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if English is not your first language

If English is not your first language, then your writing will almost certainly contain errors. This may make it difficult for others to understand what you have written. You may leave an unfavorable impression.

Oral Communication

Perhaps you converse very well in English. Further, if you do make any errors when speaking, they are quickly forgotten. (Most of what we do say is forgotten within a very brief period.) In addition, if you sense that your listener does not understand what you have said during a conversation in English, you can repeat it, reword it, or re-explain it. The persons, to whom you speak, will form an impression of your fluency in English based on the conversation in its entirety.

Written Communication

Written communication offers the potential for problems. You are not there to reword a phrase or re-explain a paragraph should the reader not understand what you have written. Therefore, there is a greater risk that your reader will not entirely understand your message. As a result, writing requires greater accuracy and fluency in English than does oral communication. The standard is higher. Although spoken errors are quickly forgotten after a conversation ends, whatever is written remains. This includes any errors. Consequently, the potential to create unfavorable impressions is greater in writing.

Non-Native English Writer

If English is not your first language, you face all the challenges in writing that a native English speaker must overcome. However, you do not have the fluency of a native English speaker. This means that you may not have as extensive a vocabulary as a native English speaker. Further, you will know with less certainty which words and word forms to use in various situations. The native English writer can rely on his or her instinct or experience. You cannot. You must possess the knowledge.

Examples of Errors in Writing

Click here to see extracts from the English writing of several young Spanish men and women. English is their third or fourth language. Although these men and women speak English very well, writing poses a greater challenge.

The obvious errors have been underlined. You will notice that the most common errors concern the choice of verb forms. That is, an error was frequently made in the choice of the present (or past) verb tense, the infinitive verb form of the verb (instead of the present participle), the subjunctive verb form (instead of the future tense), etc. In contrast, a native English speaker usually chooses the correct form without thinking.

On occasion, the use of prepositions was incorrect. In addition, several men or women made errors in the choice of other words. A writer often used a word that has a similar meaning to the suggested replacement, but is little used in that context - desire vs. wish, good vs. well, etc.

Errors Made by a Translator

Click here to view four separate paragraphs of text that were selected at random from a book about Barcelona. One can conclude that this beautifully illustrated book was translated from Spanish into English by someone whose first language is not English.

The most frequently made mistake concerned the choice of words. This indicates that the translator is less familiar with English than is a typical native English speaker. In addition, the particular spelling mistakes indicate that (1) the translator was Spanish or French and (2) did not use an English spell-checker to check the completed work.

Although the sentences are excessively long and should be broken up into shorter fragments for easier comprehension, the translation may simply reflect the writing style of the original Spanish text.

Errors Made by Another Translator

Click here to view the text of the first page of the English version of a Chinese website on the Internet. The website, where this copy may be seen, belongs to a Chinese language translation service. It offers written language translation to and from the Chinese language.

The text is difficult to read and understand because its sentences are far too long. However, the main problem with this text is caused by the translator's choice of words. Many of the words used by the translator are not the exact words that should have been used. As a result, you are frequently required to guess the meaning of what the translator is attempting to communicate. It is evident that the translator's first language is not English. He or she has had insufficient experience in English to easily and consistently correctly match words to the context.


The examples demonstrate how important it is for translation of text to be performed by someone whose maternal tongue is the language into which the documents are to be translated. When this is not possible or practical, the final translated text should at least be reviewed for errors by someone who has these qualifications.

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