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!
Find out more
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!