Showing posts with label International writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International writing. Show all posts

When Bloopers Go International

"Molly put on her Dolly Varden and went to the fair," writes the British author. The readers in England picture Molly dressed up in her elaborate, flower-decked hat. The American reader who lives near to the Northern Pacific, is bewildered, as he knows the Dolly Varden is a type of brightly spotted trout. Australian readers have just as big a problem, as the Dolly Varden for him is a doll-shaped cake. And in South Africa, it is a draped dressing-table.

In today's cyber world, any writing we post on the Internet or publish electronically, such as for Kindle, Nook, or any other form of e-Readers, immediately goes international. Even books that are only available in print are soon available through online stores such as, Barnes and, and many others. So even if the book is published in the States, it's highly unlikely that it will remain in that country.

My own book, Strength Renewed, Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer, was written in South Africa, but published in the States. Yet by the time of its official launch date it was available across the word.

As authors, it's important we bear in mind our international readers with our choice of words. We need to be careful not to presume that our key words mean the same in all lands. Yet we may not be able to avoid the use of the word.

Let's look again at the example above referring to the Dolly Varden. Rather than just avoid the word, the English writer could say something like, “Look at that amazing hat,” she whispered. “I’m sure it’s a Dolly Varden.” The international readers understand no matter where they live.

Another example is the word, "wattle". To the English reader this is a type of fence; to the American it is the loose skin at the throat of a turkey. The South African frequently sees mud-and-wattle huts along the roadside; but for the Australian, wattle is the golden-yellow flower that is his country’s national emblem.

So the Australian could write, "She picked a few golden-yellow flowers from the wattle tree and added them to the arrangement." Readers will know what he means. The South African need only say "The old women sat in the doorway of their mud-and-wattle hut and discussed the events of the day." That's clear to everyone.

I read recently on a website of a student in Northern India who was asked, "What do you do?"

"Main chata hoon," he replied in Hindi, meaning to say, "I'm a student." He later discovered he had actually said, "I'm an umbrella." Chatra is a student; chata is an umbrella.

When my daughter was new to Venezuela, she was making her way through a crowd of people. She kept saying, in her newly acquired Spanish, "Excuse me," as she tried to pass people. In South Africa this would mean, "Please make way--I need to get through." She later learned she had been moving through the throng saying, "What's the matter? What's the matter?" to the surprised people.

If I, as a South African writer, send my heroine for a leisurely stroll along the pavement, this is good for her health. The pavement in South Africa and England is the paved area alongside the road, reserved for pedestrians. However sending her for a stroll along the pavement in America could have dire consequences as that's where the cars drive in the States.

I asked a group of writers to share with me some of the international bloomers they had heard of.

Ruth Ann Dell of South Africa shared this: When we visited friends in England, they were astonished when we talked about turning right at the robot. They couldn't see any robots on the road. We had a good laugh as we explained that back home in South Africa we called traffic lights robots.

Donald C. Bowman of Georgia, USA said: In Spanish, 'El ruedas facilmente.' means He tires easily. The problem is 'ruedas' are actually automobile tires.

Barbara Strohmenger in Germany shared this: A funny thing is the wrong use of "become" by Germans; the German "bekommen" means "to receive", but some think it means "to become" because it sounds similar; so they say "I become a gift" instead of "I receive a gift".

Karen Shaw Fanner, formally of Zimbabwe, now living in England says: In Africa  'just now' means 'in a while, at some point', 'when I get around to it.' In the UK 'just now' means 'immediately, right this minute.' How to really annoy people is to tell them you'll do it 'just now' and leave it an hour!

I nursed for many years in a paediatric ward in Krugersdorp, South Africa. Although as a Christian I don't believe in "luck", and I often prayed with parents when their little ones headed for surgery, I nevertheless fell into the practice of saying, "Good luck! I'll be praying."

If the patients were Afrikaans, I would translate this and say, "Geluk! Ek sal bid," which I thought was "Good luck! I'll be praying." One day a colleague overheard me, and with a wide grin asked me why I was congratulating the parents. Turns out that although "Geluk" sounds like "Good luck" it actually means, "Congratulations!" So I was sending the patients off with the words, "Congratulations! I'll be praying."

So, writers, be careful of the words you use, especially if you're trying to use a snippet of foreign language to add flavour to your work. You might just be adding the wrong flavour.

What in the World Do You Mean? expands some of the ideas above as well as giving a list of some of the words that have different meanings.

Different Cultures, Different Ethics shares a few major differences between some of the major cultures.

International Critique Partners. Some of the advantages and challenges of having International critique partners.

OVER TO YOU: How about you? Do you have an amusing story to share of the wrong word being used as a result of a different language or culture? If so, please comment below or email me your story. Perhaps I can include them in another post for us all to enjoy.

SHIRLEY CORDER lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. Thanks to her international critique group, she has avoided publishing most of her cultural bloopers.

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook.

Cartoon dog: Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /

What In The World Do You Mean?

Some years ago, I joined my first on-line writers’ group. Eager to become involved, I submitted an e-mail requesting advice about the format of a sentence. I shook the lovely Christian members of the group rigid by my language! I used an innocent, every-day word here in South Africa, which I quickly learned means something totally different and not at all nice, in America. Once the group recovered, they took great delight in correcting me. If the article had gone to my planned Christian market my guess is I wouldn’t have written for them again!

As writers in this postmillennial era, we face a major challenge. With the tremendous advance in communication, especially through the Internet, it is imperative that our writing is understood globally. My word processor lists fourteen variants of English, although there are obviously more.

In Britain you might dress your heroine in a Dolly Varden, an elaborate, flower-decked hat. The North American reader would be bewildered, as he knows this is a type of brightly spotted trout. In Australia, the Dolly Varden is a doll-shaped cake. In South Africa, it is a draped dressing-table.

This may seem comical, but confuse your reader too often and they will give up on your article or book and look for something they can understand. 

So what’s a writer to do? 

As a South African writing for the International market I have learned a number of important principles. 

Explain yourself. The English writer could say, “Look at that amazing hat,” she whispered. “I’m sure it’s a Dolly Varden.” The international reader understands.

Develop cyber friendships. An Internet writers’ group is an excellent place to interact with writers from other countries. This will help improve your writing and increase your understanding of different cultures. 

Belong to a small international group. Some years ago, five of us formed an on-line critique group to support one another’s writing endeavours. We especially appreciate the international flavour. One member lived in England, two in different states of America and two in different provinces in South Africa. Currently we have an Australian living in Japan as a member of the group.

Check articles written for an overseas market with someone from that country. To send your heroine for a stroll along the pavement in Britain or in South Africa is a healthy thing to do as it is the paved section reserved for pedestrians. In America it could prove fatal, as the pavement is the paved section of the road. 

Wattle to an English reader is a type of fence; to the American it is the loose skin at the throat of a turkey. The South African frequently sees mud-and-wattle huts along the roadside; but for the Australian, wattle is the golden-yellow flower that is his country’s national emblem. 

Understand that spelling and punctuation varies. The South African English is similar to that spoken in Britain. But when I write for an American market, my critique partners remind me that my hero realizes instead of realises, sees colors not colours and that he traveled, not travelled. They also correct me when I put my punctuation “outside the quotation marks”, as for a British magazine, instead of “inside,” as required by USA editors.

Put prices into context. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend the value of each other’s currency unless we have actually lived in that country. If I tell my British reader that I paid R42 for a chicken, it means nothing. But if I say that I paid R42, the price of 5 loaves of bread, she can decide if it is expensive or not. 

Consider inflation. Prices date your article, and give your reader a wrong impression. If I play with my old Monopoly board, I can buy a house for the price of ten loaves of bread today! 

Rather than say, “The bracelet cost thousands of pounds,” refer to “The expensive bracelet costing thousands of pounds.” The reader on the other side of the globe knows it is an expensive bracelet without understanding your currency. And a person in ten years time will still understand its value, when the term “thousands of pounds” will probably mean it is almost worthless!

Tell your readers where you live, then allow them to soak in local atmosphere and learn local terms. They will enjoy your English descriptions of British pageantry. They will marvel at the family of African baboons, large primates from the monkey kingdom, sitting nonchalantly in the middle of a road feeding their young, while overhead the grandfather of the tribe stands guard. 

Clarify local customs or terms. “Bangers and mash,” may make a British reader’s mouth water but for others could conjure up a scene of violence. “We’ll have bangers and mash for supper; I have some nice pork sausages,” gives the American an idea what’s on the menu. “The street children” are a well-known tragedy to a South African, but “homeless orphans” is understood by all. 

Educate people from other countries. Many people overseas have never been to London. The word "circus" makes them think of big tents, sawdust, trapeze artists and tamed wild animals. They may never have heard about Piccadilly Circus. So instead of saying, “It was like Piccadilly Circus,” which is confusing to say the least, the English writer could say, “The congested streets teaming with cars and people resembled Piccadilly Circus in London.” Now the readers can not only visualise the scene, they have learned something about London. 

Recognise different education curricula. Travelling in another country I was astonished when an educated person halted me in mid-sentence. “Why do you keep saying ‘England’? I thought she lived in Great Britain?” As a British citizen by birth, I presumed everyone knew that England was part of Great Britain. 

As writers, we can play safe and only write for our own country, but what a huge opportunity we are allowing to slip through our fingers. There’s a whole world out there interested in what you have to say. Follow these steps and you can be fairly sure your reader will enjoy reading your article or book, because they know exactly what in the world you are saying. 

SHIRLEY CORDER lives in South Africa with her husband Rob, a hyperactive budgie called Sparky, and an ever expanding family of tropical fish. Hundreds of her inspirational and life-enrichment articles have been published internationally. She is contributing author to nine books to date and her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer is due to be released in America by Revell Publishers later this year.  You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar site for encouraging those on the cancer journey, or follow her on Twitter

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