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Is English Your Second Language? You're Not Alone!

by Linda Jenkinson |

Writing a piece in English can be downright scary to the non-native speaker.

too to to error English is the principal language of some 400 million people and the most widely used second language in the world(1).

The good news is that as far back as 1995, non-native speakers outnumbered native speakers by a ratio of three to one. It's probably safe to assume that the number has increased over the last decade and fair to assume that whether or not English is your first language, it is likely not the native tongue of a good chunk of your web site visitors.

I always marvel at the language skills of those who live outside of native-English speaking countries. I only speak one language and that one is English. Many of my online friends speak more than two languages and I find that phenomenal.

Get Help From Online Text Checkers

If you have worries about your English writing, there are online text checkers that can help you write, not perfect, but better English. Some of them will check what you write from emails to web content. The trick is to not just rely on one, like the grammar checker in Word. Use a couple of different checkers and look for those that tell you why they ‘think‘ you have made an error. None of them are always right so often it‘s a judgment call.

One checker that I like is Paper Rater. It‘s free for non-commercial use and was built for students to help them improve their writing skills.

Your Personal Style Guide

Creating a personal style guide is another trick that will help you improve your writing. Although you can use a ready made guide like the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Manual of Style, you might find that they are better used as a reference. If you create a custom style guide, you can use it to keep a list of the mistakes you frequently make as well as customizing your own styles. This is good practice even if English is your first language.

  1. Keep notes on homonyms like way and weigh; they're, there, and their; its and it's.
  2. Catalog frequently misspelled words. Although I have looked it up a hundred times, I still often write seperate instead of separate. I've added it to my style guide so that I can easily scan down and make sure I spell it correctly.
  3. List typos that a spell checker will surely miss and check to make sure you've used the right one. An example of this are the words 'from' and 'form'. If you're like me, sometimes when your fingers do the walking, they trip!
  4. Add styles you want to use to keep your writing consistent. Even resources like the AP style guide can‘t tell you whether or not web site is better as one compound word (website) or two words (web site). Another word up for grabs is whether or not to capitalize Internet. Either way is correct, but if you want to add polish to your writing, you‘ll make sure that each time you use a word, you write it the same way.

What's Your English?

When you write for clients, some may prefer American English and some U.K. English or other English variants. Don‘t be afraid to ask them their preferences and how different words are written in their country. I keep separate lists for clients to make sure that I add the ‘u‘ to honour when its needed or replace a U.S. ‘z‘ with a U.K. ‘s‘ as it is warranted.

Additionally, don‘t assume your clients want you to use their English variant. Never be afraid to ask and always tell them what your native tongue is. Some businesses want their content written to reach an American audience and some American businesses may be trying to extend their brand to nations over seas.

All in all, it isn‘t content that is king. It‘s communication that is the key to successful writing.

Resources

  1. “Across Cultures, English Is the Word - The New York Times.” 2014. Accessed November 28, 2013.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/world/asia/09iht-englede.1.5198685.html?pagewanted=all.

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