In today’s global economy and multicultural workplace, you need to communicate with those who speak English as a first or second or third language. How can you maintain clear communication?
Use the following strategies when writing for bilingual readers.
Avoid cultural references.
Be careful with references to people, places, and events specific to a culture. These may confuse or alienate your reader. Specifically, avoid references to sports, pop culture, religion, and the military.
Avoid jargon, slang, idioms, acronyms, and abbreviations.
Such shorthand has a restricted use that may confuse bilingual readers. Use plain English instead.
Use simple, objective words.
Avoid words that have emotional or historical baggage. Use nouns with clear meanings and verbs that express a clear action. However, don’t confuse simplicity with a condescending tone: Don’t write as if your reader were a child.
Use clear, obvious transitions.
At the beginnings of paragraphs and sentences, use obvious transitions like however, in addition, first, second, and so on, whenever appropriate. Such transitions highlight relationships between statements and help bilingual readers follow your thoughts.
Be grammatically correct.
Spelling errors, misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments, and faulty comma usage can confuse bilingual readers. Be especially careful with spelling. When a name or word includes accents or other diacritical marks, make sure that you use them.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
Avoid long, complex sentences (more than 15 words) and big, intimidating paragraphs (8 lines or longer).
Use Standard English.
Not all English is the same. For example, American English is different from Canadian, British, and Australian English. Bilingual readers will have the most success reading Standard English.
Cultural differences present ready opportunities for unintended offense. Humor does not translate well from one culture to another.
The Big Takeaway: Clear language and cultural sensitivity are fundamental to all good business writing, no matter the reader. All the tips from above apply just as well to readers who speak only English.