5 problems that you may encounter when making English versions of your texts

A lot of my text-based work with clients involves getting to the heart of what they want to say, and making sure that they can say or write it in English – in a way that is both correct and that sounds like them.

Here are just some of the things that I help clients to avoid when I’m proofreading or providing communication consultancy services:

1. Things that don’t make sense to a British-English-speaking audience

This usually has nothing to do with language. Cultural references can be tricky, and sometimes you don’t even realise that you’re making an assumption about what the other person knows or the connections that they will make when they read the text. This could be when you mention a dish or delicacy that most people outside your country have never heard of – we have plenty of those in the UK. It could be when you make reference to a significant day, a well-known person, or an activity that is popular where you are, but not so much in the rest of the world.

If you do these things without providing any background information, you can quickly lose people’s attention because they don’t know what you’re talking about. They disengage because they can’t follow the point, or you send them down a virtual rabbit hole, googling the thing that they didn’t understand.

Either way, they’re not reading or listening to your message any more!

2. Words that may be grammatically correct, but which have negative connotations

These are particularly a problem if they crop up in your carefully crafted headline or are repeated throughout your website. They act as a turn-off because of the way that people think or feel when they see that word, even though that was never your intention and you maybe even wanted to portray a good or positive thing.

Words take on a life of their own. Even when it comes to words that started off with a positive meaning – if there is any ambiguity about how people will interpret them, it’s often best to avoid them altogether.

3. Text where the grammar or structure follows rules in another language

I used to joke around with a German-speaking friend and write English messages according to the German sentence structure. It was a kind of joke between us, but it hurts your brain after a while because so many words are in the wrong place, and the structure is illogical in English!

Most texts that I see aren’t like that, but there are sometimes structures that creep in that don’t belong in well-written English sentences. There is interference because the person who wrote it was thinking in a different language. I do this too – English sentence structure or an English way of explaining something has no place in my work when I’m writing in other languages, but when it’s our own work, we don’t always see it creeping in!

4. A tone that is not appropriate for the situation

If it’s too formal, you can sound stuffy and pretentious. Language becomes outdated and it’s hard to recognise that sometimes if you aren’t working in an environment where you can witness those changes.

If there’s too much slang or casual language for the specific situation, it can make you look less professional or less sincere.

If you do one thing on your site in your first language and your English version doesn’t line up with that, it can feel inconsistent. Each brand has its own voice and it’s really important to be able to find that voice when you’re communicating in additional languages too.

5. Anything that sounds as though a machine produced it!

I heard that even search engines can spot automatically-translated text and it’s not a good thing for the owner of the site.

Google Translate might be ok to check the occasional sentence fragment, or to find out what someone is talking about when they fill my contact form out in a language that I don’t speak – nothing good usually comes of those messages, but curious minds want to know!

However, when it comes to positioning yourself and your business, you don’t want to rely on a flawed automatic translation!

Most people do understand that, but sticking rigidly to the original text when you’re translating it manually, or first thinking about the content in another language can unfortunately lead to the same outcome. Something that sounds unnatural, clumsy, or just a bit odd!

Kirsty sitting with her dog on grass

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I hope these tips were useful. If you need any support in terms of identifying these and similar problems, or making good content even better, send me a message so that we can arrange to talk about it!


    Craig Smith

    Interview with Craig Smith on proofreading, editing, and tips for correcting your own writing

    Craig Smith from CRS Editorial came on my podcast to talk about his new business, the difference between a podcaster and an editor, and some tips for when you’re checking your own work. You can listen to our conversation on my English with Kirsty site, or you can read a text version of Craig’s answers below.

    Can you tell us something about yourself?

    Hi. I’m Craig Smith from CRS Editorial. I am an editor, proofreader, copywriter and journalist with over 20 years’ experience of working across many formats with different-sized organisations and for a wide range of target audiences.

    With near enough my whole career spent in the publishing sector, I have edited and proofread work for a wide range of clients. In addition to editing and proofreading, I am also a proficient writer having written for, and being the editor of, a membership health and fitness publication and the UK’s leading sports coaching magazine. I am also a blog writer having completed such work for several organisations.

    I am the proud proofreader of the 2020 edition of Safe Practice in Physical Education, School Sport and Physical Activity – a recommended resource for all schools delivering these activities on the national curriculum. My most recent work involved proofreading a fantasy fiction novel.

    Key work has been completed on behalf of the NHS, multiple national governing bodies, and for local and national media. Throughout my 20+ years in the industry I have written, edited and proofread hundreds of items, ranging from one-page marketing flyers, journals, annual reviews, all the way through to 400-page resources, with an ability to tailor my skills for both print and digital format.

    What’s one thing that you have learned as someone who set up their own business?

    I would say I learnt a lot of things going from full-time employment to setting up my own business, but the main point would have to be trusting my instinct. I knew I had the foundations in place as a qualified editor, proofreader and copywriter, so once I had researched what was required to go solo, I thought the time was right and so I took the plunge in October 2020. I should add too, how supportive people were and continue to be.

    Can you explain the key differences between proofreading and editing?

    Firstly, I would say the edit can take on a few forms. Initially, there is the ‘copy edit’ or the ‘content edit’.

    Copy editing involves editing fresh from the source (so, the author). The purpose here is to check typos, basic grammar, inconsistencies, style (is there a house or a preferred style?), structure and to raise editorial queries relating to sense, references, abbreviations and heading levels. Minor suggestions are also highlighted at this stage.

    Content editing includes elements of crossover with a copy edit, though this stage delves deeper into the editorial process. It can include restructuring, and conducting research into queries concerning references and abbreviations. A content edit can also initiate suggestions to the author for potential rewriting, if required.

    Both copy editing and content editing do not necessarily require a subject area background. Although this may be of benefit, the ultimate job of the editor is to see things from the reader’s perspective, breaking things down and ensuring clarity of message.

    A proofreader will act as a second pair of eyes and will read through the content, which has most likely by this stage been designed if it is for publication. The proofreader will check for consistency and layout. If requested to do so, a proofreader can also perform a ‘proof check’ against the editor’s file to ensure everything the editor submitted to the designer has been included.

    I think it is important to stress that the proofreader and the editor are separate people, as fresh eyes to the project can highlight new things. Take a published book, for example (it doesn’t matter whether it is printed or digital). The editor will edit the content before it goes to a designer. The proofreader will view the document after it has been designed.

    The reason for this? We are all human and mistakes can creep in at the design stage, or it may be the editor missed something at the outset.

    When you’re looking at other people’s writing, what are a couple of the biggest mistakes or problems that you come across?

    I would say the overriding one is inconsistency. It may be of tense used, character names in novels, layout of a resource, page numbers being incorrect, or typos here and there.

    I think the biggest tip I can give is to get someone else to look over your work. You may think you have everything correct, but the chances are you are too close to your work and therefore a fresh pair of eyes could highlight things you had not even considered. Everything written is produced for a target audience in mind. It is crucial that your work reaches this audience and resonates with them, otherwise, they will switch off. That is where an editor or a proofreader can add so much.

    Where can we find you online?

    You can visit visit my website, find me on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

    Thanks Craig for sharing your story and your ideas with us.

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    I also link episodes of the podcast that are focussed on aspects of communication in my monthly EwK Services newsletter. You can sign up for it using the form below.


      Are you making these mistakes when you use the apostrophe?

      This may not sound like a very exciting topic, but one of the most common mistakes that I have to fix when proofreading texts for native speakers is incorrect use of the apostrophe. Therefore I decided to write a post about it to explain when it should be used and highlight some of the common errors.

      When should you use an apostrophe?

      1. to replace missing letters in words

      Examples of this are don’t (do not), I’m (I am), he’s (he is). The apostrophe replaces the missing letter.

      2. To show possession

      This shows that something belongs to somebody. We can talk about Kirsty’s students, my mother’s car or my friend’s new coat. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about one or more things. It could be Kirsty’s student or Kirsty’s students. If the thing that belongs to someone is plural, the plural is made in the usual way.

      I once knew a dog called Raffles. The rules are slightly different for names ending in an “s”, so I would talk about Raffles’ bed, not Raffles’s bed or Raffle’s bed. The same rules would apply to James’ bike or Nicholas’ jacket.

      However this is a style issue and some people would advocate adding an ‘s to any singular word. Therefore you may also see James’s bike (but never Jame’s bike, unless the bike belongs to someone called Jame).

      “S’” is also used to make plurals possessive.
      My neighbour’s garden = the garden that belongs to my neighbour.
      My neighbours’ garden = the garden that belongs to my neighbours.
      My colleague’s office is the office belonging to my colleague.
      My colleagues’ office is the office belonging to my colleagues.

      I wrapped my friend’s Christmas presents = I am giving my friend more than one present.
      I wrapped my friends’ Christmas presents = there are multiple Christmas presents and they are for more than one friend.

      If two people possess one thing together, you need an apostrophe after the final name: Sarah and Robert’s house. If they have separate possessions, each person needs an apostrophe: Sarah’s and Robert’s passports were on the table. You can’t share your passport with someone because it only belongs to you. “Sarah and Robert’s bikes” is ok if they are a couple and they jointly own the bikes. You could also say “Sarah’s and Robert’s bikes”, if you want to emphasise that Sarah and Robert have their own bikes or that Sarah and Robert have nothing to do with each other and you’re just talking about their bikes in the same sentence.

      What mistakes do people often make?

      1. Using an apostrophe to replace a missing letter before punctuation

      If the word with an apostrophe to show a replaced letter comes before a comma, full stop or other punctuation mark, you should write the sentence out in full. Don’t write things like:
      I can’t believe how happy I’m. (It should be “I can’t believe how happy I am!”)

      Are you going to the train station? If you’re, I’ll give you a lift. (It should be “if you are, I’ll give you a lift.”)

      2. It’s or its? You’re or your?

      It’s = it is. It’s raining.
      Its = something that belongs to “it”. The dog wagged its tail.

      Therefore you shouldn’t write things like “its cold today” or “it was winter and the tree had lost most of it’s leaves”.

      Your = something that belongs to you.
      You’re = you are.

      Therefore you shouldn’t write “You’re brother came to see me yesterday” or “You don’t know what your talking about”.

      3. Adding s’ to words that are already plural

      Words like women, men and children are already plural. You can’t have one children or one women (because the singular versions are child and woman). Therefore it is not necessary to write “s’” after these words. The children’s toys (the toys belonging to all the children) were on the floor. The women’s changing rooms are that way.

      4. Making plurals with an apostrophe

      If you had a shop that sold vegetables, you could write a sign to say that you were selling potatoes, tomatoes and carrots (but not potato’s, tomato’s and carrot’s).

      5. Don’t change the name of a company by putting the apostrophe in the wrong place

      If I opened a shop called Major Chocolate Cakes, and I wanted to advertise my grand opening, it would be “Major Chocolate Cakes’ grand opening”. This isn’t because I’d be selling more than one chocolate cake, but because the name of the company can’t be changed. Saying “Major Chocolate Cake’s” would be changing the name of my shop. It needs to be treated like a name ending in “S”, as we did with James’ bike.

      6. Forgetting the apostrophe

      I’ve seen documents that talk about the customers requirements and the managers signature. The apostrophe had been forgotten altogether and even if the rest of the document is well-written, this doesn’t make a good impression.

      Have you seen any mistakes that involved the apostrophe lately?

      If you have, tell me about them in the comments section!

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      This is where you can find out about my proofreading service. You can also get in touch with me or sign up for my monthly newsletter using my contact form.