Lesson 25
Learning to write like a pro

Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.
Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.”
William Faulkner

Learning to write in English is as difficult as learning to think and speak in English. It usually takes a long time to get it right.

It takes a long time to learn to write because you have to replace your Spanish thoughts and ideas with the equivalent English version of them. The only way you can do this is by absorbing tons of English structures.

Although it is difficult to write well in English, it is not impossible, especially if you have a strategy for doing it.

In this context, I’ll first tell you the basics about writing in English. Then, I’ll give you more specific guidance on how to practice writing.

 

Basics on learning how to write in English


1) Read a lot in English

Writing well in English requires forgetting Spanish structures - which are the first thing that comes to your mind when you sit in front of a blank paper with a pen - and replacing them with the correct English structures.

Therefore, I encourage you to read in English with a Spanish-English dictionary at hand (Linguee will be very helpful for this purpose http://www.linguee.es/), and try to discover the difference between the English structures and the Spanish structures. Once you find them, try to memorise them.

For example:

  • I’m looking forward to hearing your views - Espero con interés escuchar sus opiniones

A very good idea is to read books that are in both languages and compare translations.  eBBi Books has a collection of them. http://www.ebbibooks.com/

 

Advice: Always starts with simple texts, otherwise you’ll lose motivation after sometime.

2) Start by writing simple sentences

Many students make the mistake of trying to turn very complex Spanish structures into English. Since most of the times there is no literal equivalent, their writing ends up having many mistakes.

 

For example:

  • Para compatibilizar estos diferentes imperativos, hoy consideramos factibles varios escenarios.
  •  

    Wrong: To compatibilise this differents imperatives, we consider today factible several scenarios
     
    Right: To make these various requirements compatible, we believe that there are several possible scenarios. Source: cmpr.org

     

    Therefore, I recommend you start writing your ideas in the simplest way possible, keeping this structure in mind:


    Subject + verb + object

    As you gain more experience, you can start adding more unusual words and complex structures.

     

    Examples of simple sentences:

    Example 1: We (subject) went (verb) for a walk on Wednesday (object).  Fuimos de paseo el miércoles.

     

    Note: Look closely at the structure:  "We to go for a walk" not: “We went to walk or walking. "On Wednesday", not “The Wednesday”.

     

    Example 2: This book (subject) gives (verb) practical information about grammar (object).  Este libro da información práctica sobre gramática.

     

    Note: This book is third person, so the verb must have an –s at the end. “gives”.

     

    Example 3: Nobody (subject) knew (verb) them (object).  Nadie los conocía.

     

    Note: Remember “knew” is the past tense of “know”.

     

    3)  Check the tenses that you use

    One important source of mistakes in writing is not using the right tenses. Sometimes, this is due to the fact that the use of tenses does not always coincide in Spanish and English.

    For example, one typical mistake is writing an email using the present tense instead of the present perfect or present continuous.

    Wrong: I attach my homework – Translation of: Adjunto mis deberes.
    Right: I’ve attached my homework or I’m attaching my homework.
     

    But the main reason for this kind of mistakes is simply not knowing the verbs tenses. So to improve your writing skills you should just learn the verb tenses once and for all.

     

    4) Master the connectors

    A well written text can always be recognised by the smooth transition between the different ideas that its author tries to convey.  You can use the list of connectors I have included at the end of this lesson to start practising.

    For example: 

    Expressing results

    • Por lo tanto: So, therefore
    • Es por eso: That’s why. Wrong: It’s for that.
    • Por consiguiente: Consequently
    • Dado que: because of, due to



    5) Think about what kind of text you want to write and adapt the vocabulary

    The better you are at using the right wording within the right context, the more impact your text will have. Consequently, it is important that you take the time to look for the specific vocabulary, expressions and jargon (jerga) used in every context.

     

    For example:

    • If you write a formal text, you must be careful not to use colloquial expressions.Example: You don’t start a formal email by saying “Dear madam” (formal) and then continue with: “Long time no see” (informal).
    • If you prepare a presentation for your company, you should be familiar with the technical vocabulary and connectors to link sentences.
    • If you prepare a CV, ask a native to review it before you send it.
    • If you prepare a cover letter you must learn how to highlight your most important qualities.

     

    My advice:  Always use texts written by native speakers as an example and try to imitate their way of writing.

    Choose British English if the recipient of your letter is British or European and American English if the recipient is American or is familiar with this type of English.

     

    6) Do not invent anything, just copy

    Making up your own English sentences is very risky because they are likely to be contaminated by Spanish. When you start writing, it’s a better idea to try to copy the English structures. Later, with lots of practice, you can start expressing your ideas in your own words.  Of course, I am not encouraging you to plagiarise, but rather to learn the right patterns.

     

    7) Check punctuation

    There are several differences between Spanish and English.

    I’ll list some:

    • Capitalization: Languages and days of the week are capitalized. (Not in Spanish). For example: I speak English. I saw him on Thursday.
    • Exclamation: In English we use only one at the end of the sentence while in Spanish we use two, one at the beginning and at the end of the sentence (!).
    • Opening letters: In English, open a letter or email with Dear friend, followed by a comma. In Spanish we use a colon.
    • Compound words: In English it is very common to make compound words by joining adjectives with a noun. The words are usually separated by a hyphen. For example: A two-year-old boy. Un niño de dos años.  A well-known actress- Una actriz conocida. A fair-haired man- Un hombre rubio.
     

      8) Check the spelling

      A misspelled word always gives the reader a bad impression. Therefore, always use a dictionary to make sure you don’t have spelling mistakes. English is particularly difficult in this sense.  

      You also have to take into account that many words are spelled differently in British and American English.

      Examples:

      • Center (Amer)- Centre (Brit)
      • Traveling- (Amer) Travelling (Brit)
      • Realize (Amer) – Realise (Brit)
      • Labor (Amer) – Labour (Brit)



      9) Use this trick whenever you have doubts about a particular structure

      It won’t always work, but it can help. Write the dubious sentence on Google and do a search. If you see that your sentence appears on native English websites, it’s most likely correct. If it doesn’t, look for an alternative sentence on these native websites or Linguee.

       

      10) Review the text

      Once you've finished writing, spend some time reading it again and checking for mistakes. Use the spellchecker in "Word" or similar software. Finally, don’t forget that “Word” can also help you find synonyms that will make your text much richer and interesting.


       

      Practicing

      All texts (emails, letters, CVs, stories, essays) have specific “Openings”, “Bodies” and “Closings”.  If you learn them well, your writing skills will immediately improve because knowing how to say something  (style of language) is just as important as knowing when to say it (context).

       

      As emails and letters are the are the most common kind of text that you’ll need to write in English - especially if you are planning to work in an English-speaking environment - we will learn the specific openings, bodies and closings for formal and informal emails and letters.



      Informal email or letter closings and openings

      Parts

      English

      Spanish

      Openings

      Hello Peter,

      Hola Peter:

      Hi Peter,

      Hola Peter:

      Hey Peter,

      Oye Peter:

      Good morning/Good afternoon Peter,

      Buenos días Peter/ Buenas tardes Peter:

      Hey you guys,

      Hola a todos:

      Hello fabulous ladies, (*)

      Hola fabulosas señoras:

      Pre-closings

      I look forward to seeing you

      Tengo muchas ganas de verte

      Can’t wait to see you (affectionate)

      Tengo muchas ganas de verte

      Closings

      Thank you

      Gracias

      Thanks

      Gracias

      Yours (affectionate)

      Tuyo/a

      Take care

      Cuídate

      Love

      Amor (between close friends)

      Talk to you soon

      Hablamos pronto

      Best wishes, Best regards (semi-formal)

      Mis mejores deseos/Saludos

      (*) Used at work in a very friendly atmosphere.

       

      Informal email or letter bodies

      Type of Body

      English

      Spanish

      Why you are writing, answering

      Thank you for your email. I wanted to know if you could come to our party

      Gracias por tu email. Quería saber si podrás venir a nuestra fiesta.

      Just to let you know that… (*)

      Solo para hacerte saber que…

      A quick note just to remind you that we have a dinner on Saturday with Mr Davidson

      Una nota rápida para recordarte que tenemos una centa el sábado con el Sr. Davidson

      Hope you are okay and in good health. I’m writing because I wanted to know...

      Espero que estés y con buena salud. Te escribo porque quería saber

      I’m writing because there is…

      Escribo porque hay

      Thank you for your prompt reply. I will try to explain the situation.

      Gracias por tu rápida contestación. Intentaré explicar la situación

      Attaching documents

      I’ve attached the email she wrote

      Te adjunto el email que ella escribió

      I’m attaching my schedule

      Te adjunto mi horario

      I’m sending some pictures

      Te envío algunas fotos

      I have attached the document that you wanted

      Adjunto aquí el documento que querías

      Giving information, elaborating,

      I’m thrilled to let you know I have passed the exam

      Me emociona decirte que pasé el examen

      I wanted you to know I won’t be able to make it next Saturday. Anyhow, if you want anything from me, please drop me a note.

      Quería que supieses que no podré ir el próximo sábado. En cualquier caso, si quieres algo, escríbeme.

      I’m very happy to tell you that I’m arriving tomorrow morning in Denver

      Me alegra poder decirte que llego mañana por la mañana a Denver

      You should know that she won’t be joining us this evening because she had a previous commitment

      Deberías saber que ella no vendrá con nosotros esta noche porque tenía un compromiso anterior.

      Making a request

      I was wondering if you could do me a favour.

      Quería saber si puedes hacerme un favor.

      Would it be possible to meet up tomorrow?

      ¿Sería posible que nos viésemos mañana?

      Could you drop me a line when you have a minute?

      ¿Podrías escribirme unas líneas cuando tengas tiempo?

      Can you call me tomorrow?

      ¿Me podrías llamar mañana?

      Sending an invitation

      A quick note to invite you to our party on the 20th of November.

      (Una rápida nota para) Te invitamos a nuestra fiesta el día 20 de noviembre.

      Would you be able to join us for lunch tomorrow?

      ¿Puedes venir a comer con nosotros mañana?

      Please, don’t forget that we have a get together with our cousins on Sunday

      Por favor, no te olvides que tenemos una reunión informal con nuestros primos el domingo.

      Would you like to pass by tomorrow? We are having an informal lunch.

      ¿Te pasas mañana por aquí? Tenemos una comida informal

      Complaining

      I’m sorry to say that we didn’t like how the meeting ended

      Siento decirte que no nos gustó como acabó la reunión.

      You should know by now that you are late with the payments

      A estas alturas sabrás que te has retrasado con los pagos

      We hope you don’t mind us saying that the restaurant your friend recommended wasn’t too good

      Espero que no te importe que te digamos que el restaurante que nos recomendó tu amigo no era muy bueno.

      I don’t know what went wrong, but we didn’t like the way he treated us.

      No sé que fue mal, pero no nos gustó la manera en que nos trató

      Apologizing

      I’m very sorry for what I did

      Te pido disculpas por lo que hice

      Sorry for the inconvenience

      Perdón por las molestias

      I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to see you tomorrow

      Lo siento, pero no podré verte mañana

      Really sorry, it won’t happen again

      Realmente lo siento, no pasará otra vez.

      (*) Very common informal opening.




      Formal email or letter closings and openings

      Parts

      English

      Spanish

      Openings

      Dear Sir,

      Estimado Sr.

      Dear Madam,

      Estimada Sra.

      Dear Sir or Madam,

      Estimado Sr o Sra,

      Dear Mr /Mrs Davidson, (*)

      Estimado Sr/Sra Davidson

      Dear Ms Davidson,

      Estimada Srta. Davidson

      Dear Professor/Doctor Davidson,

      Estimado profesor/doctor Davidson

      To whom it may concern :(**)

      A quien corresponda

      Pre-Closings

      We/I look forward to hearing from you

      Esperamos/Espero tener noticias suyas

      We/I look forward to meeting you soon

      Esperamos/espero (que nos veamos) ncontrarnos pronto

      Should you need further information, do not hesitate to contact us

      Si necesita más información, no dude en contactarnos

      Closings

      Yours sincerely (***)

      Atentamente

      Yours faithfully (****)

      idem

      Yours truly (Amer)

      idem

      Sincerely (Amer)

      idem

      Sincerely Yours (Amer)

      idem

      (*)  In British English Mr and Mrs and Ms are not followed by a period. In American English, yes.

      (**)Especially Amer. English

      (***) When you start with the name of the person, for example, Dear Mrs Davidson.

      (****) When you start with Dear Sir or Madam, that is you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to.

       

      Informal email or letter bodies

      Type of Body

      English

      Spanish

      Why you are writing

      I am writing in relation to

      Escribo en relación a/con

      I am writing with regard to

      Escribo en relación a/con

      With reference to your email dated October 10th.

      En referencia a su email de fecha 10 de octubre

      Thank you very much for your email with regard to the meeting we had yesterday

      Muchas gracias por su email referente a la reunión que tuvimos ayer

      I am writing to make clear that the event will be held next month at the….

      Escribo para aclarar que el evento se celebrará el mes que viene en

      I am writing to make a reservation. We will be having a meeting at the hotel XXX the 25th and 26 of April, so we would like to book two double rooms.

      Escribo para hacer una reserva. Tendremos una reunión en el hotel XXX el 25 y 26 de abril, por ello nos gustaría reservar dos habitaciones dobles.

      As a follow up to our telephone conversation, I’d like to inform you

      Tras nuestra conversación telefónica, me gustaría informarle que..

      I am writing to answer your email dated 4th of January

      Escribo para contestar su email de fecha 4 de enero

      Attaching documents

      Please, find attached herewith the contract

      Por favor, vea el contrato adjunto

      I have attached my CV/Resúmé (Amer) for your consideration

      Le adjunto mi CV

      Please, see the attached photos of the event

      Por favor, vea las fotos del evento adjuntadas

      We are attaching the budget for next year

      Le adjuntamos el presupuesto para el próximo año

      Giving information

      We are happy to inform you that our annual meeting will be held on 7th of January 2015 at the XXX hotel

      Nos complace informarle que nuestra reunión anual tendrá lugar el 7 de enero en el Hotel XXX

      We would like you to know that our new products will be available from the 1st of September onwards

      Le comunicamos que nuestros nuevos productos estarán disponibles desde el 1 de septiembre en adelante

      It’s a pleasure to inform you that we have opened a new branch in XXX

      Nos complace informales que hemos abierto una nueva sucursal en XXX

      We are glad to let you know that are shop will reopen on the 5th of July

      Nos complace informarle que la tienda volverá abri el 5 de julio

      We regret having to inform you that today’s meeting has been cancelled due to the general strike.

      Lamentamos tener que informarle que la reunión de hoy ha sido cancelado debido a la huelga general

      Making a request

      We would like to know if you could attend our next annual meeting in Hawaii on the…..

      Nos gustaría saber si podrá asistir a nuestra próxima reunión annual en Hawaii en el

      Please, let us know if you can be in New York around the 5th of July.

      Por favor, infórmenos si podrá estar en Nueva York alrededor del 5 de julio

      Could you please make a reservation under my name?

      ¿Podría por favor hacer una reserva en ni nombre?

      Would it be possible to book a table for tonight at a restaurant that you think is convenient?

      ¿Sería posible reservar una mesa para esta noche en un restaurante que crea conveniente?

      Sending an invitation

      I would be an honour for us to have you at annual conference in Shangai the 12th of May

      Será un honor para nosotros tenerle en nuestra conferencia annual en Shangai el 12 de mayo

      We would like to invite you to XXX fair that will take place next December 22nd at the XXX

      Nos gustaría invitarle a la feria XXX que tendrá lugar el 22 de diciembre en XXX

      I would be a pleasure to have you and your team on our premises any time this year. Please, let us know when you can come.

      Será un placer tenerle a usted y a su equipo en nuestras instalaciones en cualquier fecha este año. Por favor, díganos cuándo podrían venir.

      Complaining

      I would like to inform you about the many incidents that happened last week on your premises.

      Queremos informarle sobre los muchos incidentes que ocurrieron en sus instalaciones la pasada semana

      I am writing to let you know that we would like to receive full refund of the tickets we bought, as when we arrived at the event we were not allowed to enter.

      Le escribo para comunicarle que nos gustaría que se nos reembolsara el importe total de las entradas para el evento dado que no se nos permitió la entrada.

      We would like to express our dissatisfaction with the service received by our clients at your restaurant.

      Nos gustaría expresar nuestra insatisfacción en relación con el servicio que recibieron nuestros clientes en su restaurante

      We regret to inform you that our clients missed their plane because the driver didn’t get to the airport on time. He picked them up half an hour later than planned.

      Lamentamos informarle que nuestros clientes perdieron su avión porque el conductor no llegó al aeropuerto a tiempo. Él los recogió media hora más tarde de lo previsto.

      Apologizing

      Please, accept our apologies for the delay.

      Por favor, acepte nuestras disculpas por la tardanza

      We are very sorry to inform you that Mr Davidson won’t be able to attend the meeting of the 22nd of June.

      Lamentamos comunicarle que el Sr. Davidson no podrá asistir a la reunión del 22 de junio

      We would like to apologize for any inconvenience we might have caused.

      Nos gustaría disculparnos por todas las molestias que causamos

      Please, let us know how we can compensate this terrible mistake. We are open to any suggestions.

      Por favor, díganos cómo podemos compensarles este terrible error. Aceptamos cualquier sugerencia




      Connectors

      Connector

      English

      Spanish

      First paragraph

      To start with

      Para empezar

      Firstly

      Primeramente

      In the first place

      En primer lugar

      First of all

      En primer lugar

      Second Paragraph

      To continue with

      Para continuar con

      Secondly

      En segundo lugar

      In the second place

      En segundo lugar

      Giving personal opinions

      In my opinion

      En mi opinión

      I think that

      Creo que

      I believe that

      Creo que

      I agree with

      Estoy de acuerdo con

      I don’t agree with

      No estoy de acuerdo con

      I disagree

      Estoy en desacuerdo

      From my point of view

      Desde mi punto de vista

      In my view

      En mi opinión

      As I see it

      Como yo lo veo

      Personally, I wouldn’t say it but considering that

      Personalmente, no lo diría pero considerando que

      To be honest

      Para ser sincero

      Honestly

      Honestamente, Sinceramente

      To tell you the truth

      Para decirte la verdad

      Adding information

      In addition (to)

      Además (de)

      Besides

      Además

      On top of that/this

      Además de eso/esto

      Apart from

      Asimismo

      Moreover

      También

      Also

      También

      Furthermore

      Adicionalmente

      On the one hand

      Por un lado

      On the other hand

      Y por otro lado

      Additionally

      Adicionalmente

      And eventually

      Y finalmente

      Exemplifying

      For example

      Por ejemplo

      For instance

      Por ejemplo

      Such as

      Tal como

      And so on

      Y así sucesivamente

      As for (noun)

      En lo que con concierne a

      Expressing facts

      In fact

      De hecho

      As a matter of fact

      De hecho

      Actually

      Realmente

      Really

      Realmente

      Giving reasons

      Because of + noun/personal pron.

      Por eso

      That’s why

      Es por eso que

      Due to

      Debido a

      For this reason

      Por esta razón

      Owing to the fact

      Debido a

      Therefore

      Por lo tanto

      As a result of this

      Como consecuencia de esto

      Contrasting

      Inspite of + noun

      A pesar de

      Despite + gerund

      A pesar de

      On the contrary

      Por el contrario

      Whereas

      Mientras que

      While

      Mientras

      Although

      Aunque

      Though (informal)

      Aunque

      Even though

      Incluso aunque

      However

      De manera que, independientemente,sin embargo

      Anyhow

      En cualquier caso

      Yet

      Sin embargo

      Nevertheless (formal)

      Sin embargo

      Summarizing

      In brief

      Para resumir

      To sum up

      Para abreviar

      In short

      En pocas palabras

      In a few words

      En pocas palabras

      To make a long story short (informal)

      Para acortar

      On the whole

      En su conjunto

      All in all

      En definitiva

      Sequencing

      Suddenly

      Repentinamente

      All of a sudden (informal)

      Repentinamente

      Then

      Entonces, luego

      After

      Después

      As a result

      Como consecuencia de

      Next

      A continuación

      In the mean time

      Mientras tanto

      Meanwhile

      Mientras tanto

      While

      Mientras

      Finally

      Finalmente

      First, second, third

      Primero, segundo, tercero

      Results

      Therefore

      Por lo tanto

      So

      Así pues

      As a consequence

      Como consecuencia de, por consiguiente

      Consequently

      Consecuentemente

      Hence (formal)

      Así pues

      Thus (formal)

      Así pues

      As a result

      Como resultado de

      Definitely

      Definitivamente

      Conclusion

      In the end

      Finalmente

      At the end

      Al final

      In conclusion

      En conclusión

      To conclude

      Para concluir

      To wrap up

      Para concluir

      Finally

      Finalmente

      Lastly

      Al final



      Homework:

      Write an email answering this one:

      Dear Mr Torres,     
      We are happy to inform you that you meet the criteria for getting financed via our crowdfunding system.
      In order to continue with our standard procedures, you will need to attend an orientation session to receive materials, tools and a timetable. Please, let us know when it will be most convenient for you to attend this session. (Tell them when you can attend)
      You will also need to produce a short video (2-3 minutes). But before you do that, we’ll need to have a brief description of it for our records. (Describe the video, no more than 150 words)
      Additionally, you will need:
      -to develop a list of at least 100 individuals prior to the launch of the Project
      -to maintain the Project site weekly
      -to meet all deadlines and
      -to spend all funding received for the Project as promised. (Accept all this)
      Thank you very much for your participation.
      Kindest regards,
      Selena Craig
      Team manager
      Crowdfund Ltd

       

       

      Sample answer

      Semi-formal email

      Dear Mrs Craig,
       
      Thank you very much for accepting us for this thrilling crowdfunding event. (A first line to thank the sender. In English it’s much more common than in Spanish to thank when writing)
       
      My team and I could attend the session any day from Monday to Friday next week after 5 o’clock. The most suitable date, though, would be Friday the 16th at 5.30. Please, let us know if this works for your team. (The writer is giving two alternatives in case one fails).
       
      Furthermore (connector), here is a short description of our video.  
       
      The first image will be our company’s logo. Then a member of our team will appear with a white background. He will be carrying an iPad in his hands and he will start explaining the different features of our app. The written explanation will appear in different frames with some visual prompts to help the viewer understand all the details. We will also insert some clips we filmed of real people using the app in which their reactions can be seen. The video will end with three words in the last frame: “simple, reliable and fast”. A member of our team, who is an amateur musician and plays in a band, has created suitable background music. The video is 2.5 minute long. (This description is 122 words)
       
      Finally (final connector), we understand and accept all the conditions listed in your email and we’ll be working hard to fulfil these requirements.
       
      We are looking forward to seeing you in the session. (Friendly pre-closing).
       
      Kind regards,
       
      Pablo Torres