Watch Out for Trouble!
When you first started learning English (or any foreign language), you probably had a textbook with a dialog that you read and/or listened to and tried to imitate. It’s a very natural way to begin:
Hello! I’m Mike. What’s your name?
I’m _______. Nice to meet you!
Copying what other people say is fine for learning a language. However, when you copy somebody else’s writing, and try to pretend it’s your own original writing, this is a kind of stealing and could get you in big trouble. Using other people’s writing as your own is called plagiarism (剽窃), and you must never do it.
This can be a tricky problem for L2 writers — people like you. You should try to imitate the style of the genre but never copy phrases without citation.
If you want to use other people’s words or ideas in your writing, you can do it if you follow some basic rules:
- Tell whose ideas or words you are using (cite your source)
- Quote directly or paraphrase
For example. Say you found an interesting quote and wanted to use it in your own writing. You could use direct quotes:
“Me only have one ambition, y’know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen. I like to see mankind live together – black, white, Chinese, everyone – that’s all.”– Bob Marley
Tell who wrote/said it, when & where if you know, and use quotes around their words. (This is called “citation” and we will talk about it more detail later. )
Or, you could paraphrase it: use your own words to express another person’s idea. For example:
Bob Marley once said that his ultimate goal was world peace.
Quoting is usually only for special passages when the author’s exact words are very important. Usually when we use another person’s ideas in our writing, but not words, we paraphrase them. To paraphrase means to put another person’s ideas into your own words.
We do this all the time. For example, if your friend Taro sends you a message saying,
“I think I caught a cold, so I won’t see you in class today,”
You might tell the teacher, “Taro told me he was sick.” This last statement is a paraphrase.
You used different words to tell the same information and said where you got that information.
One good way to start practicing is to try to paraphrase some old saws, 「ことわざ」、by trying to explain what they mean by using different words.
Here’s a paraphrase followed by a quoted saying:
If someone has been doing something one way for a long time, it’s very difficult to get them to change. Or, as the old saying goes, “You can’t teach on old dog new tricks.”
Sometimes people won’t do what’s in their best interest, no matter how friends try to help good advice. As every cowboy knows, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
With a partner, paraphrase these English translations of Japanese proverbs. Ready? Go!
- Even monkeys fall from trees.
- The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
- Gold coins to a cat.
- Ten people; ten colors.
- One stone; two birds.
What’s your favorite old saw? Translate it directly into English, then paraphrase it.
Paraphrase Dr. King
Paraphrase this quote. Don’t use any of the same words:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” –Martin Luther King
More on Paraphrasing: