Learn to Write:Writing is Important
You probably would agree that most Chinese students spend the majority of their time in memorizing vocabularies or studying English grammar while the least in practicing spoken English or writing. Chinese students emphasize on vocabularies and grammar because they think it is the most efficient way to quickly acquire high scores in the TOEFL or GRE test (although I can make a very convincing argument against it). But what are important in taking tests may not be useful in applying to schools, handling heavy homework, and working as a professional in the future. In real life situations, the importance of different skills may have ranks as the following:
Writing: most important in application and at workplace
Speaking: most important in interviewing
Reading: critical for finishing your homework
Understanding of grammar: useful only for taking tests
Vocabulary: all you need in life are 3-4 thousand words
Let me use an example to show you how different writings can have dramatically different effects and why you need more time to practice it.
One of my friends graduated from Tsinghua University and is extremely intelligent and technically capable. Once he showed me a paper analyzing the success of McDonald's in China. Here is the first paragraph:
"As all know, China is famous for delicious food. Food in China from different areas is so different. When McDonald’s decided to enter Chinese market in 1987, many people doubted whether McDonald would succeed in China thought it was the biggest fast food retailer in the United States. You know, fast food is not as delicious as Chinese food, and Chinese people like to eat and pay attention to the taste of food."
What is your impression about this person from his writing? You probably won't think he is a good researcher who is going to say something insightful about McDonald's in China. It has a causal tone and is disorganized. But if you read carefully and try to see the logic behind it, the following is really what he wants to say:
China is famous for the richness of its cuisine. With its large number of cuisines, even the ordinary people have long enjoyed the privilege of choosing from a variety of dishes for their daily meals. In such an environment, when McDonald's entered China in 1997, people wondered: "Will McDonald's succeed with basically three selections -- burgers, French fries, and coca -- on its menu?"
Now what is your impression about this person? He is right to the point of contrasting the rich choices of the Chinese cuisine vs. McDonald's biggest weakness. As a person, he is sharp and probably is going to say something interesting and insightful.
We can draw two important observations from this example:
(1) Writing is extremely important because writing itself tells who you are and could have profound consequences. If you ever have a chance to read many Chinese application essays, you will have the impression that the majority of the applicants are arrogant (read "A False Impression" to see how Chinese students are making them sound arrogant) and uncreative as they are talking about the same thing -- they are smart and diligent. If an applicant gives admissions officers such an impression -- arrogant and uncreative, I suspect that in some cases, the admissions officers will throw away this kind of applications immediately.
(2) Writing can be dramatically improved without using any fancy vocabulary or complicated sentence structures. All you need is a little bit more practice and change the way you allocate your time in studying English. The results will be impressive.
After I completed my last "Are You Writing Enough," a long time BeBeyond Member, Zhang Kaishan, wrote me an email commenting on the article. I think Kaishan would agree with me that practice does improve your English writing.
So, are you writing enough?