During a presentation-skills class, one of the international participants said he had received an email telling him to meet his colleagues in the parking lot at 5 p.m. on the dot. He told the class that he arrived on time, but “I kept looking, and I couldn’t find the dot!”
The above illustration highlights one of my suggestions for anyone who is writing for an international audience: Avoid the use of buzz words, jargon or colloquialisms. Even for those who are fluent in English, some of our expressions can be confusing, or even strange – consider the expression “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
Other suggestions include:
· Use the correct salutation. Don’t use first names, nicknames or the diminutive form of someone’s name (Bob for Robert, for instance, or Trish for Patricia) unless you know it is okay to do so. Generally, it is best to use last names with the appropriate honorific. (Dear Mr. Schmidt)
· Spell out all dates. In the United States, 2/3/13 is the shortened form for February 3, 2013. In other countries, such as Australia, it means March 2, 2013.
· Understand how cultural differences can influence writing. High-context cultures (Japanese, Arab, Chinese) want to get to know you, and people from these cultures can be very personal in their writings. I received a letter from a potential client in Malaysia that began Hello Dear Barbara, yet I had only met the man once. Low-context cultures (German, American, Scandinavian) are more straightforward, and people from these cultures can get to the point very quickly.
· Know the differences between American and British English. An Australian publication used one of my press releases about holiday travel, but rewrote the release using British English. For example:
--Keeping your cool during the holidays can be a challenge, especially since passengers are paying more and still enduring long lines, cancellations, delays and lost luggage. (The U.S. sentence)
--Travelling during the holidays can be mega-stressful with long queues, dodgy weather in some destinations and hordes of people. (The Australian version)
Did you notice the:
Different words. The British word for line is queue. Also dodgy is not a common American word for unreliable. And in many British countries, the word holiday refers not only to special days but also to what Americans call vacation.
Spelling differences. The Australian version used the British spelling of travelling. The U.S. spelling is traveling. Some other examples of American and British spelling differences include color and colour, check and cheque.
Additional information on global business issues can be found in my book When The Little Things Count. Pachter & Associates offers seminars and coaching on Business and Global Etiquette. Contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or firstname.lastname@example.org