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Part I: Think Before You E-Mail > E-Mailing to International Audiences

Chapter 5. E-Mailing to International Audiences

One of the beauties of e-mail is that it enables you to communicate quickly and easily with colleagues and customers around the globe. If you will be communicating electronically with readers in other countries, apply the following tips for effective international e-mail:

International electronic communication poses unique language, cultural, and time challenges. Think about your international reader’s communication needs before writing and sending a message abroad.

English may be the international language of commerce, but that does not mean every reader, intended and hidden, will have a trouble-free experience with messages written in English. Determine who your reader is and what your reader’s needs are before you start writing. If necessary, have your message translated into the language(s) best understood by your intended reader(s).

International e-mail calls for more detailed and specific information than does local e-mail. For example, a message that reads, “Our video conference will begin at 6 P.M. on 6/5/03,” could have unfortunate results. Americans would read the date as June 5, 2003. Europeans would interpret it as May 6, 2003. And the Japanese, using a year/month/day order, would face more confusion.

Because Europeans use a 24-hour military clock, be sure to write international e-mail in that format, thus: “The video conference will begin at 18:00 on 5 June 2003.”

Similarly, when sending domestic e-mail to business associates in other parts of the United States, be sure to indicate time zone, such as Eastern Standard Time (EST) or Central Daylight Time (CDT).

Measurements can prove equally challenging when sending e-mail internationally. To eliminate confusion, give the metric measurement, followed by its American equivalent in parentheses. For example, “Paul ran a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) road race on Saturday.”

Do not assume all speakers of a given language are culturally similar. English-speaking Americans differ culturally from the English-speaking populations of Australia, Ireland, and Canada. For that matter, some English-speaking Americans differ culturally from other English-speaking Americans who live in a different part of the country or have different ethnic backgrounds. So too do Spanish-speaking Mexicans differ culturally from Spaniards, and French-speaking Canadians differ culturally from the French.

Even if you are sending an e-mail to an employee at one of your organization’s own international locations, avoid using technical language, jargon, acronyms, abbreviations, or humor. Given language and cultural differences, there is too much opportunity for misunderstanding and confusion.

Be specific and avoid vague language. American references and terms, such as Midwest and West Coast or junior high and middle school, are too vague for many international readers. Also be mindful of terms that change in meaning depending upon the country in which they are used. In the United States, for example, a boot is a type of shoe. In the United Kingdom, a boot is the trunk of a car. Word choice plays a significant role in the clarity of communication and the overall effectiveness of e-mail.



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