Friday, May 3, 2013

What do I know about English?

At some stage while reading these blog posts, you might ask yourself,"Who does this Ken Davies think he is? What does he know about English? Has he ever written for a living, or edited, or taught English, or taught English as a Foreign Language?"

The answer is "yes" to all those questions.

I am a native speaker of English. I was born in the centre of England, in Birmingham, and lived both in the North (Yorkshire) and the South (London, Surrey and Sussex) for many years. I live now mainly in the United States, where they also speak English, and Hong Kong, where English is used alongside Chinese, especially in official communications and in business.

For many years I taught English and communications to a wide range of students, from teenagers with special needs to postgraduates.

I have written books and articles for major organisations, including the BBC, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). All of these use British English but have many contributors from other cultures that use the English language. At the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, I regularly edited and wrote in American English.

I have also edited many books and articles in English for these organisations.

Both at the EIU and at the OECD I promoted the use of the style guides developed for each institution. The EIU style guide is similar to the Economist Style Guide that is sold throughout the world. These style guides strongly support the view that plain, simple English is best. They also distinguish between usages that are correct and usages that are optional. For example, the tense or number of a verb can be right or wrong, but the choice whether to use an "s" or a "z" in words like "optimise/optimize" is a personal or editorial choice involving no right or wrong answer.

I have also lived in non-English-speaking countries, including France and China (Hong Kong), and have spent much of my working life visiting numerous other countries, so I have a great respect for other languages and for those who use English as a second language. It is important to write plain English so that those who do not speak it every day can understand the message. At the same time, the writer should not dilute that message or engage in "dumbing down". All readers are entitled to expect both good writing and writing that they can understand.

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