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I carry out a lot of language editing work on fiction and nonfiction that is written by non-native-English speakers (NNS) or those with English as a second language (ESL). and to date have ‘anglicised’ a wide range of languages from every continent, from dozens of countries.

Surely English is English?

NNS writers usually have a very good understanding of written English, but getting the finer points right can be difficult. English is a tricky language, full of words with very similar meanings and sounds (homonyms), whereby the slightest spelling mistake can make a big difference. Formal English, relaxed English and written ‘conversational' English all have different conventions and nuances. Word choices can be confusing, and there are many different ways to convey the same thought - some of which are better than others. Errors in grammar, punctuation and syntax can introduce ambiguity that wouldn’t occur in the writer’s original language, so that the intended meaning becomes obscured. Problems with transitions between sentences are common.

The perils of syntax

One very problematic area is sentence structure, or syntax (word order). Unlike many other languages, English does not use word endings to indicate the relation between the words in a sentence. Instead, the precise ordering of words matters: the subject comes first, then the verb, then the objects and adverbial phrases. Sentences using the very same (correct) words, but in the ‘wrong’ order, may be completely grammatical, but usually convey a completely different meaning. Sometimes it is difficult to work out precisely what the author is trying to say - the meaning cannot be deduced, or there is more than one possible meaning. Eliminating such ambiguity is essential.

Other pitfalls

As well as word order, other fundamental principles must be applied to make English sound truly English. These involve the use of:

  • punctuation marks that replace pauses, stressed words and inflections of the spoken language

  • tense and aspect that give a ‘statement’ a context in time, in the present, the future or the past (or historic past), conveying more subtly whether an action is one-off and instant, repeated or regular, or progressive or ongoing

  • ‘determiners’, whereby articles,  possessives, quantifiers and 'demonstratives' must be used correctly to form meaningful statements

  •  ‘connectors’ that link the words, phrases and clauses within a sentence to each other, such as ‘coordinating’ conjunctions (such as: and, but, or, nor, yet), subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns, adverbs (such as: because, if, although, who, when, that) and ‘correlating’  conjunctions (such as: either ... or, both ... and).

To make a text read as if it were written by a native English speaker usually involves a heavy edit, not just to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors and non-native phrases and terms, but also to re-write sentences in more natural English while ensuring that the intended meaning is immediately apparent.

And some little extras ...

  • I also work on translations from other languages into English.

  • One member of my team provides translations from Italian to English and vice versa.

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