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Looking for free or low-cost resources to improve writing skills
Thread poster: Kristina Cosumano

Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:40
Member (2015)
German to English
Jul 12

Does anyone know of any good online courses or other resources for working on one's (target language) writing skills? I live in my source-language country, so local courses are not possible.

I recently got the chance to have a look a text I had translated after it had been proofread with changes tracked. While there had been no errors in spelling or grammar, the proofreader had tweaked several passages in such a way so that they "read" with a much better flow. This made me a bit envious of the proofreader's ability to do that, and also made think about my own writing skills and whether it would be possible to work on improving them during times when work is slow (as in, right now).
I searched the internet for courses and/or websites, but haven't quite found what I am looking for. One excellent and free resource is Cambridge English Write and Improve (https://writeandimprove.com/), but this seems primarily geared to non-native speakers.

Are there any good MOOCs out there for this kind of thing? Books?


[Edited at 2017-07-12 10:49 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-12 13:27 GMT]


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:40
English to Spanish
+ ...
Writing skills Jul 12

First, to focus on writing skills as part of your development as a translator is laudable. Second, it seems that you're talking about your writing skills in the target language.

While online courses may seem attractive, I wonder if you can get a hold of local people who are native speakers/readers/writers of the target language. Maybe they'd be open to exchanging letters with you? By letters I mean actual letter writing, not email-style writing or texting.

If there are no locals available, maybe some of the respondents to your thread here might be willing to do the same with you (letter writing) from their own countries?

Last but not least, local universities or institutions might offer immersion courses in the target language of your choice, with focus on writing. Perhaps some foreign students from countries where your target language is native might be amenable to practice writing with you.


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Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:40
Member (2015)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks, I added that I mean my target language Jul 12

Thanks, Mario.

Yes, target language, thanks. I've edited my original post to reflect that.

I find that living in two languages does have an effect on how I speak and write. In my other profession, folks tend to speak an accepted form of Denglish or, at best, a watered-down English geared to the level on non-speakers, and I think that hardly anyone is immune to this, especially after a decade or more in the source-language country. So perhaps what you suggest would work in combination with someone living in an English-speaking region. That is something I can look into.


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Annett Roessner  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 23:40
Member (Mar 2017)
English to German


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Read in your target language Jul 12

Hi Kristina

I know exactly where you are coming from. I'm the opposite language pair to yours and also live in the country of my source language.

I read a lot of high quality texts in my target language, esp. in my specialisation and watch a lot of German tv shows to enhance my target language skills. Yes, great excuse to watch tv.

In other words, keeping up with your target language skills simply requires a bit more effort. The rest will just fall into place.

On another note, have you thought about blog writing?

All the best.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:40
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Difficult to find anything for native speakers Jul 12

My son did the IGCSE First Language English with the help of a tutor. He wouldn't accept me as a tutor but I did later coach another young student successfully. It was a good exam, with good training materials, but it's really designed for youngsters. It's probably not going to teach you anything.

All I've been able to find for adult native speakers at the moment is the online offer of this college in New Zealand:
http://www.nzwriterscollege.co.nz/How%20we%20train/Why%20Become%20a%20Writers%20and%20Why%20Study%20Writing/Is%20Online%20Study%20for%20You.html

It seems that Googling for writers/writing + workshop might be more fruitful.


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Elizabeth Faracini  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:40
Member (2010)
Italian to English
+ ...
Editing course Jul 12

From your post, it seems like you may be interested in taking an editing course rather than a writing course. This can help you to look more objectively at your writing and improve it for readability.
I am not sure about low-cost courses, but I took the online professional sequence (four courses) in editing from UC Berkeley and got a lot out of it. I imagine there are similar courses offered by other institutions.
https://extension.berkeley.edu/public/category/courseCategoryCertificateProfile.do?method=load&certificateId=17209

Good luck!


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Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:40
Member (2015)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
These are all helpful suggestions, thank you! Jul 12

The Berkeley course is a little out of my price range right now, but that might be something beneficial, and I'll look around for similar courses in editing. It doesn't seem that a creative writing course will give me what I'm looking for.


Annet, the blog suggestion made me smile — blogging is what actually led me to translation, in a roundabout way. (I started 10 years ago with the idea that I was practicing for something — I just hadn't known exactly what!)


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Andrea Garfield-Barkworth  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:40
Member (2015)
German to English
Copywriting courses Jul 12

Have you looked at any copywriting courses at all. It may not be exactly what you want but the courses can give helpful insight into what makes a sentence work.

Udemy currently have special offers on their courses, most are around €10. Take a look to see if there is anything of interest here: https://www.udemy.com/courses/search/?q=copywriting&src=ukw


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 20:40
Chinese to English
Without knowing the area... Jul 13

It's a bit hard to generalise, but there's been a boom in science communication over the last decade or two, and a lot of resources have sprung up to support people interested in that field. A lot of that is targeted at understanding the underlying science, but there's quite a lot of material on how to do good non-fiction writing as well.
US universities often have very good materials to help their students with essay writing. OWL at Perdue often comes up in my searches.
But I agree that editing practice may be the thing that would help you most. You could always put up an invitation here for people to join you in a regular editing exchange. Tips might help, but there's no substitute for just doing lots of practice, and you can't be the only translator who's come across this problem.
(I have to say I envy you. I live in my source country, too, and all my translation arguments are on the word and grammar levels. The chance to work on something a bit higher-level like paragraph flow and text organization would be delicious...)


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Edith van der Have-Raats  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:40
Member (2016)
English to Dutch
+ ...
MOOCs Jul 13

Have you tried out any MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)? There's an excellent overview on www.class-central.com.

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Texte Style
Local time: 13:40
French to English
mentoring and proofreading Jul 13

I was lucky to work with the world's most perfectionist translator ever, and have her proofread my work.

Also at one point I had to proofread the DE-EN translations produced by a colleague, even though my German was very rusty.

She got a lot out of the proofreading process though. I couldn't refer back to the German to see why her sentence seemed clunky or knarly, so I would just underline it and tell her it needed reworking. She said I always put my finger on the bits that had given her the most grief. I realised that for FR-EN I used to look at the source text and "forgive" the clumsy wording, because look at the rubbish you're translating here!

I have now forged a reputation for producing texts that read well in the target language, and I would say that it's almost wholly based on the fact that I never skimp on the last stage.

I start by doing a rough draft and the research. Then I check my translation against the source, making sure that I haven't missed anything out, and making whatever improvements occur to me as I go.

Finally, I ditch the source text and work only on my text. I make sure to engage the reader's interest, make sure it flows, and think nothing of completely changing the order of sentences and ideas if it's the best way to pitch something to Brits. Anything that sounds funny peculiar gets a thorough reworking. I'm scouring the thesaurus for a chance to add in an alliteration or rhyme or any word that fits better, I'm roaming through texts on the same subject and noticing a particular word often crops up in target language texts, yet I haven't used it. I go back and look to see whether I could have done. Sometimes I rewrite everything to include such a word if it seems to be a buzz word. I chop long, complex sentences into two or three short and sweet ones. I "cut the crap" and make sure I get to the point. For extremely minor points, if nothing fits properly, I decide to write something that sounds good and never mind that a tiny detail gets lost when you'd need half a paragraph and a translator's note to do it justice. If I can work a clever pun in, I do.

I also have my "translator's mind" working when off duty. I might keep coming across a particular word and realise it has achieved "buzzword" status. It then goes into a file called "Think of using", which I look through for inspiration when I just don't feel like my text sounds right. One recent word to make it: "badass". I've had to write a little pitch to explain to clients why I use this word which sounds negative but actually is the new "cool".

So if you don't find a course that suits you, I would suggest finding a mentor or hiring a proofreader who's prepared to walk you through why they rewrote stuff.


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Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:40
Member (2015)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all for these great suggestions Jul 13

I am writing them all down for future reference.

In the meantime, it seems that an interesting opportunity has presented itself by way of the German freelance translator/interpreter association DVÜD — which surprised me, because I myself am a member and knew nothing about this! It seems they host a weekly German-English Writing Circle online. https://dvud.de/project/ger-eng-writing-circle/


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SarahHutton
United States
English to Spanish
Other ways Jul 27

Haven't you ever tried being a copywriter or blogger or something like that? I understand, that it is not a specific technique but still if you get a difficult topic you find new ways to express yourself managing with some new phrases, constructions, meanings etc. For example, right after college I joined  https://customwriting.com team as a writer. At first, it was very hard because of the variety of topics, but anyhow I felt that it's definitely improved my writing skills. The same thing can be said about blogging. You can write for somebody on demand, so you'll have to deal with any ordered subject. I believe that these are much better ways to improving your set skills than following rules from books.

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Kristina Cosumano  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:40
Member (2015)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your suggestion Jul 28

You may have missed my saying this in reply to an earlier comment, but I have been blogging for nearly 10 years.
(http://klavierzimmer.wordpress.com for anyone who's curious)

I have always thought of myself as a pretty good writer, actually. It was only recently, when I saw a proofread version of a recent translation of mine, that I began to think that I shouldn't just be cruising along on that assumption. I personally feel that I tend to a more undeveloped voice when translating, but write much more elegantly when it's my own writing. And, since I am working as a translator and not a writer per se, I need to look into improving that.

But I fully agree with the idea that blogging helps to improve one's writing skills.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:40
English to Croatian
+ ...
A couple of points. Jul 28

Kristina Cosumano wrote:

Does anyone know of any good online courses or other resources for working on one's (target language) writing skills? I live in my source-language country, so local courses are not possible.

I recently got the chance to have a look a text I had translated after it had been proofread with changes tracked. While there had been no errors in spelling or grammar, the proofreader had tweaked several passages in such a way so that they "read" with a much better flow. This made me a bit envious of the proofreader's ability to do that, and also made think about my own writing skills and whether it would be possible to work on improving them during times when work is slow (as in, right now).
I searched the internet for courses and/or websites, but haven't quite found what I am looking for. One excellent and free resource is Cambridge English Write and Improve (https://writeandimprove.com/), but this seems primarily geared to non-native speakers.

Are there any good MOOCs out there for this kind of thing? Books?


[Edited at 2017-07-12 10:49 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-12 13:27 GMT]


Your example reflects poor writing flow of a translated text, which may result from you thinking in your source language sentence structure.

Writing courses are primarily geared to native speakers for content production in native language which is IMO much different to content editing or tweaking of a translated text. Those are in fact two different skills. The editor who tweaked your translation does not have to be a great content producer at all (from scratch). So I suggest you first see what kind of skill you are looking to develop.


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