Whether or not you realize it, Writing and Speaking require different skills. A writer can craft a document with the expectation that it will be READ, not spoken out loud (unless they are a speechwriter). A speaker’s expectation is that they will be talking to a live audience and that the audience will not have written material to follow along.
Writing and Speaking are two distinct categories of communication. In my opinion and based on my experience as a writer, they certainly are not one and the same. Writers may also be speakers or write for those who are speakers. But mostly they stick to their craft – writing. Speakers might also write their own material, but generally writing is not their primary area of expertise (which explains why speech writers will always have a job).
Aside from the expertise of the writer versus the speaker, a crucial difference in my mind is the method of delivery: written word or spoken word. The written word can be read and understood by nearly anyone with a basic understanding of English, regardless of their native language. Conversely, the spoken word may have the influence of a non-native English speaker or the twang/colloquialism of a native English speaker from a different area of the United States that a listener is not accustomed to hearing. Examples include: the Southern Drawl, the Native New Yorker style, the Midwestern/Chicago style (Deese/These, Dem/Them, Doze/Those; Da/The Bears, etc.), and the Northeastern/New England style. One needs only to watch various TV shows to get a sample of how each of these dialects sounds. But how does a writer write them, especially if they are natives of the particular region of the country? The short answer is: a (good) writer will write a word, sentence, paragraph, etc. based on their knowledge of the written form – not the spoken form. The more formal or professional the work needs to be based on the audience, the more proper and correct the language should be. Hence, a writer will use “p-a-r-k” to describe an open area used for recreation, but the speaker of that word will pronounce it based on how they have learned to pronounce it in the region where they live or came from.
Understanding English with an Accent
Beyond the dialects and colloquialisms of English in America, we continue to be a huge “melting pot” that includes people from other countries around the world. Even many who are a third or later generation from another country often speak English with some kind of accent that harkens to their native language. I have been in myriad situations where I simply could not understand what a speaker was saying because of their accent – one I was not accustomed to hearing and deciphering. But when I had the opportunity to READ what they were saying, it became crystal clear. The written word generally has no accent – it simply is what it is. The exceptions I can think of are words that came from another language to begin with like attache’ – a french word for a briefcase, or a person affiliated with a government agency.
Most writers I’ve worked with over the years use “common U.S. English”, regardless of where they are from or currently live and we communicate mostly by email – the written word. Sometimes it is a surprise to get on the phone (or VOIP) with them and realize they speak with an accent or in a dialect I’m not entirely familiar with. And therein is my point: Almost anyone understands the written word, but the spoken word is not always so clear and universal.