American or British?

The English language has far too many differences in each region. If you utilize American English then your organization or center works extremely hard and put in lots of labor to run programs. But if you utilise British English then your organisation or centre works extremely hard and puts in lots of labour to run programmes. What does that mean for a development organization?

If you live and work in a country where English is not the first language then you don’t have an official national English dictionary, and therefore either of those options could be correct. But what would be incorrect would be to mix American and non-American English in the same document or sentence. This may seem boring but to an NGO working with partners and donors around the world it is remarkably important.

Development organizations are constantly stuck in this middle-ground, with no ‘official’ English in the country of operation they must constantly switch between different regional versions of English and this means tailoring each document to the donor or audience. This is hard enough to do if English is your first language, but even harder if its your second or third.

As much of my job involves editing and reviewing documents I get to spend a lot of time up close and personal with the oddities of the English language and this has made me more aware of how to properly tailor your writing to your audience. If your donor is British do not write a document full of the letter z or words ending in or. If your donor is American use the letter z all you want, don’t end words in our. This stuff matters a lot. Using the wrong language or the wrong grammar will make sentences and documents look ‘wrong’ to a reader and can very well be the different between FUNDED or BROKE.

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8 responses

  1. May I simply say what a relief to uncover a person that truly knows
    what they’re talking about online. You actually realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you’re not more popular given that you most certainly have the gift.

  2. Its a little sad though, don’t you think that the predominate development language is English even when the funding is required for a country where the number of people who can speak English is limited. Its almost like a way of embedding discrimination. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about it doesn’t seem right. Maybe pandering to the upper classes or high status males – not sure.

    • It is unfortunate; it creates a double workload as everything must be produced in Vietnamese, then translated into English (to meet the requirements of Vietnam and the donor country).
      Unfortunately it seems that this is how it is done, even when funding is done through an Embassy that has enough staff to complete the process in the local language. It also happens when the working language in the donor country is not English though, so it seems to have become the working language for international development even when neither party speaks English as a first language.

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