How Culture Affects Writing in English

Blog Post created by philalv on Feb 25, 2020

When you begin to learn a new language, whether it is English or any other language, you start with the basics - vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar. As you get better and better, however, you begin to realize that some words don't really have a translation in the other language, or that when you say them properly, the translation is somewhat indirect.

For example, in American marketing, it is common to use the phrase "Get the inside scoop." I myself heard this phrase for the first time when I listened to a conversation with a friend recorded using an automatic call recorder for iPhone. However, in Spanish, there is no short phrase that communicates this same idea - that you would find out knowledge that is generally limited to a small, insider group.

Learning a second language doesn't just allow you to communicate - it gives you insight into a new culture. It's not just about the words, but the underlying sentiment, because sometimes language is as much about what you don't say, as what you do say.

In America, writing is generally very direct and to the point. Short sentence structure is preferred, as well as simple wording. For non-native English speakers from countries like India & Mexico, this can be very difficult, as they are generally used to writing in longer sentences, to be polite and avoid offending anyone.

However, writing for a British audience can be very different, as the British are more likely to use longer, more complicated sentence structure than Americans. British English can often be more polite and flowery than American English. In Britain, there is a higher emphasis on general good manners and saving face than there is in America, and thus, things that you would hear used commonly in the USA could be construed as rude in the UK. In the UK, sometimes Malaysians and Chinese have an issue of coming off as rude, because much like Americans, they generally write and speak in a more direct manner.

Thus, directly translating what you would say in your native language or country, can sometimes get you into trouble in another language. Language is window into another culture, and to truly ensure that you're getting your point across in the right manner, it is critical to ensure that you understand the culture of the language you're writing in, or that you get your content or materials reviewed by a professional, native English speaker. That's why we created English Edits.

Interested in reading more about what you should & shouldn't say in English? Real Simple posted an article of 18 common phrases you shouldn't use in conversation, especially in the USA. You can find it here.

And let us know in the comments - what things are taboo in your native language or culture?