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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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24 May 2017

When is жадность not разумная – when putting Russian thoughts into English prose, if you don’t want to seem провинциальный

I am a writer, but I earn my daily bread by editing texts which Russians have written and putting them into smooth, idiomatic and clear English. I have recently tried to explain to some potential customers why this is so important. It occurs to me that I should maybe try to make my point to a wider audience.
     The main reason is the difference between verbal and written communication. Face-to-face you communicate as much by body language as by the words you use. If your listener does not understand you, he or she will ask what you mean, and you can correct what you have just said. Likewise, if you say something offensive, or obviously stupid or wrong, you will see by your listener’s reaction and have an opportunity to correct what you said, or to elaborate on it to make your meaning clear.
     None of this applies when texts are in writing only. That has to be absolutely correct, or you will risk creating all sorts of communication difficulties. 
     In addition, there is something attractive about a Russian accent, and interesting about the unusual ways in which Russians misuse English when speaking. But accents do not come across on the printed page, and mistakes on paper are not interesting; they simply look провинциальные.
     Editing is much cheaper than looking a fool. The best example I have ever come across is the sign (pictured above) on the Kazan railway station which I saw when travelling to Siberia some years ago. РЖД had previously spent billions of roubles modernising and beautifying the station for some international football competition or other. Yet they put that sign up. The idea of giving instructions in English was a good one. But to do so in the way it was done looks idiotic. There are four mistakes in the six English words used.
     I usually charge 4 roubles a word for style-editing and correcting texts. So it would have cost the Russian Railways 24 roubles to have had me correct that sign. The fancy modern new station would not have cost billions of roubles and looked naff, but would have costs billions and 24 roubles and looked smart, modern (as the rest of it does) and, due to the use of English, welcoming to visitors from abroad.
     Which is more sensible? Why is meanness considered sensible in matters like these? Always get important text checked by a native speaker. 
     Send an email to me at language.etiquette@gmail.com
and I will send you back my sheet describing what I do and why.
     I'll give a discount to every customer who can give me the correct translation of the sign!

  

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