I Write Just Like I Talk

By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

One area where students often express having difficulties is using standard dialects like Standard American English.    Students often tell me, “I have trouble writing because I write just like I talk.”   I know where they are coming from.  I grew up and currently live in a region where, like people from all over the world, I learned a nonstandard dialect and incorrect grammar.   I used double negatives, incorrect verb forms, and the non-word “ain’t” regularly because that’s what I heard; it was the dialect used by most of the people I interacted with daily.


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As a student, however, I prided myself on using correct grammar in my writing.   I just did not realize that I also needed to use it more carefully in my spoken communication until I met Dr. Peake.   Dr. Peake became my advisor and favorite professor when I transferred from a community college to a four year college.  He was an amateur ornithologist who was only a couple years away from retirement, a self-proclaimed “card-carrying Protestant”, and a lover of literature.   I greatly admired him.  He also constantly corrected my spoken language.   I would say “I’ve wrote”, and he would softly correct me, “I’ve written.”    I would say, “ain’t”; he would smile and remind me, “Ain’t is not a word.”  After one semester and two classes with Dr. Peake, I rarely made grammatical errors when I spoke to professors, other students, and colleagues.

Dr. Peake knew that, as a college student and an aspiring college professor, I needed to learn how to speak correctly.  I had realized the need for error- free grammar in my written communication, but I had not completely made that switch in my spoken language.    Once I recognized that need, it was easy for me to learn to use the same Standard American English in spoken communication as I had, by this time, learned to use in written communication.  Our students can learn this, too.  They can learn that we often speak colloquially, informally, and without proper grammar, and that, in academic and professional communications, we must switch to a standard dialect like Standard American English.    We can direct them to resources that can help students learn what formal writing is and is not.    We can also, like Dr. Peake did for me, offer gentle guidance and correction as they move from writing and speaking in a nonstandard dialect to using formal, academic discourse.   What are some ways that you encourage and teach students to use a standard, academic dialect in their professional and academic communications?

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7 Responses

  1. Bruce Kuhlman says:

    I didn’t know that about the color blue, Lisa! I have been using yellow, but doing pretty much what Michael does when grading my students’ writing assignments. Unfortunately, I get the idea that most students are more concerned with graduating than learning to write! I spend a lot of time commenting on and correcting their writing, but I see the same mistakes over and over. The few who truly try and improve are what make it all worth it, though.

    • Amy Sexton says:

      Hi Bruce,
      It can be frustrating to continually provide feedback and correction that does not seem to be heeded or applied by students, but it sounds like you have some success stories, too! Thank you for your reply!

      • Bruce Kuhlman says:

        Yes, it’s the successes that make the time and effort all worth it. Knowing that you helped turn on a student’s “light” is so rewarding. You can feel the student’s excitement right through the computer screen!

  2. Michael B. McKenna. says:

    I would suggest that writing like we speak is one of the biggest challenges to returning students and I find myself spending a great amount of time working with my Introduction to Management students to correct their grammar. Having spent my career in technical sales that required technical proposals for high dollar projects, and developing marketing programs and presentations I stress the importance of reading comprehension and retention, and effective writing skills. I encourage my students to read a section of the newspaper every day – “you read as well as you write and you write as well as you read”. I use a soft blue highlighter to point out their mechanical errors, enclose the errors in parentheses, and write in the corrected information. For some students I continually encourage them to contact the KU Writing Center for assistance with all of their academic writing. For other students I see a slow but constant progression in their writing skills throughout the latter part of the course.

    • kuwcnews says:

      Thanks for your comment, Michael, and thanks for referring people to the KUWC. I really like that you use a blue highlighter for errors. I learned in a teaching workshop that blue is the most remembered color. So, it is always good to use blue for important information.

      Thanks for reading!

    • Amy Sexton says:

      Hi Michael,
      Thank you for commenting. I love that you encourage your students to read every day. Reading really can help them become better writers! It is also great to hear that you encourage your students to visit the KU Writing Center. We hope you will continue to send students our way!

  1. April 3, 2014

    […] professors, we know we do not write like we speak, as Amy Sexton mentioned in her blog I Write Just Like I talk.  Are we communicating this to our students clearly?  We must lead by example and can do so in the […]

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