Today something different – looking at an awkward article written by a blogger in the United States, and at a few themes which come out of it, including the angry reaction from others. And if you’re a non-native speaker of English, you’ll see for yourself that even native speakers struggle with writing well in English!
If you remember, recently I wrote about how important it is to look beyond worrying about the grammar you use, and instead ask yourself if you have achieved your purpose, that is, the reason why you’re writing or communicating. Is the message that you’re saying the same as the one that the other person hears? This is especially important for learning English and when taking the Cambridge FCE, CAE and CPE and IELTS exams, but of course in everyday life.
The grammar and vocabulary you choose have a more important role – to help you communicate the message you’d like to express. This is something we all have problems with from time to time. Imagine the girl who just wants some space for a few days for some time on her own, and tells her boyfriend she’s going to her mother’s for the weekend. Meanwhile, he’s getting worried thinking she wants to end the relationship! And of course politicians are easy targets – think of the leader who says he’s one of the people, but would never use public transport, only hang out with celebrities and the wealthy, and so on.
I have a job for you!
So guys let’s look at a real, live example of an article written by a native speaker of English. Please read this and as you scroll down the page, ask yourself:
- why is she writing this article?
- how do you think a non-native speaker of English would react to this?
- who do you think her intended audience is? ie who did she write this article for?
Ok, so please read the article (link below) and then come back – no coffee break just yet
So what did you think?
Does the nationality of the writer really matter? Do non-native speakers really struggle when they write? Any more than some American bloggers??
First, I’m guessing she meant this article to be motivational. I think she wanted to say that if you’re from China or Japan or another non-English speaking country, then you needn’t write or do business in English. The real ‘treasure’ in your life could well be right in front of you! So if you’re Czech and you write a blog in English, maybe you’re not seeing the potential for business and self-realisation that you could get in your native language.
Why did she write this? Well, as I said, it could be to inspire non-native speakers to get in touch with what’s happening locally. On top of this, she offers a solution for any problems here, as her job is: “I’d like to offer my advice about a niche project that you are working on.”
In addition she says “I am into building relationships online” and “Feel the power! Go make somebody’s day!”
The self-development industry is very lucrative in the U.S.A – and elsewhere – and she is advertising that she can help you with your project. So that was the motivation for this post, as I see it – a way to attract new business, and this is something we all do to some extent (even this site partly promotes English lessons in Prague).
But would someone in China or Norway or any other country choose her as their consultant? I don’t think so.
How would a non-native speaker respond to her tone and choice of words?
Well, Robbie from EnglishHarmony, a blog designed for people learning English, was angry and offended. He even made a video to react to this!
This is the opening paragraph from Bloggers who are not native speakers struggle more:
One thing I consider myself very fortunate for is having been born in the United States. I grew up speaking English right from the get go. I know all the different dialects across our country. It is very obvious when you come across some blogger who grew up with English as a second language. I feel for them.
Robbie thought it was condescending – yeah, it hit me too just how patronising the tone of the article is. ie she looks down on the people she’s meant to be ‘helping.’
For me this is one of those articles where the American writes that they’re so rich and blessed to be American, and we, the rest of the world, but especially all those people in the non-English world, are just unlucky from birth.
“I feel for them”
We use “I feel for you” when someone experiences real pain. Maybe you lost your job and you need to look after your 12 year-old son. Maybe you have a serious illness. Or your lover got into an accident and has lost their sight.
Blogging is not a real struggle like losing something you hold dear or love. And she needn’t feel for them – or me for that matter. So, yeah, I winced when I read that.
I guess there was not any major goal with this post other than to point out the fact that we native born English American bloggers and other Brits, Aussie’s, New Zealander’s, etc. ought to consider ourselves lucky. We have an advantage over the millions of other bloggers out there who simply don’t have those English skills.
She’s telling foreigners pretty much to STOP writing in English because they don’t have the skills. At the same time, she’s making mistakes. Lol. I think my own students could re-write this better, and they’d be able to translate it into 2 or 3 other languages. Because they were born in Europe, where knowing one language simply isn’t good enough.
Two points from this sentence of hers:
- No idea why she’s added an apostrophe after Aussie, New Zealander. She should be using the regular plural form.
- What’s a ‘native born English American’ blogger anyhow?!! Hmm, I won’t go into that, the main point is that she’s using the language of exclusion, not inclusion.
As the Chinese economy grows by leaps and bounds, more of those Chinese people are going to be online. As anyone would guess, their bloggers’ audience is going to be a lot larger than ours is.
Statistics show that the Chinese are already online more than Americans, though per capita internet use is still more across the 50 states [source].
She also writes:
Right now, the English speaking world has more wealth than the non-English speaking world.
According to global GDP figures, this is simply not true [source]. And if you search for how well Americans are doing per capita, you’ll see they’re DOWN the list of countries throughout the world [source].
So, if you are an Asian who is struggling to blog in English, you might want to think about what the future holds in store. There might be other opportunities popping up for you that you have not yet realized.
Sure, it comes back to what I think she was trying to do – encourage people to look at what’s happening in their own backyards.
But this is a great example of how it can be tricky to write – and shows that she herself is struggling to connect with her readers (on this note, I wonder how I’m going?! )
Two morals of this story
- If you have an opinion, feel free to express it, but you also need to back it up. If you make a claim, then how did you get this information? In her case she makes statements which can be argued against with data available on the internet, and in addition, she never even identifies who she’s talking about. Who’s struggling? Who? I have no idea.
- Think about how your writing will be received. Cambridge refer to having a positive or negative ‘effect on the reader.’ It’s REALLY important to take this into consideration for the FCE, CAE, BEC and CPE writing exams, as well as in other English exams, such as IELTS. If Kathy Blogger’s intended reader was a non native speaker of English, then Robbie’s reaction shows she may not have passed a CPE writing task.
Why was this article from Kathy Blogger important to me – and who cares anyway?!
Some people said to Robbie that he’d needn’t worry about this, that it wasn’t such a big deal. But I sympathize a lot.
Because the same thing happens to me almost every day when I speak Czech with Prague people.
I’ve spoken before about the barriers people have within them when they’re learning a language. Well, those barriers inside you are big enough to hinder you that the last thing you need is for someone else to add to them!
In her case, I think Kathy was unintentionally discouraging people from expressing themselves how they choose. And how dare she say that they’re struggling.
Some Prague people don’t want to communicate with me in Czech when I speak to them in shops or when I go to companies in town. As I said, it happens almost every day, and these kinds of people are not very encouraging. I even had a bizarre case recently when I wrote to a teacher of Czech asking for lessons – I wrote to her in Czech, she wrote back to me only in English (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!).
How to deal with ignorance
I’ll write more on this another time. But, in short, the world is not as rosy as some self-development writers say. You WILL encounter resistance or disapproval or negativity from others.
But remember – they’re the ones with the problem!
If you’re a blogger from a country where the first language is not English, but you love writing in English, well keep going! Do what you love doing.
Have the strength to say “f*ck you’, I’m doing this” while having the passion and compassion to live your life positively.
The world is changing
We all have to deal as best we can with the cards we’re dealt with. While some parts of the USA are absorbed in lamestream media scandals, going to wars abroad and not being responsible with their finances ($16 trillion in debt, with China holding $1 trillion of this), other countries are moving ahead. FAST.
In such a globalised world jobs are moving from the USA to countries like India. Being flexible and being multi-lingual is more and more important. Yet many Americans haven’t read the foreign section of their newspapers to see this. Even Presidential candidates John Kerry and Mitt Romney are MOCKED for speaking French, and as we’ve seen, some believe that being born an English speaker is a natural advantage.
There are, however, many English speakers who realise that being born on an island of English is not such an advantage, and that we in fact have to work hard to learn other languages and be competitive in today’s global jobs market.
And finally if you’re from another country, you can definitely take some great ideas about business from the USA, their positive approach to dealing with people and interacting with others, and add them to your CV which you’ve worked hard to build.
Ultimately you may not speak English as well as an American, but when you both go for the same IT job abroad, your Czech, German and English is going to DWARF the American’s resumé.
Let’s end this with a dose of real can-doism
This motivation and lifestyle coach, Danielle la Porte, is also American. It’s pretty clear she’s advertising her book, but she does so honestly and I really like the message she’s communicating. It’s a great 107 seconds, and I’m pretty sure that she’d say the same thing to you wherever you are, whatever country you come from.
Do you see how she communicates her message differently?
david [at] GetIntoEnglish [dot] com