How to write simply and easily for easy translation #소통 #언어 #疏通

I’ve written many times about breaking down language barriers and getting English speakers and non-English speakers to sit down and talk together.
I hope that non-English speakers, especially the shy ones, don’t give up trying to communicate.
I also hope that English-speaking users will be more considerate of users who are unfamiliar with or intimidated by English.
So I’d post some thoughts on how to use translations to make your writing more communicative.


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Use short sentences.

Even if your entire post is a bit longer, it’s best to keep each sentence short.

Write common, plain and easy expressions.

Imagine you’re talking to a child or someone who hasn’t had the benefit of an education.

Avoid slang, abbreviations, and proverbs.

If you feel compelled to use an analogy to illustrate what you’re trying to say, be sure to explain what you mean for those who can understand it.

It may be better to use common words rather than idioms.

This is especially true for those who have learned a stereotypical foreign language. E.g. put one’s feet up → rest

Sometimes it’s better to be dull and dated expression than fresh and new expression.

This is especially true for people who have learned a foreign language in an unconventional way.

If you feel that it is particularly difficult to explain, one way is to explain it again, changing the expression.

If you’re having trouble explaining something, try using an example.

However, keep in mind that while examples can seem clear, they also run the risk of driving the point in one direction, and the wrong example can make the problem more complicated.

Sometimes, even emojis can be misleading.

On the one hand, facial expressions and gestures are clear, but on the other hand, they are rooted in culture and can be easily misunderstood. (Gestures are similar in speech).

On the flip side, if you see a phrase in the other person’s writing that doesn’t make sense, don’t assume it and ask for clarification.

Machine translation is machine translation, after all, and even with a human interpreter, it’s not easy to translate the essence of one culture into another. It’s always worth checking to make sure you’re not getting the wrong translation and misunderstanding the meaning.

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I like this suggestion. Discourse makes it so easy to include a screenshot or photo. On the mailing lists, I have to use many more words to describe the same thing.

If you ever suspect that you’re getting a poor translation, try comparing it to another machine translation service, because every service has its strengths and weaknesses. This forum’s translation button uses Microsoft Translator, but you can also use Google Translate and DeepL.

For me, Microsoft translates text into Vietnamese very literally, word for word, so I have to translate it back to English in my head before I can understand it at all. Others have also noticed this when translating German to English using the built-in button. Unfortunately, avoiding idioms can’t prevent this from happening. Even very basic English grammar can confuse Microsoft Translator.

I don’t mean to pick on you, but just to demonstrate my point:

Microsoft:

Đôi khi nó tốt hơn để buồn tẻ và ngày tháng hơn là tươi và mới.

(Sometimes it betters itself in order to be dull, and a date is more than being fresh and new.)

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I get the best results when I use ChatGPT to translate something for me, because it actually “understands” the meaning and can even rephrase things into simple English.

Not all Asians can be generalized as shy. While there are cultural variations, it’s important to recognize that shyness is a personal characteristic. Reserved demeanour is very common, though.

Or putting it into more simple English (thanks, ChatGPT):

Not everyone from Asia is shy. People have different personalities, even within their cultures. Shyness is something personal that varies from person to person. However, it is quite common to see a reserved behaviour in many Asian cultures.

And for you English speakers:

  • Don’t use slang!
  • Don’t use idoms!
  • Write simple sentence. Like you talked to a 5 year old.

(Advices from a non-English speaker).

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Beste Zusammenfassung, kurz und verständlich!

Hinweis: das sollte für alle (!) Sprachen gelten, insbesondere in den internationalen Foren. Dann wird es für jeden einfacher. Dann kann jeder seine eigene bevorzugte Sprache verwenden (mit der Einschränkung dass diese mit dem Microsoft Translator übersetzbar ist).

Solche Regeln nur für Englisch Sprechende sind irgendwie auch wieder diskriminierend.

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I agree and sympathize.

And most importantly, it’s NOT a “rule” and it’s NOT “agreed upon”.
It’s just a ‘wish’ and a ‘recommendation’. :wink:

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I am totally agree with adreamy. Using common words instead of idioms improves clarity and ease of translation. Idioms can cause misunderstandings and inaccurate translations. Simple language is more accessible and accurate.

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Ironically on the other hand, it can be easy for some non-native users to write long and difficult-to-read paragraphs. Somewhat of a Dunning-Kruger Effect (does this count as an intellectual idiom now?), with overestimation and overappreciation of English skills from being able to write them. In Asia, it’s partly caused by outdated teaching of academic or archaic English in schools, and reinforced by exams. I don’t know how’s the education in Africa, and South America.
Or “no offense” (knowing this may be offensive), Latin-based language can have their long sentences and words becoming less smooth, when directly translating to English. But those complicated terms can be useful, and often unique.
Native English users can always practice how simple English is best English. Person apologizing “sorry bad English” can be understood perfectly fine.
Now from AI, they can worsen by generating long walls of texts. People may directly use them, or unconsciously learn wrongly this is the best.

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The overestimation of English skills by some non-native speakers, influenced by outdated academic practices, is indeed reminiscent of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This situation is compounded by the direct translation of complex terms from Latin-based languages, which can result in convoluted English sentences. Additionally, the use of Removed due to spam can further complicate understanding for non-native speakers. The rise of AI-generated text might exacerbate this problem, encouraging the use of overly complex language. Native speakers can lead by example, showing that clear and simple English is often the most effective for communication.

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Both native and non-native English speakers alike should try to minimize the use of acronyms and initialisms. Some initialisms like DWG are well-known and common enough that we can safely use them, except perhaps in the Help and support category. But sometimes I see people casually use rarer initialisms, even in non-English posts, such as OTG. This jargon is problematic because a machine translator won’t translate it, even if there is a decent translation.

If you need to use an acronym or initialism so that your sentence flows better, I’d suggest linking the first occurrence of it to an explanatory wiki page, or giving it a tooltip using this HTML syntax:

<abbr title="any tag you like">ATYL</abbr>

Alternatively, there’s also a ^[footnote] syntax that creates a clickable popup.[1] This is useful for any jargon that readers may not be familiar with, even if it doesn’t look like an acronym or initialism.


  1. This is where you hide the punchline of your joke. ↩︎

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The above is not only important for forum posts, but even more important for wiki texts. Trying to give a very precise description of a tag in English may lead to using words that are difficult to precisely translate because they have no equivalent in most languages.

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Trying to give a very precise description of a tag in English may lead to using words that are difficult to precisely translate because they have no equivalent in most languages.

it doesn’t matter whether there are equivalent terms, you have to express the concept. If a single term is not available you will have to use more text to say the same.

While I agree that sometimes simpler is better, precision is important in tag description. Since wiki writing and/or translation is done by humans (hopefully), it is perfectly fine to diverge from the English text in order to better explain it in local terms. If there is uncertainty, thankfully through history you can find exactly who wrote the sentence that is confusing and ask them what they mean.

As someone who occasionally types up posts in languages other than my native English, I have some other helpful tips:

  • Back-translate your writing before you post. Try translating your foreign-language writing back to your native language—the results may surprise you!
  • Look up technical terms on the wiki. The English word “tag” has several definitions in addition to the way it’s used on OSM. Depending on the context, the Spanish translation for “tag” could be marbete, chapa, herrete, etiqueta, or something else. By going to the English page for Tags and clicking on the Spanish link at the top, I can be sure that the correct translation in the context of OSM is etiqueta.
  • Don’t be shy. If you’re not sure your foreign-language writing is perfect, post it anyway! Readers will try their best to understand what you meant, and provide gentle correction if necessary. You might end up improving your language skills in the process.
  • Conversely, don’t be hostile. When a foreigner writes something in your native language and their lack of experience is noticeable, be lenient and helpful. Mistakes are harmless and ignorable as long as they don’t dilute the meaning of a sentence, but if anything causes confusion or ambiguity, ask for clarification.
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The first time you tried to post a link to that site you tried to hide the link as an unrelated image link. That’s “pretty characteristic spammer behaviour”, so I removed it from the the help and support forum where you posted it. That site is not related to OpenStreetMap, although it (and many other similar sites on the Internet) may be useful to some people. You’re welcome to join the OSM community, but we’d suggest that you actually do some mapping :slight_smile:

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