“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
– Francis of Assisi
Anyone trying to learn English will have realized that there are a plethora of resources out there aiming to help them with that goal. The quality of these resources varies from excellent to worthwhile to useless to downright harmful to your English skills. With all this available, you may wonder why we’re putting this resource out there – what do these lessons have to offer that others don’t?
Firstly, expertise. Bryan and Laura are both professional translators and language learners. [Bryan, you can summarize your qualifications here.] Laura is a native English speaker who not only translates but also frequently edits translations done by non-native speakers, so she’s very familiar with the kinds of mistakes that they make. As a language learner herself (fluent in French, Spanish, and Korean), she understands how difficult it can be to learn a new language at an advanced level and how many small details you need to master before you can sound like a native speaker.
Secondly, as translators ourselves, we have written these guidelines specifically to help other translators, so they are targeted precisely to that audience.
Thirdly, while it isn’t especially difficult to write English at a basic level and be understood, it is quite difficult to write English well. This is something that even many native English speakers struggle with. Many English news articles you see online contain errors or are badly written. There are a lot of details that can be overlooked or that aren’t frequently taught, but that will immediately mark your translation as one written by a non-native speaker. We plan to write about some advanced concepts and aspects of English grammar that few other courses out there handle. As Bryan has learned all this himself and Laura has corrected it in many editing jobs, we know what translators struggle with and what stands out, and we’re in an excellent position to advise you on how to make your writing sound better.
For example, you might look at the list of topics in these lessons and think, “Commas? That’s easy. I figured out how to use a comma a long time ago.” But do you know how to use the so-called “super-comma”? Do you know when to use a serial comma? Can you explain why sentences like these:
- John said “I want to go but I don’t have time.”
- Based on the results of this study, as shown in Table 1, when it comes to the control group, they did not show any difference in motivation, but in the experimental group, significant differences in motivation were found.
should be fixed? (If you don’t know what’s wrong with the examples, don’t worry. You will find it out in the lesson on comma.)
These lessons will cover issues like that at a more advanced level than most of the courses already out there, and will do so in a way that’s specifically useful to translators.
The lessons in this course were designed to focus on certain points that can be especially difficult for non-native speakers of English who want to write well. They include:
– Use of commas, why you should minimize their use, and how to do that. If you’re reading this, your English is likely already very good and you probably have a good handle on how to use commas. Now you can learn how to deal with commas so that your writing really sounds fluid and natural. There’s more here than meets the eye…
– Punctuation: a review of how to use it with tips for each type of punctuation. We want to focus here on the semicolon, quotation marks, and the various types of dashes, which can be difficult to master, with a little diversion into some less commonly taught symbols like §, ©, ™, and so on.
– Use of articles. This is a particular nightmare for many, and even native English speakers sometimes have to stop and think about whether or not the use of articles is warranted in certain situations. We’ll review the basics and think about some rules to help you know when to use or avoid a/an and the.
– Capitalization and proper nouns: how to capitalize titles and names along with how to handle acronyms and some tips about translation of proper English nouns.
– Passive/active voice: what are they and when to use or when not to use them.
– Some common spelling mistakes that spell checkers may miss and tips on how to remember them and avoid embarrassment.
– Singular/plural and countable/uncountable nouns. English has a lot of rules for these and not all of them are all that intuitive. We’ll talk about things like the correct use of “they” and when you should write about paper, a paper, or papers.
– Writing dates and addresses. These seem like they should be really easy to translate, but in fact there are lots of ways to slip up and make mistakes. This lesson will cover the correct way to write dates in various situations as well as how to write various types of English addresses.
– Dealing with numbers in English. This seems like it should be pretty simple – just copy the numbers from one language to the other, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. This lesson will show you a few tricks to make sure your translation is perfect right down to the minor details.
– Variants of English. You thought learning one type of English was bad enough, and now I’m telling you that you have to learn four?!? Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds. There are some well-known differences between British, American, Canadian, and Australian English, but also some differences that aren’t quite as familiar. This lesson will help you tailor your writing to audiences in different English-speaking locations so it sounds natural to them.
You can learn about these seemingly boring but very important topics in the lessons to follow. We did our best to make these lessons concise, easy-to-follow, and fun. After all, we are language learners ourselves and know too well the pains of learning and trying to write in a foreign language.
There is no specific order that you should follow; you can start with any lesson that you would like to study first, particularly the one you are itching to take. Each lesson, starting with lesson 2, contains roughly 20 quizzes (true/false, multiple choice) that will be very helpful in consolidating what you have just learned in the lesson. You can pass the lesson only if you obtain grade of 80% or higher. (If you fail the quizzes for a lesson, you can reset the quizzes and re-take the quizzes after studying the lesson again.)
We hope the information above has helped you see the value of this course and think a little bit about different ways to improve your own English translations. We’ll end this introductory lesson with a few general guidelines which form the backbone of English writing and underpin most of the things we’ll discuss during this course:
1. Be concise. Don’t use words you don’t need in your sentences. Don’t string your reader along while meandering your way to the point.
2. Make reading as easy for your reader as possible. Don’t make him/her have to stop and think about what you’re trying to say. Strive for clarity.
3. Be consistent. If you’re writing a list, either capitalize every item on that list or don’t capitalize any of them. Obvious inconsistency makes a document look really unprofessional. Your reader is much less likely to stumble over a missing article or two than they are to stumble over a character who’s named Seong-jin, then Sungjin in the next paragraph, then Sung Jin in the next, then Soungjin in the next…
4. Avoid repetition. Repetition is a useful tool when trying to write in certain styles; for example, it works very well in some types of poetry. However, it tends to sound awkward in most writing. On a basic level, you can fix a sentence like:
“Andy sat down and took out Andy’s book.”
easily enough by replacing “Andy’s” with “his”. But you should also be careful when writing sentences like:
“The process used by Congress led to progress.”
Because the same sound (ess) is repeated three times here, the sentence has a sort of sing-song quality that makes it sound silly. It should be rewritten using different words.
If you try to keep those general tips in mind as you write, you’ll find your writing beginning to sound more polished and professional – two hallmarks of a good translation. The rest of this course will give you some more specific tips to help you achieve those four overarching goals.