Can we really improve our writing by reading more?


Do you want your EFL and ESOL students to write well? Many people think that learning to write well is like learning to swim faster or to speak better English. In other words, they believe that writing better means writing more and writing more often.

In fact, there is a lot of research to show that the quantity we write and the quality of our writing are not linked.

What's more, research in Canada even suggests that extra classes in writing which focus on individual students' mistakes do not improve the quality of our writing or our performance in tests of general English (Burger, 1989: 'Content-based ESL in a sheltered psychology course: Input, output, and outcomes' in TESL Canada 6: pp 45-59).

In Japan, Mason in 2003 studied adult learners who were asked to write short notes on their reading, some in Japanese, others in English and a final group in English which was later marked and students' mistakes corrected. None had any effect on improving writing quality or on development of general English skills.

So, if more practice in writing does not improve our writing skills, what does help? The answer is, of course, more reading. Malcolm X, the freedom fighter for Afro-American civil rights, said that he could hardly write before he spent a lot of time reading in prison. What's more, there are many academic studies that show reading a lot helps writing ability and especially spelling!

So, if you want your students to write well, get them to read more and you will see great improvements!