In many course programs, even those that are offered in a wide variety of languages, there are non-native English speakers who opt to take their courses in English. These students are called English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) learners.
The four language skills are reading, writing, listening, and speaking, of which the dominant skill is usually reading. Foreign language education usually focuses on reading and grammar. It is rarely focused on the communicative skills of listening, speaking, and writing.
Frequently, the courseware is highly technical and includes its own lexicon. This can be like learning a new language, even for native English speakers. Imagine how difficult it can be for non-native English speakers! Simplifying the writing and using a consistent style will help both EFL and native English speakers to better comprehend highly technical content.The following three principles have been excerpted from a longer list that was created by Dennis List of Audience Dialog.
- Avoid words with multiple meanings. English is full of words that have multiple meanings or uses. It is important to use the most common term to achieve the desired meaning. In addition, when a term is chosen from equivalent alternatives, the author should remain consistent in this choice.
- The word since is used to convey the time after something occurred: It has been a long time since the valley had any snow.
- The word since is also used colloquially in a cause and effect relationship, with since introducing the cause: Since the router is not the gateway router for this network, it does not forward packets to the internet.
- When the word since is used to introduce a cause, we change it to because: Because the router is not the gateway router for this network, it does not forward packets to the internet.
- Avoid ellipsis. When an author removes words because they seem superfluous, this is called ellipsis. The author believes that the reader should be able to use context, not language, to correctly infer what the author is implying. Non-native speakers can not be expected to have the insight to be able to supply the missing word(s). In fact, native English-speaking learners who are beginning their journey in any new domain should not have to “fill in the blanks”.
- A table should exist for each network device used on the network, containing all relevant information about that device.
- Here is one possible rewrite: A table should exist for each device that is used on the network and it should contain all of the relevant information about that device.
- Keep sentences short. Short sentences are easier to translate. Short sentences are easier to read. Short sentences are easier for native English speakers to understand. And finally, short sentences are much easier for non-native English speakers to comprehend.
To keep sentences short, don't try to express more than a few ideas in one sentence. To test a sentence, read it aloud to a native English speaker, and ask them to repeat it back to you. If they can't do that, your sentence is probably too long. Try to maintain an average of 10 to 15 words per sentence.
- A table should exist for each network device that is used on the network, containing all of the relevant information about that device. (23 words)
- Here is one possible rewrite: A table should exist for each device that is used on the network. (13 words) This table should contain all of the relevant information about that device. (12 words)
These are just a few of the steps we take for EFL learners. The English language presents many challenges to non-native speakers. Avoiding or mitigating these challenges is important when creating technical documentation or instructional text. Removing or reducing obstacles to readability improves learner comprehension. And by the way, improving readability also helps your native English-speaking learners. Everybody wins!