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In today’s globalized world, chances are you occasionally communicate in a language(s) other than your native tongue. There are situations and situations, however. After all, it’s one thing to chat up your Parisian neighbor and quite another to draft a make-or-break client brief for a French multinational.

When the pressure is on to sound competent, the following online tools might be helpful.

1 – www.linguee.com

This site is a good place to start if you have to write a short text (10-15 words) and aren’t sure about the precise terminology. As an “online bilingual concordance” system, Linguee translates a number of language pairs including English to Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese and many more.

Unlike machine translations such as Google Translate and Babelfish, Linguee uses a “translation memory system,” accessing a database of texts translated by flesh-and-blood translators. When you type in your text, you’ll get a list of around 20-25 entries for your perusal, which vastly increases your odds of a perfect customer-facing translation.

2 – www.deepl.com

Especially useful for longer texts, DeepL Translator is an add-on to Linguee capable of converting English into 10 languages: Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. It sometimes offers alternative translations, although these tend to be a shortlist for space reasons.

3 – MS Word “translate” feature

If you have a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 or Microsoft 2019 installed on your computer, you’ll find a “translate” feature in the top menu under “Tools.” Like Google Translate and Babelfish, it will give you the general gist and help out in a pinch but isn’t 100% reliable.

4 – ProWriting Aid

This service is an amazing editing tool and picks up spelling and grammar mistakes sometimes overlooked by MS Word’s checker. Better yet, it offers tips for stylistic changes and suggestions to improve readability. We used to use the free online version but realized the yearly fee was worth it. In a word, it’s a better and more economic tool than Grammarly.

5 – Online dictionaries

Our go-to sources are dictionary.com and dictionary.cambridge.org, both of which offer American and British spellings (when applicable) and mainstream pronunciations of each with a click of the mini-megaphone button. For American English, another good option is merriam-webster.com, a modern version of Noah Webster’s famous printed tome.

6 – Online theasurus

When you’re on a quest for the perfect synonym, both dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com are helpful, although www.powerthesaurus.com is by far my favorite. Since a “rose” isn’t always a “rose” :-), the site lets you filter for different parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, idioms, etc.) to speed up your search.

Happy writing!

 

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

As American business communicators and long-time residents of Spain, we’ve seen more than our share of writing – emails, reports, articles, project briefs, blog posts, you name it – created by people whose first language isn’t English.

Based on our years of “field research,” we’ve compiled a few suggestions to help non-native speakers avoid some common mistakes. Here they go, listed in no particular order!

1 – There’s nothing wrong with contractions!

Native English speakers use contractions (don’t, won’t, she’d, he’d, it’s) all the time in both oral and written communications, yet some of our clients are decidedly “contraction-adverse,” considering them informal or somehow inferior to spelling out each and every word.

To be clear, texts that eschew contractions are grammatically correct yet can sound stilted to a native ear. If you are/you’re 🙂 still not convinced, for the sake of consistency, just make sure your text doesn’t mix them.


2 – Watch out for homophones

Homophones like there/their/there are easy traps for even native English writers yet add a layer of difficulty for non-native speakers. We’ve seen mistakes ranging from “this days” (these) to “in order to be affective” (effective).

The good news: you can catch nearly all mistakes by taking the time to re-read your text and using the spellcheck function! We also suggest doing a second-round edit with Grammarly since it often spots grammar and spelling mistakes overlooked by MS Word.

3 – Nouns, nouns, nouns

Sentences with noun pile-ups (“female unemployment rate trends” or “technology revolution impacts”) are hard to decipher because they force readers to scan them at least twice to figure out which words are serving as nouns and which are modifiers.

To make it easier on your audience, either hyphenate where necessary (i.e. female unemployment-rate trends) or even better, clarify the concept by unpacking the components, as in “trends in female unemployment rates” or “the impact of the technological revolution.”

4 – Run-on sentences: run the other direction!

Long and meandering sentences might sound perfectly fine in some languages, but they generally don‘t translate well into English. If you’ve just written a sentence so long it could pass as a paragraph, review the points you want to convey and try to spot a natural place to break it up. Trust us, your readers will thank you!


5 – Use vocabulary that resonates with your readers

Your ultimate goal is to clearly convey your ideas in a way that resonates with your audience. With this in mind, stay away from obscure words and opt instead for those that your average reader readily recognizes and appreciates.