As the lingua franca of the business world, English dominates the language learning conversation. From courses in Business English to the rise of online English teaching opportunities, those who don’t claim English as their mother tongue are told all about the many benefits of learning. It’s no surprise then that there are about 1.5 billion English language learners and non-native speakers in the world.
However, it is surprising that so many business blogs cater heavily to the 527 million native English speakers of the world. In an effort to sound natural and relate to target audiences on a more personal level, writing with conversational tones and lighthearted anecdotes can leave non-native level English speakers frustrated.
As a result, the potential for miscommunication and uncertainty is forgotten or ignored, even for native English speakers. Accents and dialects hinder conversations, but written content presents its own challenges, especially for anyone who has trouble writing regularly. Even when native English speakers are proficient in or have some knowledge of other languages, sensitivity to comprehension difficulties can be hard to deal with in writing.
If you’re in the business of educating or helping international clients, how can you be sure your written message is clear and effective for those whose first language isn’t English?
Stay away from idioms
If you’re going for a conversational, genuine tone, it’s easy to rely on expressions you might use every day. Unfortunately, if your audience isn’t familiar with these phrases, they might be confused if you start encouraging them to “kill two birds with one stone.”
Idioms and common expressions might make your content sound more natural, but they can also cause a lot of trouble for those learning English. If you think about it, the simple phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” means something to you as a native speaker, but it makes no sense if you take each word literally. By including these phrases in your blog posts, you’re essentially asking your readers to conduct research somewhere else on the internet, which only succeeds in driving them away from your content.
Don’t overuse phrasal verbs
As native speakers, we might not be able to recite all those grammar rules, but we usually know how to follow them. Similarly, the term “phrasal verbs” might sound complicated until a few examples are provided, such as: take off, put off, come up, fill in, get back to, etc. Essentially, these are verbs that consist of the verb plus a preposition or, sometimes, an adverb. We use them every day.
For English language learners, phrasal verbs are another source of frustration. However, instead of aiming to eliminate them from your content entirely, it’s best to see if any phrasal verbs could be replaced with something better during the editing process.
Be careful with your jokes and cultural references
Laughter is universal, but humor doesn’t always translate.
If your target audience was a group of native-English speakers living in the U.S., you’d easily be able to add in a joke about football or a Thanksgiving day reference. However, if you try to use the same references with an international audience, you might only succeed in making them feel like they’re not a part of your intended market. Even worse, readers with different cultural expectations might see your humor as unprofessional.
It’s easier to eliminate things like cultural references and expressions that require lots of explanation, but if your content depends on nuanced vocabulary or complex situations, providing good explanations will only make your message clearer.
For instance, if I wanted to tell you that a language learning software relied on artificial intelligence to tailor course material, I might explain that this allows the software to adjust to the needs of each individual learner. Both statements give similar information, but a reader who might not grasp the meaning of the first explanation gets a second chance to understand it.
Add graphics and visual aids
For English language learners in the classroom, pictures and visual aids improve memory and recall. They’re often used to explain complicated concepts more easily. This isn’t limited to students in a classroom, though. Research shows that visual learners make up about 65% of the population and that the brain can process images in as little as 13 milliseconds, which might explain why blog posts with graphics get more traffic.
If that isn’t convincing enough, see if you can remember those numbers more easily with an infographic.
Check your vocabulary and grammar
When focusing on an international audience, you’ll want to put a bit more effort into editing. In this case, you should try to use more common vocabulary words and double check your grammar usage. The last thing you want to do is drive readers away from your blog post before they finish the first paragraph.
One of the easiest ways to check your content is by using sites like Vocab Kitchen and Text Analyzer to verify the reading level of your text. These tools will let you know a word’s difficulty based on the Common European Framework (CEFR) Levels.
When in doubt, keep it simple
A little simplicity goes a long way.
Which sentence would you rather read?
Student engagement and connectivity is enhanced by the utilization of technology in the language learning classroom, which also leads to an increase in both motivation and performance.
Technology in language learning can increase both motivation and performance by boosting student engagement and connectivity.
Keep your sentences short and use the active voice. Don’t insert unnecessary flourishes. Your goal is to write an informative blog post, not a fantasy novel. Those without a native level of English will appreciate more accessible sentences.
A bit of extra consideration for your audience is the best way to make your blog posts more useful, which also means they’re more likely to be shared. If you’re still struggling to write blog posts that keep your audience engaged, feel free to contact me. I’m always happy to work with businesses to create successful, informative content.