False friends can be your best friends: a game for English learners

By Gianni Angelini, Professional Technical Writer and Masters student.

“Push forward!”, that’s what the Language course director told me the last day of the academic English writing course. It was just the end of last August, and I was trying to win my fears about not being able to engage in academic writing during the Master I was going to attend.

As an Italian native speaker, writing in English is really my worst nightmare. When I speak English, I realize that I am allowed to make grammar errors, provided that I make myself understandable to people: and they are usually so nice to me that I don’t feel distressed by my mistakes!

Writing is different. You know you are going to make mistakes, and they will be there, without you ever being able to spot them. So, how am I managing this fear?

By pushing forward! The director’s suggestion is my rule of thumb. I write as difficult words and sentences as I can, then check all my doubts about them with the help of multiple sources on the Internet.

For example, a recurrent issue I have to face are false friends, given the fact that a lot of Italian words are similar to English words, because in both cases their origin is ancient Latin. At first I thought that I should avoid using false friends, but, in doing so, I have become aware that I was cutting out my own thoughts, the same thoughts I would like to be able to write down in correct English.

So, false friends are now my best friends! Tentatively writing false friends enables me to have doubts and check my mistakes. I feel free to write as my Italian mind dictates, then I carefully check all words and sentences I am not sure that are the correct ones. I find this process really engaging and effective to help my mind spot and amend my own mistakes, and remember the correct English use, too.

It’s like a mental game, a game I play against my own mind: “Don’t be shy, write your way, give me all your thoughts!”. Sometimes it’s funny, because you think you wrote in bad English, while the dictionary tells you that  you are right!

Well, I’m sure that my written English is still rich in strange and funny expressions, but at least I’m not anxious anymore when I’m going to write!





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