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Cleaning Up “Spots” for Global Readers

Because I appreciate having blog and newsletters readers around the world, I try to recognize words and expressions that do not translate well. Spot is one of those words. I have found it in a variety of pieces I have written, and it is time to clean up those spots for people who read English as a second, third, or fourth language.

This example appeared in my email tips booklet:

Get a second opinion before sending an important email. Another person can often spot errors, omissions, or problems in tone.

When I revised the booklet, I changed spot to see.

I wrote a blog post titled "How to Spot Spam." I should have written "How to Recognize Spam."

In another post, I wrote this sentence about a client: "He schedules follow-up on the spot." To be clear to an international audience, I should have written, "He schedules follow-up immediately."

Someone commented on one of my blog posts this way: "Your explanation hit the spot to answer my immediate question." Rather than hitting the spot, the writer might have said my explanation "was perfect" or "was very helpful."

Writing to a friend, I described a national historic park on the island of Hawaii as "an awesome spot." Had I been writing for a larger audience, I might have written simply "a beautiful place."

Why change all those spots? Because spot is not a common word for people who have learned English as a foreign language. Also, it appears as a noun, a verb, and an adjective, and it has many meanings, as you might guess from the examples above. In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the noun spot has 11 definitions, the verb spot has 7, and the adjective has 1, all with several different shades of meaning.

Do you have any similar spots in your writing–that is, words that may challenge international readers? Or if you read English as a foreign language, which words or expressions are difficult for you? 

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Cleaning Up “Spots” for Global Readers”

  • Dear Lynn,

    As a Dutch guy I prefer you challenge me with words like “spot”, it will only improve my understanding of the English language.

    I love your blog by the way. I have actually made some of your blogs tasks in Outlook, since they captured recurring topics which I need in my daily work. This way I have them close at hand.

    Cheers! (Is this a proper goodbye?)


  • It is actually not so easy to be a blogger! As on one hand you want to be creative, but on the other hand you need to be understood by everybody, so that’s why you should always try to find the balance & attract more and more readers to your blog.

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