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How Americans can write in British English
Thread poster: Reed James

Reed James
Chile
Local time: 10:37
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
Jun 7, 2006

Is it possible for an American to learn how to write in British English? If so, how?


I am not talking about just applying a British English spell check to a text written in American English. I, as an American would like to be able to offer this service, as it is sought after by European clients. Any ideas? Thanks.

Reed


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Kevin Fulton
United States
Local time: 10:37
German to English
Mid-Atlantic Jun 8, 2006

A number of my European clients request translations in "Mid-Atlantic"; that is, British spelling and pluralization/pluralisation such as "The Board *have* decided ..." and avoidance of outright Americanisms. I tend to write a generic English in any case and have not received any complaints.

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mónica alfonso  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:37
English to Spanish
+ ...
Same happens with Spanish Jun 8, 2006

I am Argentinian and sometimes agencies ask for European/Chilean/Mexiacan/Portorican/etc. Spanish. I think languages that are so widely spoken (English, Spanish) have several varieties, and it would be very risky to try to translate into one which is not your own.
No matter how 'neutral' you try to be, your long learned terms will slip of your tongue; also, something that may seem obviously common for you perhaps is not so in other place.
Moreover, is it worthwhile to investigate each word with colleagues form other countries to check appropriateness? (And this you would have to do continuously in order to be responsible and honest.)
IMHO, there is room and work for everyone, let's each of us take the task he/she does better.


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 00:37
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
not forgetting Australian English Jun 8, 2006

I'm Mark, the British half of Chinese Concept and I have an Australian friend who always says she loves reading my emails because of the way I phrase sentences in my "British way!" I never realised there was much of a difference between Australian English and British English.

I don't think it's such a big difference as with US and UK English though. Growing up in the UK I was exposed to alot of US language ranging from exchange students in my schools to the numerous US sitcoms and soap operas and of course movies shown on TV. I think many Brits probably have their pure British language clouded with Americanisms without even realising it, so for me it's hard to distinguish the differences between the two. (I love US TV by the way and now watch alot more American shows than British shows so I don't mean "clouded' in a derogatory or negative way.)

I think it's probably easier to translate UK English to US English because MS Word is an American product and the spellcheck does pick up on all of the grammatical and spelling differences when I type in UK English. I'm not convinced that Word works as accurately the other way around.

I like the idea of a "Mid-Atlantic" English like Kevin said and hope maybe one day there'll just be a "Global English" to save all of the confusion.

At the end of the day English is English, are the differences really that important?

Best wishes,
Mark


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 17:37
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Is there no software for that on the market? Jun 8, 2006

I have no idea about English, but here in Finland we have a software package that checks, if a Swedish text contains Finlandisms. Finlandswedish is spoken natively by about 5 % of our population.
I find it amazing that there is no software for this task in English. Would be a fine project for a linguist-programmer.
Regards
Heinrich


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
To Kevin Jun 8, 2006

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I'm a Brit and I would always write "The Board has", not "The Board have".

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JackieMcC
Local time: 16:37
French to English
proofreading may be the answer Jun 8, 2006

Hello,

I disagree with Mark - there is quite a big difference between written US and UK English. This is all the more true in certain areas, such as the translation of legal documents (my field) because obviously the American and British legal systems are very different.
It is true that some clients want "international" English understood by everyone, but I find that when asked most want either UK or US English.

I would suggest asking a British translator to read over your "UK English" translations - maybe not a full proofread against the source document, but just to look for any stray Americanisms. You could perhaps offer to do the same for his/her translations into American English.

Jackie


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:37
German to English
+ ...
The nature of language Jun 8, 2006

Reed D. James wrote:
Is it possible for an American to learn how to write in British English? If so, how?
... I, as an American would like to be able to offer this service, as it is sought after by European clients. Any ideas? Thanks.


The easy answer is: become a Brit, live in the country for ten years (or more), practice the accent and the spoken style, and persevere until nobody notices that you are not a native speaker.
Otherwise, I'm afraid there is no switch you can flick, no book you can read that will make you seem like a native speaker.

Similarly, when I am asked for translations into American English, I have to tell the client that I can't guarantee it. I say that I can do the spellcheck, that misunderstandings are unlikely and that plenty of my translations have been positively received by US readers.
But native American English? Sorry, can't guarantee it, after all, I have never set foot in either of the English-speaking countries in America.

Our target language is not a transferable commodity. We can't choose our target language to suit the market demand. We have to learn it as a native language. Some of us manage to learn our "foreign" language to "native-equivalent" standard, especially if we live in the country. (Although even here, care is necessary. Some people offer translations into English, but their ProZ profile and/or forum postings are full of stylistic or grammatical mistakes.)
But learning a language (or language variant) to "native-equivalent" standard without a very long period of residence in the country is not a realistic goal IMHO.


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:37
German to English
+ ...
British proofreader Jun 8, 2006

My two cents...

I sometimes also receive assignments requesting British English, even though I always make it clear that I am an American cowboy and thus will inevitably use American phrasing.

I've been told by several British colleagues that my English doesn't bother them (as opposed to the English spoken by some Americans). And in my legal translations it usually suffices if I stiffen up the diction a bit and use British spelling (taking into account certain legal concepts that are named differently, e.g. child maintenance v. child support) - there isn't a lot of regional slang in legal documents.

In a few cases, however, I have employed a British proofreader to go over my translation and make sure that there is nothing that would stand out to a British reader and signalize that the document was drafted by an American cowboy. The only things that got changed were my typos, but I did feel more secure in those particular instances (the client made quite a big deal about it being for a British audience).

To this day I've received no complaints in this regard (knocks on wood), but I generally agree with Victor that one would have to go live there for a while in order to pick up the nuances and write in a style that indeed reads like "pure" British.


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Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:37
German to English
Maybe a distance course? Jun 8, 2006

I don't know of any courses specifically for this purpose, but maybe you could take an English course (for English speakers) at the Open University or somewhere similar:
http://www3.open.ac.uk/courses/bin/p12.dll?Q01D54 and ask the tutor to correct your Americanisms in the essays. It might at least help you to find some of the major differences.

I'm constantly discovering new differences between US and UK English and have come to realise that I might be able to adapt the spelling and a few words to US English, but otherwise would write a lot of things that would look wrong to US readers, without noticing. Just recently I found out that the punctuation after a colon is different in US English: You can sometimes continue with a capital. A couple of months ago I discovered that commas often go in a completely different place in quotes. I've been reading American fiction since I was a young girl and hadn't noticed.

Seeing British punctuation with US spelling, for example, readers from the US would think that an article was full of mistakes and get a bad impression, so to answer Mark's question ("are the differences really that important?") I'd say they can be, yes.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Mixture required by one of my clients Jun 8, 2006

A client for whom I have been doing abstracts of patents for many years insist on US spelling of words, but British words where the whole word is different; e.g. neighbor, not neighbour, but lift, not elevator, boot, not trunk, etc. Though I am not asked to do so, I usually put the US term in brackets after the British one, if I know it.

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xxxE2efour
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:37
Swedish to English
Being literate and careful with punctuation Jun 8, 2006

I think 80% of the differences between US and UK English lie in punctuation. So for UK English important rules are:
1) Avoid -ze, -zing and -zation spellings. Although they are acceptable, you come a cropper with words like analyse (which should never be spelt analyze in the UK).
2) No commas after i.e. and e.g. (or italics).
3) Quotes before full stop, comma except in speech:
A three-point scale graded "HIGH," MEDIUM," AND "LOW." (US)
A three-point scale graded "HIGH", "MEDIUM" AND "LOW" (UK)
4) Never write commas before "and" in lists (e.g. apples, oranges and pears). The Oxford University Press does this, however!

If you follow these and other rules that I can't recall at the moment you will at least produce a text which looks British.

The rest is more difficult. If you are literate and write good prose (as you should!) it would be very difficult for anyone to distinguish between UK and US English. The only clue lies in colloquial phrases (e.g. I have no idea whether "come a cropper" above is used in America) and a few technical terms and vocabulary differences (although both forms can quite often be used, e.g. apartment or flat, pharmaceutical or drug).

A book I recommend is Mind the Gaffe by R.L. Trask (the author is an American who works in the UK).


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writeaway  Identity Verified

Local time: 16:37
Partial member (2003)
French to English
+ ...
Victor has stated the crux of the matter-you need to live in British English Jun 8, 2006

Victor Dewsbery wrote:

Reed D. James wrote:
Is it possible for an American to learn how to write in British English? If so, how?
... I, as an American would like to be able to offer this service, as it is sought after by European clients. Any ideas? Thanks.



The easy answer is: become a Brit, live in the country for ten years (or more), practice the accent and the spoken style, and persevere until nobody notices that you are not a native speaker.
Otherwise, I'm afraid there is no switch you can flick, no book you can read that will make you seem like a native speaker.

Similarly, when I am asked for translations into American English, I have to tell the client that I can't guarantee it. I say that I can do the spellcheck, that misunderstandings are unlikely and that plenty of my translations have been positively received by US readers.
But native American English? Sorry, can't guarantee it, after all, I have never set foot in either of the English-speaking countries in America.

Our target language is not a transferable commodity. We can't choose our target language to suit the market demand. We have to learn it as a native language. Some of us manage to learn our "foreign" language to "native-equivalent" standard, especially if we live in the country. (Although even here, care is necessary. Some people offer translations into English, but their ProZ profile and/or forum postings are full of stylistic or grammatical mistakes.)
But learning a language (or language variant) to "native-equivalent" standard without a very long period of residence in the country is not a realistic goal IMHO.


I am US born and educated up to BA in US. But l haved ended up a dual national (US/UK), spending more of my life in Europe than in the US and am married to a Londoner. I have to be careful when a client wants US English because that is not what comes to mind first, either in terms of spelling or vocabulary. My legalese is UK (sworn translations all accepted) and I can churn out US legalese but have to pay attention there too and refuse to go 100% into US style which can be extremely different. Many translations are now "International" English (doesn't mean non-native, just without definite boundaries defining whose English it is). I don't think that an American can simply start to produce UK English. There are so many differences one has to be aware of-in so many 'everyday' terms. TV and mass media has helped melt away many differences but they still do exist.
It's also a question of concepts and mindset too. One can often see on Kudoz how differently things are seen by people who only live in and are only exposed to "one English". This can have a tremendous impact on a translation and what would be fine in the US could end up a disaster if it's for a BE readership, and vice-versa.
I'd say you'll have to stick with the English you know. There are lots of translators who don't accept work into other versions of their native language. Look at localisation /localization :
from Nl to B for Dutch, Austrian German isn't the same as German from Germany, French has its variations too and what about Spanish and Portuguese.
Agree 100% with Victor. Can't just be done via books.


[Edited at 2006-06-08 11:17]


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:37
French to English
+ ...
A cloudy concept Jun 8, 2006

Chinese Concept wrote:

I think many Brits probably have their pure British language clouded with Americanisms without even realising it,


There is no "British language." English (with its multiple varieties) is one language long spoken in Britain, along with Scots, Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Cornish. I am not sure which variety of English is "pure" and when that purity was established. English, both in Britain and elsewhere, has been in a continual state of evolution from the time the Angles and Saxons settled the island.

[Edited at 2006-06-08 12:37]


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Angus Woo
Local time: 22:37
Chinese to English
+ ...
I agree with Victor Jun 8, 2006

writeaway wrote:
I am US born and educated up to BA in US. But l haved ended up a dual national (US/UK), spending more of my life in Europe than in the US and am married to a Londoner. I have to be careful when a client wants US English because that is not what comes to mind first, either in terms of spelling or vocabulary. My legalese is UK (sworn translations all accepted) and I can churn out US legalese but have to pay attention there too and refuse to go 100% into US style which can be extremely different. Many translations are now "International" English (doesn't mean non-native, just without definite boundaries defining whose English it is). I don't think that an American can simply start to produce UK English. There are so many differences one has to be aware of-in so many 'everyday' terms. TV and mass media has helped melt away many differences but they still do exist.
It's also a question of concepts and mindset too. One can often see on Kudoz how differently things are seen by people who only live in and are only exposed to "one English". This can have a tremendous impact on a translation and what would be fine in the US could end up a disaster if it's for a BE readership, and vice-versa.
I'd say you'll have to stick with the English you know. There are lots of translators who don't accept work into other versions of their native language. Look at localisation /localization :
from Nl to B for Dutch, Austrian German isn't the same as German from Germany, French has its variations too and what about Spanish and Portuguese.
Agree 100% with Victor. Can't just be done via books.

Language is and will be, as it has always been, evolving. Dialects do come and go if one looks closely into the history of languages. There are always some words in a language which are particularly native to some and foreign to someone else, despite the fact that nowadays this global village is getting smaller and smaller. That's a part of our life, pretty much like some people eat rice everyday and some others don't.

I agree with Victor and writeaway. For the word "language" in fact is derived from the word TONGUE, not books. That means you learn a language by speaking it, not just by reading books.


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