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Call for suggestions: what if you're not 100% correct/effective in English, and building an international startup? (or: "my primary school teacher didn't tell me the whole story").

I happen to write an excellent Italian. It was good since the early years of my life, and later it became even better.
I remember my primary school teacher, who was supposed to teach us everything, that used to dilate a lot the time reserved to learn mastering Italian, often at the expense of the other "stuff" (including the gym weekly hour :\ because "it will be extremely useful in life".

I remember the first days with the letters on the wall with pictures, A = Abaco (i.e. the abacus)... GL = Giglio (i.e. the lily)... GN = Gnomo (i.e. the gnome)... Z = Zebra.

Then the syllables, then the grammar, then the syntactic analysis of sentences, the logic analysis, the special cases, whatever. I learned, and learned and learned. And I did exercises, and practice, and learned. It was a pleasure, sometimes it was hard - but I had no doubts: it would have been extremely useful in life.

My classmates in every class I've attended in life, can remember how I mastered Italian. One of my Italian teachers had to expand the votes' scale just because of me, since my written productions sometimes went over the maximum expected.

My Italian was 100% correct, my sentences were effective, I was able to compose writings with a rhythm that was a crescendo reaching at the same time heart and mind, culminating with a perfect transfer of my feelings and ideas for the subject, and sometimes opening wide a gate to higher levels of thinking into the reader.

My teachers were convinced I was destined to be a successful writer.
I had a strong weapon in my hands.


Fast forward to today:

I didn't took that path. My technical side pushed me towards a MSc Electronic Engineering, then (well, actually meanwhile) tinkering with code, then (well, actually meanwhile) helping clients in getting weird tech stuff done, and that sort of geeky things.

And then, trying to build a startup, or whatever I should call the thing I'm trying to do, that will need to appeal to an international audience, and with an excellent communication.

Now, I'm back at the beginning.

I can say I know English, but while I'm writing this very sentence I'm probably doing mistakes. Or errors... uhm, which is the right word in this context? Look, here I am, naked in front of you.

I have to write longer sentences and paragraphs in order to express the same concepts that in Italian, using the same amount of time and energy, I could squeeze to a few effective words.

And probably, my writing sounds like a teenager's stream of consciousness on the diary.

Sometimes I avoid straight sentences that I know for sure would be very effective in Italian, but can't bear with the uncertainty of how they would be received by an international audience - not to say to those that speak English as mother tongue. And I replace them with paragraphs, struggling to explain the same concepts, and without knowing if I'm succeding in the endeavour, or if I'm just pushing readers away.

I could continue, explaining gradients and details, also enriching the narrative with real life examples, but I hope I've successfully transferred what I mean: I believe that how we humans communicate with written words is unbelievably important, and it's a fact that I've not practiced English as much as I've practiced Italian.

So, I've written and bored you with this badly written, full of errors, convoluted English paragraphs, just to reach a call for suggestions from peers in a similar situation (I believe this can happen to some people in the World, e.g. in Europe - obviuosly excluding Great Britain and the countries where English language is taken in great account since childhood - and Asia).

How do you deal with this? If you're not a funded startup, but want to come out and start getting feedbacks for your thing, can you afford e.g. translation services like myGengo, or would you go with something like that? Or other professional translation services? If you want to create a landing page with a few texts, can you be sure that your bad or just not effective writing will not be a component in the metrics? What if you sound too much childish for your target market, couldn't it kill the stats?

I won't continue with the questions, they would be endless, for someone trying to build an international service.
But you know them.

Try sharing with me your suggestions about this topic, and let me know if you already use them for you, and if they're successful.
I will be grateful. Or whatever is the right sentence to convey a big amount of gratitude.
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Luca De Cicco's profile photoWilliam Crawford's profile photoRamer Alegre Ramos's profile photoAntonio Orlando's profile photo
12 comments
 
If you want my opinion, for what it counts, you write a very good English, better than a lot of native speakers would. My story is quite different and more linear: I've never been a good writer and I was more inclined to science languages rather than natural ones. I guess that a good writer in language X will do very well in language Y, just like a good C coder will very good code in Java (maybe the converse is not true :)). That's basically the reason why I'll never be a decent English writer.
 
And for the record, I think that if your idea is really good, you don't need expensive translation services: your idea will speak for you :)
 
Yes I want your opinion, and of course it counts! Still, I think what users will read along the way, and how it will be written, has great importance: it's like a cool graphic design against a poor one - you may love and use a thing despite how it is dressed, but often it's not the case. I know also that when I read something unsolicited, mainly from strangers, in Italian I get somehow distracted - and I would say negatively if I had to specify a feeling - even if I could be interested in the content, when the wording is lame or with random funny errors popping up while reading. Of course this doesn't apply when I know that the writer is not Italian mother-tongue, or was clearly in a hurry, or has some impairment, and in those cases I just appreciate very much any kind of effort.
 
Antonio, I guess that since anyone is "one of a kind" the reaction to how a product, an idea, whatever is presented or sold may be very different. Each of us looks for different features, so I guess you are expressing your feeling about this particular issue. In my particular case, I'm not that affected by a far-from-perfect description if I am able to grasp the idea underneath the words. Moreover - still talking about my particular case - I often take badly a too perfect text or speech. Sometimes I fear that underneath the beautiful words the nothing is hidden. This is why I do not take so seriously - to use an euphemism - the most part of politicians :)
 
I wonder how people is splitted about this reaction, but I'd prefer your approach as absolute winner against mine, 'cause that would be a relief for me :)
 
Well, in that case, I agree with you :)
 
My total English vocabulary size is estimated to be 5700 words: http://testyourvocab.com/?r=46081

I've avoided selecting words of the kind that "I know with a medium/high amount of confidence but maybe I should check just to be sure they mean what I think", nevertheless I believe that's the right way to honestly make the test.

The lowest result in their tables for American native speakers is 17511 words at the moment, so it turns out I manage to communicate with some dignity using less than 1/3 of the vocabulary of the worst one :\

And here's a nice thread on HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2772387
 
I'll be honest, there are some simple mistakes in your text that give you away as not being a native speaker. And that will turn away some customers, especially if they don't know you aren't a native speaker.

My advice is to simply find someone who's good at fixing your text, or just pay someone to translate from your native language. A student who is learning your native language and has a good aptitude for writing would be a good candidate.

Another option would be to hire a PR person to write all your public-facing text.

My advice isn't that different from what native speakers do when they don't have good writing skills, anyhow.
 
I strongly suggest that you focus on building your product and marketing/business strategies first, and not worry about English technicalities. Launch it, achieve your investment level, and setup your operations. Once you have the money, you can hire quality marketing personnel to help you make your texts smarter and effective. Good luck! (Full comment at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2772950)
 
PS: thanks to the Italians that have honestly completed the test and scored much better than me - I'm sure you're a lot out there, and kind enough to avoid posting the result :)
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