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10 Reasons Not To Blog In Your Readers’ Language

16 September, 2008 Posted by Joanna As Blog Writing

I’ve been thinking about language in relation to the theme of respect, and wondering whether the principle of ‘respect for your readers’ should influence the language we chose to blog in.

Like most bloggers, the majority (>60%) of my readers and site visitors come from the U.S. Does this mean I should adapt to writing in American English?

I can see some reasons why this might be a good idea:

  • It demonstrates respect for your readers’ experience and perspective, acknowledging where they’re coming from. Advice for freelance writers and copywriters suggests you should adapt your material for your anticipated audience and readership.
  • You don’t trip up your readers with unfamiliar spelling or punctuation, making for an easier reading experience (and avoiding the perception that you’re a sloppy blogger).
  • There could be SEO benefits as more people are likely to search for U.S. than British or other English spellings.

Although I do flirt from time to time with some Americanisations of my spelling (like a ‘realize’ or an ‘analyze’) I don’t think I could possibly go the whole hog and blog in U.S. English.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Breaking your own spelling rules feels distinctly odd: although I can swap an ’s’ for a ‘z’ it would pain me to drop the ‘u’ from a colour.

2. You need to change the punctuation too: it’s not just a question of changing the ending of some words. U.S. English has different punctuation rules too, like putting full stops inside of quotation marks. (And let’s face it, we’re off to a rocky start when we don’t even share the same word for a full stop.)

3. You’ll need to learn a new vocabulary: while some are obvious and well known there are lots of words that’ll trip you up. It was only in researching this piece that I learned we have different interpretations of what it means to “wash up” and that “a la mode” might have something to do with ice-cream.

4. You’ll make mistakes: unless you’re very skilful you’ll end up mixing and matching between them, increasing the likelihood of making mistakes.

5. U.S. English doesn’t cover all your readers: unless you’re writing for an exclusively U.S. audience you’ll still be writing in a language that’s different from the English used by your readers in Australia, Singapore, India, Canada… Maybe the answer in the future will be Standard English rather than a dominant regional variation, but in the meantime I think I’ll stick to my own.

6. Writing a blog isn’t like writing copy or freelance articles: it’s personal, it reflects something about you, your experience, your culture and heritage. Doesn’t that also include your language?

7. You’ll lose a sense of connection: there’s a risk that writing in somebody else’s language will make you feel more disconnected from your own words. That’s likely to demotivate you - and your readers are likely to notice that you’re not fully ‘there’.

8. Your language adds colour to your blog: I don’t mean colourful swear words but phrases and expressions that you use naturally and easily, that are particular to where you live or where you’ve been brought up. You might not know they’re unfamiliar to your readers, and questions about them can lead to interesting conversations and learning points for your readers, and add colour to your blog.

9. One form of English is enough: English is a complicated language with lots of tricky spelling and punctuation rules. You’re better focusing on getting one form of the language right than mixing and maxing between two. (I’d be interested to know how you handle this if you’re writing in English as a non native speaker. Do you pick on one form of English to blog in and stick to that or mix them up from time to time? Are some forms of English easier to blog in than others?)

10. Trying too hard will lead to trying times: between the spelling, the grammar, the different meanings of words not to mention the alternative uses of punctuation, if you blog in more than one form of English you’ll soon find yourself in a right fankle.

How about you? If American English isn’t your first language, what language do you chose to blog in? Does the form of English affect your experience as a reader or do you find it easy to negotiate different spellings and punctuation?


This is a contribution to this month’s theme of writing with respect. If you enjoyed reading it maybe you’d give it a stumble? Thanks.

Fankle: originating from the Gaelic word “fang” for a sheepfold, to fankle someting is to tangle it as in “the wool got fankled and stopped me from knitting”. As a noun, it can also be a state of confusion “Dinna get yourself into a fankle”. From Parliamo Scots? List of Verbs

Other Reading and Resources:

Can You Speak Your Readers’ Language? at Daily Writing Tips

Six Common Punctuation Mistakes That Bedevil Bloggers at Copyblogger (includes the point about variations in use of punctuation in quotation marks)

Do You Use American English, British English or Do You Swing Like the Canadians? at Problogger

Spelling differences between American and British English

British to American/American to British: nice drop-down tool to check the meanings in our different languages

Economist Style Guide on Americanisms

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

  • English will fragment into ‘global dialects’

No related posts.

Categories : Blog Writing

Comments
BoNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Please do not ever start blogging in American English. I cannot think of a single good reason to do so.

First, I hope Americans aren’t so exclusive that they think their English is better than every one elses. (I sincerely hope this!)

Plus I love the variety, the novelty of a word turned a bit that makes me think, or God forbid, actually have to look it up! :-)

I looked up full stop just a second ago.

Plus there is way too much conformity in this world, everyone trying to be like everyone else, and I cannot think of a good reason for making every thing more pastel than it already is.

I like some color (colour) and I like being reminded that, though you write in English, you are thousands of miles away, on a different side of this big globe. And I like that - a lot!

I actually have a daughter who has studied and acted Shakespeare since she was 12. She so lived his English, she would spell the English way, and actually had one teacher dock points from some of her written work at her high school. (I had to laugh - if this was how my then 14 year old was showing her individuality, I couldn’t get too worried.)

So Joanna, please don’t even think about changing your writing style. I love it just the way you are. Your writing is you, after all.

Bos last blog post..Seth Peterson Cottage, a Frank Lloyd Wright Design

SpaceAgeSageNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

I like “hearing” different English on the Web. When a blogger uses colour instead of color, I go, “Aha! This person will have a different perspective than I do, I need to read more closely.” Like dialects for the ear, it makes for a richer world online.

So, what does “wash up” mean to you?

SpaceAgeSages last blog post..An interesting query for my readers …

Brad ShorrNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Confident Writing in American English? Perish the thought! I for one (as you well know, Joanna) love reading blogs in the idiom of the blogger because it adds so much to the richness of the reading experience. We expand our appreciation of the variety and originality of our common language. The last thing we need is homogenized blogging. Let’s savor our own words and relish our differences!

Brad Shorrs last blog post..For SEO, Select Your Nouns Carefully

Rosa Say September 16, 2008

Joanna I’m with everyone else commenting here; your language is so much a part of you that I cannot imagine Confident Writing done any other way. While you have truly fortified the argument here, I think there’s just one reason everyone should write in their own language (or their own English translation of it to stay on point here), a reason that trumps all the others, and that is for the pure, good authenticity of who they are. our language is a way others recognize us. In my mind, the words we choose are so intricately connected to our “language of intention,” and to mess with that is like messing with something sacred.

Rosa Says last blog post..Our Ho‘ohana Language of Intention: Are we talking about the same thing?

--DebNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Absolutely. And, besides, reading in different “versions” of English, as it comes up about the web, is broadening. Which, really, has to be a healthy thing for us Americans, since we’re so used to thinking that we’re the center of the world… (Well, not me personally, but, um … gee, is that the time?)

-Debs last blog post..Review: Inspired Cable Knits

Jim MurdochNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

This is something I feel very strongly about and, being Scottish, I also have no qualms about including the occasional Scottisism because that’s who I am and I feel it’s important to impress that on my readers. I’ve had positive comments about the flavour of my blog though I have to say a few people struggle with my Aggie and Shuggies.

Jim Murdochs last blog post..Aggie and Shuggie 9

JoannaNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Bo, thank you. I’m all in favour of color and colour too. I like being reminded of our distance, and how different our worlds are, and yet how close we can become through our words.

It’s a bit like the flowers you show and teach us about - each one is special, each one has a meaning, each one helps us to appreciate things differently

Joanna

JoannaNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Space Age Sage, that’s interesting that you ‘hear’ different English. I hear different voices too - but am often surprised when I speak to the bloggers in person and find out they’ve an American accent! Oddly enough they go back to sounding like my imagined version of them even after I’ve met or spoken to them though.

“Wash up” for me means doing the dishes or washing the plates, pots and pans. Does it mean washing your hands to you? If so I’ve read this a zillion times in books and interpreted it differently.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Brad, I was thinking about you a lot as I wrote this. How we’d become friends through a shared love of words, and asking each other about the words and expressions we’d read on each other’s blogs. It’s been a great example of the way that our words and our differences can bring people together rather than setting folk apart.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Rosa, thanks for that feedback and affirmation. “Our language is a way others recognize us”. I like that - and I recognise so much of you in your words and language, including your intention, your wicked sense of humour, and that wonderful sense of gratitude and appreciation that flows through what you write, even when you tweet.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

-Deb, it’s broadening all round I think. I really enjoy the insight into other cultures, attitudes, history, heritage and culture that I pick up through reading in other forms of English, esp when there’s time to head off and research a different meaning or interpretation of a word.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

Jim, “that’s who I am” is a vital part of blogging with authority and authenticity. I’m sure they’ll get used to your Aggie and Shuggies - what great dialogue you’ve managed to create with them! I might have to send Brad Shorr over to delve into some west coast language patterns…

Jasmin TragasNo Gravatar September 16, 2008

hi Joanna. I’m finding US English slowly creeping into my writing. We tend to use UK English here in Australia. But with so many friends blogging and tweeting in US English - I don’t mean to use a “Z” instead of an “S” but sometimes it seems more apt. When I am having an online chat with a US colleague I might even use mom instead of mum. It always seems to depend on context. Still - I will continue to use UK/Oz English on my blog. It would seem so wrong to use the wrong “color”.

Jasmin Tragass last blog post..Work at learning: virtual wanderlust

Robyn McMasterNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Joanna, you are Scottish, so keep your beautiful accent and your spelling. Keep your unique identity. It goes along with powerful writing in my mind.

Some folks add tabs so folks from other countries can easily translate what you post. That makes your blog more global and at the same time you remain unique.

Thanks for such a timely message.

Robyn McMasters last blog post..Celery and Green Peppers Work Wonders for the Brain

Jeanne DininniNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Joanna,

Your points are well-taken, and I definitely agree. In blogging, I believe that it’s important to be ourselves — and that includes expressing ourselves in the manner that comes naturally to us. After all, that’s part of our own personal charm.

To do otherwise would be artificial, and in the long run, our readers would see through our attempts to be something we aren’t and I believe our credibility would suffer. Being authentic is one great way we can respect our readers.

When we read Confident Writing, we want to see Joanna shine through. We can read American English anywhere. When we’re here, we want to read pure, unadulterated Joanna Young!

We love you just the way you are!
Jeanne

Cath LawsonNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Hi Joanna - I’ve often wondered the best way to go about this. And I think you’re right. It just gets so confusing otherwise.

Sometimes I’ll use an American spelling for SEO purposes. Or if I’ve used a word that is completely different, I’ll often put the American or English version in brackets.

Mind you, I think reading so many American blogs has caused me to pick up bad habits. I’ll often use a “z” instead of an “s” for example.

Plus my spelling has become atrocious since a began using the Internet, so I’m guessing we must be reading a lot of stuff that’s spelled badly.

Cath Lawsons last blog post..Grilled Frog On Toast Anyone?

Leah Maclean September 17, 2008

Regardless of how your readers spell they read you because of you not because of them. So keep using the language and spelling that is naturally you.

One thing to also keep in mind regarding when looking at where your readers are from. If you are looking at the traffic stats for your site and it looks like most of them come from the USA, you need consider the difference between readers and visitors. The vast majority of the automated ’spiders’ and ‘bots’ that index the web for search engines come from the USA and they also show up on your country of origin stats. So in fact your “readers” may be a little less USA focused than you think.

In any case keep up the great work.

Leah Macleans last blog post..2009 Compact Calendars are here

Lodewijk September 17, 2008

Being a Dutch guy, English is not my native language. Which makes it especially difficult that there are (significant) differences between US and UK English. Never mind all the other variants.

Dutch follows entirely different spelling and punctuation rules than English. Maybe more importantly the Dutch have a different attitude towards language. The Anglo-Saxon world appreciates language, more than the Dutch ever will.

To the Dutch language is a tool. If the person you’re talking to understands you, it’s good enough. Grammatical errors? Wrong words? Missed sarcasm? Mixing US and UK English? So what? They understood me, stop whining.

(I’m different…I love the language)

Recently I read a good book about English “Native English for Nederlanders” (Nederlanders is the Dutch word for “the Dutch”). That was really helpful in understanding common mistakes the Dutch make and why. The author also pointed out the differences between US and UK English.

Ultimately I lean towards US English, even though the school system in The Netherlands teaches us UK English. US English for two reasons:
US English is the dominant English on television. The Dutch subtitle everything so we hear it more often.
There are many more people speaking US English than there are speaking UK English, making US English the dominant variant. It is more likely that the UK natives understand the US English than vice versa. (There’s that Dutch efficiency gene)

Then again, I probably make all kinds of mix ups without even knowing it. I’m pretty proficient in English (still learning everyday), but that level of detail is beyond my skill level for now. And adapting my style of English for SEO benefits is WAAYY out of my league.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Jasmin, I’m the same with using a ‘Z’. I’ve also found myself saying “I’m good” rather than “I’m well” - another twitterism I think. I know what you mean about context - in some instances it seems friendlier and more respectful to use another person’s word rather than your own.

Color does seem a step too far though doesn’t it?!

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Robyn, thanks for the feedback. I’m smiling at the thought of a translating tool from one form of English to another. I wonder what kind of mangled words and misunderstandings it might come up with!

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Jeanne, thank you. And thanks for this great line which is going to have to appear in a round up somewhere!

“Being authentic is one great way we can respect our readers”

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Cath, it does get a bit confusing doesn’t it? And I too find that my spelling has been affected by reading so much online - it’s inevitable really - it’s from reading we learn to spell in the first place afer all.

American and British English alternatives is an interesting idea - we could have some fun with that I think! I was amazed in researching this how many ‘ordinary’ words are different in our two languages - so much room for confusion!

Lillie AmmannNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Joanna,
As so many others have said, I love the way you write. It’s fun to come across new words or words that are used differently than I’m accustomed to. Don’t think about changing to US English.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Leah, thanks for the info on the spiders and bots. I hadn’t thought of that before.

To be honest I don’t think I could change. I might alter the odd ’s’ for a ‘z’ but beyond that I’d rather write for pleasure, creativity, engagement and connection with this wonderful set of readers than the search engines any day.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Lodewijk, what a fascinating follow up, thank you! I’m fascinated by your perspective on the different attitudes towards language, and the ‘efficiency’ idea. There is something to be said for that - especially if people understand you and get the meaning. The rest doesn’t really matter. Though if people misunderstand your levels of sarcasm it can land you in hot water!

I think I’d go for US English in your circumstances too for the reasons you list. We are deeply influenced by it over here and can understand most if not all (and there are times when I wish I had subtitles for American movies!)

Your English seems phenomenal to me. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

Lodewijk September 17, 2008

Joanna,

Thank you for providing me with a classical example of the cultural differences between the English and the Dutch.

Regarding your remark: “Your English seems phenomenal to me.”

The British would respond with something along the lines of: “I’m just glad that I can make myself understandable, but it’s a miracle I ever passed my exams.”

Whereas the Dutch would reply with a “Thanks!” and then go on to explain why the Dutch school system places so much emphasis on learning foreign languages. Totally oblivious to the fact that their English might not be so good at all and the person making the compliment is just being polite :)

Yvette September 17, 2008

Aloha Joanna - I really enjoyed your post. I tend to slip into Pidgeon English and Hawaiian Creole in many of my casual blogging, micro-blogging and status updates. It is part of the fabric of being here in a melting pot in Hawai’i.

Mahalo nui for keepin it fo real!

Yvettes last blog post..

AndrewNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Joanna,

An interesting topic, and one which has an interesting application in my regular job as an English teacher in Korea.

Some Korean parents would prefer their students learn only American English, but others are not so particular.

Personally, I teach expressions which, as an Australian, are natural to me, and I am not overly concerned about which form I use. That said, the textbooks I use are most commonly American, and I try to ‘agree’ with the textbook as much as possible so as to avoid student confusion.

In terms of my own writing on my blog, I use my own writing which feels natural to me. That said, I usually write my posts first in Microsoft Word, and I have no doubt that the spell check in Word influences my writing in favor of American spelling.

Andrews last blog post..Fixed term contracts and ethics part 2 - employee’s viewpoint

Karen SwimNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Joanna, I believe language gives colour to the writing. Even in the US there are regional differences and colloquialisms. Robert Hruzek is a great example of someone who incorporates the flavor of a regional language and it adds richness to the story. Please don’t ever adapt your language here, I quite enjoy your lilting voice and I would be confused if it were different.

Karen Swims last blog post..Hurricane Life

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Lodewijk, it sounds like you’ve got the linguistic & cultural differences off to a tee :-)

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Aloha Yyvette and thanks for stopping by. I bet your blog is a rich delight with those additions. I’m lucky to have learned a little of the language from my good friend Rosa Say. Enough to say mahalo anyway :-)

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Andrew, thanks for sharing your experience. I think it must be very confusing for students trying to pick their way through the different forms of English.

The spellcheckers do have an influence don’t they - sometimes it’s easier to go with their suggestions than stick with your own (or check you’re right.) Plus the more we read in other forms of English the more likely we are to adapt our language accordingly.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Hi Karen, don’t worry I’m not going to change! I’m gradually learning about the regional differences in US English, and following Robert’s blog has been an education lesson indeed!

There’ve been a few times when I’ve picked up new words and expressions from you too though. It’s good to get to know bloggers well enough to be able to ask what they mean!

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Lillie, sorry for jumping over you. I was thinking about the editing role as I was writing this - about all the challenges an editor would face in ‘translating’ from one to the other. It’s not just the differences in spelling, but punctuation, grammar, language patterns, vocabulary, cultural nuances… tricky (but fascinating!) stuff

SpaceAgeSageNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Hi, Joanna-
Yes, “wash up” means “go wash your face and hands,” usually as a prelude to eating. As a kid, I heard it before every meal,

SpaceAgeSages last blog post..Does life really have an Easy Button?

Ulla HennigNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Hi everybody,
I never thought that there are so much language differences between American and British English! We in Germany are taught British English at school, but the fact is that it doesn’t reflect the change of the language. When reading blogs I often think “Well, interesting - it is not the language I have been taught but it seems possible to say it that way”. But I don’t know whether I should or could do it also, whether it is regional, a sort of dialect, American English, British English or Australian English. But having decided to write as a non-native speaker, I just hope that I can make myself understood, be it in US English
or British English…

Ulla Hennigs last blog post..In the Neighbourhood

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Space Age Sage - and all that time I’ve been wondering why people were washing the dishes before they’d eaten!

JoannaNo Gravatar September 17, 2008

Ulla, it is hopelessly confusing isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll find your own natural sounding form of English - after all none of us is writing in ‘pure’ form and I know a lot of americanisations or modernisms have crept into my own writing, changing it over time (and rapidly the more time I spend blogging).

The focus on being understood is quite right - for all of us! You might enjoy reading Lodewijk’s comment in relation to this point.

Joanna

JackNo Gravatar September 18, 2008

You should definitely blog in the language and vernacular that you most often use. Check that, you should use the language and vernacular that you most often write with. It might be strange to actually write as one speaks. Although … now that I think about it … that could be an interested blog to read or an interesting writing project.

JoannaNo Gravatar September 18, 2008

Jack, I think it’s about what comes naturally to you. That’ll be a mixture of how you talk, things you read, how others round about you write, the grammar and spelling that you’ve learned.

The point about writing as you talk is interesting. Robert Hruzek at the Middle Zone has a unique writing style that you’d think was based on the way he talks (or the way he talks to himself!) but when you meet him he’s actually a lot more subdued in person.

I think we probably all have writing voices - the way we sound in our head, and the way we ‘hear’ others

Joanna

wilsonNo Gravatar September 20, 2008

Joanna, if I were you, I will stick with it, as you’ve mentioned above, “it’s about your own writing style”!

If you’re decide to change your writing language, I will be the first person to protest it lol

wilsons last blog post..Champix Varenicline – Best way to Quit Smoking

JoannaNo Gravatar September 21, 2008

Wilson, I can’t have my readers protesting now can I?! Thanks for the vote of confidence in my existing writing style :-)

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