"est-ce que" (is it that) introduces a question, in the form of a simple statement:
- est-ce que tu lis ? = are you reading?
in front of a word starting with a vowel "que" is always elided (drop the -e- and replace it by an apostrophe, in order to ease pronunciation),
- est-ce qu'il lit ? est-ce qu'elle lit ? est-ce qu'ils lisent ? est-ce qu'elles lisent ?
"est-ce que" is an interrogative adverb, that you should consider as a block-word to introduce questions.
"they are writing" is a continuous present meaning that the action is in progress at the time you speak, but such a verbal form does not exist in French. So, either you say "elles écrivent" or you use the formula "elles sont en train d'écrire" which expresses the same idea of "continuity" of the action.
so, the simple present is "est-ce qu'elles écrivent ?" (do they write ?) and the 'continous' present is "est-ce qu'elles sont en train d'écrire ?" (are they writing?).
"Est-ce qu'elles écrivent un livre ?" translates to "(Do they write/Are they writing) a book?"
It is different from what you seem to suggest: "What (do they write/are they writing)?", which translates to "Qu'est-ce qu'elles écrivent ?" ("what" implies that you do not know what is the object, in this case "un livre").
est-ce que for concrete thinkers it helps to realize the phrase they want us to memorize as an interrogative "block" translates more specifically as ...IS IT THAT...[see SiteSurf above] so: Is it that they are writing?...Is it that you are late? Is it that you want a drink? Just a freebie stuck at the beginning to clarify the questioning instance. Gotta say, much more helpful than the uplifted sound at the end of a sentence to indicate a Spanish oral question.
"que" is not an article but a relative pronoun (=that)
"est-ce que... ?" means, word for word, "is it that...?"
you use it as a block to start an interrogative sentence, the actual question is contained in the second part which is built as a statement (subject, verb, complement)
[est-ce qu'] elles écrivent un livre
I don't know about the site version, but, in my experience, the mobile app lessons are far from comprehensive enough. They are okay as an assistant material(I take French lessons at school), but if I were a blank page and I was suddenly presented with all these complicated structures with no further explanation on how, for example, to correctly construct questions, what "il y a" means, why is "est-ce" even needed, etc., I'd have a very hard time figuring it out on my own before I could move forward. Needless to say, it's still difficult as is.
Do you mean the whole phrase "Est-ce qu'elles" sounds like "eskel"? I'll remember that thanks.
But to help me with pronouncing stuff in the future, how is the "ce" part pronounced? I gathered that the "Est" is the "es" in "eskel" and the "qu'elles" is the "kel" part in the "eskel". So I figured the "ce" is silent. Or is it the "qu" that is silent and the ce gives the "k" sound?
Thanks for the help and sorry for the complicated question to something that's probably obvious to most :)
I thought that it was "elles", then I deleted it after I clicked the repeat button over and over. I believe that it is very hard to hear the difference, and also, maybe they should still give you a point for writing what you think you hear correctly, because my sentence structure was right.