Writing English as a Second Language by William Zinsser
A review of the article, Writing English as a Second Language by William Zinsser strikes a thought in a reader’s mind regarding writing. Indeed, most people view writing as a mere and simple task without considering the large amount of keenness that comes with it. Adding on, another issue that proves difficult in writing as pointed out by Zinsser is writing in English. By peering into the differences in English with other foreign lingoes, Zinsser presumes that the English language is the strongest based on its power to express and engage readers in understanding composed writings. Without further a do, a look into the article by Zinsser will allow the reader to understand the factors that comprise good writing as well as the negative habits that damage the use of English in writing effectively.
The main ideal explored by Zinsser in this article is writing effectively in English. Even though the author centers his viewpoint on international students, the ideals he presents are actually important for writing in English. One factor exuded by Zinsser is the ability of English to express anything if articulated properly. In order to explain this thought, Zinsser uses examples from his international students by asking them about their native languages. By questioning them about their native languages, the author seeks to determine what defines good writing. For example, Zinsser directs a question to a Cairo student about Arabic language. Accordingly, the student answers that, “It’s all adjectives (Zinsser, p4)”. Furthermore, the author asks about the Spanish language and notes that both lingoes are decorative and musical but do not exert the power English does.
Nonetheless, from the ideal Zinsser presents, the author explains the negative habits that damage the use of English, especially in writing. One habit that Zinsser avails to the reader is the use of Latin words in English. As such, Zinsser begins by providing a small history of the structure of English. According to Zinsser, English derives from the Latin language and the Anglo-Saxon language. Thus, Zinsser asserts that words stemming from Latin damage English rather than words derived from Anglo-Saxon. To support this, Zinsser states that, “The words derived from Latin are the enemy-they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. The Anglo-Saxon words will set you free” (Zinsser, p9). Furthermore, Latin words comprise lengthy and haughty nouns ending in –ion or -ent. Such words are not clear and further complicate writing to the extent that the reader is unable to understand the point provided by the writer.
Contrastingly, Anglo-Saxon words are easy and short words that express clarity in one’s writing. According to Zinsser (p18), most nouns derived from Anglo-Saxon usually comprise the basics of daily life. Such words establish contact with the reader intentionally or subconsciously by connecting with their earnest sensations and memories. As such, Zinsser says that using simple Anglo-Saxon words is actually one of the tools towards writing effectively in English. Consequently, simple Anglo-Saxon words do not only comprise good writing. Thus, another step in ensuring good writing using these words involves using active verbs. Using active verbs instead of passive verbs is effective for writing since active verbs provide clarity, energy and warmth to the composition. Adding on, active verbs are important for writing effectively since they denote a short and single particular action. On the other hand, passive verbs are longer and unclear.
Moreover, Zinsser provides a number of principles based on writing good English. The first principle is Clarity. The author states that writing that is not clear is a waste of time (Zinsser, p16). This directs to the use of Anglo-Saxon words and active verbs in ensuring reading ease and lucidity. The second principle that Zinsser provides is Simplicity. Even though people assume that simple sentences are stupid, writing such sentences with simple words is actually good for writing in English. This is because using lengthy and fancy words does not show intelligence but rather complicates the work for the reader. The third principle, Brevity, involves using short words in place of lengthy words. According to Zinsser, “short words are better than long words” (Zinsser, p21), and as such, it is important to use short words for long words where possible. The last principle, Humanity, encourages the writer to express himself or herself in writing.
In conclusion, Zinsser writes simply but in detail about the problems facing writing effectively in English. By noting the power of English in influencing understanding, the author provides a tinge of the factors damaging English such as Latin words. Adding on, Zinsser provides a solution for this issue in terms of principles such as Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity and Humanity that will aid the writer in writing good English. Nonetheless, writing in good English is incomplete without including logical thinking, which arises from organizing facts for writing. As such, Zinsser provides that using one thought in each sentence initiates logical thinking and organized writing. Indeed, by putting all the solutions provided into practice, it is possible to write effectively in English.
Zinsser, William. “Writing English as a Second Language.” The American Scholar. 11 Aug. 2009. Web. 18 Jun. 2013.