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English is the language of science and you need to master it to progress in your scientific career. Scientific writing for non-native English speakers is one of the thickest fights when writing a scientific paper. Non-native speakers tend to have spelling mistakes and their sentences don’t read well.
English can be a tricky language to learn, but your capability to communicate in the language of Shakespeare can help boost credibility in your academic papers. Your experiments or hypotheses may be spot on, but improving your written English can result in a better impression by your peers and other colleagues.
When I instructed English in Chile last year, my key phrase was this: sin errores, no hay progreso – without mistakes, there’s no progress. It means that you need to test your capabilities, even if you make mistakes along the way. In this way you will learn a lot more from those particular errors instead of «playing it safe» by repeating the same phrases over and over again.
I’m sure you know many non-native English speakers who write impeccable scientific English or make very few mistakes. Even those mistakes are fairly natural for native English speakers. There are others (like students) who may feel uneasy or lack the confidence in their spoken English, but their written English is much more refined.
But look. from someone who’s trained English on a different continent, I can assure you that many native English speakers will be pleased to help you improve your English-speaking abilities. Think of how a non-native Spanish or French speaker might feel while attending a scientific conference in certain parts of South America or Africa.
However, improving your written English can indeed influence your connections with colleagues around the world. It can also grow your reputation among other experts in your field.
Next Scientist already touched on several points in his post on Five tips to improve your academic writing. Here you have five more tips to improve scientific writing for non-native English speakers.
1. Cut Down On The Apostrophes
I’ve seen it done in Chile, in the Netherland’s, in part’s of other countrie’s. Too many apostrophe’s make sentence’s emerge ugly – plu’s they dont make sense for many word’s in the wrong place.
See what I mean?
There’s been a massive over- emphasis on apostrophes in written English lately. It affects those people who are attempting to learn English. Reminisce that an apostrophe symbolizes possession in many cases, like «Ahmed‘s experiment», «la bolsa de Javier» or «Place d’ armes».
If you’re working on improving your scientific writing in English, then minimize your use of apostrophes if you are hesitant, especially with plural items. In my opinion, it’s lighter to read a sentence without the right apostrophe instead of a sentence that used it in the incorrect place. «Footballs», «soft drinks» and «beakers» do not need apostrophes because an apostrophe could be describing the item itself.
Example. «the footballs are muddy» describe the mess all over the football, but if you said «the football’s slippery», then you would be describing the football that is presently on the pitch.
Two. Sometimes You Use «the». Sometimes You Don’t
It’s a common word, but the word «the» translates strangely into English – or not at all, depending on the language.
When you wake up in the morning, what activity do you do with a toothbrush? For native English speakers, they would say «brush my teeth», but native Spanish speakers might reaction with «brush the teeth» instead.
Nothing’s indeed wrong with this, but sometimes that darn word just hits the ear wrong – think of a phrase in your language that makes you cringe when it’s said incorrectly. That’s what happens if a spoken phrase or sentence «hits the ear wrong».
Anyway, the point is this. «brush the teeth» or «comb the hair» doesn’t sound terrible, but improving your written English with the right words can help improve your capability to communicate without awkward interruptions.However, don’t be too worried with this minor rule because English speakers may disagree on certain ways to use «the» in a conversation.
Example. «in the biology» should just say «in biology» when you are talking about the science of biology. And an example of «the» in conversations is how the British use «attending university» versus the Americans who use «attending the university» – it’s basically the same, even however more Americans are beginning to drop «the» for some phrases as well.
Trio. When To Round Numbers
Recall. if you are talking about measurements or mathematical equations, then please, please make sure your numbers are exact. I don’t want to hear that someone melted down the laboratory because they used this peak incorrectly!
In casual conversations or emails, you can explain certain things without being too specific. It seems that a lot of people are getting too picky on specific things nowadays. especially if it’s not that significant.
Example. «0.453 liters» or «24.67 seconds» is absolutely essential in your documentation, but there’s no need to tell someone to call you in 8.34 minutes or 0.9 hours. Just tell them to call you back in Ten minutes or about an hour.
Four. Improving Your Written English Means You Understand Particular –isms
In the previous point, I used the word «call» to describe an act. However, from my practice, even one elementary word can be confusing to native speakers, too.
On my very first day at a job in Ireland, my boss sent me an email to «call down» to her in Ten minutes. OK. so I waited Ten minutes, picked up the phone and dialed her office extension. However, most Americans understand «call» to mean that you use the telephone, but in Ireland. yes, it meant to go to her office. If she desired me to «call her» (using my Americanism terminology), then she would have asked me to «phone her» in Ten minutes.
I know. it’s confusing, but every language has its own joy, little quirks. This can become a excellent learning practice, even a funny one. Don’t let these moments of miscommunication prevent you from improving your written English. Just make you learn from your mistakes, especially if a certain word or phrase could mean something else.
Example. «taking the piss» is a phrase used in English-speaking parts of Europe, but don’t get it confused with the point above! «Taking the piss » is NOT the same as «taking a piss». One is a phrase that means you’re fooling or joking with someone, while the other means that you’re urinating. You may quickly find out if you said the wrong one!
Five. British Or American English?
As you may have noticed, I have been using British forms of words, like «apologise» not «apologize». I’m doing this because I know readers of Next Scientist come from all over the world, even tho’ this blog is written by a European who likely uses British English.
The point is that many of us have seen or know the differences inbetween British and American styles, such as «color» versus «colour» or «honor» versus «honour». Improving your written English can also include practising the different ways to write a particular word in both styles. One is not better than the other, just different. Similar to certain words in Spanish, they may seem more formal or more casual, depending on the country or continent.
Extra Peak. people have access to calculators or computers, but make it effortless for your peers and write measurements in universal terms for American, British, Australian or other native English speakers. I can calculate Celsius or kilograms in my head, but I need a computer if you merely talk about Kelvin or millilitres.
Whether you’re a native Spanish speaker who is learning English or you’re a native English speaker who is attempting to learn Russian or Swahili, everyone encounters the same challenges as they attempt to communicate in a different language.
Improving your written English may not always be that effortless, especially when too many native speakers use a lot of slang or shortened «text-speak» in online communications.
And keep in mind that one apology for your limited English abilities is a courteous act, but don’t use it as an excuse if you have an advanced understanding of the language.
Improving your scientific writing as a non-native English speaker takes time, albeit several years of practice should be sufficient enough to give you a near-native level of written English.
If you’ve spent more than five years to work on your improved abilities, then don’t apologise ahead of time. It’s very likely than a native English speaker won’t even notice at very first!
Be more certain in your own writing abilities, even if you are self-conscious about your accent or your overall speaking capability. There are slew of native English speakers who write poorly (I blame text messages and too much concentrate on movie communications).
It’s disappointing (but not shocking) to read material by a native English speaker that is worse than someone who just embarked to learn English last month.
Be proud that you are working hard to improve your scientific writing in English. and don’t be astonished if people are unaware that you’re not a native English speaker!
Resources about scientific writing for non-native English speakers
Check these resources if you want the take your scientific writing to the next level.