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English Courses Don't Teach You Writing

But some of them may kill the joy of it

Most English as a second language courses don’t teach you writing. They normally teach you two things:

  1. How to use correct grammar and vocabulary to form a text that makes sense.
  2. How to pass a writing test.

I know this because, since 2012, I’ve been in many English as a second language classrooms, both as a learner and teacher.

But using good grammar and passing a test is not writing.

Writing is both a joy and an art. It’s self-expression. It’s creativity at work. It’s clear and organised thinking. It’s reflection and connection. It’s storytelling.

Having your readers in mind, selecting the best words for them, organising those words, and listening to how they sound when they’re played together — all that is the work of an artist. The single act of crafting a sentence is a little art project, which of course also involves accurate use of language.

How do you teach all that without a red pen (or the comment function on Google Docs)?

Only another artist can do it.

This is why my heart sinks every time I’m asked to assign a mark to a student’s story.

“Your artwork is a C+,” said the teacher who’s never written anything.

I wish no one would ever ask me to do that. But they do ask me that. And I do it — wondering if, to kill the joy of self-expression, there are any better tools than writing grades and tests and exams.


Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.