10 Tips to Communicate to a Global Workforce

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“Drive hammered, get nailed,” the freeway sign warned Phoenix motorists over the holidays. But for my wife, who spoke proficient English but grew up in the Philippines, the sign meant absolutely nothing. Her confusion reminded me of my days writing intranet content and newsletter copy for a global mining and manufacturing company. Following are the top 10 reminders I devised to avoid such communication failures:

  1. Colloquialisms, idioms and humor don’t translate well. Avoid them.
  2. Weights and measures are expressed in metric units in most of the world.
  3. Currencies vary in different parts of the world. If you’re writing about U.S. dollars, be sure to designate accordingly.
  4. The seasons are opposite between the north and south equators. Summer in Colorado is ski season in Tasmania.
  5. In many parts of the worlds, date formats are written with the day first followed by the month and year.
  6. Make sure your language translation service is familiar with the host country you are targeting. For instance, the Spanish spoken in Mexico is not the same as the Spanish spoken in Chile.
  7. Your translation service may be familiar with the language spoken in the country you are targeting but likely isn’t familiar with the terms used in your industry in that language. Have an employee in the host country you are targeting check all copy before posting.
  8. Text translated from English to another language likely will not take up the same amount of space. For instance, English text translated to Spanish is about a third longer.
  9. Contractions and possessives are confusing in come countries. Choose “cannot” instead of “can’t,” and rewrite sentences to say “the book that belongs to Joe” instead of “Joe’s book.”
  10. Language differences are just scratching the surface. Cultural differences are far more important.

There is much more to communicating to a global audience than just these tips, but following them, being respectful of cultures and seeking to understand your international audiences will get you headed in the right direction.

What tips and reminders would you add to this list?

1 Comment

Bart Butler

about 4 years ago

Paul: Your suggestions go double when you're sending a U.S. executive overseas to speak live to audiences of non-native English speakers. Even local translators can get confused if you don't keep it simple. The tips also apply to a speakers' PowerPoint slides. Presenters can't just copy the U.S. versions if they want to get their message across. Regarding contractions, we like to use them in the U.S. because they give our writing a casual, conversational feel. But on the receiving end they require a listener/reader/translator with fairly advanced English comprehension skills. Thanks for the reminders.

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