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Are you making these mistakes when you use the apostrophe?

This may not sound like a very exciting topic, but one of the most common mistakes that I have to fix when proofreading texts for native speakers is incorrect use of the apostrophe. Therefore I decided to write a post about it to explain when it should be used and highlight some of the common errors.

When should you use an apostrophe?

1. to replace missing letters in words

Examples of this are don’t (do not), I’m (I am), he’s (he is). The apostrophe replaces the missing letter.

2. To show possession

This shows that something belongs to somebody. We can talk about Kirsty’s students, my mother’s car or my friend’s new coat. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about one or more things. It could be Kirsty’s student or Kirsty’s students. If the thing that belongs to someone is plural, the plural is made in the usual way.

I once knew a dog called Raffles. The rules are slightly different for names ending in an “s”, so I would talk about Raffles’ bed, not Raffles’s bed or Raffle’s bed. The same rules would apply to James’ bike or Nicholas’ jacket.

However this is a style issue and some people would advocate adding an ‘s to any singular word. Therefore you may also see James’s bike (but never Jame’s bike, unless the bike belongs to someone called Jame).

“S’” is also used to make plurals possessive.
My neighbour’s garden = the garden that belongs to my neighbour.
My neighbours’ garden = the garden that belongs to my neighbours.
My colleague’s office is the office belonging to my colleague.
My colleagues’ office is the office belonging to my colleagues.

I wrapped my friend’s Christmas presents = I am giving my friend more than one present.
I wrapped my friends’ Christmas presents = there are multiple Christmas presents and they are for more than one friend.

If two people possess one thing together, you need an apostrophe after the final name: Sarah and Robert’s house. If they have separate possessions, each person needs an apostrophe: Sarah’s and Robert’s passports were on the table. You can’t share your passport with someone because it only belongs to you. “Sarah and Robert’s bikes” is ok if they are a couple and they jointly own the bikes. You could also say “Sarah’s and Robert’s bikes”, if you want to emphasise that Sarah and Robert have their own bikes or that Sarah and Robert have nothing to do with each other and you’re just talking about their bikes in the same sentence.

What mistakes do people often make?

1. Using an apostrophe to replace a missing letter before punctuation

If the word with an apostrophe to show a replaced letter comes before a comma, full stop or other punctuation mark, you should write the sentence out in full. Don’t write things like:
I can’t believe how happy I’m. (It should be “I can’t believe how happy I am!”)

Are you going to the train station? If you’re, I’ll give you a lift. (It should be “if you are, I’ll give you a lift.”)

2. It’s or its? You’re or your?

It’s = it is. It’s raining.
Its = something that belongs to “it”. The dog wagged its tail.

Therefore you shouldn’t write things like “its cold today” or “it was winter and the tree had lost most of it’s leaves”.

Your = something that belongs to you.
You’re = you are.

Therefore you shouldn’t write “You’re brother came to see me yesterday” or “You don’t know what your talking about”.

3. Adding s’ to words that are already plural

Words like women, men and children are already plural. You can’t have one children or one women (because the singular versions are child and woman). Therefore it is not necessary to write “s’” after these words. The children’s toys (the toys belonging to all the children) were on the floor. The women’s changing rooms are that way.

4. Making plurals with an apostrophe

If you had a shop that sold vegetables, you could write a sign to say that you were selling potatoes, tomatoes and carrots (but not potato’s, tomato’s and carrot’s).

5. Don’t change the name of a company by putting the apostrophe in the wrong place

If I opened a shop called Major Chocolate Cakes, and I wanted to advertise my grand opening, it would be “Major Chocolate Cakes’ grand opening”. This isn’t because I’d be selling more than one chocolate cake, but because the name of the company can’t be changed. Saying “Major Chocolate Cake’s” would be changing the name of my shop. It needs to be treated like a name ending in “S”, as we did with James’ bike.

6. Forgetting the apostrophe

I’ve seen documents that talk about the customers requirements and the managers signature. The apostrophe had been forgotten altogether and even if the rest of the document is well-written, this doesn’t make a good impression.

Have you seen any mistakes that involved the apostrophe lately?

If you have, tell me about them in the comments section!

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10 questions that interviewers might be asking themselves during your job interview

There’s plenty of information online about how to prepare for interviews, what you might be asked, what questions you can ask etc.

Today I want to talk about something else – the questions that someone on the interview panel might be asking themselves – about you. They aren’t questions that the interviewer can ask you directly, but you can influence their perspective and the conclusions that they may draw about you by conveying the right answers without being asked.

Interviews are not natural situations. Interviewers know that people are likely to be feeling nervous and it’s hard when you don’t know what is going to be asked of you. But you can pick up all kinds of other information from people based on how they behave and even what they don’t say, so think about the impression that you are going to make, and how you want the interviewer to respond to these 10 questions.

1. Has this person prepared for the interview?

This can cover all kinds of things. Did you do some research online about the company before you turned up? Did you make sure you knew where to come? Did you ask questions that showed that you’re interested in the job or the work of the company? If you were asked to prepare a presentation, how much thought went into it?

2. Is he/she really interested in this position?

This sets the candidate who is just looking for a job – and any job will do – apart from the candidate who is generally interested in bringing something specifically to the company and the position on offer.

This ties in with the first question. Can you relate your experience to specifics in the new job role? If asked why you want the role, is the answer all about your climbing the career ladder/getting out of a job that you hate, or is there something specific about working for that particular company or doing that specific role that interests you?

3. Do I want to work with him/her?

You can’t know someone’s personal preferences, but if you can, try to let some of your personality show through as well. Try and remember to smile! Don’t try to be someone else, because it will be hard to keep that up indefinitely if you do get the job.In any case, they might like the real you a lot more than the persona you’re trying to be for the sake of the interview.

4. Can this person back up the claims on their CV with real-life examples?

It’s not good, but people do exaggerate things on their CVs and applications, and interviewers may want you to expand on what you’ve written, or be ready to give examples to show that you do really know what you’re talking about, and you have done the things that you claim to have done on your CV.

Think about the things that may be relevant, and make sure that you feel comfortable talking about them,.

5. Does this person have a can-do attitude?

If you go into the interview complaining about your current boss, saying how bad the working conditions are, or not taking responsibility for things that were actually your fault, it doesn’t make the best impression.

Similarly, if you come armed with a list of things that you definitely can’t or won’t do, such as the boring parts of the job, it doesn’t look good either!

Of course there may be things that you genuinely can’t do, such as a lot of travelling or certain patterns of working hours, and if that’s a big part of the job, it may be a dealbreaker for you. But I’m talking more about people making demands and being too specific about their own shopping list of requirements or nice-to-have wishes before the job offer is even on the table.

6. Is this person listening to me?

It’s not just about the talking part. People who don’t listen to the question properly are rarely able to answer it well because they don’t know what’s being asked of them.

It may be tempting to keep looking down at your notes while the other person is talking so that you can prepare what you’re going to say next, but it doesn’t convey the message that the other person has your attention.

7. Is this person only out for what they can get?

How much holiday will I have? When can I apply for a promotion? What other benefits will I get?

There are legitimate questions about the benefits package, what the working day will be like, where the role will be based etc. But if you focus too much on what’s in it for you, and not enough on what you have to offer, you can come across as someone who is only interested in themselves. Such people rarely make good team players.

8. Does this person want to learn?

Don’t approach the interview with an attitude that says you already know it all. Be curious about the company, the projects, the future plans. If there are areas in which you’d like to improve your skills, show a willingness to develop and proactively seek out opportunities to learn. We should never stop learning.

9. Is this person organised?

Did you arrive late with details for the wrong job interview and with odd shoes on? Most people won’t do all of these things on the same day, but if you make a chaotic first impression, it’s hard to get rid of that. Try to give yourself some extra time before you set off, so you don’t arrive flustered, even if things don’t go to plan on your journey in.

10. Does this person have what we’re looking for?

Ultimately you won’t know this. You only have the job advert, the job description/person specification, and the information in the interview itself to go on. There may be other factors that you will never know about. So all you can really do is be the best representation of yourself that you can.

Now is not the time to downplay your achievements or be overly modest. The only information that the interviewers have about you is the information in your application and what you tell them during the interview.

If you’re talking about what you’ve done, don’t just say what you did, but explain how you added value/solved a problem/increased revenue/made life better for everyone!

Be memorable in a good way. You need to stand out from the other candidates, so don’t just reel off a load of textbook answers because you think that’s what the interview panel wants to hear. Show that you care about your work and the people around you. Show that you take pride in what you do and that you would be an asset to the new team!

At the end of the day, only they know whether you have what they’re looking for, but this is your chance to sell yourself – not in a pushy or fake way, but in a way that gives the interviewers a good idea of what kind of person you really are and what skills, knowledge, and experience you have to offer.

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Braille signs and accessibility – why these signs didn’t help me find my way around

Not all blind people are able to read Braille, but for those of us who are, having information in Braille can be really useful. I particularly like to find it on hotel bedrooms. This means I don’t have to meticulously count the doors (no good if there’s a group of people or a trolley of towels in the way), and it’s a sure way to stop you accidentally trying to break into someone else’s room.

However, putting up signs in Braille is not just like translating the sign into another language. There are a few more things to consider. A recent trip to a hotel really brought this home to me, so I thought I’d share my experiences here.

Problem 1 – I don’t know about the signs

Some blind people have a degree of sight and they may notice the signs. They may be travelling with someone as I was. It was my fiancé who first alerted me to the signs in the hotel, and he’s pointed out other random signs on our travels too. Signs about safety, opening times, toilets, or how to use a piece of equipment. The problem is, if he hadn’t been there, I would have walked straight past them, completely unaware that they were there, which rather defeats the object of having the sign there in the first place.

Signs don’t work for me in the same way. They don’t grab my attention. They have to be pointed out.

So, if you’re thinking about putting Braille signs up on your premises, there needs to be some training too. You or your staff have no way of knowing whether a blind person is able to read Braille, but if you think that they might, for example because they have a white cane or a guide dog, it’s worth them explaining that there are Braille signs around the venue. Otherwise your shiny new signs may just go unnoticed!

Problem 2 – I can’t reach that!

Now we come to the three problems that I found with the signs at the hotel. I’m not looking to make an example of this particular hotel, but I thought the issues illustrate my point.

After we discovered the door numbers, my fiancé started showing me other signs – but there were a few issues with them. We did point out the problems to reception so that they could get them put right, but apparently the signs had been around for a number of years and nobody had commented on them before. See problem 1!

At 1.55m, I’m not very tall. But the point of Braille signs is that you read them with your fingers. We found one that was so high above my head that I could only reach the bottom of it. This is a problem! Ok, many people are taller than me, but a building can’t just cater to tall blind people!

I understand the thinking behind it – you can get away with putting printed signs higher up – but different rules apply when your sign has to be read with fingers.

Problem 3 – the writing is upside down

I couldn’t figure out what the writing said at first, but it was in fact upside down. The rest of the sign was not – all the arrows were pointing in the right directions and the printed lettering was right, but the Braille text had been printed upside down! Maybe the person creating the sign had been watching Stranger Things and wanted to send Braille readers to the Upside Down? Or maybe they just didn’t check. Either way, nobody was aware of the error.

Problem 4 – the text is incorrect

On these particular signs, I could read the printed text too because it was in raised letters. So I could tell that the Braille letters did not say the same as the rest of the sign. The printed letters were correct – the Braille was not and might have sent someone in circles looking for the room when they were actually right outside it!

Conclusion

I’ve no doubt that the hotel wanted to do something good that made their venue more accessible to disabled people – and this is a good thing. I’ve no doubt that they also spent a lot of money on those signs because they were printed on durable plastic, which I’m sure wasn’t cheap.

The part that was missing here was quality assurance checking – making sure that people for whom the signs were intended could actually use them, and that the company had paid for a quality product. If there had been some kind of strategy that had included user testing, or someone who explained some of the things you need to think about when putting up Braille signs, all of these problems could have been avoided.

EwK Services offers consultations in a number of areas to ensure that your products and services are accessible to blind people (specifically screenreader users and Braille readers). Visit the accessibility page For more information about these services or how else I can help you and your business.

You can also use this form to sign up for my monthly newsletter, or to get your free copy of “common barriers to accessibility” in terms of websites, products, social media, training materials, or events.





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Presenting to an audience that you can’t see – webinars, podcasts and live broadcasts

In the past, giving presentations was all about standing at the front of a room and delivering your content to people who were in the same room as you.

Now, technology has made it possible for us to deliver different kinds of presentations. Sometimes the audience is not in the same place as you. Sometimes they are watching or listening to your talk long after you delivered it.

Whether you’re preparing content to be consumed later, such as a podcast or a Youtube video, or you’re broadcasting live as part of a webinar or Facebook live broadcast, it’s a different experience to being in the same place as your audience.

For some people, this takes away some of the stress associated with presenting – you don’t see the sea of faces looking at you and you are often sitting in familiar, less formal surroundings, which in turn can make you feel confident. I love chatting to my audience from the comfort of my office because these familiar surroundings give me confidence.

However, there are a few things to consider.

1. Are you speaking to an individual or a group?

This is the first advice that I was given when I created my first podcast episode. I used phrases like “hi everyone” and “if any of you want to know more”. This doesn’t actually bother me when I’m listening to podcasts, but unless you are trying to build a community, the chances are that the listener is on their own and they may never come in to contact with the other listeners. I don’t want to say that there is a right or wrong way to do this, but just think about whether you want to address a group, such as a group of colleagues, or to make things more personal and speak as though you are talking directly to your listener.

2. Talking to yourself in an empty room

I actually like talking to myself in an empty room. It doesn’t bother me! I don’t mind public speaking in front of a large group either, but I don’t feel strange about talking aloud with nobody there. Maybe that’s what happens when you spend years talking to pets and knowing that they probably aren’t going to give you an answer.

Some people find the empty room distracting because there is nobody there listening to you and you can’t get the usual feedback such as an encouraging smile or a nod.

Sometimes the problem is that people are not used to hearing their own voice. If you find this to be true, try delivering your presentation aloud to your dog or cat, or imagine that a good friend or supportive colleague is there with you and you are talking just to them.

If it’s live, it can be even more off-putting if you can see that nobody is watching your channel, or not many people have signed in to the webinar. But remember, your content can be reused – Facebook live videos can stay on your Facebook page for people to watch at a later date, webinar recordings can be made available as a replay or on your site, so don’t waste the first 10 minutes saying “I wonder if everyone can see and hear me?” I’ve stopped watching replays or videos because of this – it was boring! Log onto the broadcast with another device if you want to know how well you can be seen, but try to focus on the content, rather than how many people are there at the beginning of the presentation. If you are going to repurpose the content, consider chopping the beginning if it won’t be relevant later.

People have a tendency to pop in and out of live broadcasts and webinars in a way that they don’t in real life, so try not to focus on that.

3. Make sure you get audience feedback

You can’t see if you’re audience is nodding along in agreement, looking confused or staring into space. Therefore, make sure that you have a way for them to interact with you and ask any questions. This needs to be managed in a different way than in a face-to-face setting. Even if you don’t want questions during the presentation, you can ask people to put them in the chat and come to them at the end. If it’s likely to be a busy chat, it’s sometimes helpful to ask someone to help you manage it and pull out the relevant questions. They can also help to manage anyone who is being disruptive in the chat so that you can focus on giving your presentation.

As well as showing a willingness to answer comments, this is also a good way to make sure that people are following along with what you are saying because you can’t gauge the mood in the room without some kind of feedback from the participants.

If it’s not live, make sure that you have some way for people to contact you with any questions or comments. This could either be an email address, or you can direct them to your social media, or a comment form on the show notes page of your podcast.

4. Think about your speed and delivery

I was used to giving plenty of face-to-face presentations, but I remember when I did my first online one. I practised a couple of times beforehand. Each time it took me 45 minutes. On the day, the same live presentation took 35 minutes. I didn’t realise I was rushing, but I must have been.

We don’t do it on purpose, but speaking too quickly is not fair to our audience because it often makes it harder for them to understand what is being said. If people don’t understand, they will lose interest, which is a wasted opportunity. Even though you might be offering a lot of value, if people can’t understand you because you’re speaking too quickly, they won’t get the benefit.

5. Additional materials

It’s a good idea to consider whether you want to offer anything else in terms of visual presentation or reference materials for afterwards. If it’s a webinar, you can put your slides on the screen or share your screen to give a demonstration. If it’s audio, you can offer a download of a factsheet on your show notes page. If it’s a Facebook live or some other kind of live broadcast, you can direct people to some further information on your website.

6. Make sure your surroundings aren’t distracting

If you’re not in the same room as your audience, you don’t need to worry about making them comfortable, but you do need to think about where you will be recording. When you’re live, sometimes things happen that are out of your control, but try to minimise this by being in a quiet place, making those around you aware that you are broadcasting, making sure the lighting is ok for visual broadcasts, and making sure there is nothing in your room that will be a noisy distraction to your listeners – even if you have got used to a ticking clock or a noisy fan, these things can become annoying for your listeners. Don’t play music in the background unless you own the copyright to it. Even if you do – consider whether your listeners may find it distracting.

If it’s not live, think about whether, or how much you want to edit.

7. Be smart about repurposing content

If you’ve created some fantastic content, there’s no reason why you can’t repurpose it for other channels. The content from your webinar can become a stand-alone ebook. The information from your podcast can be used for a blog post – often your podcast and blog audiences are not the same people. Key points from your talk can become tweets.

However, this has to be done with care because the different ways of giving information and the different social networks have their own requirements and audience expectations. People soon lose interest if they get the feeling that you have just dumped something from another platform. Does anyone actually like those reposts from Instagram on Twitter where the text gets chopped off halfway through?

I’ve seen someone post a live interview as a podcast, and it worked really well. It was a smart way to get a group of people together to share their thoughts on a topic. I’ve also seen someone post a live video as a podcast and it was terrible because they were stopping every 5 seconds to say “hi” to people who had just joined the broadcast. Podcast listeners who weren’t there don’t care about that.

I’ve seen people posting automated electronic transcripts of podcasts as blog posts and I found it really hard to read because none of the filler words or half-finished sentences had been taken out. I really wanted to tidy it up to make the reader experience better. I offer a service to turn audio and video content into text for blog posts, ebooks or newsletters if this is something that would interest you.

What about you?

So, sharing information when you can’t see a room full of people in front of you definitely has its advantages, and there are ways to give your content a much longer lifespan. Still, it’s important to be aware of your audience and their needs, particularly if you can only see them as names in a list of participants, or if people will be watching and listening long after you’ve finished giving your talk.

Which way of presenting do you enjoy most? Would you rather be with your audience, or on your own? Do you like the chance to start again with pre-recorded content, or do you enjoy the spontaneity of going live?

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Accessibility – it’s not enough that your website started off being accessible

The worst time to ask for feedback is the time immediately after you’ve annoyed someone!

Have you ever had that experience? You’ve been kept waiting on hold in a queue that went on for what feels like hours, or you’ve had the worst customer service ever, and then you get a request to give feedback about how satisfied you were with the service? Sometimes people are so annoyed, that they do in fact give feedback – and it’s rarely positive.

I had a similar experience yesterday evening. I’m not going to name and shame the site here. I do sometimes use social media or my personal blog to highlight problems and try and get them fixed, but this blog is more about good practice. I will however explained what happened, because I think it’s important.

The site is one that I’ve used before. It’s not the most accessible, but I can get most things done without too many work-arounds. Recently they decided to make some changes and update the page I wanted to use.

I wasn’t aware of any improvements. Maybe it does look nicer. As a blind user, I can’t comment on that. What I did notice however, was that only two of the buttons that I might want to use had graphic labels. As luck would have it, the one that I wanted to click had not been labelled correctly. So I had a 50% chance between unlabelled0 and unlabelled1.

Would you click unlabelled buttons if you didn’t know what they would do?

I didn’t want to take my chances, so I asked someone to take a look and tell me which one I needed. I can remember for next time if I need to use that page again, but I shouldn’t have to. Sighted visitors to the page know what the buttons do.

Apart from the obvious frustration, there are two issues here:

1. Inconsistency

Someone on the team clearly knows how to label buttons correctly, because the other two had graphic labels that my screenreader could read. In the same way that site owners want consistent branding and use of colour across their site, consistent web design and coding is important too, especially on the same page.

If none of the buttons had been labelled correctly, I might assume that the person designing it didn’t know how to. But that’s clearly not the case here.

2. Updates shouldn’t be a step backwards for accessibility

Previously, the buttons on this page did have correct graphics labels, and these somehow got lost or overlooked when the page was updated. This actually makes the experience worse for me now.

It’s easily done if you have more than one person working on a site, or if someone inherits a site that was designed by someone else, but it’s really important not to lose the accessibility features and basic good practice that were already built into the site.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you can’t see a problem as someone didn’t bother to label a page control properly that nobody will notice.

In terms of the site in question, it’s not the first time that I’ve flagged an accessibility issue, it’s been fixed, and then the changes were lost in the next update.

This is a strong argument for why accessible and inclusive design should be on the agenda as a matter of course, not an afterthought whereby people have to fix all the things that get broken with an update.

Then they wanted my feedback!

Directly under the unlabelled buttons was a request for user feedback about the new design. I was happy to oblige and I hope that my feedback will be acted upon. I’d still have preferred it if I hadn’t had to spend time tracking down someone who could help me with something that previously hadn’t been an issue.

I’m fortunate. I do have someone who helps me with visual tasks in my businesses, but it’s an unfair and unrealistic assumption that blind people always have someone close by that can help them out. I don’t have help full-time, and if I want to use your site in the middle of the night when nobody is around, I should have that freedom just as any other visitor does!

Take-away

People are creatures of habit and generally we’re not fans of change. This is even more so if you break someone’s user experience with your next update, so it’s worth making sure that anything you’re planning to do won’t have a negative impact on the accessibility of your site.

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Communication – what people really mean – when understanding the words isn’t enough

A couple of years ago I did some research into some of the linguistic challenges that German customers faced when moving to the UK. It wasn’t about the English language itself, and the kind of problems that non-native speakers have, but about the gap they sometimes faced between what the words meant and what the person saying them actually wanted to say.

I also wanted to use the examples here, to show that even though something may be clear to the person making the statement, there is room for interpretation on the part of the listener. That’s why it’s always so important to communicate clearly and to reduce the chance that someone may go away with a completely incorrect interpretation of what we thought or wanted.

So, in these examples I was talking to non-native speakers, but these misunderstandings can easily happen between native speakers too. Some people naturally interpret things more literally than others, which is why it’s always better to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Criticism can be less harsh, but you need to be able to spot it

Understating things

The typical English person doesn’t jump around with excitement or fling their arms round their friends in a warm embrace. Sometimes it’s not good to take their words literally.

“That’s not bad”, can actually be interpreted as “that’s quite good”. “I’m not doing too bad”, probably just means “I’m doing ok!”

According to Marco, people in Germany are more direct than they are in the UK. As a result, it’s important to listen out for the hidden or understated messages because people might not spell them out for you. “I am a bit disappointed that” probably means that the person is very disappointed. We sometimes use words like “a bit” or “quite” to soften the blow, but the key words in the sentence are “I’m disappointed”.

I know that I have been guilty of this as a teacher in the past. “I have A few minor corrections” does often mean exactly that, but sometimes it means “I’ve read your work and now I’m going to tell you about your mistakes. There were actually more than a few minor ones but I don’t want you to feel bad”.

Sometimes people don’t mean what they say

There are no definite rules. Sometimes, “I’ll bear it in mind” does mean exactly that. The person will take your comment on board and think about it going forward. However it can also mean “That’s a completely useless contribution, but I have to acknowledge it so as not to be impolite”.

In the same way, “that’s interesting” can mean any number of things from it’s indeed really interesting to it’s strange or it’s completely irrelevant, let’s move on. The key here is to think about what else the person is saying, how quickly they want to move on, whether they look bored or eager to learn more.

Let’s get to the point

This is what Angelika had to say: “British people seem to beat around the bush a lot before they get down to business instead of getting straight to the point. It frustrates me sometimes as I just want to get on with it.”

Sometimes English people are masters of conversation when it comes to superficial subjects such as the weather. It’s a way to break the ice. Everyone can have an opinion and it’s hard to get into a controversy unless you get into a heated debate about global warming. This may go on longer than you are used to, but plunging straight into the business details may leave people feeling that you’re not interested in them, but only the task at hand.

Some people will feel happy spending a whole evening with you without telling you much about themselves. They may choose to open up once they know you better, or they may not. And whatever you do, don’t expect people to be open about their age. Most won’t!

Being polite vs being honest

Anja shared quite openly about the difficulties she faced in this area. “I found there is a different culture in how people communicate and at the start I really struggled with people being polite but actually not meaning what they said in the same way I was used to from German friends. People are a lot more polite on the surface and less straightforward, which I think can be a struggle to start with; Not just in business.”

“It’s fine” or “it doesn’t matter” shouldn’t be taken literally if someone has a face like thunder or a scowl, or if the other person keeps going on about the thing that apparently doesn’t matter!

People who don’t do what you expect them to aren’t necessarily being rude

Particularly among colleagues, the salutation in emails is often dropped. So there’s no “kind regards”, “best wishes” or “have a good weekend”. Sometimes there’s just the person’s name at the bottom. Sometimes they just write your name at the top, with no “dear”, “hi” etc. Whilst I may be tempted to do that if someone is annoying me, many people do it out of habit and there is no hidden message at all. In this way, English people can offend colleagues from other parts of the world without even realising it.

Christina said “I noticed that it is not uncommon here that people don’t greet each other while in Germany we shake hands with every colleague in the morning.”

I would think it rude if I said “good morning” to a colleague and they didn’t answer, but I think that, generally, particularly in the big cities, we are less likely to greet people than in other parts of the world. I remember going to get a coffee in a hotel in Sweden and some people whom I didn’t know said good morning to me on the way past. I returned the greeting, but it took me by surprise because it’s not what I’m used to.

In terms of people that you know, greeting them is normal, but many English people only shake hands the first time that they meet someone. They wouldn’t do it every day.

Less formality

It’s not all bad! According to Christine, the atmosphere seems much more relaxed in the UK, people joke and are not very formal.

Christine is the second person to mention joking, and it’s true – we can be a less formal, relaxed bunch of people.

Anne-Marie pointed out that in the UK people usually start off on a first name basis, whereas in Germany, people happily work alongside each other for years before offering the “Du”. This is true. When I worked in a previous role, even the Directors were spoken to using their first names and this was completely normal. It’s just a different kind of working culture. It doesn’t mean that we respect them any less or that we are closer to our colleagues – it’s just a different way of doing things.

So, what does this mean for you?

For me, as an English person, I find direct communication refreshing. You don’t waste time promising to do things that you have no intention of doing. Yes means yes and no means no. I didn’t think that we, as English people, were particularly polite, but what my German contacts tell me suggests otherwise. Maybe I’m just not typically British!

It’s true that this article focussed on intercultural differences in communication, but I think there’s also a lesson to be learned about how we communicate with people in general. Is it really clear and obvious what we mean? Do we try to dress things up so that they sound friendly, but in doing so hide some of the core meaning? Could what we write or say be confusing to someone that doesn’t know us? If so, how can we fix it?

If you have any thoughts on this, let me know in the comments.

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Translation – 7 potential problems with translated texts

7 problems with translated texts that make potential customers go elsewhere
Have you ever clicked away from a website because the text was hard to understand or poorly written?
Many businesses spend a lot of time and money on their visual branding, but some forget that the message that they communicate through the text on their site is equally, if not more important. Here are some important questions to ask before hitting “publish” on a text:

1. Has the text been checked?

Some things are easy to fix – the mistakes came about because the person just didn’t check their work. I’ve seen plenty of hurried out-of-office responses that say things like “I’ll be back in the office on 219th August”, or references to the month of Julyne. It was originally June, but the extra letters weren’t taken away. I’ve also seen things that have clearly got through the spell-check, such as “click here to sign up for the curse” (not course), and even “lick here” instead of click here. Reading the text through once more could have prevented these errors. There’s no point spending ages on a text if you don’t give it one final read before publishing it!

2. Was the writer too familiar with the text?

This often happens with longer texts. If you’ve been working on something for a long time and you’ve read the text over and over again, sometimes you just don’t see the mistakes. Then it can help to have a fresh pair of eyes to look over the text and spot any mistakes that you have missed.
This is also a good opportunity to find words or phrases that may sound find to you, but which confuse potential readers or which a native speaker would just not express in that way. I recently did a quiz on a German site about “common English words” and hadn’t heard of half of them. They were definitely not words that had cropped up in any business conversations I’ve had. They may well have been adopted into international business culture in Germany, but that doesn’t make them commonly-understood business English terms.

3. Was an automatic translation tool used?

I was in Amsterdam when I wrote this and I used Google translate on occasions when I couldn’t work out what something was on a restaurant menu. That’s fine. But I’d never use it for a text on my website or a message to someone. I’d argue that if a company has used an automatic translation for the English version of its site, it would be better not to have an English version at all, or to have less information in better English. However good the content was originally, bad automatic translations are a massive turn-off and they don’t convey the message that the company is professional or trustworthy.

4. Did the translation follow the original text too closely?

Sometimes you can tell that someone has really tried. They didn’t go to Google translate, but they tried to translate the original text word for word, so the English translation sounds a bit strange. Maybe the sentence structure isn’t right. Maybe idioms have been translated that don’t make sense in English. Maybe new words have been created. For example, German is full of compound nouns that we don’t have in English, so you can’t just string a load of nouns together and get the same meaning across. Sometimes words need to be written separately – you can’t have a “birthdaycake”.
Sometimes the differences are more subtle – there are cases in English where we would use active sentences, whereas in German, it would be fine for the sentences to be in the passive voice. Sometimes we use verbs, whereas the German text uses nouns. If you’re aware of these differences, it’s easier to spot them and make sure that they don’t interrupt the flow of your text.

5. Is the Choice of language right?

Most people understand that they need to know whom the text is for and what language would be appropriate for the audience. The problem is that sometimes it’s harder to get this right in another language. I’ve seen formal texts sprinkled with slang terms that are usually reserved for friends, and more chatty texts peppered with words that have obviously come straight from the dictionary and which most people wouldn’t understand. Neither of these texts succeed in creating a good impression. The first one looks unprofessional and the second one confuses people.

6. Is the text culturally appropriate?

This is more relevant for companies that are writing for an English market than those who are using English as an international way to communicate. If you’re writing for an English audience, you need to keep the text free of clichés and stereotypes, otherwise the reader will think “ok, this obviously isn’t for me” and leave the site. We don’t all have log fires in our homes, as I was once told, most of us don’t have time for afternoon tea on a daily basis, there are actually days when the sun shines and we don’t all eagerly follow what’s going on in the royal household. Downton Abbey is not a representation of life in England today!
On a more general note, part of being culturally appropriate is also making sure that the language is up-to-date and not past its linguistic sell-by date! There are some really good business English resources out there, but there are also ones that were good maybe 30 or 50 years ago. If people use the vocabulary in these resources, readers may wonder if they’ve just come out of a time machine. This doesn’t create a good, authentic impression for the reader.

7. False friends

English words are often used in other languages, particularly those related to technology or new social media trends. However, an English speaker won’t know what a handy is, and if you say you want a beamer for your meeting, they’ll wonder why you want a BMW in the meeting room. The request for a projector will make much more sense to them. The word handicapped has been adopted into the German language, even though it’s a word that informed English people try to avoid, preferring the more objective term “disabled”. Body bags are for dead bodies, not for the living.
Those are just some examples to show why you should watch out for words that look familiar. Some of them have a completely different meaning for native speakers!

How about you?

I hope that has given you some ideas and things to consider when you’re translating texts into English.
If you’d like some help, either with ongoing work or specific projects, I offer both translation and proofreading services.

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