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Why Is Writing More Difficult Than Speaking?

For many English learners learning to write fluently in English is much more challenging than learning to speak fluently. Even for advanced level learners, written communications can come much more slowly in English than spoken communications. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Written communication is more formal
  • Spoken communication allows for more 'mistakes'
  • Less reflection goes into spoken English than written English
  • Expectations are much higher for formal written English

It is important when teaching written English skills - especially for business English - to be aware of the challenges that learners will face when learning to function in a written English environment.

The following points can be helpful when considering how to teach English writing skills:

  • Acquiring speech is an unconscious act, whereas learning to write takes a conscious effort on the part of the learner. One reason why many individuals find it difficult or impossible to write is because of the necessity of learning a mapping skill in order to use written language.
  • Written language must be filtered through some sort of system, this system can be phonemic, structural or representative, etc. The individual must not only learn to recognize the meaning of words orally, but also go through a process of transcribing these sounds.
  • The process of transcribing sounds requires the learning of other rules and structures thereby cognizing a previously unconscious process.

Another reason some individuals might find it difficult or impossible to write, is that written language takes on many different registers depending on the function of the written word. Often, these functions are totally foreign to spoken language and can thus be considered 'artificial' to the speaker. These functions are often only used in written speech and are therefore even more abstract to some individuals than the already difficult transcription of simple spoken language into an alphabet. These layers of abstraction, beginning with the transcription of oral sounds into a written alphabet and advancing to solely abstracted functions of written language, are daunting to many individuals who then understandably become frightened of the process. In the worst cases, where individuals do not possess or do not have the opportunity to learn certain cognitive skills, an individual might become fully or functionally illiterate.

By Kenneth Beare, Guide