Grammar and Language
Use standard and consistent grammar that employs simple words with clear-cut meanings. Similarly, avoid using slang and phrases that international recipients would remain clueless in deciphering.
A major manifestation of problems related to grammar and word usage is the different meaning or connotation of some words and phrases in British English and American English. British English is in vogue in most of the commonwealth countries.
Consider the following examples that illustrate the dangers of not understanding what a word means in the recipient's country:
- While the United States requires people to drive a car on the "pavement," Britain makes it illegal to do so! The reason is that “pavement" means the “surface of the road" in American English, but means “a path with a hard surface beside the road" in British English.
- A "moot" point in traditional British English is the "point to discuss." In American English, "moot" means "null and void." Thus, an Englishman writing a business letter to an American stating, "The moot point is shipping the goods over the Atlantic," is stressing the need to discuss shipping logistics that are an important part of the deal. His American partner will interpret this term to mean, "the issue of shipping has no consequence to the deal."
- An Englishman once messaged his American girlfriend, "I'll give you a ring tomorrow." All he meant was that he would call her by telephone the next day. The American women, however, understood this phrase to mean the boyfriend had offered his betrothal. The lack of understanding of the subtle difference in word meaning led to the relationship breaking off!
Even when the word meaning is the same, the local context can make a world of difference. There is a famous story of a former minister from India on a visit to the U.S. wanting a modest bite to eat. He requested some sandwiches from a New York hotel. "How many do you want?" the room service asked. The foreign minister, imagining small triangles of thinly sliced bread that he associated with sandwiches replied, "Half-a-dozen." Six sandwiches arrived soon enough, each measuring a foot (30 centimeters) long and four inches high!
Another critical issue relates to translations. Many countries with English as a second language may interpret words differently from what the sender intends. For instance, an English movie where a cop commands a motor cyclist to “pull over from the road" once had Italian sub-titles that read "the cop asking the driver for his sweater!" Web based translation software may help in a big way, but it does have limitations. The better approach is to use simple words and sentences that leave no room for dual interpretations.