Skills: Where did this English come from? Part 2

Posted on Sat 11 Jun 2011 @ 12.01am UTC



Yesterday, we were given a block of text and we had to do three things on first reading:

  1. The probable ‘nationality’ of the writer.
  2. Whether the writer is a native or non-native English speaker.
  3. Which words or phrases are being used incorrectly.
  4. Improve the text.

* * *

Here is the original text again:

My ex boss asked me for password of my MSN (aka. Windows Live Messenger) today, (it’s also used as my primary email box contacting with my customers during the past years), before paying me salary of the last months, and, after my resignation for almost an entire month, when all of my customers’ goods were sent out (orders received before leaving his company) by myself.

I already gave this password to him, that’s say I lost control of this MSN/Email completely as from today, and, I will also have no connection with [company] any longer, any more emails coming from the email address [name@address.com] are not written by myself. (My name is [name]). I will fully quit this business of buying/selling/trading transponder keys/key blanks/remote keys, etc.

Had been working in [company] for almost 3 years, I was very tired and completely lost all my interests on keys. I am very much fed up with these items, and will not deal with it any more. I had a long rest for the last month, and will probably do the same thing continuously this month… I will have to make a decision where to work/what to sell after September. God bless me.

[Total 209 words]

Origins of the text

A client provided the text. Redacted from the text were the company name, email address and the person’s name so as to remove possible identification from those items.

Appreciation

On first reading, it appears that:

  • the writer is almost certainly Chinese (correct),
  • the writer is possibly from mainland China (correct again),
  • the writer had learnt to read and write English in China (correct again), and
  • the writer writes (and possibly speaks) English fairly fluently but is not a native English speaker (correct again).

I have also managed to track down the source of the text (not provided by the client):
http://charlespeng.com/charles-peng-hotmail-com-isnt-mine-now

Reason for doing this

As said yesterday, this type of work is fairly typical in real-life editorial and translation work worldwide. It is not an academic exercise. More often than not, it is the stuff that customers pay you to do.

The ability to do the above three or four things in ‘Appreciation’ is highly important:

  • for translators because they often affect how the translation could be done and the output produced,
  • for editors and writers because they often affect how edits could be done and the amount of chargeable time needed, and
  • for ordinary folks to avoid expensive misunderstandings when reading correspondence from non-native English users.

How to improve? What to improve?

The mission here is to improve it, which means:

  • to make better its readability and ‘flow’
  • to regularise the language according to the usual native English-speaking ways of expression (especially without having to use English idioms)

Be reminded that improving the readability and general language standard of any text:

  • doesn’t actually require any high-end knowledge of grammar, linguistics, phonetics, diction, translation modelling, etc — none of the stuff you might have learnt in linguisitics or language/translation studies (indeed, they hinder than help),
  • requires only a rudimentary knowledge of grammar,
  • requires you to have read widely and differently, though.

* * *

ORIGINAL vs. EDITS

(1) Mechanical edit:

Comment: It’s been impossible to do a straightforward mechanical edit, mainly because the original text is quite badly mangled in organisation and sentence structure. Insofar as the technical aspects are concerned (grammar, word choice, etc), the writer at least shows sufficient command of English so that the editor doesn’t have to struggle to get at the meaning. However, the organisation is typical of Chinese writing: the reader is forced to wait for important information that comes only in later paragraphs.

Another major problem for editing has been the passive voice for much of the text. This is fairly typical of the English from many Far Easterners.

We skip the mechanical edit and go straight to copyediting (which involves some degree of reorganisation and recasting).

(2) Copyediting:

Problem words or usages are in red. Amendments are in blue.

Original Edited
My ex boss asked me for password of my MSN (aka. Windows Live Messenger) today, (it’s also used as my primary email box contacting with my customers during the past years), before paying me salary of the last months, and, after my resignation for almost an entire month, when all of my customers’ goods were sent out (orders received before leaving his company) by myself.

(65 words in 1 sentence)

Today, my exboss asked for the password to my own MSN (a.k.a. Windows Live Messenger) account. (It’s also used as the primary contact email for my customers for many years. This happened after my resignation almost an entire month ago (but before paying salary for last month) and after all of my customers’ goods have been sent out by me.

(62 words in 3 sentences)

I already gave this password to himthat’s say I lost control of this MSN/Email completely as from today, and, I will also have no connection with [company] any longer, any more emails coming from the email address [email] are not written by myself. (My name is [name]). I will fully quit this business of buying/selling/trading transponder keys/key blanks/remote keys, etc.

(66 words in 3 sentences)

I have given over the password already, that is to say, I have lost control of this MSN/email completely as of today. I have no connection with [company] any longer, so any email coming from [email] would not be written by me. (My name is [name]). I have quit this business of buying/selling/trading transponder keys/key blanks/remote keys, etc.

(63 words in 4 sentences)

Had been working in [company] for almost 3 years, I was very tired and completely lost all my interests on keys. I am very much fed up with these items, and will not deal with it any more. I had a long rest for the last month, and will probably do the same thing continuously this month… I will have to make a decision where to work/what to sell after September. God bless me.

(75 words in 5 sentences)

Having worked for [company] for almost 3 years, I have become very tired and have lost all interest in keys. I am fed up with these items and will not deal with them anymore. I had a long rest last month and will probably do the same this month … I shall decide where to work or what to sell after September. God bless me.

(63 words in 5 sentences)

Remark: The original’s first paragraph is the worst-possible way of starting any paragraph or sentence — too many words. Extra sins too — at least three comma splices (run-in sentences). This is English prose, not Chinese prose. Long leading sentences and run-in sentences may be fine in Chinese, but not in English. Deal with it.

(3) Sub-editing (a better version that you can charge money for):

A customer would probably pay for this more polished version:

Today, my ex-boss made me give over the password to my MSN (Windows Live Messenger) account, so I have lost complete control of my own email.

As from today, any email to or from [email] will be dealt with by some other person, not by me personally. My name will appear in the email, but it will not be written by me.

I am no longer with [company] as I have resigned from it a month ago already. I have been with [company] for almost three years, trading in transponder keys, remote keys, key blank, etc, that the company makes. That email address is the primary contact for my customers during my time there.

I have grown tired of keys and lost all interest in them, and will not be involved with keys anymore. While I wait to be paid last month’s salary, I will probably continue to take time off this month, as I had last month. As to what and where to work, I shall decide on that after September. God bless me.

[Total 175 words]

This is better organised but still longwinded, as is typical of most Chinese English writing. The next versions will be much better.

(4) How an English speaker would say it:

A English-speaking person (especially an Englishman) would put it this way:

My ex-boss at [company] today demanded that I give over my email password to him, so I am no longer in control of my MSN (Windows Live Messenger) account. Email to and from [email] may continue to have my name [name] on them, but it would be written by somebody else. I am no longer associated with [company] or with that email address.

I resigned from [company] a month ago after working almost three year there. During that time, I traded in various types of keys that the company makes. That email address has been the primary contact for my customers there.

Right now, I am fed up with keys and want nothing to do with keys. I took a long rest from it all last month, and will probably take more time off this month. I shall decide what to do and where to work after September. God bless me.

[Total 151 words]

(5) How a real English speaker does it in the real world:

This is how a well-spoken English speaker (especially a Londoner) would do it:

As of today, my personal email [email] is under my previous company’s control. I resigned a month ago from [company], but my ex-boss there today demanded that I give over the email password, which I did.

As I am no longer associated with [company] or [email], I will not actually be responsible for any messages from that address. Be aware that email from that address may still contain my name [name] but would be written by someone else, so you have been warned.

After three long years of dealing in keys, my interests have moved on. Meantime, it will be extended time off for me while I await the company to pay up my last month’s wages. I’ll decide what to do next around September.

To contact me, my new email is [email] as of now.

[Total 136 words]

Of course, there can be many variations, such as you could take some expressions in (4) and (5) and combine them together. But the general idea is to make it short and sweet.

* * *

THE TRICK

The trick in this kind of writing (indeed, any kind of writing) is:

Short —>Facts —> Reasons —> Positives —> Neutrals —> Hints

“Short fat reasons pose nice hints”

  • keep it as short as possible (because nobody likes to read!)
  • the most important factual things first
  • then reasons second
  • about your previous work, say nothing negative
  • about your ex-employer, say only neutral things (nothing negative)
  • only hint at ‘problems’ (e.g. wait … to pay up my … wages)
© Learn English or Starve, 2011.
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