EEVblog Electronics Community Forum

General => General Chat => Topic started by: TimNJ on May 30, 2019, 06:13:50 pm

Title: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: TimNJ on May 30, 2019, 06:13:50 pm
Hi all,

The company I work for is split almost 50/50 in the US and China.   I communicate with a handful of Chinese people everyday, using English. These are usually technical discussions about engineering issues, sourcing, etc.

I try to simplify my writing by avoiding verbs/adjectives that might have several meanings depending on the context. But, sometimes I even simplify the structure of my sentences, almost writing in the way that my Chinese colleagues communicate with me.

So, I have to wonder...Is this helpful for non-English speakers? Is it better to just write in full-blown English all the time? Does anyone have any ideas or experience?

Thanks!
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: Bud on May 30, 2019, 06:34:59 pm
I used to have a native English speaking colleague who talked in Shakespeare like language and noone including Chinese members of the team seemed to have problems with it. i'd think as long as plain technical language is used it is fine.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: ogden on May 30, 2019, 06:59:13 pm
So, I have to wonder...Is this helpful for non-English speakers? Is it better to just write in full-blown English all the time? Does anyone have any ideas or experience?

It depends on region and culture, yet usually oversimplification is bad idea. Some may find it insulting. You definitely shall avoid rare or slang words. Just use "plain English" without downgrading it on purpose.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: bloguetronica on May 30, 2019, 07:03:16 pm
Well, you shouldn't have the need to over-simplify, and it is OK in most situations to use elaborate words, even when addressing non-native speakers. A more elaborate vocabulary is more useful and conveys the message better than using simple words. It is best to choose words that image an idea better, even if those words have multiple meaning by themselves. The context is key.

Kind regards, Samuel Lourenço
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: blueskull on May 30, 2019, 07:07:55 pm
From my Chinese perspective, I would appreciate the following:

1. No memes. Just like you don't understand Chinese memes, we don't understand Western memes. Be it language memes or celebrity memes.

2. Keep it technical. Not a lot of people are interested in discussing irrelevant topics in a language they are not super familiar with.

I won't intentionally use over simplified language. It makes things ambiguous, and it makes you sound insulting.

Otoh, I would prefer not to use words that are easily replaceable with simpler words, like granulated->ground, superfluous->excessive and etc.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: mfro on May 30, 2019, 07:33:32 pm
So, I have to wonder...Is this helpful for non-English speakers? Is it better to just write in full-blown English all the time? Does anyone have any ideas or experience?
I don't think so. These guys are not dumb, they just lack practice. Try to give them good example writing the best/cleanest English you can. For non-natives, it is  much easier to read (and understand) foreign language than to express themselves in it (so if you rate their English skills by their ability to express themselves, you might seriously underrate). If you use words they don't know, be assured they'll have a way to look them up. This will improve their English skills over time. If you limit yourself to a stripped down language, theirs will never improve and you'll limit overall communication to that weak level (besides those with better language skills may find find such behaviour insulting).
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: TimNJ on May 30, 2019, 07:47:59 pm
Thanks for your comments, everyone. I agree with everyone's sentiment. I surely wouldn't want anyone to "dumb down" their language to speak to me, but at the same time,  would appreciate if American/Western colloquialisms were left out. I speak in colloquialisms all day, so I have to be intentional about not using them in e-mails to my Chinese colleagues. But, in being intentional about this, sometimes I catch myself simplifying too much.

I guess my question that still remains is: What is over-simplified English? It seems somewhat subjective.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: apis on May 30, 2019, 08:01:54 pm
https://blog.xkcd.com/2015/09/22/a-thing-explainer-word-checker/
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: soldar on May 30, 2019, 08:22:57 pm
Maybe it is that you need subtitles?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0m4rcx0of4 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0m4rcx0of4)

Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: rsjsouza on May 30, 2019, 08:26:02 pm
From my Chinese perspective, I would appreciate the following:

1. No memes. Just like you don't understand Chinese memes, we don't understand Western memes. Be it language memes or celebrity memes.

2. Keep it technical. Not a lot of people are interested in discussing irrelevant topics in a language they are not super familiar with.

I won't intentionally use over simplified language. It makes things ambiguous, and it makes you sound insulting.

Otoh, I would prefer not to use words that are easily replaceable with simpler words, like granulated->ground, superfluous->excessive and etc.

In addition to blueskull's topics and from a foreigner perspective as well:

3. Slangs and idiomatic expressions are very difficult to get across for the non-experienced person. It took me quite some time immersed in the US culture to understand many of these.

4. Sports-related expressions (I'm game, get the ball rolling, etc.) are very ambiguous.

5. Contraction can cause confusion - the typical "You're" that can be confused with "Your", for example.

6. Probably more that I can't remember now.

IME, oversimplification is heavily dependent on the mastery of the receiving end. I have dealt with "proficient", "fluent", "salvageable" and "google-translate" levels of comprehension and one can truly appreciate over-simplified language. It is a hard call.

Also, from the receiving end - i.e., a native reading a foreigner's e-mail, I noticed the following:

1. Not everyone uses the english adjective-noun order. Be prepared to find something like "the probe red is plugged into the jack red".

2. Not everyone is experienced in prepositions (one of my biggest nemesis). Be prepared to read something like: "the probe of the multimeter needs to be placed at the top of the point of test of the PCB". (that would be a perfectly valid and well written sentence in Portuguese).

3. Some cultures love to tell long stories and intertwine questions in the middle. That is something that took some time to realize why my colleagues in the US failed to address half of my questions on an e-mail I have sent.  :-DD

4. Probably more that I can't remember now.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: rsjsouza on May 30, 2019, 08:29:25 pm
Maybe it is that you need subtitles?
I love that video. I am always impressed at the restraint of the other actors to not burst in laughter!
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: bsfeechannel on May 30, 2019, 09:07:40 pm
So, I have to wonder...Is this helpful for non-English speakers? Is it better to just write in full-blown English all the time? Does anyone have any ideas or experience?

I used to be at the other end of your line. The answer to your questions is use formal English. You can't go wrong. That's what every fluent non-native speaker of English is expected to master.

That way you won't need to be worried about simplifications or anything to get understood.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: Benta on May 30, 2019, 11:04:28 pm
As a professional technical writer, I can say that there are a couple of problems in writing international "English" documentation.
Meaning documentation that would be understood all over the world.

The first is the "US influence": US writers mostly use "Brand" names for products instead of generic product descriptions. No reader outside the US understands what they're talking about.

The "UK university/Eton/Oxford/Cambridge" writing types are even worse: using Shakespearean verbs and nouns to show their superiority make their technical articles unintelligible for everyone else.

I've worked 35+ years in this area and it hasn't improved...

Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: johnboxall on May 30, 2019, 11:43:57 pm
Does anyone have any ideas or experience?

Don't be passive-aggressive when asking for something.

For example:
"I have the Hakko 888D soldering station and it'd be great if I had the service manual for it too".

Instead, use:
"Could you please send me the service manual for the Hakko 888D soldering station? Thank you".

And if anyone says I can "go ahead and xyz for them" instead of "could you please xyz for me?" - they get banned as a customer.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: soldar on May 31, 2019, 11:21:29 am
The "go ahead" thing makes me see red.  What is the difference between "I'm going to go ahead and turn on the oven" and "I'm going to turn on the oven"?  Or between "should I go ahead and turn it off?" and "should I turn it off?".

When I start hearing all this "go aheading" in a YouTube video I close it and go elsewhere to calm down.

My wife picked it up for a while from someone at work and it drove me crazy. I would ask her what the "go ahead" part meant. I started saying things like "I'm going to go ahead and go ahead". She'd ask "go ahead with what?" and I'd say "with going ahead, I'm not reversing course now that I've gone ahead so far". 

She got rid of the "go ahead" PDQ.

N.B. You can file this post under "old man shakes fist at cloud while telling kids to get off his lawn" category.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: Stray Electron on May 31, 2019, 12:40:37 pm

N.B. You can file this post under "old man shakes fist at cloud while telling kids to get off his lawn" category.


   LOL!  A great example of just how far and how fast some American idioms actually have spread. 
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: Psi on May 31, 2019, 12:42:10 pm
I sometimes start talking in the same way that Chinese people take to me.
Then i wonder if they will think i'm making fun of them.  :)
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: apis on May 31, 2019, 12:54:51 pm
The best would probably be to learn Chinese.

Chinese has 1.2 billion native speakers! English: 400 million (700 million who speak it as second language).
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: TimNJ on May 31, 2019, 01:18:08 pm
The "go ahead" thing makes me see red.  What is the difference between "I'm going to go ahead and turn on the oven" and "I'm going to turn on the oven"?  Or between "should I go ahead and turn it off?" and "should I turn it off?".

When I start hearing all this "go aheading" in a YouTube video I close it and go elsewhere to calm down.

My wife picked it up for a while from someone at work and it drove me crazy. I would ask her what the "go ahead" part meant. I started saying things like "I'm going to go ahead and go ahead". She'd ask "go ahead with what?" and I'd say "with going ahead, I'm not reversing course now that I've gone ahead so far". 

She got rid of the "go ahead" PDQ.

N.B. You can file this post under "old man shakes fist at cloud while telling kids to get off his lawn" category.

Haha! I absolutely can't stand "go ahead". It's maybe okay in a conversation, but even there, not necessary.

On a related note, to others who have commented, thank you for your suggestions about using the "active voice". Too many native English speakers have the habit of speaking in the "passive voice", which I imagine can be quite frustrating, since it kind of dances around the issue at hand, instead of directly addressing it.
Title: Re: Simplify your writing when talking to non-English speakers? (i.e. Chinese)
Post by: tooki on May 31, 2019, 11:09:23 pm
As a professional technical writer, I can say that there are a couple of problems in writing international "English" documentation.
Meaning documentation that would be understood all over the world.

The first is the "US influence": US writers mostly use "Brand" names for products instead of generic product descriptions. No reader outside the US understands what they're talking about.

The "UK university/Eton/Oxford/Cambridge" writing types are even worse: using Shakespearean verbs and nouns to show their superiority make their technical articles unintelligible for everyone else.

I've worked 35+ years in this area and it hasn't improved...
I have also done technical writing and translation professionally (not for 35 years yet, though! :p ) in English and German, and genericized trademarks are something that I think everyone uses in their own language (not just native English speakers, and not just Americans). Yes, we Americans say “Kleenex” for a tissue, but the British say “Hoover” for vacuum cleaner, the French often call a ballpoint pen “un bic”, Germans say “Tipp-Ex” for correction fluid, the Swiss say “Bostitch” for a stapler, many Asian languages use “Ajinomoto” to refer to MSG, everyone except English speakers say “Maizena” for corn starch, and truly everyone says “Aspirin” for acetylsalicylic acid. The last is a great example of how genericized trademarks are sometimes the only word that people commonly know for an item.

That you think only Americans do this, and not other English speakers, is to me more indicative of you having learned British English originally (thus not recognizing non-American genericized trademarks as such), and not recognizing the genericized trademarks in your own language. (If anything, I feel the British actually may use more genericized trademarks than Americans, though this is based only on my impression, not any kind of data.)

Even in electronics engineering I don’t think it’s in any way justified to single out Americans: yes, we often call a phono jack an “RCA” jack, but in German you call it “Cinch”-Buchse, which is also a brand name. How about how you commonly say “WAGO-Klemme” regardless of who made it? We all say Torx even if it’s an unlicensed knockoff. (And it’s correct to call a Phillips screw by that name, since that’s a specific design that’s not the same as other cross-type screws.) The British often call for a “Megger” for insulation testing, even if they’re more likely to be using a Fluke these days.



Anyhow, I think the overall advice in this thread is good, though: avoid colloquialisms and cultural references, and keep language simple without dumbing it down. Consistency is critical.

I’ll add that, generally speaking, the things that make a text better for non-native speakers (or better for translation into other languages) also make the text better for native speakers. I’m a total advocate of straightforward writing, not the flowery, padded, obtuse BS loved by academia and legal professionals for so long...