Do you alter your language when writing (or speaking) to foreigner?

by Derek Sivers

Some people say that when they visit the South, they start talking with a Southern accent. (Visit England, they start picking up an English accent.)

I never did that, but I just noticed that when I'm writing to someone that I know doesn't speak English at all, I start pre-preparing my words for Babelfish translation. Every un-necessary word is removed, and I even start messing with grammar to put the words in an order that seems more universally understood.


Instead of "Sounds interesting. What part of the country are you in? Do you do mail-order, or just retail-store? It'd be nice to come visit your operation while I'm in Japan this April 12-20"

It comes out "Ok! Where is your shop? (What city?) Do you send by mail or only in store? I am in Japan April 12-20. Can I visit you?"

Doing this mostly un-intentionally, I realized I had picked up his non-English "accent".

Got any examples of this?


2005-03-31 11:29:11
The Perils of Knowing Too Much
I don't mod my English when I speak to mon-native speakers, but I probably should.

I'm quite precise in my English, in that I try to use the right word in a situation rather than the well-known word. This can cause problems for me when a word unknown to the person I am speaking with has slipped into the conversation, and then the conversation has launched off in a bizarre (to me) direction.

One of the most annoying examples was when I had almost convinced my mother-in-law to play Scrabble with me, but then I mentioned that I had a pedantic streak. She refused to play after because she'd never heard the word before.

Oh well.

Jonathan Gennick
2005-03-31 13:03:09
Shorter and simpler sentences, fewer contractions
Yes, I do modify my writing when addressing people whose command of English might be weak. I try to avoid convoluted sentences. I also avoid contractions. I do my best to make their job of understanding me easy.
2005-03-31 13:03:55
affirmative . . .
2005-03-31 13:42:14
a known phenomenon
Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place": "...he [a waiter] spoke [to the drunk client] in the manner that stupid people use to address foreigners and drunks..." (appx., from memory)

I've been pointed up on this by my French friends. Embarrassing.

2005-04-01 01:17:06
of course
Most foreigners don't understand my native language so I HAVE to adapt my writing and speaking to something they can be expected to understand if I want to communicate at all.

I'm doing so even now in fact...

Jonathan Gennick
2005-04-01 05:37:40
Here's an interesting link that someone recently sent me, that seems to fit into this discussion:

Jonathan Gennick
2005-04-01 05:39:03

My attempt to post a link to an article on Globish seems to have played havoc with some of the comments to *this* article. Here's the link again, nad this time I won't try to wrap it an tag:

2005-04-01 07:00:19
Economist style guide on "Americanisms"
Every now and then I try to reread the part of the Economist style guide on "Americanisms." We often don't realize that many phrases we take for granted are figures of speech in our own country that make no sense to people from other countries who speak the same language. For example, writing tech stuff, I might use the phrase "then I figured out how to..." and then realize "Oops, Americanism."
2005-04-20 21:41:23
In your other post, you left off the closing quote around the URL. Don't do that. It's bad.