Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Outsourcing Literacy

I've been having some fascinating email conversations lately. Most have been with the usual run of American college student writer-wannabe's, and then there's Alexandru. He's a young Romanian who wants to write and publish in the English-language markets, because that's where the serious money is, although I wouldn't know any of this if he hadn't told me himself. Aside from the occasional rare quirk, he communicates in far better written English than do most native speakers of the language.

I bring this up because most of the writing I've been seeing lately from American college students is, frankly, abysmal. Their vocabularies are stunted; their use of punctuation haphazard; their grasp of grammar apparently nonexistent. Likewise with their manners: if I take the trouble to point out a mechanical problem, they are most likely to respond with something on the order of, "SO? LIke WTF is your *problem* dude? ;->"

The answer, to be blunt, is that it is not my problem. It's your problem. English has become the, pardon the expression, lingua franca of the Internet. It's terse, it uses a fairly common alphabet, and it's a remarkably robust language. You can mangle syntax most badly and still yourself be made the understood. In an admittedly unscientific study, I took a look at the front page of Wikipedia. There are close to a million Wikipedia articles in English. No other language begins to come close.

So? (audio cue: exaggerated sigh, sound of snapping gum)

So what this means to you, young grasshopper, is that I wouldn't count on being an American to give you an automatic edge as a writer. The world is full of bright, literate, and highly motivated people, and if you're not already, you soon will be competing with them for publication space. After all, to an editor, everyone is now as close as their gmail address, and it's always more pleasant to work with a writer whose copy does not need extensive grammatical repair work.

So, take the time. Learn the rudiments. Develop the skills necessary to communicate well in written English.

After all: Alexandru already does.