What would you do if someone who speaks English as a second, third, or fourth language used an odd expression–repeatedly–in messages to you?
What would you do if someone from another English-speaking country regularly used an odd expression in messages to your company?
These questions came up In the Better Business Writing class I led last week. A Spaniard who now lives in the United States told us that she used to use this close in her messages:
Please let me know if you have doubts.
An American told us she regularly receives this close in her messages from India:
Please do the needful.
Both expressions are odd. “Please let me know if you have doubts” suggests that readers should have doubts. “Please do the needful” makes no sense in U.S. English.
So what would you do? Would it be appropriate to let people know their language is odd, especially if they use it frequently?
I believe it is appropriate. People want to communicate effectively, not awkwardly. Francis, the Spaniard in our class, said she wished people had corrected her unusual expression. She would have changed it immediately.
Here is a polite way of making the suggestions in writing:
Francis, I noticed you use the sentence “Please let me know if you have doubts” as a close in many of your emails. In American English, one normally writes “Please let me know if you have any questions.” The use of the word doubts suggests doubts, whereas the word questions is neutral.
Anu, when you close your messages with “Please do the needful,” I am not certain what you mean. I am not familiar with that expression. I believe you mean “Please take care of this” or “Please take the necessary steps.” Am I correct?
If you visit this blog often, you probably know I do not recommend giving feedback when it has not been requested. (See my post “Should I Share My Wise Criticism?”) But I think the language issue is different. If handled warmly and positively, such feedback will improve communication.
Of course, each situation is different. You notice that in my examples the individuals had ongoing communication. I would not correct a client who wrote to me once or twice.
How would you handle awkward expressions across cultures?