Cultural Considerations for Global Communications

Yesterday we addressed how to write English for a global audience. For example, using simpler sentences (no semicolons!), avoiding contractions, and writing in present tense are all good form. However, there are also cultural issues to recognize when sending communications internationally. Here are a few reminders:

  • Go metric—Don’t use the U.S. customary system of measurement (feet, gallons, etc.) or temperature. When writing for a global audience, it’s best to stick with metric units and Celsius.
  • Watch the money—There are many types of dollars, including Canadian and Australian. Use “USD” when referring to the American dollar.
  • Dates are tricky—Americans abbreviate dates using the month, day, and year. However, it’s typically day, month, and year in other countries. Therefore, February 6, 2016, reads 2/6/16 in the United States, but could be misunderstood as June 2, 2016, abroad.
  • Government programs, school levels, and most acronyms don’t translate— When you call about an emergency in the United Kingdom, you don’t dial 9-1-1, but 9-9-9. Also, grades in school are much different. To make sure you are clearly understood, provide context to the reference. For example, “She was in the fourth grade, a typical nine-year-old girl.”

Also, always check your writing for phrases that are quirky to Americans.  Can you imagine what “raining cats and dogs” might imply in other countries? When in doubt, have someone from outside the United States read your draft and offer advice. Our world may be getting smaller, but the opportunities for being misunderstood are still considerable.

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