Writing English as a non-native English speaker

I’m not too secretive about the fact that I’m not from an English speaking country.

Finnish schools teach British English from a very young age. It wouldn’t be a problem otherwise, but as I’ve grown older and more experienced I notice that I have a bad tendency to mix both British and American English. I don’t consciously pay mind to it when I write, and even if the script sounds good in my head I still wonder what the readers would think?

I still write gray instead of grey, but the problems usually arise in the for of preposition usage and irregular verbs. Is it as obvious as I make it out to be, or am I stressing over nothing? Do native speakers frown upon the mismatched sentence continuation from one style to another?

Would it tick you off to read a story where both worlds collide? Would it shatter the immersion?

I personally don’t see a difference when I read other IF stories, but that’s because I hardly differentiate between the language types to begin with. Unless someone says “trousers” instead of “pants”, so there’s that.

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Honestly, unless a reader is some sort of mega-pedant, they’ll probably just gloss over any little spelling differences. I personally only notice the differences between British and American English because of my work as a volunteer editor, but I’m totally able to ignore it because the words all sound the same in my internal voice while I read.

You should note, though, that sometimes publishers and/or other people you might write for have “house styles” or otherwise adhere to a specific style (for example, comma usage in lists, formatting, spelling, etc. all might change).

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If you are writing in ChoiceScript IDE, there is a setting to set the spellcheck region to either the US or GB, perhaps this helps?

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I do, and I have it set to the US checker. It’s been a blessing, but as advanced as it is, it still doesn’t catch the incorrect preposition usage.

I do appreciate it though, got me checking the settings and make sure they’re set right!

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Honestly, I didn’t even know there was a difference in preposition usage between the two countries. Could it be that it’s not a hard rule, and both can be used largely interchangably?

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It could very well be interchangeable, I just read in to things way too intensely. One example I remember is that Americans would say “Monday through Friday”, while British would instead go for “Monday to Friday.”

Also the case of dreamt and dreamed, learnt and learned. Live in a street, live on a street. Minor things that keep nagging at me.

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House styles intimidate me to no end, but I’ll keep that in mind!

That’s honestly a huge relief, knowing that others ignore these things as well. Thank you for easing some of my worries :bowing_man:

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i am a british person who speaks english as a first language and i merge both american and british constantly. sometimes it’s because i prefer the way one sounds over the other phonetically or the way it fits into the text. it doesn’t matter to me at all! as long as the meaning can be construed then prescriptive correctness and uniformity means nothing to me. i think it can even be stylistic at times and represent the convergence of both due to culture sharing and what not. i wouldn’t worry about it personally

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Sometimes you’ll get lucky and a publisher will have an in-house editor whose only job is to amend drafts into the house style! If not, though, it never hurts to ask a client/publisher if they have a house style/only follow one style – you might save yourself a headache later if you know about it before you start writing! (;

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I’ll add that, depending on who the characters are and where the story is set, the collision of worlds might help. Also, if the story is a fantasy or a sci-fi in the future where cultures have blended, it can also be an asset. For instance, in Firefly, Whedon incorporated Chinese sayings into English turns of phrase.

Either way, I wouldn’t sweat it. Immersion is a complicit act. Anyone reading wants to be “hypnotized” so they’re probably willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. :upside_down_face: @Rydinger

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I will say that there are certain turns of phrase that immediately strike me as “oh, this author is a British person writing an American character” or vice versa.

For instance, fortnight and corridor are very British terms, as is “I was sat in the chair”. In American vernacular, we say two weeks, hallway, or I sat in the chair.

It definitely creates a subconscious “huh?” moment, but it isn’t a big deal. Most of us just ignore it, unless it is a really uncommon term for the hemisphere.

Edit to add: as someone who also speaks German, I can say with a sense of confidence that British English more accurately follows German speech and grammar patterns, whereas American English drops a lot of words that we don’t find necessary.

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”I was sat in the chair” sounds to me like someone else put you sitting in the chair… but maybe it’s because I’m Finnish as well :sweat_smile:

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Yeah, I couldn’t tell you why they say it like that, except that it seems to come from the way German is sometimes written, specifically Genetiv, if I remember my cases correctly. I could be totally out of left field on that, but the languages are related, lol.

There are lots of other odd little phrases that stand out. The best advice I can offer is that you should request native American English speakers to proof read American characters, British English speakers for British characters, and so on. It’ll help the character feel real.

If all else fails, American English seems to be the “default” for most written works.

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I’m a French/Creole speaker and my sentences tend to be very weird sounding like… in French the verb make (faire) is commonly use… so I would tend to write let’s make this, instead of let’s do this. lol

I have two WIPs and the readers were still able to enjoy the story without too much issues… so I’ll say you’ll be fine.

In any case (En tous les cas) lol another weird one… In any way… you’ll use beta testers from the community. The people here are always ready to help.

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As a non-native english speaker myself, I use a translator called Deepl It’s a powerful transtalator and probably the best of all. What set it apart from other translator is because DeepL brilliantly captures the meaning of sentences and avoids the pitfalls of literal translation. And I have never had any complaints from readers about me mixing up words.

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Other than maybe mixing up vocabulary (using ‘torch’ in one place and ‘flashlight’ in another for example) I don’t think it would be too noticeable. People may occasionally spot the presence, or lack thereof, of an extra ‘U’ but spelling is pretty easy to gloss over. Things like prepositions can also be excused by the fact that people just talk differently. I’ve heard people here in the US use very British phrasing, not because they came from there but just because of a quirk in the way they speak.

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If you’re writing a story set in either Britain or America it would be good to have a reader familiar with that vernacular go over it before publication to see if there are any sore thumbs. Otherwise you’re probably fine, if you’re not clearly attributing dialogue in one dialect to a character from the homeland of another.

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The Choice of Games line has several British authors that I’ve had the pleasure of copy editing (I don’t mean that sarcastically, either, they’ve been lovely games). CoG house style is to use American English throughout unless the game is set in the modern UK (or, I suppose, likewise for Canada or Australia). It’s clear and easy enough to follow for spelling (gray vs. grey, color vs. colour, fiber vs. fibre, etc) but can definitely be tough to follow around distinctly British terms and phrasing (mummy vs. mommy, “in hospital” vs. “in the hospital,” lift vs. elevator, etc.)

When I’ve inquired about such situations, I usually get direction to leave it as it is (British-sounding) if it’s used frequently and is in keeping with the setting (such as “Mummy” in a story featuring a British mother of small children, living in France) but changing it if it’s only used once or twice and isn’t a major part of the setting.

The only times where this was still hard to follow have been in two cases:

One in a naval game in a near-Earth fantasy setting on a very British-coded ship, but it wasn’t British, specifically, so it was strange to see British-sounding phrases spelled with American English, but we managed.

The other in a military sci-fi game with what seemed to me to be American-coded space marines unknowingly using British phrasing, like “Welcome aboard, soldier! Another great day in the Corps. Name’s Tex, let’s say we pop round the pub for a pint.” Just very jarring to me. We kept it for the most part, but I flagged the most jarring sentences for the author with recommendations for making it sound more American.

So, as for what to do with your game, I wouldn’t worry too much about it as long as your characters or setting aren’t distinctly coded as American. If they are, and you’re not sure if they sound American enough, I think you can include a request for any American beta testers or WIP players to flag any phrases that don’t sound right.

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I’m a Yank married to a Brit, and much of our feedback to Gower on Jolly Good and Tally Ho was this in reverse – letting Gower know what stood out as Americanisms in the dialogue. :slight_smile: It was fun and I learned a lot too.

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As a non-native English speaker, I’m banking on the hope that the majority of readers aren’t necessarily native English speakers either, and if they are, that they may not notice the difference :grin:

For me, the bigger fear has always been that it’s my vocabulary that’s lacking, and not the spelling. There’s plenty of native speakers in every language who can’t spell their own languages. Instead, my impostor syndrome is always telling me that a native English reader would be able to clock me based on my lacking choice of words :upside_down_face:

Fortunately, it’s the 21st century, and we have Google thesaurus and automatic spell-checks to agonize over. And on a good day, you can try and remind yourself that a story can survive imperfect spelling, but it cannot survive a dull plot! :woman_shrugging:

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