If you write in English to an audience that speaks English as a foreign language (EFL, ESL), choose words that have few meanings. Or provide a context to help your readers understand the meaning.
In a writing seminar last week, a woman named Montserrat, who is from Spain, shared an example that illustrates the point: At a social event, someone asked Montserrat's friend what type of dressing she wanted. Embarrassed, the friend wondered What is wrong with the dress I am wearing?
Dress, dressing. According to Montserrat, what made the question "What type of dressing do you want?" more challenging is the fact that Spaniards typically enjoy their salads with olive oil and vinegar--or "undressed"--not with the many dressings North Americans use.
If the exchange had taken place in writing, a clearer version might be this: "Do you want ranch, blue cheese, or vinaigrette dressing on your salad?" That sentence provides examples (ranch, etc.) and a context (on your salad).
Simple words can create the most confusion. For example, I offer classes. Someone who reads English as a second, third, or fourth language, must translate classes to determine my meaning. Does class mean a set, group, or configuration of members? Does it mean a category? A division? A quality such as "first class"? A rank? A group of students? A time in which students meet?
When I saw an entry from this blog translated into German, it mentioned my Kategorien. But I teach writing classes--not writing categories!
The German Kategorien taught me a lesson. Now I mention my seminars--a word that, when translated, always conveys my meaning.
It is often not the most common word that works for a global audience. It is the word with the fewest meanings, used in a helpful context.
Please share your hints for cross-cultural communication. Read more of my ideas here.