How to write knitting patterns in English when you are not a native speaker

You may have guessed it, my native language is not English. It is German. I'd say my knowledge of English is above average in my country, but it is far from perfect. My main problems are prepositions: on, at, by, in etc. On the side, at the side, by the side, what the heck, how would one know! Punctuation marks as well, oh my! And probably you will find other issues that I don't even notice.
However, I write my knitting patterns in English. Sometimes I translate them to German later on, but the first version is always in English.  First of all, I trust in English speaking people that they will understand what I want to say, but there are some things that you can do to provide a pattern in good English even if your English is not good.
Sometimes the question comes up in German forums that I read: Is it worth it? Does it make a difference? This is a question that everybody has to answer for themselves. You may have a strong following in your own language, be it German, Italian, French or whatever, and may not see any need for providing your patterns in another language. If that's the case, you can stop reading now, this blog post will not give you any useful information.

Writing knitting patterns when English is not your first language

When I first started writing up my patterns, it was beyond question for me to write them in English. Why? First of all, obviously you reach a larger audience. Probably you could do that in Chinese or Russian as well. Maybe Spanish would be a good starting point. My problem with these languages is: neither do I speak Russian, nor Chinese or even Spanish, but I have a basic knowledge of English. Otherwise I would consider writing Russian, Chinese and Spanish patterns.
My second reason is that I find it much easier to write them in English. There is such a huge vocabulary of knitting and crochet terms in English. There is a word for every stitch you make and for every technique that you use. English is a very exact and detailed language when it comes to knitting. While German is a language of nuances, English is exact and to the point. Compare an English list of knitting abbreviations to a German list of abbreviations. You will notice that the English list is 5 times as long. The reason is that German does not have words for many of those stitches, thus no abbreviations for words that do not exist. Usually my problems start when I want to translate my patterns to German. There simply aren't any words for all those wonderful English knitting terms.
Which leads to my third reason: When writing in English (needs not be about knitting), my brain works in a different way. Thinking in German often is poetic and excessive and very wordy. Thinking in English comes straight to the point. Which may of course be conditioned by my limited vocabulary. However, when I write in English, I also think in (faulty) English. This opens a whole new world to me.

But back to the knitting patterns, which in my first draft version often are not perfect. They usually are fine concerning stitch counts and instructions - not always - but my English! Phew! 
I have most of my patterns tested by native speakers. I really appreciate my pattern testers for the reassurance, for providing valuable information about yardage and measurements, for catching errors, and for generally being lovely people. Nowadays those tests take place in the Knitting Sofa group on Ravelry.  If you are just starting out and don't have an own Ravelry group, there are several testing groups where you can run your tests. The Testing Pool, Free Pattern Testers or Open for Testing come to my mind.
And finally the other thing to do: Let your patterns check by someone who is a native speaker. I am lucky, because I found someone who I trust and the chemistry is right. You can find her under the name "CablingKaren" on Ravelry. Her services are especially aimed at people who are not native speakers. You certainly know that example: you search for an English word in the dictionary, the dictionary tells you 4 different words for what you want to say, and of course you pick the wrong one. It is not totally wrong, but it does not sound quite right for a native speaker. She eliminates those words from my patterns. She also checks my grammar, my punctuation marks and those pesky prepositions. Those flaws disappear before a pattern gets published. Plus she is good at checking the math. As you may know, writing knitting patterns is a science of its own.

If you have read this far, I assume that you know the basics of English. You can read a text that is written in English and you have a decent vocabulary. It is the subtleties of language that scare you and prevent you from offering your patterns in English. Go for it! Have your patterns tested and find someone who is a native speaker.

If you have only skimmed this blog post and in reality don't know English at all, don't go for it. You should be able to communicate with your customers when they have questions.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone interested in asking me to check their English knitting patterns can also contact me at k.evans@pobroadband.co.uk. I'll be ready and waiting :-)


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