Poor English is never the answer

Updated: Aug 18, 2019

As a corporate communications specialist, I have many clients who are businesses with headquarters in Germany or Switzerland and offices abroad. The majority of their workforce therefore doesn’t speak German. As a result, most of these companies choose to use English in their internal communications and in employee magazines in particular. So far so good.

Professional PR and corporate communications translators specialise in employee magazines and delight in producing natural sounding, fluent and appealing copy in their target language. However, frequently, and especially if English is the target language, clients make requests such as these:

“Can you please use ‘easy’ English because our readers are all in Eastern Europe and don’t speak English very well.”

“I know there are many grammatical errors in our document, but when you proofread it, please ignore anything that would be painful for a native English speaker and correct only typos and major grammatical errors!”

And my favourite:

“Please don’t make it sound too native as the target audience is non-native speakers of English.”

When you prepare your internal communications, it may seem like a good idea to produce seemingly ‘simple’ English copy to make the text easier for your non-native readership in your international offices to follow. However, this solution is not satisfactory for a number of reasons:

1) Who decides what it ‘simple’ in the first place? It is probably safe to assume that speakers of different languages will perceive the same text differently. What sounds simple and easy to read for a German native speaker might be difficult to follow for a Czech native speaker due to their different linguistic backgrounds.

2) Poor English is never a good idea. In fact, the idea that a business would actively request and encourage the use of oversimplified or incorrect English is misguided. You will likely have invested a lot of money into developing your brand and image, so why would you want to risk your solid reputation by using a poorly written text? Even if a text is intended for internal use, this is still a very risky strategy which is likely to backfire if your text finds its way to the general public.

3) Who is to decide what your staff can or cannot understand? In this day and age, many people around the world are learning at least one foreign language in school, and English, in particular, has become a global language. Your staff, although they are non-native speakers, may well have a much better grasp of the English language than you give them credit for. If the deliberate ‘errors’ are spotted, this will damage your credibility among your staff in your offices abroad. After all, how could headquarters get it so wrong and not manage to produce a correct, fluent English text?

4) Translation specialists are trained and qualified to provide a professional service. Imagine asking your tax accountant to put in a few wrong numbers because the tax office won’t be able to follow your complex accounting system anyway! The mere thought is absurd. Asking a professional to provide a sub-par service is simply not appropriate, nor desirable. You are investing good money to hire an expert, and naturally you will receive a fluent, correct translation.

Your translation specialist will have vast experience of corporate writing and be able to advise you on the best solution to ensure your texts are understood by your target audience. One thing is for sure: incorrect English is never the answer!