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September 10, 2000 - Writing in English - 2002-02-16

INTRO: In honor of the new school year in the United States, Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble offer a lesson in writing in English.

MUSIC: "Write This Down"/George Strait AA: Writing it down is a good suggestion. Our advice today comes from Sharon Bode [BO-dee], coordinator of the Intensive English Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

RS: There are different writing styles around the world, and Sharon Bode has probably seen most of them in her thirty years of teaching English as a second language.

AA: For example, in some languages writers don't state the main point up front.


"But English values clarity and directness and making a point usually at the beginning, so that you know immediately what the author's purpose is. That purpose -- depending on the writing, whether it's a letter or an essay or an e-mail -- can vary, but the standards are pretty much the same, that the reader should know immediately or almost immediately why the person is writing. After that, typically, there will be a clear organization of support for that purpose."

RS: And these logical relationships in English, she says, are clearly marked by words like "therefore," "moreover," "in this way," or "as a result."


"Other languages don't have markers in this way all the time, or at all. Other languages do not value directness. As a matter of fact, they value quite the opposite -- that if you have to say it directly, then you're not writing well."

AA: "Can you give an example?"

BODE: "In our courses, we have students from all over the world, but I think of my experience -- I was in Japan for six years -- and it seems typical or characteristic of students who are from Japan to write English without very many of these overt markers.

They write typically simple sentences as opposed to complex sentences and usually don't mention the reason that they're writing until the very end. This means that you have to really puzzle about what they're writing until you get to the end of whatever it is."

RS: Sharon Bode contrasts that with the style of Spanish-speaking students from Latin America.


"It seems to me that a typical way of writing in English for our Latin students is to write very long, very complex sentences. And, if they're not at a very advanced level, of course, the control of all that logical and meaningful relationships among the parts can be lost. So we typically have to tell them to write shorter sentences, to use only one or two clauses in their sentences, and not eight or nine."

AA: Sharon Bode says the style of writing in English used to be a lot different.


"In English a hundred years ago people were taught to write very flowery, very long sentences. As the century progressed, business and other sort of constraints taught us that simpler and more direct was better."

RS: She says one basic way to teach writing in English is to give students a model, then have them try to match it. The model she suggests is called the five-paragraph essay.


"You have an introduction, you have three paragraphs of body and you have a concluding paragraph. So that's a very common way of approaching teaching students to write who have not been really writing much at all."

AA: For more advanced students, a different method is called for:

Tape: "which is to take what they've written and to have conferences or do feedback in writing to them, to make suggestions about how they can shape their writing to be more effective for an English reading audience."

AA: To learn the style used in the United States, Sharon Bode advises students to observe how paragraphs are constructed in magazine articles, newspaper editorials and other examples of what she calls "educated English."

RS: And speaking of paragraphs, how do English speakers know when to begin a new one?


"Well I think the sort of received wisdom of one idea per paragraph. But that's a sort of empirical question. If they look at a lot of English language pieces, then can ask themselves, why did the author start this new paragraph? But almost always it's because there's a new idea, a different idea from what was in the paragraph before."

RS: "And we would call that the topic sentence."

BODE: "Most of the time the topic sentence or the controlling idea would be in the beginning of the paragraph."

AA: "And every paragraph deserves a controlling sentence."

BODE: "Almost every paragraph."

RS: "And supporting details, right?"

BODE: "And supporting details, right."

AA: "And at the end you've got an essay."

BODE: "Oh my goodness!"

RS: "Or a conclusion. (laughter)"

AA: And that concludes our chat with Sharon Bode, coordinator of the Intensive English Program at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

RS: If you'd like some practice writing, write to us! With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Please Write"/The Tokens