Nobody is perfect – neither are your foreign language skills. However, many of us working for a foreign company or even in a foreign country had problems with grammar mistakes in our emails, official documents, presentations etc. How to deal with them with grace – and how to avoid grammar mistakes while working in a foreign language? I am not going to give you advices like “use the grammar tool X” or “read twice before you send it”. Let us to be honest – many tools will correct obvious mistakes, but none will look into your head and rewrite your sentence in a way you wanted it to be. So, how will we proceed?
- 4-eyes rule
This is a simple rule meaning that at least one colleague should check every important document you are sending out. This rule is obligatory for audit companies and very popular among consulting companies – but it can be applied everywhere. Just find a colleague who needs a grammar check himself from time to time and ask if he could proofread your email. In small teams, the team leader is often the one doing this job. Please note that reading important documents, which have an impact on the company’s image is not the same as reading somebody’s homework at school – if you made a mistake, it is much easier to correct it while proofreading than to correct the consequences of a badly written email. Don’t be shy to ask somebody to proofread your work – this is a part of the work like any other.
- Better in than out
If you work in a foreign country in a foreign language like I do, nobody expects your language skills to be perfect, unless you work in Marketing or PR. Please try to understand that the mistakes found by your colleagues and even boss are much better than a grammar disaster that you send to a client. If your company does not implement the 4eyes-rule AND you aren‘t sure about the quality of the text you are going to send to a client, call your marketing department and look if they can check your spelling. Another option would be to send your text for an official OK to your team leader– in this case, you shift responsibility to your team leader, and this can save your career if something goes wrong.
If you are new to a specific topic you should work on (marketing emails, newsletter etc.), have a look at the templates your company offers or at the written materials created by your colleagues. It is absolutely OK to copy-paste basic phrases in order to learn, in which client language your company writes.
- Language buddy
If you work in a foreign country and most colleagues around are locals, a language buddy, who will support the development of your language skills, will be of a great help. Especially if one of your colleagues is learning your language, you can benefit from his native language skills and make sure that your writing is improving day by day.
- More speaking – less thinking
A presentation in a foreign language can turn into a horror story if you think too much about how NOT to make grammar mistakes. Honestly? If you are an expert in your field, everybody will listen to what you say even if you hem and how and stammer and make grammar mistakes at the same time. Just enjoy your time in the centre of attention.
- Exchange your skills
German colleagues often come to me for an advice regarding project structuring – this might take some hours. I often ask my German colleagues to proofread my German – this might take some minutes. You get my point, right?)) Find a valuable skill and exchange it for an opportunity to improve your language skills.
- Write down your mistakes
I have a list of the most frequent mistakes I make while writing in German right on my desk. Sometimes is this list longer than I would like it to be, but mostly it is shrinking due to my work on my language skills. Remembering your weaknesses will give you a chance to improve – do not exchange it for your pride!
- Stay open to advices
Writing and presenting in a foreign language is not just about the perfect grammar – the way you phrase is also important. For instance, in English you may use many strong words, while in German you should avoid words like “excellent” and “ideal” in all emails in order not to take the responsibility that everything will be for 100% “excellent” and “ideal”.
9. Use structuring and avoid long complex sentences
This is an advice for my readers from CIS-countries: please forget the Tolstoy sentences! (*this means: long sentences with many commas, as Tolstoy writing one sentence per page is an example of excellent Russian skills in our culture..). Make things simle. Use numerations, lists, points. Just like that))
Now you are ready to go the distance – good luck with your integration in the foreign country!