English as a language
Before I became a writer, I believed English was one language. Wherever you lived, if you spoke English, you . . . spoke English! By the same token, if you wrote English, you . . . wrote English.
Obviously, my way of writing English was the correct way, the only way. After all, I was English. (Scottish actually, but we’ll ignore that.)
Because I grew up in the British Colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) most of my books came from England. They were printed in the same English as my teachers taught. I moved to South Africa to study nursing, and all my textbooks were printed in the UK.
The Arrival of the Internet
Then along came the Internet. Global markets started to open. Here in South Africa, American magazines started to appear on our supermarket shelves.
Strangely, I didn’t spot any difference in the English. But then I started to write, and I joined a writers’ group on the Internet. Then I noticed, not everyone wrote exactly the same way I did. I joined a critique group, and the members tried to point out I didn’t put my punctuation in the right place. Huh? Oh, and my spelling? I soon discovered they all had obviously learned a different English to me!
So what does this have to do with us as writers? In the pre-Internet days, our words were mainly read by those in our own country. Click To Tweet
In the pre-Internet days, our words were mainly read by those in our own country., but today that’s no longer the case. Our writing may be available on a global scale the moment we hit ‘publish’ or ‘enter’. And as I soon discovered, some words have very different meanings in the various countries in the world.
Join me as I spend the next few weeks unpacking this subject. Let’s look at some of the hazards and see ways how we can help our readers understand what we want them to, regardless of where they live. I promise you some good chuckles as we move along.
Cultivate global friendships
As writers, it is important that we interact with other writers of different countries. One of the easiest ways to do this is by joining one or more writers’ groups on the Internet. By doing this, we interact with writers from across the globe. We get to understand the pitfalls that await the non-alert writer, and it will also help improve our writing. At the same time, our understanding of different cultures will grow. And that’s fun!
We should link up with groups where we can share writing issues as well as ask questions. As we notice members who live in other countries to us, we will be able to learn from them.
A New English?
I soon learned that my way was not necessarily the only right way. It might be correct for me and others in my country—but was there another way I could express myself so that everyone would understand what I meant? If we write that way, we will not only write better for the global market, it will broaden our knowledge and understanding of this amazing world where we live.
My first experience of an Internet group was in fact not a writers’ group. I was an avid card maker. I particularly enjoyed rubber stamping, so I was overjoyed to discover a Rubber Stamping Group on the Internet. This large group comprised mainly of ladies who all shared my love of rubber stamping. We shared ideas, compared notes, and sent cards to one another. In the process, I got to know a number of Americans, a couple of Australians, and one lady in England. Many of them are still my friends today, many years later. I also came to know a bit about other Englishes to the one I believed to be the only one.
Taking a car to the shop?
One day, a lady from the western side of America wrote, “I can’t get to the shops today because my husband took my car to the shop.”
In South Africa, the only reason you take your car to a shop is because you want to sell it. I wondered how her husband could sell her car when she obviously needed it.
So I asked, “Are you going to get another one?”
Back came the puzzled response, “No. Why would I? There’s nothing wrong with this one.”
“Then why are you selling it?” I asked.
Time for a lesson in International English.
- Americans send their cars to the shop when they need a service.
- South Africans send their cars to the shop when they want to sell them. If we want the car serviced, we take it to a garage.
Can you think of any word, custom, or grammar rule that differs between countries? Leave a note in the comment below, and I’ll make sure to discuss it in further posts.
Some groups you may want to investigate:
International Christian Fiction Writers Blog (ICFW) Follow this blog and you’ll learn so much about other countries.