How to improve your written English on the web as a non-native speaker

Walter Paganini
Dec 30, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo courtesy of Waldemar Brandt

Whether you’re trying to get your story distributed by Medium curators or to set up a successful LinkedIn profile, the importance of avoiding major spelling and grammar mistakes on the web cannot be overstated.

Non-native speakers like me often have a hard time getting everything right, but search engines and other technologies can make things much easier.

These are my personal tips to keep your writing as polished as possible even without a perfect knowledge of the English language.

1 — Turn on your browser’s spellchecker

If your browser doesn’t have a built-in spellchecker, one might be available as a third-party extension.

Here it is in Google Chrome’s settings.

2 — Double spellcheck on Google

Exactly what I meant, Google.

3 — Use Google Translate to say what you mean

Note that, when possible, Google Translate will also explain the meaning of a word, suggest synonyms and provide usage examples. Never underestimate the usefulness of this tool.

I never get this word right.

4 — Use online dictionaries

Note that the Merriam-Webster can also be used as a thesaurus: it will display both the meaning and the synonyms of the word you looked for. Synonyms are great to make your writing style more fluent.

If you’re looking for usage examples instead, you might want to take a look at WordReference or similar sites. Personally, I don’t use it that much, but my old English teacher used to recommend it a lot.

Did you even know this word existed?

5 — Compare alternatives on Google

Remember: there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

6 — Know what you’re searching for

Verb tenses, for instance, are especially difficult to get right for non-native speakers. Consider the following conditionals:

If I won the lottery, I would hire an English teacher.
If I had won the lottery, I would have hired an English teacher.

What would you search for in order to find out which form is more appropriate in your situation?

One thing that could help you is learning the names of the most common grammar concepts. It does take a little effort to learn them, but in the age of search engines this is a high-return investment.

For instance, there’s no quick trick to master verb tenses, but their names (present simple, past perfect, future continuous, etc.) are the perfect starting point to find out how to use them properly.

If you know its name, it takes seconds to look it up on Google.
Comparisons can be of great help when in doubt.

7 — Say the bare minimum

A plain, correct term is always better than a fancy, incorrect one. Unless you’re 100% sure that what you’re about to say is correct, just reformulate your sentences using only words and structures you’re comfortable with.

When possible, try to avoid risky words and structures altogether: you can’t make a mistake if you don’t say anything at all.

A long-term tip: absorb as much English as you can

The web abounds with authoritative anglophone sources that you can learn from: at least once in a while, take some time to delve into them. Medium stories can be a great way to learn new English words and idioms as well.

Good luck with your English, and forgive me if I made any mistakes.

Photo courtesy of freestocks.org

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Walter Paganini

Written by

I’m a self-learning composer and producer who happens to have a computer science degree.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Walter Paganini

Written by

I’m a self-learning composer and producer who happens to have a computer science degree.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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