topic under discussion. The organization of ideas requires a clear understanding of the discourse structure of the target language, which is English in this case. Here the non-native writer is expected to go beyond the realm of grammar to explore the realm of discourse. For example, he needs to acquaint himself with a variety of genres or styles produced by native writers so that he knows what is expected of him when he writes in English. Besides, the skill of structuring discourse is often coupled with the skill of using liking devices. It is because ideas must not only be grouped together but also developed in logical and coherent paragraphs. Then the skills of drafting, editing and proofreading come into play. The writer has to work on his draft to revise his ideas and check for spelling and punctuation. Only when all the necessary changes have been made can the writer be sure that his end product is ready for ‘publication’.

In general, writing is not an easy skill to get native speakers of English. As can be seen above, the mastery of the skill demands different areas of knowledge such as vocabulary, world knowledge and specialist knowledge and organizational skills in addition to that of grammar. Thus a wide knowledge of English grammar is a necessary condition, not the only necessary and sufficient condition for the acquisition of the writing skill. A high level of written English can only be achieved when one puts huge efforts in building up his knowledge of the areas mentioned above.

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