Learning foreign languages is a fun and motivating experience. Is there anything more fulfilling than the moment when you realize that you can put together a complex sentence, write a short essay or follow the conversation between two strangers on the bus? Here we share our best six tips on things to keep in mind when writing in foreign languages. In each of the six sections we have also included a few practical suggestions.
There are two reasons for writing this post. Firstly, in many business-related cases I have noticed how poorly people write in English – and usually by people who think that are fluent in the language! In my eyes, a poorly written piece never gives a good image of the writer. No matter how well the person speaks English (or whatever language), if s/he writes badly it sends out a message that the writer is sloppy and does not take his/her task seriously. In short, the writing reflects the writer. Secondly, writing well is always a complicated affair. To produce a good text is tough for natives and foreigners alike. However, there are some straightforward points that will simplify the writing process a great deal.
1. Pay Attention to Grammar When Writing in Foreign Languages
One things that I have noticed is that many people consider grammar boring. However, there is a reason why we have invented grammar. Grammar also gives us a lot of tools for playing with languages. When writing in foreign languages, there are a few simple points to keep in mind as far as grammar is concerned.
- Know the false friends. An example of false friends in this particular context is the usage of prepositions. In other words, people might have a tendency to copy the preposition from language to another. In Swedish one says “Jag är intresserad av...”. Directly translated into English that would be “I am interested of…“. The same logic applies to a lot of other aspects of languages, people copy phrases and structures without giving it much thought. The good news is that it’s easier to spot these mistakes and inconsistencies in writing.
- Keep it simple. If you’re unsure about the grammar, choose the simplest option. Really, it’s better to sound short and concise than fancy and wrong.
- Be familiar with the peculiarities. Each language has its quirks and as a writer or text producer it is your job to know about them. Examples include irregular verbs, compound nouns etc.
- Don’t forget about punctuation! As I have found out, punctuation can vary significantly between languages. If you want to look like a pro, it might be a good idea to familiarize oneself with the fascinating world of punctuation.
2. Learn to Love Synonyms
This is a fun one. What kind of texts do you find interesting? I might be wrong but my guess is that most people enjoy texts that use a lot of synonyms. Synonyms give more variety and by using them you will avoid being repetitive. My personal rule of thumb: avoid using the same verbs and adjectives in any one paragraph. And whatever you do: don’t repeat typos and mistakes!
Here are a couple of tips on how to find synonyms and increase your vocabulary.
- Keep a notebook with synonyms for words and expressions that you use frequently.
- The Internet has a lot of websites where you can look up synonyms. Use these pages, you find them on Google.
- Use more synonyms when you speak. It will make your spoken language more interesting as well.
3. Read A LOT In Foreign Languages
As s the case with languages in general, reading is a very good way to increase vocabulary and improve one’s knowledge of a particular language. Depending on your field, it might also be a good idea to read articles and nonfiction books in foreign languages. Here’s a short list of important pieces to read:
- Newspaper articles
- Articles related to your fields of interest or your profession
- The main literary works in your chosen language
- Nonfiction books
4. Use a Spell Checker
This point seems to be so obvious that it’s easily forgotten. It is also very short: everybody should use a spell checker. (and don’t ever trust your smartphone or Google Translate).
5. Think in the Language You Are Writing in
Google Translate takes us the to the next step: avoid (direct) translations. And avoid Google Translate. The problem with translation, as far as I see it, is that it prevents us from thinking freely. And in what way is this a problem, you might ask. Well, if one thinks in his/her native language and then sets out to translate the thoughts (or text) into a foreign language there is the risk that the end result will be very clumsy. Not everything can be directly translated. A good translator is trained to see how things should be translated, most of us are not good translators. Tools like Google Translate are useful but they seldom take into account the quirks and peculiarities of languages – hence all the funny translations that circulate on social media.
In case you feel uncertain about phrases, words, grammar structures – always double check and use several sources!
6. Edit Twice or Thrice… or 10 Times if You Need to
Be aware of the fact that you are not writing in your native language and accept the fact that you will need to correct, revise and edit more times than when writing in your native language. If you feel that you don’t have the time or the capacity, ask someone else to read your text and to correct all the mistakes they can find. To err is human but that does not mean that we should be lazy.
It took me a good while to write this post and there were a lot of things I stopped to mull over during the process. I googled why news is in singular and the definition of mull over. I looked up the synonyms for the word peculiar.
Do you agree with these tips or do you have any of your own?