“Toddlers learn to speak not only by practicing speaking but also by listening. It isn’t very different for others: To learn to write well, read a lot too!”

“I recommend taking your reading beyond your professional areas of interest to capture writing styles from across the board.”

[A thought I shared in Advanced Writing Course I delivered at Amazon. Thanks to Dipika Mukim for organizing.]

It’s in the power of the human mind that is still not understood by scientists:

  • A language is not taught. It is magically picked up by toddlers and others. The teachers just guide and supply the needed corrections.
  • The same thing applies to grammar. Grammar books are barely complete in their coverage of the rules. Yet, we subconsciously know a much larger number of them.
  • Likewise, someone taking a writing session can only be a guide. Reading is the true teacher. Plus, writing practice (with a good feedback mechanism) helps move towards perfection.

Our brain is superior at picking patterns in its input and output, even when multi-sensory. Consider newborns, who move their hands nearly randomly. The brain receives signals from the eyes on how the hands are moving, the sensors in the muscles in the hands [1], and sends signals to the muscles for causing the hand movements. It soon starts discovering the cause-effect relationships by way of perception action cycles [2].  Soon the infant learns controlled movements.

As the connections develop between neurons, the brain progressively and subconsciously finds deeper patterns in what it learns, and gradually builds an internal model/representation of the world including the people around. Same applies to listening and speaking, reading and writing; they all aid language learning. And likewise to singing and playing various instruments. Exposure in multiple forms thereby improves learning.

Spoken language is ahead of written in terms of both evolution and child development. A certain spoken language fluency comes first via corresponding internal developments in the brain. Written language still brings additional patterns for our brains to learn and master. Unlike spoken language which has evolved around dialog, reading and writing often sees much longer solo language usage, which often calls for more structuring of thoughts when writing than when speaking. We find people who could speak well but not write as well, and vice versa. Curiously, average length of a written English sentence is distinctly longer than of a spoken sentence. 🙂

Even within a culture, writing styles vary across professions, and I think more widely than speaking. Academic papers read very differently from novels or articles written for the masses. Such differences in writing styles, variations in written vocabulary, are usually learnt via reading, not via explicit coursework or talking by itself.


References

  1. http://tomvangelder.antrovista.com/sense-of-movement-or-muscle-sense-126m50.html
  2. https://blog.mindresearch.org/blog/perception-action-cycle

Below are a few additional interesting references:

Note: I haven’t had an opportunity to read any of the above in full as yet. 🙂


{Originally posted on LinkedIn.}