What centuries of British colonialism and decades of Esperanto couldn’t do, a few years of free trade, MTV, and the Internet has. English dominates international business, politics, and culture more than any other language in human history, and new words are melding into English at a frenetic pace.
– David Rhohd in the Christian Science Monitor, on a trip to Australia
More than 1 billion people are believed to speak some form of English, and for every native speaker there are three non-native speakers. Three-quarters of the world’s mail is in English and four-fifths of electronic information is stored in English, PBS reported at the time.
But is English taking the world by storm, or is the world taking English by storm?
The emergence of so many hybrid forms of English means that Global English is becoming even more important. Global English, otherwise referred to as World English, Common English, General English, or even International English, is at the same time the collection of these different varieties of English that is spoken throughout the world, and also one language — the movement towards an international standard for the language.
What does this mean for you as you think about content translation, and taking it one step back, creating content destined for international audiences?
It means that it is even more important to understand how to write in Global English — specifically, following the 3 “C”s — to be able to save time and money when you translate that material in the future:
BE CLEAR. Lower the risk of translation error.
BE CONCISE. With fewer words to translate, your costs will be lower.
BE CONSISTENT. With consistent use of vocabulary and tone, you can reuse assets.
But how do you actually be clear, concise, and consistent, and keep the needs of an international English audience in mind? Here are a few ideas, to help you out during the writing process:
Use shorter sentences. Short sentences give international readers confidence and minimize the risk of cross-cultural misunderstandings. Long sentences tend to be difficult to accurately translate, obscure the main point, and cause confusion and create anxiety in people who don’t read English fluently. Limit sentence length to 20 words in international business documents. For advertisements, direct marketing documents and instruction manuals, use even less, like 16 words maximum. Also, unlike native English speakers, who read in phrases, international readers may read slowly, one word at a time, so their short-term memory is strained by long sentences.
Use fewer “miniwords.” Miniwords are those short connector words (a, at, the, and) that make English flow together. But many of these all in one cluster — especially when used in conjuction with colloquial expressions (e.g., come off it) confuse international readers, and during the translation process may cause discrepancies in character length.
Avoid too many negatives. Negative questions are often impossible to translate. Example: You don’t have the courage to acknowledge that your allegations have no factual basis whatsoever, do you? Double negatives are doubly difficult for international readers. In English, two negatives make a positive. In some other languages, two negatives emphasize the negative. Additionally, some cultures regard negative language as insulting, embarrassing or shameful. A sentence like “Hate saving time and money? Don’t click here.” is both confusing to your translation team and to international English readers.