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Mastering English Composition

Unit 1. Getting Started

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.”

Silvia Plath

Congratulations!

By enrolling in Writing with Lucy, you have taken the first step to becoming a better writer of the English language.

It is hard to believe, in this technological and social media world of today, that it is still important to be proficient in writing English.

But the truth is, it has never been more important. Consider that –

  • Humans have been putting words on clay tablets, wax tablets, papyrus, and finally paper, for about 3400 years.
  • Evolved over centuries, the English language today has become the principal language of the world.
  • More than a billion people speak English as a first language, and another billion speak it as a second language.
  • English is the official language of fifty-three countries.
  • English is the preferred language worldwide for science, technology, and global commerce.

Indeed, an article in The Guardian, a respected Great Britain newspaper, calls the English language a “behemoth, bully, loudmouth, and thief,” concluding that “no language in history has dominated the world as English does today.”

For these reasons, the ability to write is a must-have skill today, as a Harvard University neuroscientist recently observed: The most underrated skill that successful people have is the ability to write clearly.”

A 2021 study commissioned by the Association of Colleges and Employers confirms this:

“73.4% of employers are looking for candidates who have strong writing skills.”

But it seems that —

Textspeak, emojis and the casual grammar we use in texts and emails have caused many of us to lose interest in correct English composition. Too many high schoolers, college students or adults well into their careers are sorely challenged when asked to write anything substantial.

Another part of the answer has to do with the way our brain processes language. We learn to speak much earlier than we learn to write. We talk at between one and two years of age. As we mature, speech quickly becomes our principal means of communicating with the world around us.

Neurological studies have established that speech and writing involve different parts of the brain. The Broca area of the brain in the left frontal lobe controls speech. The parietal lobe of the brain, located under the crown of the skull at the top rear of the head, controls writing. These areas of the brain support quasi independent language systems.

Because of the ease with which we learn to speak, writing is not part of our early years. Writing only becomes important to us when we learn the alphabet and our letters in our early school years.

Contrary to the ease with which we learned to speak, writing does not come easily for us. Our brains must learn to activate the muscles in our hands and fingers that will allow us to make letters, and then use those letters to make words. It’s a complicated process, which can lead to frustration with writing. We would like writing to be as easy for us as speech!

One aim of Writing with Lucy is to harmonize these two language systems so that our superior ability to speak can be recruited to support our ability to write. As this course progresses, you will be asked to hear what you write as well as see it. Over time, this simple technique of speaking what you write aloud, or hearing someone speak it for you, will improve your writing.

Learning English composition is straightforward, requiring only commitment to learn the lessons and then practice what you have learned. If you took lessons to learn a musical instrument when you were young, you remember you had to practice every day. Writing English – correctly, clearly and persuasively – is no different. There is no substitute for practice, practice, practice! In this course, that means conscientiously doing the practice exercises that go with each unit.

As we proceed with this course, remember these things:

  • The ability to write well is not an inherited trait; you can master good writing skills wherever you are in your life – high school, college, or well into your career.  This is how Ernest Hemingway put it: “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
  • Don’t question Lucy’s teaching method. You may think some of the instruction is too basic, or boring, or “I already know that.” Just do the work. The program fits together and builds on itself.
  • This course is intended first – to raise your consciousness as you write – to help you be intentional about word selection, sentence structure, and paragraph construction; and second — to give you the tools that enable you to edit your work. Using the skills taught in this course, you will learn to edit your drafts to make your written work simple, clear, and persuasive – maybe sparkling!

There are fourteen units of instruction, many of which are divided into subparts. The course is intended to be completed in ten to twelve weeks. But you may get through the course faster and should set a pace that suits you. Please take the time with each unit to understand the teaching before moving onto the next unit.

Videos are provided to emphasize the materials in the teaching units. And, to substitute for a teacher, who, in a classroom setting, would correct your practice exercises, answer keys are provided in the Appendices.

As we begin, here’s a suggestion: Do this course with a friend, or a group. You will learn faster, and it may be more enjoyable, the best way to learn.

News Flash, this just in:

Dateline Mountain View, California: “A former Google recruiter says that applicants have ‘zero chance’ of [employment] . . . if their resume showed that there’s just no way [they are] going to be able to write succinctly in the workplace. . . . ‘[A]pplicants often have too many words and paragraphs in their resumes. . . . [T]he ability to be concise is a crucial skill [for employment with Google].’”

Lucy to the rescue here!  Let’s get started.