How to Write for Bilingual Readers


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

How to Write for Bilingual Readers

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

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.

Avoid humor.

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. 


Play the Editor!

Copy this paragraph into a document and revise it for readers who speak English as a second language. Rewrite and add information as needed. Then scroll to the bottom to see one possible revision.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Collaborating on a new purification system will be a slam dunk for our organizations. Let’s get these contracts signed. You’ll find them attached to this message. Together, we can become the TikTok of water filtration manufacturers. 


Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips for more tips for clear writing.


Editor’s Recommendation

We are excited to work with you on a new purification system. This partnership will greatly benefit both of our organizations.

To make the partnership official, please review, sign, and return the attached contract. It outlines the terms we discussed during our July 8 meeting. 

Once again, we are thrilled to partner with you and eager to get started. Together, we can become global leaders in water filtration.