Non-native speakers of English and campaign making
Non-native speakers of English face linguistic difficulties when writing a campaign to the English-speaking community. Some of these difficulties derive from typical language deficiencies like spelling, syntax, word order or word choice.
This article will give non-native English speakers some advice on what to pay attention to and how to improve their dialogues from a language perspective. Note that because of the differences between any two non-native speakers of English in regards to the kind of mistakes they make, this article can never fulfil its purpose entirely. This article will merely draw your attention to some typical mistakes non-native speakers make.
By definition, non-native speakers cannot create a campaign that has absolutely no grammatical mistake in it. Knowing every little bit of English grammar is one thing, using it in an accurate way to convey the intended message while sounding natural is another. The more text data there is in the campaign the more likely some sentences will be malformed and some others will just sound wrong to native ears.
- 1 Expectations
- 2 Native help
- 3 Naiveté
- 4 The influence of native language
- 5 General writing tips
- 6 Printed material
- 7 Working with sentence patterns
- 8 Variants of English
- 9 External links
Not being a native speaker of English is not an excuse that you can always get away with. Some speakers of English (not necessarily natives) aren't bothered by some syntactic or spelling mistakes, while others are especially sensitive to grammatical correctness. Typical syntactic mistakes (like malformed questions like "Are you deploy more fighters?") are easily noticed by anyone. Wordy sentences are a different fish in the kettle – even native speakers do that when their ideas flow more quickly than they are capable to input them. Wordy sentences are usually ones that contain more clauses than needed (usually linked by conjunctions like and, but, however, although). Such sentences are to be avoided by splitting the wordy sentence into short sentences using full stops (in US English: periods) (.) or, under some circumstances, semicolons (;). Be careful with semicolons. The FreeSpace engine cannot read a ; in its mission code. If you use FreeSpace Open, use $semicolon instead. Users of retail FreeSpace 2 should just use a full stop.
Expectations vary between any two players. Therefore, non-native speakers have to do everything that is within their capabilities to make their campaign as good as possible language-wise to make the job of their native proofreaders as manageable as possible.
Asking for help by native speakers is a logical thing to do, even if you are confident in your language skills. Bear in mind, however, that before you submit your work for native revision, make sure that you have revised it beforehand. Your proofreader (=grammar checker) will not know what a given sentence is supposed to say, imply, or how it fits into the mission. Without a context and a decent knowledge of your campaign's setting, your grammar checker will inevitably misunderstand some sentences and therefore, the corrected sentence will not imply the same thing as the campaign author originally wanted.
Also keep in mind that not all native speakers are perfect when it comes to the written language. Since native speakers of English learn to speak first then spell the words (as opposed to a typical English class scenario when students learn the pronunciation and the spelling at the same time), so they usually mix up certain words that are pronounced the same but spelt differently (most typically it's and its; there, their, they're). For this reason, don't take it for granted that the version you receive from your grammar checkers will be final. There can be some typing mistakes (called 'typos') like raeson instead of reason.
Now that you have decided to undertake such a difficult task as to create a FreeSpace campaign in a language that's not your native tongue, you certainly perform well at English classes. That's nice and it will serve you well while you are lost in the middle of London or New York to ask for directions and ask about local habits, points of interest and good restaurants. You probably know how to form a passive sentence from an active sentence or when to prefer the present perfect over the simple past tense. If you think that'll be good enough, you're being naive.
For a FreeSpace campaign, you need more than that. Not only will you have to convey your message successfully, you must do it as perfectly as possible. Some sentence constructions that are technically "grammatically correct" will sound alien to native ears; it's also possible that two native speakers will judge the acceptability of the same sentence on differing degrees. This is meant to say that something being grammatical does not equal being acceptable (despite what some teachers of English might suggest). There is also the issue of wordiness, in which case there are too many words in the sentence to be understandable. This usually happens if the writer wants to say too much within the same sentence. Avoiding one hard-to-understand sentence is feasible if you split the sentence in two or three smaller, clearly connected ones.
These kind of mistakes will potentially distract players' attention from the actual gameplay.
The influence of native language
Anyone who says that your native language doesn't influence your study of a foreign language has never taken a foreign language lesson himself. Inevitably, you will have such problems while writing anything in a language that's not your native language.
A speaker of each foreign language has typical mistakes that derive from the fact that he bases his English sentences (use of articles, word order, choice of preposition, everything!) on the grammar of his native language. Mistakes range from real serious ones that threaten the apprehension of the sentence; for example omitting auxiliaries is a typical mistake for speakers of Hungarian because there are no auxiliaries of any kind in Hungarian. The results are sentences such as "I manager. I looking for my sister". On the other end of the gradient are benign mistakes such a native speaker of French referring to a ship as a 'he' instead of the conventional 'she' or 'it' (See this). While the former is a common Engrish mistake, the latter is related to the way French perceive ships. English either highlights the captain's emotional connection to the ship and use 'she' to refer to the ship or simply use 'it' to give a neutral, unemotional filling to it.
There are certain areas of grammar that cause trouble even for advanced English-as-a-second-language speakers of English. Such common mistakes are the use of uncountable nouns as countable ones (advices, informations) or creating words that don't exist (speakers of Italian spelling participate as partecipate based on the Italian verb partecipare).
Idioms, slang expressions (including curses), proverbs vary considerably between any two language. Before using any of these in your campaign, look up how it is said in English. Your native help may not know the English equivalent of the proverb you want to use, so make sure that you look it up yourself.
Use of a two-language grammar reference book, or any reference book that was written for speakers of a specific foreign language are useful sources.
General writing tips
Here are some relevant outlines that you need to know before submitting your work to native speakers for revision. For a more exhaustive study of creative writing in this Wiki, see Mission Chatter.
Your grammar checkers, however good they are, will not be of much help if the text you submit is not organized clearly and two subsequent sentences are only loosely linked. Take a look at this:
- Our agent Joseph Zwick is escaping from the NTD Dalton. The system is strongly guarded. The Dalton is an Orion who will launch patrol fighters so watch out. Zwick must be saved. The patrol fighters will surely attack him. The patrol is two groups of Loki fighters but they'll deploy more. Get our spy out there.
This doesn't sound right. It looks as if the writer didn't know what he wanted to talk about. The ideas are not connected very well, and there are some inappropriate clauses that have to be removed. Well, let's consider what we want our briefing to talk about: The mission's background (our spy has been exposed), the mission objective (get him out!), the enemy you will encounter, and perhaps the GTVA fighers' default loadout.
Let's try to organize this briefing stage a bit more clearly. Translate this into your native language and work with that if that's what you prefer. Otherwise just categorize the sentences based on what they are about, change the order, then, if possible, use linking words like because or nevertheless to clarify how the clauses (=parts of the sentence) are related. Another trick is to use so-called hedges to make it a little bit more colourful. Hedges are words that serve no or limited real purpose, for example You know Unfortunately, You can probably see that, etc.
Here's a quick revision:
- Our agent Joseph Zwick is escaping from the NTD Dalton. Unfortunately, the system is strongly guarded, expect heavy resistence. The Dalton, an Orion class destroyer, will launch patrol fighters as soon as you enter the area of engagement. Zwick must be saved at all costs. Since he had been ixposed, the patrol fighters will attack him. Get our spy out there and return to base.
Now you can see how the ideas relate to each other. Note that the sentence "You'll fly Hercules fighters" has been removed. Perhaps it's a better idea to deal with the friendly fighters in the next briefing stage after the mission has been outlined. The above paragraph is still not good enough, but it's a step ahead in comparison with the first draft. Native speakers can now help in correcting your word choice ("strongly guarded" should be "heavily guarded"; "area of engagement" should be "field of engagement" and spelling (ixpose to expose) or possible punctuation (hyphenate "Orion class destroyer" to "Orion-class destroyer"). Any native speaker could help in picking the correct word. Fewer can spell perfectly and even fewer know when hyphens are used.
In this article, repetition refers to two phenomena: 1) repetition of words (within a range of a small number of sentences) and 2) repetition of rare expressions that are used more frequently in the campaign than they would be used by native English speakers. Neither of these mistakes is strictly related to using a language you don't speak natively. Repetition of words happens in everyday life even between native speakers of a language, especially in spoken language. In written language, however, students are taught to avoid word repetition whenever possible.
Repetition of words
Repeating the same word in a short span of space looks unprofessional. Consider the following short briefing stage:
- The NTD Iowa is heading to the Alpha Centauri-Deneb jump node. The 24th Bastards heavy bomber unit must prevent the Iowa from reaching the jump node. Alpha wing must escort the 24th Bastads until they destroy the Iowa.
The following words (or word combinations) were used more than once:
- (NTD) Iowa x 3
- 24th Bastards x 2
- jump node x 2
Fortunately, we have two proper nouns here that can be replaced by relevant common nouns (any proper noun can be referred to by a common noun). Keeping the proper noun in the first sentence is necessary to introduce the idea of a specific hostile destroyer that we'll be talking about in the briefing. Using the proper noun instead of a noun phrase ("an enemy destroyer") is necessary to emphasize that it is the NTD Iowa that is important. If "An enemy destroyer" is used to introduce the idea of a destroyer, it is the ship type of the ship that matters.
- The NTD Iowa is heading to the jump node (It's important to take down the NTD Iowa because Admiral xxx is on board)
- An enemy destroyer is heading to the jump node (Any enemy destroyer that's heading to the jump node is a threat)
Now that the idea of a specific destroyer (NTD Iowa) is introduced in the first sentence, it can be referred to as "an enemy destroyer", and the listeners will know that it actually refers to the Iowa, not any NTF destroyer. We need a third word to refer to the Iowa. For now, let's treat "NTD Iowa" and "Iowa" as two words. If we just replace the second reference from "NTD Iowa" to "enemy destroyer", then it wouldn't sound as a bad example of word repetition. Some further revision will take place as soon as we have dealt with the other two instances of word repetition.
Similarly, the name of the squadron ("24th Bastards") can be changed to something else in the third sentence to avoid word repetition. Let's use the pronoun them instead. Pronouns exist just for this: to use them instead of the complete full noun.
Jump node refers to a location, so using a word of similar meaning (destination) or a pronoun (there) are adequate replacements.
This is what we have after getting rid of repeated words:
- The NTD Iowa is heading to the Alpha Centauri-Deneb jump node. The 24th Bastards heavy bomber unit must prevent the enemy destroyer from reaching its destination. Alpha wing must escort them until they destroy the Iowa.
Some more touchups are still needed. Let's try to use as few words as possible to deliver the same meaning:
- The NTD Iowa is heading to the Alpha Centauri-Deneb jump node. The 24th Bastards heavy bomber unit has been deployed to intercept it. Alpha wing must play escort.
We've trimmed down our briefing stage a bit. There were too many references to handle in such a short briefing stage. Note that there are two references to the Iowa in the paragraph above ("NTD Iowa" and "it"). We removed the direct Iowa reference from the last sentence, because Alpha wing already knows who the bombers will be targeting, and their goal is to defend the bombers. It's not necessary to mention the Iowa for the third time.
There's only one reference to the jump node in the current version. The verb intercept entails that if the Iowa jumps out, the bombers will fail their mission. The verb phrase "has been deployed" was also used instead of must, because there's already a must in the third sentence.
Repetition of expressions
In this article, repetition of expressions refers to using rare words or word combinations more frequently than they would be used in everyday talk. For example, while looking for words you might be able to use in your campaign, you come across the adjective insuperable. You memorize it and start to use it. However, you will realize that this word is not as common as you have been using it. You remember using insuperable a number of times already in your missions, so you decide to remove some instances of it.
The fastest way to remove words is to open your missions, one by one, in a text editor and look for the appropriate keywords. If you discover that you have indeed used insuperable more often than it would be natural, find some synonyms or remove these filler words.
Sometimes you just use too many unnecessary words such as "You know," "I mean," "I realize," etc. During the course of making your missions, you will no doubt come across words that you like using, but are essentially meaningless. Keep these largely meaningless expressions in those situations when they're relevant. See Hedge for some examples.
Here are some reference books you can use while writing lines of dialogue to your campaign. There are online versions of all of these, which you are free to use if that's your preference. The greatest advantage of printed materials over electronic ones is that you can access printed material without the Internet – or without a computer. Jumping back and forth between tabs is not everybody's preference.
Using a dictionary to look up a word is an evident decision. There are all kinds of dictionaries that you can use.
A two-language dictionary is a dictionary that gives you words in Language A and its equivalents in Language B. Dictionaries with unambiguous titles like English-German Dictionary and German-English Dictionary are typical examples. These dictionaries are useful to look up nouns that denote things that can be found everywhere: vehicles, tools, parts of a ship, to name a few FS-relevant ones. The English equivalents are the same as in your native language: A loading ramp is a loading ramp everywhere. There is no alternate way to say it. More abstract nouns, like ones that denote human characteristics (proud) or situations (blunder) may vary between the two languages.
Because not every word in your native language has its perfect equivalent in English, complement your two-language dictionary research with an English-language dictionary (Oxford, Longman, Merriam-Webster are the popular ones).
Abstract nouns, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions typically have some slight meaning differences between the two languages. The correct use of conjunctions and prepositions can be looked up in an English-only dictionary. To illustrate the point, suppose you are looking for a word that expresses contrast. You look up your mothertongue's equivalent of although and find the following forms: although, though, even though, however, despite. These words aren't interchangeable at all. Contrast the definitions that your English-only dictionary gives. Here's a specific example that deals with although, however and despite, taken from Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (7th edition):
- although  used for introducing a statement that makes the main statement in the sentence seem surprising (SYN though) ; Although the sun was shining it wasn't very warm.  used to mean 'but' or 'however' when you are commenting on a statement; "I felt I was wrong, although I didn't say so at the time."
- despite  used to show that sth happened or is true although sth else might have happened to prevent it (SYN in spire of); "Her voice was shaking despite her efforts to control it" "Despite applying for hundreds of jobs, he is still out of work."
- however  used to introduce a statement that contrasts with sth that has just been said: "He was feeling bad. He went to work, however, and tried to concentrate." "We thought the figures were correct. However, we have now discovered some errors."
You can see that all three of these words express contrast between ideas, but are used differently. Although is a true conjunction; it's used to show contrast between two clauses. However needs at least two sentences to work. Therefore you can start your first paragraph with although but not with however ("Although the party was good, we left early." "The party was good. However, we left early."; "However, the party was good, we left early" is incorrect) Despite is similar to although, but it's used before a noun clause, not a verb clause. ("Despite her best efforts, we couldn't hear her." "Although she did her best, we couldn't hear her.")
In more fortunate situations, it also gives you a small box that deals with these 'synonyms' in detail.
A thesaurus (or synonym finder) is another useful type of dictionary. It gives you no definitions of any sort, but it does give you a lot of words that have a related sense to the word you're looking up.
Complement your thesaurus with a 'real' dictionary that explains what these words mean. There are no such a thing as two words being completely synonymous with each other. Your synonym finder will give you a number of words that have a related meaning. Some words denote the same thing, but under conditions. Consider the following example (taken from the Concise Oxford Thesaurus (3rd ed.)):
- discuss (verb) "I discussed the matter with my wife"; talk over, talk about, talk through, converse about, debate, confer about, deliberate about, chew over, consider, weigh up, consider the pros and cons of, thrash out; (informal) kick around/about, bat around/about
Lot of words, isn't it? Hopefully, you can take out some pairs and explain the difference between their meanings without a dictionary. Here are a few:
- talk over entails that there is some kind of agreement in the end
- talk through denotes (and highlights) the difficulties that the speaking partners were facing
- debate denotes a little bit more intensity in the speech acts
- chew over is first of all more informal than any of the above and it also denotes difficulties in addition to length
- consider the pros and cons of entails that the speaking partners put more emphasis on the advantages and disadvantages of a given situation
Well, you can see that these senses are related, but are not interchangeable (=completely synonymous). It does matter whether you talk about the weather or discuss it. Talking about it is something you do on a daily basis. Discussing it is the job of meteorologists.
Use a thesaurus to pick the best word in the given context and to enrich the vocabulary of your writing.
There are advanced grammar reference books in circulation in any country. Your high school English book is not what you're looking for. You need something that deals with English grammar in greater detail. A traditional English schoolbook gives you some definitions and examples and attempts to explain only the most common uses of a certain grammatical structure, but it's not everything that you need.
Look up strange and complex sentence structures (use or neither... nor), proper use of prepositions and tenses here, to name just a few.
Miscellaneous reference books
Miscellaneous reference books include more specialized language books like preposition guides, phrasal verb dictionaries or idiom collections. Consult these guides if you run into a very specific problem; say, you don't know whether it should be 'concerned by' or 'concerned with'. As you read these books, note down a couple of expressions you like and try to insert them into your dialogues if it makes sense to.
Be careful with slang and idiom dictionaries. Slang is prone to change, so it's not likely that a slang expression in use today will be used at the time your FreeSpace campaign takes place. Idioms too. Sometimes the expressions are just out of context. Imagine a commanding officer say "The NTD Gaia has kicked the bucket". It's been 400 years since that expression came up in the Wild West. An average Joe in the FreeSpace era will not know why kicking the bucket can be related to death.
Other media products
Novels, newspapers, movies, text-rich travel guides are also very useful. These products were not written with students of English in mind, unlike grammar reference books that try to explain (often superficially) some points of grammar. These products are a more realistic representation of the actual language in use.
First of all, make sure that the material you choose is written by a native English speaker (or it was translated to English by a native speaker). Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon is reliable, so is James Luceno's Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil; an essay written by a university student or a random blog entry of an unknown author should be treated with due care.
Novels utilize a tremendous set of vocabulary ranging from all sorts of clause-opening words (notwithstanding, due to the need to...) to refined vocabulary items that denote actions (cower), feelings (apathy) or describe situations (quagmire); movies give a lot of instances of everyday talk. From a FreeSpace campaign maker's perspective, noting down every unknown vocabulary item and looking them up in a dictionary takes too much time. When you come across an unknown word, try to conclude if it would be worth it to look it up; a word that denotes a strong emotional state would be worth it, especially if you're making a character-driven campaign; another word that denotes a piece of Ancient Japanese clothing is not. Most importantly, avoid overly rhetoric words and expressions. Those words are simply inappropriate for a FreeSpace context.
Movies are great to extract some everyday collocations (=word combinations that always come together) or frequently used phrases: Under these circumstances, baffle about. Use of subtitles is recommended.
Working with sentence patterns
As you read native English speakers' writings, you will come across a lot of sentences that sound good, and you decide you want to use a similar sentence in your campaign. Important!: Using entire sentences or sentence combinations can become unlawful, see Plagiarism. Take out small chunks only. Before using a whole sentence from a media product, consider how general the sentence is. A sentence that requests surrender is a generic one (see below), and there's no harm in using it unless it's said in a unique way. Half a paragraph (with some proper names changed) from Barack Obama's inauguration address is unique. There will be no actual legal action taken (possibly), but it will be noticed and frowned upon.
There will be sentences that you need to modify to fit your campaign's context. Consider the following sentence from the main FreeSpace campaign (A debriefing stage of The Romans Blunder):
- Eigthy percent of their pilots was wiped out in Deneb, so they're desperate for new pilots.
A possible rephrase:
- Sixty percent of our task force was wiped out in recent battles, so we're desperate for new pilots.
The example sentence and the rephrase uses the same sentence pattern, with a shift in viewpoint (their --> our), some words and the two noun phrases modified.
- My Witherbark companions don't take kindly to strangers around their home.
You like the expression "don't take kindly to" and decide to use it. This is a possible FREDder-usable sentence that uses this expression (possibly in a debriefing):
- I don't take kindly to your wayward actions, pilot.
There are generic sentences that just fit the context. The following sentence was taken from the novelization of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, written by Matthew Stover:
- You will be given no further chance.
This is a general warning to surrender. You can find such warnings in numerous novels, movies and games. If you use this sentence in your campaign, not only will it be grammatically correct, there will be no real harm done to Matt Stover or anyone who has ordered a surrender uttering this sentence, because these sort of sentences are just too common. There have been thousands of them.
Variants of English
- For more information, see Wikipedia:American and British English differences and Wikipedia:American and British English spelling differences
English is not written and spoken universally around the world. The English language is typically divided into two variants: British English and American English. Other variants like Canadian or Australian English are the mixture of these two.
There is no standard in the community as to which variant should be used in user-made campaigns. The FreeSpace games were written in American English because its staff was (chiefly) American, but there are numerous speakers of British and other variants in the community. As a non-native speaker of English, mixing these two main variants is a forgivable crime. Being inconsistent with the variants is the most legitimate piece of criticism you can get. Not using American English in your campaign despite the games being released in the US is not valid argumentation. Unless you mix the variants in a spectacular way, you'll not receive criticism. However, being consistent gives a good impression to those who notice.
Unless you are determined to use the variant that you prefer, you can leave it all up to your grammar checker(s). If there's only one proofreader, there's no problem. If there are two (or more), ask which country they are from. Hiring a British speaker to proofread the first part of your campaign and an American the second, you'll end up with a campaign that's inconsistent. Unless you are well-versed in British English-American English differences, you can explain it away and leave it as that, or convince your proofreaders to reach a compromise.