Adjusting Culture to Improve Writing Skill

“…I realize that the process of learning to write in English is in fact a process of creating and defining a new identity and balancing it with the old identity.” –Fan Shen–

Writing an academic paper in English is a new experience for me. Some previous papers that I wrote in both the first and the second degree were written in Indonesian language. I had written a paper in English for the first time when I attended the ICRS Pre-Ph. D. program three months ago. Since writing in English is my first time, then I have been facing some difficulties with style and grammar. Perhaps these problems were caused by differences in writing styles between Indonesian and English language. As the language is cultural product, the different style of writing is generally caused by cultural differences. As a result, both Indonesian and American (Western) culture influence each writing style. Therefore, in order to write English papers easily, adjusting my culture to Western culture, especially culture of thinking, becomes one of the key that must be done.

Cultural adjustment for Indonesian students who are learning to write papers in English is essential. Because, the culture of a nation usually will establish patterns of thinking and also influence the style of writing. For example, academic writing in Indonesian language never use word “I” to replace the writer. The word “I” as a subject has been considering as an arrogant or cocky person. Hence, using this word is not only considered as wrong word but also considered as a rude word. Students who use the word “I” in their academic paper are usually encouraged to remove it by their mentor/lecturer. Conversely, in English papers, the word “I” is often used and written in uppercase. This style of writing comes to indicate the high confidence and it would like to emphasize the author’s personal opinion clearly.

In the tradition of Chinese writing, as described in Fan Shen’s essays, the word “we” is often used to replace the word “I” as a result of the ideology of Marxism. On the other hand, in the Indonesian academic paper, the word “we” as a writer is never used. The students who use it are usually questioned by their lectures: “What do you mean with the word ‘we’? Is it I and you or the writer and the reader? You know that writing word ‘we’ is not right, because I or the other reader probably does not necessarily agree with your writing.” Consequently, using passive sentence in Indonesian academic paper is often used to avoid writing the identity of the writer. This style of writing is different from the style of writing in English which usually use the active sentence.

In addition, there is other culture differentiation that influences the style of writing. For Indonesian people, long-winded talking is frequently important, whereas for Western people, straight forward talking is important. This different culture can be seen in style of writing. Introduction to the problem in Indonesian paper is usually longer that English paper. Therefore I was quite surprised when I heard that the dissertation proposal must be written in a maximum of 5 pages. I could not imagine how I could write a research project in a very short paper. However, I had written my previous proposal more than 20 pages without bibliography with assuming that the more pages I wrote, the better proposal I made. For example, to gain my Master I wrote paper about “The Concept of Maslahah (benefit) in Abdussalam Prespective”. In my introduction proposal, first, I explained the aim of Shari’ah; second, I describe Quran and prophet tradition which state about masalah, third, I explained some previous mashlahah theories; forth I wrote about Abdussalam’s brief history and his works. After writing that long introduction, I wrote my thesis statement. Now, I come to realize that my proposal research was too long-winded.

English Grammar, especially in tenses, also makes me confuse. As we know, there are some tenses in English, such as present tense, past tense, past participle tense, future tense, and other tenses. Each tenses has the different verb form, such as eat (present), ate (past), and eaten (past participle). Whereas in Indonesian language, we can use the same verb form for different tenses. We can write word makan (eat) to indicate present tense, past tense or future tense. To show the different tenses we can only add word sudah (already), sedang (continues tense) or akan (future). Thus, tenses in Indonesian language are simpler than in English. That is why I always make some mistakes in tenses when I write paper in English.

As a Ph.D. student at ICRS, I realize that I am required to be skillful in English academic writing. This skill will be useful to write both essay and dissertation. Furthermore, I can write some papers for international journal and write some books or give presentation. Through this way, I can spread out my research or my opinion into people in the world. Consequently, there is no choice except I must study hard and practice writing as more as I can. Writing paper in English is not easy, but I think it is not so hard. The learning process of academic writing in English seems to be easier if my thinking culture is firstly adjusted by Western culture. As I said in the introduction of this essay, our culture has a big influence on our writing skill.


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