Selling to Another Language

By Reynolds, Sana | Communication World, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Selling to Another Language


Reynolds, Sana, Communication World


You are a native English-speaker, but your audience is not. How do you sell products or services to them?

You need to grab the reader's attention, put yourself in her shoes, and view the product or service you offer from her perspective. You should write about benefits not features. You may find the features of your product or service fascinating, but will your reader? You can't bore people into buying your product or service. As Milton Bennett, a renowned communication specialist, so succinctly says, "Assuming that others are like ourselves when we talk is tantamount to talking to ourselves." And since when did talking to yourself ever increase your business?

No, it's definitely not easy to write about your product or service in an interesting way. Not even to other English-speaking people.

But, it becomes even harder when writing to someone for whom English is a second or third language. Non-native speakers of English are often unfamiliar with idiom. They can be confused by the subtleties or shades of meaning of many English words. And they may not tell you - many cultures consider questioning to be impolite. Pretending to understand when you don't is often dictated by a culture's desire to be courteous, to seek harmony and confrontation-free relationships, to avoid embarrassment.

So, what should you do when writing to sell your product or service outside English-speaking countries? Are there any ground rules you can follow to make sure your writing is culturally sensitive and easy to understand? Here are a few proven guidelines:

1. Use simple, specific, concrete words.

Their meaning is clear, powerful, vivid, and most importantly, unambiguous. Try to use common words; the words normally learned in the first two years of language study. Avoid uncommon words, such as onus for burden, efficacious for efficient, or flux for continual change.

2. Use the most common meaning of words.

Many words in English have multiple meanings: the word high has 20 meanings, the word expensive has only one. Get can mean to buy, borrow, steal, rent or retrieve. Accurate has only one meaning; right has 27. Non-native speakers of English are most likely to know only the first or second most common meaning.

3. Avoid idioms, slang, jargon and acronyms.

Remember that jargon, slang and idioms are seldom taught in schools. Using phrases such as What's cooking? …

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