Words on a Page Writings about writing

Should you simplify your blog's language for non-native readers?

An illustration of a globe with the word 'Translate' in a number of languages

That’s a question someone recently asked me. And it’s a question that I didn’t have an immediate answer for.

Why? Because I hadn’t really thought about it.

The bulk of my audience is people who are either native speakers of English, or people who have near-native proficiency in the language. They shouldn’t have any (at least, not too much) trouble reading what I write in this space and elsewhere. For better or for worse, I don’t worry about any other readers.

On the other hand, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to learn three foreign languages over the years. I understand how frustrating and demoralizing it can be to try to read articles or short stories in a language that’s not my own when at a basic or low-intermediate level of proficiency. It can be a hard slog.

Going back to the question that’s the title of this blog post: Should you simplify your blog’s language for non-native readers? You have to make that decision. You can explicitly go out of your way and use controlled language (which limits the vocabulary and grammar you use), or you can write in a friendlier way.

In my case, my background and education in journalism have given me the ability to write in short, simple sentences. I can convey ideas with fewer words, and often don’t use specialized language. Then again, I do use turns of phrase and allusions that non-native speakers of English might not understand.

Simplifying the language you use in your blog posts can take a lot of effort. You should ask yourself whether that effort is worth it. Will it increase the your blog’s readership? Will you be able to use those skills elsewhere?

Take the time to think about that and make that choice that’s right for you, your audience, and for your blog.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.