When producing content for an international or Western audience, it is absolutely essential for companies to use the correct and appropriate level of written English.
Successful organisations spend an enormous amount of time and effort crafting their brand image and content strategy – they truly understand the importance of presenting a carefully thought out image to their target market and other stakeholders. However, some non-native English speaking organisations can sometimes fail to appreciate the negative impact that producing poorly written content can have on their image.
Failing to write using correct English, perhaps in the wrong tone or style for the intended audience can result in the company appearing low-quality or ‘down-market’, damaging the image and reputation of the organisation.
Ultimately, in an international business environment, companies that fail to produce content in the correct English appear poorly educated and lose market respect. People may assume that if the company cannot maintain the quality control of their English communications, then they may also question the company’s ability to maintain standards with the product or service that they are offering.
Professional organisations communicate with high-quality English
It is still the case that the language of science, technology and business is dominated by the English language. Therefore, having good quality written English is of paramount importance. Professional organisations communicate with high-quality English – this is a fact. Organisations that have their content written by ESL (English second language) non-native writers run the risk of damaging their credibility, reputation and risk ‘losing face’ with both professional organisations and customers alike.
All successful companies care about their image and every professional organisation understands that they must portray the correct image to their customers, clients and stakeholders. Why invest in branding, marketing and sophisticated communications strategies only to spoil this at the last minute by using substandard and incorrect English? Companies that cannot communicate with professionalism look cheap and instantly lose respect.
You should aim to appear as an intelligent company, one that understands how to write correctly in English
International businesses and Western organisations will not take ESL companies seriously if their content is written in poor English. They will think “if this company can’t even get their quality control right on their English language communications, how good are they really? How good is their quality control in other areas? If they can’t do this right, are they reliable and are they a company that we can work with?”
Serious companies want professionals, they don’t want to risk looking unintelligent or appear to be poor quality and substandard. Western companies have little respect for companies that can’t present themselves professionally.
But English is English, right?
No! One of the main problems is that non-native speakers don’t understand the difference between ‘correctly written English’ and ‘badly written English’. It really is very important!
Many think – ‘well, English is English, right?’ This is just not the case. Effective writing is a highly developed skill – it is not something that just anybody can do. In fact, many English people struggle to write in good English as their first language! Yet compare their writing to a foreigner who has learned English as a second language and 99% of the time the foreigner will be even worse.
It is staggering how many ESL speakers believe that they have good written English – they just don’t realise how poor their written English skills are. It makes them sound bad and it makes their company sound even worse.
As we’ve already mentioned, English is still the principal world language for commerce, IT, technology and academia but there is a vast difference between the English spoken by English Second Language (ESL) speakers and the general quality level of the written English they often produce. While verbally, ESL speakers can make themselves readily understood, often their written work leaves much to be desired.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists over 650,000 word entries which attest to the vast variety, nuances and shades of meaning that can be conveyed by the English language. Clearly, in the frame of the written English required to create business communications it is so important that both the content and style of written work conveys both an accurate meaning and the intended ‘tone’ targeted to a specific audience.
The importance of culture and content localisation
So, we have established that “English” is not “just English” and that each audience requires the writer to take into account not only the tone of the content but they also must consider cultural nuances, thereby carefully ensuring that the content is effectively ‘localised’. We all have some awareness that different cultures communicate in very different ways, and therefore it is considered essential to have a native English person revise content that has been written by an ESL speaker.
Culture is perhaps one of the most important considerations that must be taken into account when producing a piece of written content. Messages must be fine-tuned and conveyed appropriately for the specific culture of the target audience – something that obviously varies considerably from region to region.
Often the word usage, style and tone of a piece of content needs to be amended on a regional basis as to ensure that messages are delivered appropriately and convey the correct meaning. Further to this, writers often have to bear in mind that it is even possible to cause offence and damage to a company’s reputation if regional tastes, preferences and cultural considerations are not carefully adhered to.
One recent example is the case of Italian fashion brand D&G who sparked fury in China over what Chinese consumers perceived as racist remarks. Their “DG Loves China” ad campaign took just four days to decimate the company’s Chinese customer base as their ad was seen to trivialise China’s centuries-old culture by depicting Chinese women in a stereotypical and even racist way. This case goes a long way to demonstrate how the miscalculation of a message based on a misunderstanding of culture can be costly to an organisation.
Native versus non-native English
There are only a handful of countries in the world where English is spoken as the first language, in fact out of the approximately 7.5 billion people alive today, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 billion speak English – that’s 20% of the world’s population!
However, most speakers are non-native, as around just 360 million people speak English as their first language. The main countries where people speak English as their first language are: The United States of America, The United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Signs that a piece of content wasn’t written in native English
Use of definite and indefinite articles
Some languages have no equivalent of ‘the’ or ‘a’ – the definite and indefinite articles e.g. Japanese. So, ESL writers often omit or confuse these articles when writing in English and so the reader cannot distinguish between the ‘specific’ e.g. ‘the dog’ i.e. a particular dog or the non-specific ‘a dog’ i.e. any dog.
Such issues are very prevalent when content is translated into English from Slavic languages.
Confusion of singular and plural word forms
e.g. sheep – singular and plural are the same (not ‘sheeps’). Similarly, child and children (not ‘childs’), woman and women (not ‘womans’), loaf and loaves (not ‘loafs), foot and feet (not ‘foots’).
There are many such examples of irregular English nouns.
Use of non-standard phrases
Two common examples:
- The European form of English slang used at the end of a confirmatory statement ‘…for sure’ – the word ‘certainly’ would be used by a native English speaker.
- To be a ‘good cooker’ – routinely used by the French to mean a person that excels at the culinary practice of cooking. A ‘cooker’ in standard English refers to the domestic appliance with which the cooking process is performed!
Mixing up US and British English
Use of the present perfect tense
British English uses the Present Perfect i.e. auxiliary verb + past participle
Q: Have you eaten?
A: Yes, I have eaten already (or already eaten) (this uses the auxiliary verb ‘have’ + past participle ‘eaten’.
In contrast, in US English:
Q: Did you eat already?
A: Yes, I ate already (ate = past simple verb form).
Omission or inclusion of the word ‘to’ after the verb write, e.g.
British English – ‘I wrote to John’
US English – ‘I wrote John’
‘z’ and ‘s’ usage e.g. US English – ‘organizations’, ‘centralize’, ‘prioritize’, ‘tantalize’
British English – ‘organisations’, ‘centralise’, ‘prioritise’, ‘tantalise’
US English – ‘aluminum’, British English – ‘aluminium’
How English Monitor can help
English Monitor specialises in helping ESL (English Second Language) businesses to ensure that their content is perfectly written, in correct English, targeted to their specific audience, ensuring that it meets the quality standards expected by professional businesses.
We are comprised of a global team of native English language editors. Our workforce consists of highly trained, expert editors, each with specific academic, technical and industry backgrounds. Essentially, we are a team of English writers, operating in a broad field of specialist academic, technical and commercial writing. Our single goal is to write your English language content and corporate communications to a world class standard.
Why use English Monitor?
- Be taken seriously on an international stage through producing well-written text with perfect English.
- High-quality English communications ensure that your company avoids embarrassment and maintains respect through creating a professional quality company image when dealing with English speaking customers, clients and stakeholders.
- Receive far more than ‘just proofreading’ or ‘just editing’ – we are English language communications specialists. We add value by enhancing the quality of your English communications to generate the ‘tone’ and style appropriately tailored to your specific audience.
This is a guest post by Richard Cross.
Tired of continually witnessing poor English writing, grammar and content whilst living in Asia, Richard founded englishmonitor.com a company specialising in the translation of South East Asian languages, editing and proofreading into native English. English Monitor provides services to the academic, technical and commercial sectors focusing on high-quality editorial and translation services. Richard is a UK university graduate, native English speaker and a qualified teacher of English.
English Monitor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.