I am indebted to current and former students for many of the ideas on this link.
Many of my Latino (Hispanic) and Asian students over the last few years have had particular concerns about writing that may not affect the native-born student. These common concerns can be grouped into writing difficulties that can be overcome. Certain Latino students may write eschool. I'm wondering if the word for school in Spanish, escuela, may have carried over to English translation. Why do Latino students write were when they mean to say where? It could be because they hear the sounds differently than the Anglo student. It is awareness we are talking about. Suppose a Latino student hears the word, "sitting" and writes "seating." The difference in nuances of the language could be because the student pictured "an I sound" with "seating." The student should have written "sitting," but the person did not realize the difference. Once you become aware of these concerns, your writing can improve.
Certain common problems are appropriate to certain languages. When I was struggling with Spanish, French, German, and Japanese, I realized how different languages place verbs and objects in different locations. A German sentence is not constructed like a Spanish sentence. For someone learning languages later in life, these revelations come as quite a shock when compared to the English language. The English language, as you know, has a syntax all its own. This structure or syntax means an English sentence has a special order. As you are aware, we constantly stress Subject-Verb-Object as the best order for a well-constructed business sentence, but all cultures and languages don't treat the S-V-O the same way.
One of my former students explained to me about the differences with Mandarin Chinese. The object sometimes stands in place of the subject. The subject and object will be rearranged. The literal translation the Chinese student makes from Mandarin to English may create additional, unnecessary words being placed in the English sentence. People using Mandarin tend to drop the noun. They start the sentence with a verb. Also, Mandarin Chinese speakers do not know the present, past, and future tenses of verbs. For example, a Mandarin Chinese might say: "He in the future is graduating." Where, in standard English, the person should write: "He will be graduating." The word, no, does not exist in Mandarin Chinese. The Chinese speaker would say: "He drink not." If a Chinese speaker makes an English mistake by saying, "he be has," probably that person did not recognize "has been" as the way to write the expression.
During one semester a Chinese student told me that verbs are sometimes grouped differently when a sentence is said in Chinese. Verbs may be at the front of the sentence. An American student would say: "Where are you going?" A Chinese student might take the same phrasing and state: "Go where you . . . Such revelations from my students suggest the American English is difficult to learn. Let's take a sentence that appears to have a verb:
The more employees believe about the situation, the greater the burden is.
A quick glance at the previous sentence makes the sentence appear complete. It is not, technically. If the writer substituted "that" in the sentence, the sentence reads like two clauses. To illustrate, the word addition would make the sentence read: "The more that believe about the situation, the greater. . ." The verb is not "is." If we again use that in the last part of the sentence, the thought now reads: "the greater that the burden is." Still, we have no sentence. The sentence does not have a verb to make it complete.
Asian students, for example, do not always place an "s" on verbs. To them the word sounds right without the "s" on the verb. Students from Asian countries often place a "to" or "with" in front of certain phrases to give the phrases more emphasis.
In visiting with one of my Taiwanese students, she mentioned Taiwanese had no need for "ing." When the Taiwanese say tomorrow, they mean a future tense. They have no need for present, past, and future tenses. That statement suggests how difficult English with its tenses must be to learn.
These frustrations at handling the English language from different cultures compound themselves. Suppose, for example, the exchange student has learned British English. In addition to calling the trunk of a car the boot, the student often spells "realising" without the more modern American spelling of "realizing." The issue is competition. How can that student compete in a multicultural world where the word is spelled one way in one country and some other way in another country? The person using British English will use "four" instead of the American, "for" with certain words. The British speller would spell "organisation" instead of the American, "organization." As long as both countries recognize where the student has been educated, problems should not result in communicating.
You have probably been told for years English is the language of business throughout the world. That statement still remains accurate. It is no wonder that certain Pacific Rim countries place heavy emphasis on learning English from elementary school on. I am not discouraging you from learning other languages; in fact, I encourage it. The richness of other languages means you are just that much better in your multicultural communication abilities. It also looks good on your resume to say you are bilingual or trilingual or whatever. The ever shrinking world means you should study other languages. I would have been lost in Berlin, Montreal, and Paris without at least attempting the language. People from other countries usually appreciate Americans trying to learn their language. America has a terrible reputation for only knowing English and that not very well. The stereotype in France, for example, is that Americans refuse to learn the French language. I always worry about butchering the language of another country, but people in these countries seem to appreciate an American's effort.
What I will do next is give you a series of exercises of common problems foreign or exchange students have. Some of the exercises will include entire sentences that need revising. In some cases, you will only have to find a single word. Let's begin:
People often use words that almost mean what they intend. They use the incorrect English word because they are not sure which one to use. I will place the word or phrase, in many cases, in bold letters that needs special attention. Try these exercises to make the point:
Do you see the misplaced modifier in the previous sentence? Did you spot the spelling error?
Do you see the problem with too many that's in the previous sentence?
Did you spot the spelling error?
In the next exercise check for the past tense of the verb:
Sometimes the way to use better English involves the recognition of what we call run-ons. Run-ons are parts of sentences tacked on to the main sentence and acting as modifiers. The modifiers do not work ; the thoughts are often complete in themselves.
Is the previous sentence a run-on? Perhaps, it just needs better wording. Always think of a run-on as not having a subject or verb. Is there such a word as financing service?
Sometimes the wrong verb is used to express an idea, especially if the writer does not pay enough attention to "s's" on appropriate verbs. Also, a form of the verb, to be, may be used incorrectly because the writer is not aware of the difference. Here's an exercise:
Sometimes a form of "to be" is inserted because the writer is not clear on how many words to use. For example, let's take the following sentence exercise:
In translating from one language to American English, it is easy to miss words or write words that do not make sense. Your instructor may write on your paper: "Does not make sense," which is a devastating comment for a non-native student to receive. Take heart. The professor is as confused as you are. Read over the following sentences and see if you can find the confusions:
Did the writer mean to say puzzled face?
Did you notice how many extra words add to the confusion of the reader?
Contingent expressions abound everywhere. They are usually expressed as dependent clauses with the subject or verb becoming as apparent as in an ordinary simple or compound sentence. Some writers would label them complex sentences. I am cautioned in accepting such expressions as the best way to write by the advice in The Random House Guide to Good Writing by Mitchell Ivers, Managing Editor:
Sentence fragments are often effective use of the language, but they are not sentences. The periods at the end of each are for visual purposes only-to add punch-and serve no grammatical function.
Here's a contingent expression: "The more people you employ, the greater the burden is." Technically, the expression is not a sentence, if we define a sentence as a subject and verb with a complete thought. You could reasonably say: "the more people that you employ, the greater that the burden is. How could you improve the sentence? We could say: The burden becomes greater when you employ more people. Now try some examples of contingent expressions and rewrite them for even more clarity:
Visits with selected Korean students have produced some remarkable differences in how both the English and Korean languages are structured. For example, in the English language we say "I love you." In the Korean language it might be structured as "I you love." According to one lovely Korean lady, the Koreans have no need for the articles, a, an, and the. They do not refer to "a girl" or "a boy." They say girl or boy without the article. Let's take another sentence: "I went to the restaurant." The Koreans would say: "I to the restaurant went." They apparently place prepositions in different parts of the sentence than the Americans are used to. Also, this lady reminded that Koreans speak many dialects, similar to Mexican and Castilian Spanish as dialects.
A visit with a student revealed we must be concerned as global business students with the Korean culture. It is not wise, if, for example, as a sales representative, to gesture too much with your hands. Koreans often see these gestures as a sign of disrespect. Control your hands with different cultures.
A tendency exists for folks coming from foreign countries to place an "s" on words to make them plural. Certain English words are plural by their construction. For example, we say "information" for both singular and plural instead of "informations." Also, one has to look out for the derivation of words. You would not say, "Your respond to the questions," when you are meaning to say "your response." Response is the noun of the verb, respond. The words have to be treated differently.
Lately, business residents of Quebec have found their business cards must be in two languages, French and English. Web sites have to reflect both languages; otherwise, a fine of $1,500 may result. The business communication police are constantly monitoring correspondence and related matters to see if the businesses and individuals conform. Bilingualism has a price.
Armenians voice special concerns with articles, such as the, a, and an. When are these articles used? Harry Shaw in Errors in English and Ways to Correct Them offers some cogent advice about limiting or specifying functions of articles. You can say that the is a definite article. We say the book, the vice president, the university, and the surgeon. A and an are considered indefinite articles. We say: a jewelry store, an asset, a bookbag, and an error. I did not know the answer to any possible rules other than good common English sense, so I asked an Armenian gentleman about his language construction. He told me Armenian was not one of the Romance languages. He reminded me that Armenia was originally what we think of as Eastern Turkey. In English we would write the following sentence:
Theinformation is not efficient.
In Armenian the sentence translated to English would be: Information (with a special sound accent or device following the word) is not efficient. That special sound device says "this specific information." Also, he told me the passive voice use is not as critical in Armenian as in English. The Armenian language consists of 36 letters as opposed to the English 24. In Armenian, I would not say, "My name is Jay . . ." The Armenian translation would be: My name Jay is.
In a recent conversation with an Iranian faculty member, he told me the articles, the and an, are not considered in Farsi. He also mentioned v's and w's are not heard in that language. To use a cliche, that is food for thought whenever looking at the English usage of an Iranian in a business document.
One of my Japanese students has told me articles, such as the, a, and an, are not noticed in the Japanese language. The Japanese say "this" or "those" for plural. Also, you may have noticed that Americans learning Japanese spot the formality of Koji-san, for example. "San" stands as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. It is a form of address.
Please check the home pages for additional help in oral or written communications, especially the grammatical and punctuation link, spelling link, the jargon and gobbledygook link, and the oral presentation link.
Last updated Monday, October 13, 2003
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