‘Writing is thinking.’* Word.

*William Zinsser

‘I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.’
William Faulkner

Many times have I marked writing assignments in which one or more sentences do not make sense. Assuming the student has put time and attention into their homework, the main problem is usually that they do not know what they want to say. This is not an English-specific problem but a broader skills issue. Writing involves ordering our thoughts, and not all of us are accustomed to doing it even in our native language.


People who write a great deal also speak with much greater clarity and come across as articulate, rounded citizens. The skill of ordering our thoughts flows over into our speaking skills. This is why, when I teach, I make sure to include writing as often as the other skills. Students whose speaking is less ordered and clear tend to be the ones who don’t like writing and avoid the writing homework. Perhaps this is because they find writing a challenge or mistakenly believe it’s not central to their English-speaking goals.

voltaireWriting is indeed a challenge: one I would argue must be accepted head-on when learning a language. The question of how to motivate students who shy away from writing is a separate one to this post, but I have found that it works best if it is a simple task, with a fixed word limit, but with plenty of scope so that those more comfortable with writing can expand as much as they wish.

Here is a piece I wrote recently about Margaret Thatcher for my Spanish teacher. My task was to summarise Thatcher’s period in power in 200 words. For me, writing in another language presents a three-part challenge: (a) ordering my thoughts about the subject; (b) expressing them at a purely summative level, and (c) putting them in simple but effective language, based on my current abilities for active use of the language. As you can see, only a third of this challenge relates directly to the fact that I’m writing in another language.

Margaret Thatcher fue un personaje que divide la opinión. Sus políticas se concentraron en fomentar el crecimiento económico. La desregulación del sector financiero, por ejemplo, era una de las prioridades de su gobierno. Redujo el apoyo para los servicios sociales, porque sus valores enfatizaron la responsabilidad personal y familiar. Algunas personas piensan que ella restauró la economía: otras dicen que ayudó sólo a los ricos y a las grandes compañías. Hay dos temas actuales principales de conflicto cuando hablamos de Thatcher en Inglaterra: la huelga de mineros y la guerra de las Malvinas. Las políticas del gobierno de Thatcher no apoyaron la industria de minería de carbón. Terminaron los subsidios, y hubo una gran huelga. Todo esto era muy difícil para muchas familias, especialmente en el norte de Inglaterra. Y referente a la guerra, la mayoría de ingleses pensaron que era muy importante emprender una acción militar para defender esta colonia contra las reclamaciones de Argentina, pero había también gente que pensaron que la guerra no era necesaria. Para mí es muy difícil decir lo que deberíamos haber hecho. Pero en estos tipos de situaciones, pienso que lo más importante es respetar la auto-determinación de los isleños.



One thought on “‘Writing is thinking.’* Word.

  1. Coudn’t agree more. I am also a foreign language teacher. I teach German and sometimes English. After having read these lines: “People who write a great deal also speak with much greater clarity and come across as articulate, rounded citizens. The skill of ordering our thoughts flows over into our speaking skills”, I would definitely add this: The process of writing can be related to a form of slow speaking.


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