We love working with ESL (English as a Second Language) applicants not only because it’s a pleasure to expand our American horizons, but also because we usually learn something profound about the English language in the process. One perennial lesson is about the aesthetics of word choice and sentence construction. Translation: Big, beautiful words and complex sentences are not always your friend.
We get it: Your introduction to the great works of the English language probably began with authors like Dickens, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and Brontë. And while we have the utmost respect for those masters, here’s the problem with writing an application essay that tries to emulate their style: You will sound horrifically dated, and totally awkward. Admissions committees aren’t looking for a rewrite of Great Expectations, they’re on the hunt for the innovative minds of the 21st century.
As an ESL applicant, you need to deliver crisp, modern language that reflects your command of English as it is used today. So while you may think that three and four syllable words are the key to success, we challenge you to find fresh ways of expressing yourself as you would in your current lexicon. While descriptive language can be fun to play with, remember that your admissions essays are not a painting-with-words exercise.
The aesthetics of ESL are often misleading. Let’s look at a few examples of this from real-life admissions essays:
“She was a gaunt-faced girl…”
Although there is a lovely poetic consonance to “gaunt-faced girl”, the language feels like Dickens with a side of Anna Karenina. Instead of delivering the drama, we urge you to use adjectives that are in your everyday vernacular. Remember: This is a personal statement, not the vocab section of the SATs.
“Her chicks were puff…”
You might protest, “But this is what ESL essay editors are there for!” And sure—we’d be happy to help change “chicks” to “cheeks”, and “puff” to “puffy”. But we know you can do better than that, and we’d love to work with you as thought partners, not just as human grammar and spell-checkers. Together, we can find better, simpler ways to say what you mean, and mean what you say.
THE OVERLY COMPLEX
“I myself could not be touched.”
Although we love this deeply felt expression, it contains far too much grammar for such a little sentence. The double pronoun, which simultaneously brings the reader closer to and farther away from the subject of the sentence, is truly obscuring. And the use of the past subjunctive verb tense gives the sentence a hazy, distant feeling.
The antidote? Simplify your language to make sure none of your ideas is lost in translation. Never sacrifice clarity for fanciful expression. And most importantly—in writing, art, and life—spend more time looking to the future rather than emulating the past.
Ready to begin working on your essay? Start here: http://www.ivyeyesediting.com.
Ivy Eyes Editing