English is the closest thing we have to a global language, but extra effort is needed to make sure English-language journalism can be understood globally Credit: Kyle Glenn on UnSplash Most journalists will avoid slipping into slang or dialect when writing for non-native English speakers, but writing for a global audience goes beyond removing colloquialisms.
The language we use is a reflection of our culture and society, so when you write for people from very different backgrounds, your writing has an extra gap to bridge.
This extra effort isn’t a waste of time: clearly written journalism is good journalism and the tips below will benefit all writers and editors. By reflecting on how you use language and making your writing more accessible to non-native readers, you are often making it a better reading experience in general.
So if you are writing for an international audience – whether that is a narrowly defined group such as public policy workers in Switzerland or expats in Singapore, or a much broader group – here are some of the ways you can adapt your language. Be concise
No matter how proficient you become in a second language, it is almost always more tiring to read it. Avoid flowery language and long sentences; help your readers follow the story and get to the point.
Even a step as simple as breaking your text up into shorter paragraphs can help non-native speakers scan it more easily. Be specific
Watch out for your word choices. Some words have different meanings even between different varieties of English (sceptical? Check out the excellent linguistics blog Separated by a Common Language ), so if choosing between two synonyms, always go for the one that is more widely used and does not have multiple meanings.
Context means being specific matters: Vague phrases like “a large city” or “a typical October day” would mean very different things to natives of Tokyo and Finland, so include numbers and details where you can.
In political reporting, terms such as ‘centrist’ and ‘conservative’ have different meanings depending on the country – consider including examples of flagship policies as well. Even positions with the same title (president, prime minister) can confer different amounts of power and duties and may be chosen in different ways.
Similarly, if you report that a certain party won X number of seats in an election, do not forget to explain the total number of seats that were up for grabs, along with other valuable context such as any thresholds for entering parliament and/or historic highs or lows for that party. Extra effort isn’t a waste of time: clearly written journalism is good journalism Add extra information
Exactly what knowledge you can assume your readers have depends on your audience – if you are writing for a niche or geographically-focused publication, you can count on certain shared experiences.
When writing for a broad global audience on the other hand, you should assume readers have widely varying levels of existing knowledge of the topic, and it is your job to […]