editing English for non-native speakers

editing English for non-native speakers

by Janice Nigro

A considerable number of my friends and work colleagues are not from English speaking countries. And I love to travel. Foreign language or English with an accent is part of my daily life. When I meet someone from a non-English speaking country, I immediately engage in foreign word play. Simple stuff, like how do I say hello or most importantly, thank you, in their respective languages. Sadly, I have forgotten how to say those words in too many languages, like for instance, Tahitian…

Although I have always been interested in speaking foreign languages, and attempts have been made to be fluent, I have to admit that the balance is in my favor. Most people around the world want to learn to speak English, and more impressive, is that they are unhindered and just try to do it. The beauty of the situation is that you get to listen to how non-native English speakers use the language in a sort of unbiased way. They will use the word they know rather than the word a native speaker would use which I might now loosely categorize as the right word.

I am not always so responsible as the designated native English speaker to tell people otherwise, however. Some of my closest friends will attest to that. Not so long ago (because I was living in Norway) I found myself making “laugh,” for example, of my French friends who are easy to make “laugh” of when they speak English, but of course, they are speaking my language not the other way around.

The point is not really to make “laugh” of people. The reality is that I often prefer the word they use; number one, because I never would have thought to use the word that way; and number two, the word they may use is often a more colorful, intimate, dramatic, or even poetic way to describe a thing or situation. Ultimately, it has the effect of broadening my perspective on the contexts within which English words can be used. Of course, implementation is another issue.

So it is a bit ironic that I have become an editor, specifically of scientific work authored by non-native English speakers. It is now my professional job to make sure that non-native speakers use the English language correctly. Perhaps my karma…

Scientific work puts me in a particularly unique position on breaking the rules of the use of English. There is already an abridged dictionary even amongst native English speakers (unfortunately), which contains only the words that seem to be acceptable, or scientific, for discussing experiments or biological phenomena-perhaps we call it jargon. Editing though has enlightened me; words that are not in the Dictionary for Science can be applied to describe a scientific finding perfectly well. Like swimming inflammatory cells. Very poetic, and I wish more science could be written this way.

©2015 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

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