Intercontinental Ink: Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English

Audience. It is arguably the most important factor to keep in mind when constructing a document. In a university setting, this could include classmates, friends, professors, future employers, academic communities, or review boards. Although it’s necessary to think of your readers as a whole, do you also remember the audience’s culture? More specifically, their language?

It may not be immediately apparent when considering your audience, but chances are high that someone who doesn’t speak your native language will be reading your writing. Do you write pieces that are posted online? Anyone in the world can access these documents—don’t exclude them because you forgot about them! So if you’re a native English speaker and your readers are Korean or Saudi Arabian or Chinese, you need to be aware that not only is English not their native language, but they also carry along different cultural values associated with his or her ability to understand and process your writing.

Here are some items to consider when writing to international audiences:

  • Be concise. Know what you’re saying; say it clearly.
  • You might get a kick out of idioms, but it’s possible your audience can’t make heads or tails of it. Avoid when possible.
  • Don’t not end your sentence in a preposition if re-arranging it is going to make is sound awkward. If it sounds strange to a native English speaker, it’s going to sound strange to a non-native English speaker.
  • Although the word that can sometimes make English sentences seem wordy, many other languages mandate their equivalent of that to be used in writing in order to make grammatical sense. Just because you can omit it in English and the sentence will still make sense, doesn’t necessarily mean a non-native English speaker will understand the sentence without using that.
  • Literal is safe. Not to discourage humorous or innovative writing styles, but if there’s a possibility your reader doesn’t have as strong of a command of the English language as you, then be precise.

Writing is a part of culture. When taken into consideration, it allows for a more expansive, comprehensible, and accessible document.

2 thoughts on “Intercontinental Ink: Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English

    1. Hi there, Ismi!

      If you are on MSU’s campus, there are a variety of resources for you as a non-native speaker of English. Some of the residence hall neighborhoods have English language learning hours each week, where you can eat dinner in the dining hall and practice your English speaking skills with other students.

      Also, the English Language Center at MSU has a variety of resources for students as well: http://elc.msu.edu/students/current/.

      I hope that these help you out!

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