As Brits, we’re used to meeting non-native English speakers who speak our language incredibly well. We might even joke that their English is better than our own. But it’s just a joke, right?
According to this article from BBC Worklife, the joke is on us. When it comes to speaking English in an international environment, we might actually be the worst.
English speakers with no other language often lack awareness of how to speak English internationally.
Wounded national pride aside, there’s a useful lesson here that can be applied to our writing.
There are two major differences between native and non-native speakers:
1. Non-native speakers have a more limited vocabulary.
In particular, they’re likely to rely on more common words and simpler sentences, with fewer idioms.
2. Non-native speakers have to think more carefully about their words.
When you’re speaking a second language, being understood isn’t taken for granted. For a non-native speaker, consciously making sure that your audience understands you is a core part of using the language.
By using simple language and pitching it at a level appropriate to their audience, non-native speakers are already using two of the fundamental skills involved in writing clear, plain English.
These skills don’t just apply to international contexts. In today’s world of overflowing inboxes and skim-reading, making your writing as simple to understand as possible is always valuable.
So next time you write an email, particularly if you’ve got international colleagues, take a moment to think like a non-native. And maybe we’ll be able to laugh along after all.