Last month, on the UG blog, we covered how modern communications technology facilitates international collaborations between people who rarely, or perhaps never, actually meet. There is a closely linked theme around the dominance of the English language. This has grown in recent decades. I recall visiting a trade fair in northern Italy in the late 1980s with many visitors from the eastern Mediterranean, where the common language was French. Nowadays, with the rise of China and Pacific trade, and the internationalization of business education based on the US model, English is the lingua franca (why isn’t there an English phrase for that?).
For those of us fortunate enough to be professional writers native in the tongue and UK-based, this does present us with advantages: many business-people, politicians and celebrities want to have their book published in London, and hire a local to help with the drafting and editing – or full ghosting, as the need arises. I have lived in Spanish-speaking countries for extended periods of time, giving me an insight into the experience of using a second language, which I think helps me empathize with clients using English at varying levels of fluency.
I have found that there are certain practices that are helpful, respectively for native and non-native speakers, when collaborating on a book:
- Native speakers: In meetings, speak clearly and correctly, and a little more slowly, than you usually would. Your colleague will probably understand you perfectly if you do so, and may understand very little if you speak quickly, or use colloquial terms. I wince sometimes at management conferences where a speaker from the UK or US talks rapidly, and uses metaphors and jargon. It is good practice in written English to begin each sentence with the main clause and emphasize clarity.
- Non-native speakers: Unless you have lived and worked for many years in an English-speaking country, you will not be of an equivalent standard. It is helpful to continue learning beyond that which is necessary for basic communication. Someone fluent in five languages once told me that English is the easiest language in which to attain a basic ability, but the hardest to master, because of its idiosyncrasies and lack of rules. Your editor or ghostwriter is the expert in the phrasing. You may need to correct them on content, but remember to defer to them on style. If they say: ‘It just reads better this way’ – that’s because it does.
In my work, I am fortunate that my clients and I observe these principles, and I have had many cooperative working relationships. In the business world especially, there’s no end in sight for the dominance of English.
- Philip Whiteley is an experienced author, journalist and ghostwriter. He writes fiction under the byline PJ Whiteley. More information at: pjwhiteley.com