Re: Manuals Written in Non-American English

Subject: Re: Manuals Written in Non-American English
From: Jane Bergen <janeb -at- AIRMAIL -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 1996 20:18:41 +600

On 20 Aug 96 at 16:53, Chris Hamilton wrote:

> What things are generally done in manuals written for the USA that
> don't work well for non-American English speakers? (Aside from the
> normal, generally-accepted conventions for user documentation, if
> such things exist.)

In my "previous life" I taught English as a Second Language (ESL). I
haven't any great revelations specific to technical writing, but I
know a couple of things that non-native speakers find difficult.

First, don't use contractions. Usually we avoid those in tech writing
anyway, but just in case.... spell it out.

Second, avoid tag questions. Japanese is one of the languages that
have a really hard time answering questions like: "You're happy,
aren't you?" Their language system has no constructs like this. A
"no" answer would contradict the first part but a yes answer the
second part.

Third, keep your sentences short and generally subject-verb-object.
Even if your target language is different (such as
subject-object-verb), at least the speakers can switch gears easily
enough when you're consistent.

Fourth, try to learn as much about the audience as possible. Will
they all be homogenous (same culture, same language group)? Will they
have had English classes? Are they literate in their own language? Do
they use a different alphabet? Obviously, if you are distributing all
over the world, you've got problems.

Good luck.

Jane Bergen
janeb -at- airmail -dot- net
janebergen -at- aol -dot- com

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