Culture and Writing Style: Language Expectations


Use of Clichés and Transitions

International students are often taught to use clichés as transitions between ideas, sentences, or paragraphs, such as, "nowadays," "more and more," "however," etc. They are sometimes used accurately, but often are used as fillers without a clear understanding of the actual meaning they convey. In some ways this is cultural because it is taught as “American” writing by prep centers for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is needed for entrance to universities around the world.

Use of “Flowery” Language

In some cultures, students are expected to use highly metaphorical and strongly poetic language. This can sometimes be linked to a culture’s appreciation of indirect communication and what is considered artful writing. Writing in academic English can seem simple, even childish, so students may resist this form, thinking it is too plain compared to what is expected of them in their own culture.

Generalization and Exaggeration

International students' writing may include terms like “everyone” and “always” to talk about something that is more nuanced. This can be linked to both the difference between an individualistic versus a collectivist culture, but also relates to the idea that if something seems obvious, the language can be exaggerated. Other traditions that expect the strength of someone’s belief in an argument to be expressed through emotional language and punctuation.

Indirect Phrasing

Many cultures value indirect communication, and the idea of the audience gradually understanding what the writer is arguing or expressing rather than being told from the outset. This can be seen at the sentence level as well as at the essay level.

SEE: Commenting on Writing: Content/Organization and Language/Mechanics